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AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #90 : HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT

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A GUEST POSTING FROM THE ROBSTER

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Check Your Sheds!

Another Half Man Half Biscuit Imaginary Compilation

I swore to myself I wouldn’t do another one of these. I’ve done five already and I don’t want to be greedy. Besides, this whole business of choosing 10 songs by your favourite artist(s) lark is bloomin’ hard work and messes with your head. Those acts worth compiling have way in excess of double that number of songs that you simply can’t do without, so it’s a real psychological struggle with yourself to whittle it down to 10. No matter how hard you try, you always feel you could have done better, and there’s that obscure b-side you wish you’d included just so everyone thinks you’re a proper hardcore fan. I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself through it any more.

Yet, here I am again, which begs the question – why? Why do this to myself? Well, in a recent series of exchanges between myself and JC, he happened to mention that I “promised” a volume 2 to his Half Man Half Biscuit ICA.

https://thenewvinylvillain.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/an-imaginary-compilation-album-7-half-man-half-biscuit/

I dispute that I actually promised such a thing, I merely mentioned that I’d consider it. To be fair, I completely forget I even said that. Anyway, the point is I was also considering the future of my own blog and hit upon an idea for a new series. This series seemed to coincide with JC’s request for this ICA, so I agreed to do it, though there is an ulterior motive which I shall reveal at the end. In the meantime…

Like all ICAs, this was tough. In compiling the songs, I made sure I avoided everything JC included in his original (hence no Joy Division Oven Gloves or Trumpton Riots) while attempting to cover the band’s entire 30-year recording career. I also wanted something that sounded like a coherent album and represented the band’s styles and moods as well as Nigel Blackwell‘s frequently brilliant lyrics. There are some glaring omissions, but rather than focus on those, here’s what I ended up with.

Side One

1. The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train) (2002, from ‘Cammell Laird Social Club)

A big fan favourite this one and a regular in their live set. The tale of a couple who’ve split up because she craves a more upwardly mobile lifestyle in Notting Hill “where the cocaine is Fair Trade”.

2. Westward Ho! – Massive Letdown (2014, from ‘Urge For Offal’)

Westward Ho! is a North Devon seaside town I spent a lot of time in during my youth. It was our preferred beach when we were kids, then as a teenager it was where I and my friends would hang out at weekends. There was a nightclub there where the DJ would play some of our records for us in a half-hour rock slot. Then, in my 20s, I was a regular at The Anchor, the best live music venue in North Devon. While mainly local bands played there, my mate got Chumbawamba, Credit To The Nation and a few other recognised names to play there in the early 90s. Happy days.

The Anchor is now, inevitably, expensive apartments and Westward Ho! really is a massive letdown. It remains, however, one of only two towns in the world with an exclamation mark in its name, and the only town that’s known to be named after a book. It’s also worth noting that the album this track comes from, ‘Urge For Offal’, is the band’s most recent, their 13th, and their highest charting since the 80s!

3. Everything’s A.O.R. (1991, from ‘McIntyre, Treadmore & Davitt’)

After breaking up due to “musical similarities” in 1986, Half Man Half Biscuit reformed in 1990. The first album following their reformation was ‘McIntyre, Treadmore & Davitt’ which contained this gem, another song they still play live. I particularly love the line “I can put a tennis racket up against my face and pretend that I am Kendo Nagasaki.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendo_Nagasaki

4. Restless Legs (2005, from ‘Achtung Bono!’)

We’ve all suffered from restless leg syndrome, haven’t we? Only Nigel Blackwell could write a song about it though. “Milky drink and Sudafed / That should sort you out, she said.” If only it were that simple, eh? HMHB don’t do videos, but fans often make their own. Perhaps the best of them all is this Eraserhead tribute:

https://youtu.be/j6gI7CHYRrU

5. Dickie Davies Eyes (1987, ‘Back Again In The DHSS’)

This wasn’t in my original countdown (I had The Bastard Son Of Dean Freidman from this album instead), but then I realised JC didn’t include it in his! Surely some mistake? A stone-cold classic.

Side Two

6. Irk The Purists (2000, ‘Trouble Over Bridgewater’)

Bridgewater is a town in Somerset. Nigel’s clearly a big fan of the westcountry. This track is all about music snobbery, or to be more specific, winding up music snobs. For that reason alone it’s genius.

7. Tending The Wrong Grave For 23 Years (2003, ‘Saucy Haulage Ballads’ EP)

Somehow Nigel has the uncanny ability to take a sad, even tragic situation and make you laugh at it. Imagine finding out that the grave you’ve been visiting for 23 years is not actually that of your loved one but a complete stranger’s instead…

8. Even Men With Steel Hearts (Love To See A Dog On The Pitch) (1995, ‘Some Call It Godcore’)

HMHB during the 90s just didn’t tick my boxes, and even in retrospect I don’t seem to have the affection for this period of the band as I do with their earlier and later eras. Nonetheless there are still some standout tracks of this time, and this is one of them. Those of us of a certain vintage can well remember the days when you would occasionally get a dog running around the pitch during a top level league match:

https://youtu.be/DvwA7BK4-6A

(Interestingly, this video includes footage of a Honved match, and we were all teenage armchair Honved fans, were we not?) And while Nigel laments the lack of dogs in the game nowadays, this little fella trended on Twitter after this appearance:

https://youtu.be/iVx3brQT0AU

9. We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune (2005, from ‘Achtung Bono!‘)

One of my fave tunes this one. The lyrics are classic Blackwell, but for me it’s just an all-round great song so there’s no other reason needed to include it.

10. The Referee’s Alphabet (2002, from ‘Cammell Laird Social Club)

Another classic, sung from the point of view of a football referee. Sentiments most true fans would agree with here, I’m sure. The final refrain sums it up for me: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we gave the ref a gun.”

Debate away, friends. I’m sure there’s all manner of alternative thoughts out there. Which brings me back to my ulterior motive as mentioned above.

Over in my little corner, I have run a few series known as ‘The Genius Of…’. So far I’ve covered David Gedge, Tim Smith, Jack White and Nick Cave. I thought next up I’d do Half Man Half Biscuit. But then I thought – no. Everyone loves the Biscuits, so why not let everyone contribute.

So here’s the deal – send me a piece about your fave Half Man Half Biscuit track. I don’t care what the song is or what you have to say about it, just write something (max 500 words) and send it to me. In exchange I’ll say nice things about you and will buy you a pint if we should ever meet. If I remember. I’d love to hear from you and it might just give my blog the kick up the backside it needs.

[email: rob.baker71@gmail.com]

THE ROBSTER

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM #8 – HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT

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The contents of this online review of the most recent Half Man Half Biscuit LP captures it all so perfectly:-

If Half Man Half Biscuit did not exist, it would be imperative to invent them. Since their formation nearly 30 years ago, their presence has been a necessity. In essence the vehicle for the observations, ramblings and creations of frontman Nigel Blackwell, they are a counterblast to the processes of modern life. Throughout changing times they have spanned the decades, released 12 full-length albums and dropped a thousand-and-one pop culture references; from BBC Radio’s Charles Nove to former England cricketer Fred Titmus.

Their approach to promoting their music is famously non-existent – a handful of UK gigs each year is normal. Even rarer are interviews of any kind. Blackwell himself states his biggest achievement, as “creating a situation for myself whereby I can get up of a morning and decide to go and tackle Bwlch Pen Barras on the bike, […] rather than report to a superior to await orders”. Their existence is somehow outside of the modern world, yet also a reaction to it. Merely by continuing to release and perform, Half Man Half Biscuit serve a greater purpose – to rally against the crap that life throws up with a wry smile, and also to take joy in life’s small and simple pleasures.

There have always been lessons to be learned from Blackwell’s timeless wit and wisdom. Some remain relevant after all these years. For views on pedestrian etiquette, see ‘National Shite Day’ and ‘L’enfer C’est Les Autres’. For a creepily accurate character assassination of Jimmy Savile see ‘I Left My Heart In Papworth General’, released all the way back in 1985. A few pearls can be found in these 13 tracks, too. The stand-out line this time is the following from ‘This One’s For Now’: “The greatest surface under foot is springy turf / Why does the winner of Mr Universe always come from earth?”. There are too many challengers to mention many more.

Going through their career in a box – incorrectly – labelled “comedy” has meant that HMHB have been often misunderstood and under-appreciated. There are, naturally, comedic elements but this is far from music for the sake of laughs and the humour is almost always dark. Satire is a strong word, but what they practice is, in a way, a satirical look at life – of the everyday, the mundane, mildly irritating and outright absurd.

I’ve recently been listening a lot of HMHB on my way to and from work. It’s the time of year when you set off to work and then return home in the cold and the dark so you need something to bring a smile to your face and make the journeys that bit more bearable. The thing is, I wasn’t sure whether or not to include them within this series, at this point anyway, as I’ve never quite got round to buying all of their albums – I have seven LPs (but none since 2008’s CSI Ambleside), two EPs and four singles in the collection – but then I thought to hell with it. I’ll make do with a ten-song compilation from the tracks I do own and think of it as my soundtrack for the winter of 14/15:-

Side A

1. The Trumpton Riots (Peel Session) 

As much as I had loved the debut LP Back In The D.H.S.S. I wasn’t sure if the band were really up to it. I hadn’t seen or heard them play live and I feared they would be a tuneless shambles. And then one night they appeared on my TV screen via The Whistle Test on BBC2 where they performed tracks from their new EP.

They were absolutely magnificent and my doubts were vanquished.

This is perhaps the quintessential HMHB song.  Trumpton, for those who might not know, was an imaginary town that featured in a children’s TV show animation from the late 60s. There had only been 13 episodes but they were on constant repeat and so they were ingrained in many a person’s pysche. But it took the genius of Nigel Blackwell to take the social disorder happening on the streets of the UK (and captured perfectly on Ghost Town by The Specials) and imagine it happening in Trumpton.

I’ve gone for the Peel Session from 1986 as it is a bit more manic sounding than the EP version and is closer in tone and sound to that unforgettable Whistle Test performance.

2. I Was A Teenage Armchair Honved Fan

A cracking indie tune backed by a lyric that namechecks an obscure Hungarian football team, and then comes up with a pretentiously marvellous couplet for making toast:-

I went dans la cuisine in a bilinguistic mood
And Morphy Richards popped up with the goods

It then takes the piss out of rock band clichés before closing out with an extended repeat of the song’s ultra catchy one-line chorus.  From the LP Back Again in The D.H.S.S. (1987)

 3.  Totness Bickering Fair

Twenty plus years on from the debut material and they still have the ability to make me laugh out loud with brilliant lyrics.  New age mum has divorced ordinary bloke dad….but he will use the kids to get his revenge!!   Not once…but twice!!!!

And the closing line of the song….while having nothing to do with the rest of the lyric…is just observational comedy of the highest quality.

From the 2008 LP C.S.I. Ambleside

4. Joy Division Oven Gloves

The sacred gods of the indie congnoscenti are not immune from Nigel’s wit as evidenced from this  very very funny and very very very sing-along tune from a 2005 album they had the wit to call Achtung Bono.

I’ve been here and I’ve been there in me Joy Division Oven Gloves
I’ve been to a post-punk postcard fair in me Joy Division Oven Gloves

Feel free to join in.

5. 1966 And All That

David Gedge may be the author of the best break-up songs in the indie music canon but even he hasn’t come up with the sheer misery and heartache of this track from the Trumpton Riots EP. Six months after broken-hearted bloke has returned her brown anorak he is still suffering nightmares and on the edge of a psychotic breakdown from her failure to return his pin-up of the Russian goalkeeper that many football fans reckon was the world’s best ever.

Side B

1. Time Flies By (When You’re The Driver Of A Train)

More children’s TV animation show inspired nonsense….

Chigley was the follow-up series to Trumpton, again with just 13 episodes.  One of the episodes featured a train journey complete with songs, perhaps in homage to the kids series Casey Jones.  Here’s the lyrics:-

Time flies by when I’m the driver of a train
And I ride on the footplate, there and back again.
Under bridges, over bridges, to our destination
Puffing through the countryside there’s so much to be seen;
Passengers waving as we steam through a station,
Stoke up, fireman, for the signal is at green:

Time flies by when I’m the driver of a train
And I ride on the footplate, there and back again.
In the cutting, through the tunnel,
Rushing, clanking, on the track;
Wheezing pistons, smoking funnels,
Turning wheels go clickety-clack:

Time flies by when I’m the driver of a train
And I ride on the footplate, there and back again.

HMHB’s version isn’t quite as romantic with its suggestion of the train driver being a drug addict!!:-

Time flies by when you’re a driver of a train
Speeding out of Trumpton with a cargo of cocaine
I get high when I’m the pilot of a plane
Touching down at Camberwick I’m stoned out of my brain
Under bridges, over bridges to our destination
Careful with that spliff, Eugene, it causes condensation

Every Saturday I get the Chigley Skins
And they always smash my windows cos the home side always wins
Yeah time flies by when you’re a driver of a train
Gonna get these syringes out and crank up once again
Under bridges, over bridges to our destination
Careful with that spliff, Eugene, it causes condensation

One of the standouts on a quite brilliant debut LP

2. Mr Cave’s A Window Cleaner Now

An unreleased track that has only ever featured in a Peel Session back in 1995 and quite simply the best ever tribute to The Birthday Party that has been ever written and recorded.

I wonder what Saint Nick made of it?

3. 24 Hour Garage People

Time to slow things down a little….and here’s some stand-up comedy, set to a folk tune, featuring the tale of someone turning up to buy things from the night-shift staff member at the filling station.  We’ve all done it haven’t we???

From the 2000 LP Trouble Over Bridgewater

4. Bob Wilson – Anchorman

Summing up in under 100 seconds everything that was and remains wrong with sports broadcasting in the UK.  For the most part, ex-players do not make the best pundits.  Cracking wee tune to boot.

Lead track from the Editor’s Recommendation EP of 2001

5. National Shite Day

Most HMHB tracks are of the short and sharp variety, so this, the closing track from C.S.I. Ambleside which clocks in at almost six and a half minutes, has to be regarded as epic.  It is an extended rant of what it is about modern society that pisses Nigel off set to a tune that thirty years ago you’d probably never imagined the band being capable of recording and playing.

mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – The Trumpton Riots (Peel Session)
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – I Was A Teenage Armchair Honved Fan
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Totnes Bickering Fair
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Joy Division Oven Gloves
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – 1966 And All That
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Time Flies By (When You’re The Driver Of A Train)
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Mr Cave’s A Window Cleaner Now (Peel Session)
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – 24 Hour Garage People
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Bob Wilson – Anchorman
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – National Shite Day

Enjoy

NEXT YEAR’S NOSTALGIA FEST (Part 8 of 48)

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I shouldn’t…..but I get quite annoyed whenever I see Half Man Half Biscuit lumped in with the C86 movement.  Yes, their initial recordings were marked by a cheapness and low-fi quality that became the mark of the C86 bands but given that the utterly brilliant Back In The D.H.S.S was released in 1985   – and by utterly brilliant I mean not only was it great entertainment but it I had never heard anything quite like it before – it seems unfair that a band as distinctive and ground-breaking as HMHB were put into a genre where a lot of bands sounded and indeed looked alike.

One of the reasons I fell for the band was their willingness to bring football into their lyrics.  It is hard to imagine nowadays when the sport is seemingly omnipresent within British society with every up and coming musician, male and female alike, keen to pass on details of their allegiances but back in the mid 80s football was a real no-go area for anyone involved in the creative industries.  It was a sport to which mindless violence was all too easily attached and seemed in terminal decline, certainly in terms of spectator numbers while the four channels of telly were falling in love with cosy ‘new’ sports like snooker, whose audience figures dwarfed those of football – indeed there was time in the 80s when disputes over broadcasting rights led to absolutely no coverage at all on our screens for months on end.

HMHB came along as a total fresh breath of air.  Their lyrics dripped with humour, sarcasm and were jammed with referenced points that were easily understood and appreciated by the country’s youth.  Not only did they write positively about football but in The Len Ganley Stance they even had a pop at snooker!!

I’m intending to feature HMHB in the imaginary LP series in the future and I’ll return to them in more detail at that time.  In fact I’m doing it tomorrow.

For now, here’s their track that appears on CD86:-

mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit

Enjoy

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (16)

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Keeping It Peel - October 25th

JUST BECAUSE……

http://keepingitpeel.wordpress.com/

and in particular:-

http://keepingitpeel.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/john-peel-10-years-gone/

mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Peel Thing (Peel Session)
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Lover’s Town (Peel Session)
mp3 : Cinerama – Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Delgados – No Danger (Peel Session)
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Mr Cave’s A Window Cleaner Now (Peel Session)
mp3 : Madness _ Bed & Breakfast Man (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Smiths – Rusholme Ruffians (Peel Session)
mp3 : T.Rex – Ride A White Swan (Peel Session)
mp3 : Urusei Yatsura – Hello Tiger (Peel Session)
mp3 : Wire – I Am The Fly (Peel Session)

 

AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE…SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2006

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I’m thinking that I’d like to get the new place looking a wee bit more like the old place before I get right back into the swing of things and so for the next few weeks I’m going to have fresh posts along with making use of use Pip’s brilliant suggestion to access an archiving service and pick and mix some of the old material in a chronological fashion.

TVV had just the single post in September 2006 and twenty five in October 2006 as I dipped my toe tentatively into the world of blogging.  These earliest posts  demonstrate what I was hoping to achieve, which was to bring to the attention of those interested some songs that were often unavailable elsewhere thanks to them being obscure b-sides or different mixes on 12″ vinyl.  The inspiration for starting something came from reading what other great people were doing (most of whom have since given up blogging for one reason or another) while the push came from Mrs Villain buying me a turntable that allowed vinyl to be ripped to mp3.  I think she sometimes regrets what she did as I now spend more time at the PC than I do with her…..

I’m a bit embarrassed at the quality of the early postings – I really was nervous about the whole thing and wondered if there were folk out there who were interested and it showed with a lack of conviction in the writing.  But I was happy when I realised that the mp3s were being downloaded  and even more thrilled when the comments began to appear.  Sad man that I was, I remember spending hours analysing every single hit made on TVV and being amazed that folk were reading it from PCs in America, mainland Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa as well as the UK which made up the bulk of the traffic very early on.

Here’s who got covered in September/October 2006:-

29 September : James

1 October : Lloyd Cole

2 October : Hey! Elastica

3 October : A House/David Kitt

4 October : Julian Cope

5 October : The Triffids/Carter USM (part one of a series looking at covers)

7 October : The Jam

9 October : Albert Hammond Jr/Half Man Half Biscuit/The Beta Band

10 October : Billy Bragg/Arab Strap

11 October : The Pale Fountains

12 October : Jonathan Richman

14 October : Poppy Factory

15 – 21 October “New Order Week”

22 October : James/Edwyn Collins

23 October : The Young Knives/The Grates/The View (first ever gig review!)

24 October : The Bible

25 October : Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

26 October : Lloyd Cole (gig review)

26 October : AKA The Fox (first plug for a new band….it was for a workmate!)

31 October : Happy 43rd Birthday to Johnny Marr (first mention of The Smiths!)

I thought some of you might be interested in the post from 9 October :-

LIFE SOMETIMES IMITATES ART YOU KNOW

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I’ve never been stopped and surveyed on my favourite ever movie scene. If I was, there’s every chance I’d go for something from ‘High Fidelity’You know the one…when Rob (played by John Cusick) insists he can sell a certain number of copies of a Beta Band EP when it gets played in the shop.

Well……….earlier today I was in Fopp in Glasgow city centre, idly passing away a spare 30 minutes. I was enjoying the sounds coming out of the speakers, but hadn’t a clue who it was. I was determined not to fall into the trap of asking the bloke behind the counter – I’m terrified I’m going to be a victim of some spectacular piss-take by someone who is lucky enough to have a job in a good record shop.

As it is, Fopp is one of those stores that displays what is being played at any point in time – so I didn’t have to ask. And it turned out, much to my surprise, to be ‘Yours To Keep’, the debut LP of Albert Hammond Jr that was released just today. And I bought it. And I don’t care if me doing so resulted in Fopp’s equivalent of Rob being smug with his colleagues…..

Why was I surprised?

For one, it sounds nothing like The Strokes.

For two, Albert has a voice that can hold a tune (I don’t think he supplies backing vocals when his band play live).

For three, it is consistently very good – unlike his band’s last two offerings.

And for four – there’s whistling on one of the songs!

I’ve now played the album right the way through a couple of times at home, and it is every bit as enjoyable as it was in the shop a few hours ago.

mp3 : Albert Hammond Jr – Hard To Live In The City

Albert’s old man – who unsurprisingly is Albert Hammond Snr – is a famous musician and singer/songwriter in his own right (but you all probably knew that already). However, he even pre-dates an old codger like me, and I can’t post any of his tunes for your enjoyment.But I can offer this from 1986 –

mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Albert Hammond Bootleg

As first brought to the attention of the world on ‘The Trumpton Riots EP’

Oh and for the hell of it, the superb song that was in the scene in High Fidelity-

mp3 : The Beta Band – Dry The Rain

————–ends—————————

I’ll keep plugging away at re-building the links etc over the coming days. Before you know it, TVV will be but a memory and T(n)VV the place to hang out!

Being serious for a moment…..yesterday was a sore one.  I was fighting back the tears at times thinking of what had been lost.  But I feel a lot better as I can find much of the old material and will find ways of bringing back to its new rightful home.

It was also hugely uplifting to see so many messages of support in the comments section and at many other blogs – with a particular word of thanks to Drew at Across The Kitchen Table Thanks folks for all your kind words  and encouragement.

PS : If by chance you’d like to see a re-post on any of the above mentioned artists or bands from Sep/Oct 2006…(are there any Poppy Factory fans out there?)….. just leave a comment or drop me a line…..

Enjoy!! (I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be using a new sign off stolen from Dirk at Sexy Loser…….)