I’ve always felt sorry for people who aren’t Half Man Half Biscuit fans – poor, deluded, half-alive bastards. Imagine never exposing your brain to a band who can write songs called ‘We Built This City On A Trad. Arr. Tune’ or ‘Bad Losers On Yahoo! Chess’. It’s like having access to a palette of wonderful colours but deciding you’re happy just to stick to grey. Why wouldn’t you want to find yourself in a hall with a thousand other people chanting ‘The singer out of Slipknot went to see the Pope in Rome’?
To our surprise we find ourselves in ABC’s main hall as opposed to the more compact ABC2. This is a proper, big venue. Are there really that many ‘Trumpton Riots’ fans out there? It turns out there are; by show time the place is packed. Half Man Half Biscuit are a tough band to categorise, really. The music, while not as C86 as it was back in the day, is still fairly primitive and they’ve never been afraid to make their point over a nursery rhyme or folk song. Live, it’s four fairly average musicians doing a competent job. So why do they endure?
Well, it’s those lyrics. It’s not just that they are funny – properly giggle-inducing funny, not wry ‘that was quite funny so I should visibly acknowledge it with a smile’ funny – but that they are such scathingly accurate portrayals of the minutiae of real life. Not for them silly, overblown themes like loving you forever and a day, inability to live without you or desire to walk long distances to be with you. Nigel Blackwell’s songs deal with important things, like why the Bootleg Beatles are shite, what referees must think on the pitch and why people buy their soup in cartons, not in tins.
It’s hard to review objectively. Live, they play a selection of these songs – there are 30 years of them – and do most of the ones you want (only the magnificent ‘Paintball’s Coming Home’ fails to make the cut.) ‘Fuckin’ Ell, It’s Fred Titmuss’, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit’ and ‘99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd’ are, obviously, brilliant. Other favourites such as the proudly middle-class baiting ‘The Light At the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light Of An Oncoming Train)’ – “She stayed with me until, She moved to Notting Hill, She said it was the place she needs to be, where the cocaine is fair-trade, and frequently displayed, is the Buena Vista Social Club CD” – and the corruscating ‘National Shite Day’ are brilliant in their savageness.
What Half Man Half Biscuit get is that life is entirely the little things. They appear to us as us up there; in shorts because it’s warm, balding and selling vinyl and cassettes – CASSETTES! – at the merch desk for 50p. Except they aren’t, really. They are too brilliant to be replicated and are still the only thing in the world that sounds like, well, them. They end with ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves’, and if the title alone doesn’t make you want to hear it, you are dead inside.
A wonderful show by one of Britain’s very best inventions. Long may they rule.