In honour of the band’s recently-announced summer gig in London (their first visit for almost three years), and the fact that I’d eerily been listening to a bunch of tracks with a view to putting a blog post like this together before said gig was announced, have a list of thirty reasons why Half Man Half Biscuit songwriter Nigel Blackwell is, to my mind, this country’s greatest living poet and satirist. Grouped into three loose categories, with ten in each, I’m sure I could come up with thirty different ones on another day, but here are the first batch to occur to me here and now. Enjoy.
If you want to browse more Blackwell excellence, there’s now – finally – a pretty much complete archive online, courtesy of this excellent site (a far cry from the days when searching for “…Dukla Prague Away Kit” lyrics would give you reference to something called “Sub-U-Dome”). And if you’ve never listened to HMHB, in the Spotify age there’s really no excuse not to start.
It’s funny ‘cos it’s true
Observational comedy at its finest. McIntyre, take notes. Actually, don’t.
Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch
(Even Men with Steel Hearts)
When you’re holding tea and toast
And there’s no-one else around
Do you switch the kitchen light off with your chin?
(Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes)
Not long now before lollipop men are called Darren
(Totnes Bickering Fair)
Darts in soap operas: oh so wrong, oh so wrong
No-one’s scoring, and there’s too much chat between each throw
Worse than this, though, is when cheers are raised for the bull
Granted, bull’s a double and an out – but I know that they don’t know
(Surging out of Convalescence)
Opinionated weather forecasters who tell me it’s going to be a “miserable day”
Miserable to who? I quite like a bit of drizzle, so stick to the facts!
(A Country Practice)
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’s CD
(The Light At The End of the Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train))
A woman who described herself as “A little bit Bridget, a little bit Ally, a little bit Sex And The City” and chose to call her baby boy Fred as a childishly rebellious attempt at a clever reaction to those who might have expected her to call him Julian or Rupert. Bit of advice: call him Rupert, it fits, and besides it’s a good name. Don’t be calling him Fred or Archie, with all its cheeky but lovable working class scamp connotations, unless you really do have plans for him to spend his life in William Hill’s waiting for them to weigh in at Newton Abbot.
I want to perch myself halfway up a metal staircase with the Polydor girls and talk about meerkats
And come out with statements like:
“Well of course music these days is the slave of mammon, and as a result has become corrupt and shallow
Its real essence is industry
Its moral purpose is the acquisition of money
Its aesthetic pretext is the entertainment of those who are bored
Though yes, we’re really excited about going back into the studio
Hotly tipped, highly anticipated and slated for release”
(Thy Damnation Slumbereth Not)
So I’m walking down the road, and heading towards me
Is somebody I know, but not like a brother
He’s seen me, and we both realise that we’re going to have to put into operation
The tricky manoeuvre that is
Acknowledgement without breaking stride
Neil Morrisey’s a knobhead
(Bottleneck at Capel Curig)
Poetry & wordplay
Blackwell has two particular skills as a wordsmith – first off, although not displayed as often as his humour, he can have a brilliant way with metaphor and phrasing. And he’s also a fan of making puns that wouldn’t even have occurred to anyone else…
They say “Plenty more fish”
I say “Amoco Cadiz”
(Keeping Two Chevrons Apart)
There’s a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets
(National Shite Day)
Nero fiddles while Gordon Burns
(Joy Division Oven Gloves)
Who’s afraid of Virginia Wade?
(Outbreak of Vitas Gerulaitis)
You never hear of folk getting knocked on the bonce
Although there was a drive-by shouting once
(For What Is Chatteris…)
Did you play in the Garden of Eden?
Were the goalkeeper’s gloves to you tossed?
‘Cos it seems to me you’re the reason
You’re the reason why Paradise lost
(Paradise Lost (You’re The Reason Why))
Your optimism strikes me like junk mail addressed to the dead
(Depressed Beyond Tablets)
On touching the trig point, I found my thrill
To the east Brokeback Mountain, to the west Benny Hill
I’ll give you the grid ref, you might like to go
Could this be heaven, would that be the Severn
Twmpa, Twmpa, you’re gonna need a jumper
(Lord Hereford’s Knob)
I didn’t take much time convincing her:
“Baby, I’m from the Wirral Peninsula”
(A Lilac Harry Quinn)
Following a commendable stab at “Sylvia”, Helen shouted at the guitarist:
“Are you knackered, man?”
To which he replied, “No, I’m Jan Akkerman!”
(Tour Jacket With Detachable Sleeves)
Just downright funny
Sometimes the lines are just uncategorisably, indefinably, laugh-out-loud hilarious. Such as…
I’m gonna feed our children non-organic food
And with the money saved, take them to the zoo
(Totnes Bickering Fair)
I tried to put everything into perspective, set it against the scale of human suffering. And I thought of the Mugabe government, and the children of the Calcutta Railways. This worked for a while, but then I encountered Primark FM.
(National Shite Day)
U is for the Umpire, which I wish I’d been instead. You never hear a cricket crowd chanting “Who’s the bastard in the hat?”
(The Referee’s Alphabet)
Aleister Crowley knew my father
Business once took Dad up into the Glens
Where in a small hotel bar Crowley asked,
“Have you got change for the fruit machine, chief? I’m all out…”
But I could put a tennis racket up against my face
And pretend that I’m Kendo Nagasaki
I ring up Dial-A-Pizza
And say “That’s not how I would spell Hawaiian”
His paranoia is absurd:
“Are you thinkin’ ‘bout my bird?!?”
(On the ‘Roids)
I should have just got a job on the bins
The pay’s better and I’d know some hard blokes
And I wouldn’t have to pretend
That I know what “rhetorical” means
I could have been like Lou Barlow
But I’m more like Ken Barlow
Oh help me Mrs Medlicott
I don’t know what to do
I’ve only got three bullets
And there’s four of Motley Crue
(Upon Westminster Bridge)
Curse those in charge of plots, curse these forget-me-nots
I’ve been sharing my innermost thoughts with an Edward Macrae
I’m inconsolable, and at times uncontrollable
Ah, but she wouldn’t know, ‘cos she’s two hundred metres away…
(Tending The Wrong Grave For 23 Years)
Have I missed your favourite? Drop it in the comments!
I was pleasantly surprised to be invited by Simon of Sweeping the Nation to contribute to his crowdsourced “Noughties by Nature” feature, with different writers from across the web picking a song of the decade to write about. Very nice of him. I’ll admit that a number of the artists that immediately jumped to mind had already been nabbed (my first choice would probably have been “I Was Born a Unicorn”), but nevertheless, it’s always enjoyable to get a chance to write about Half Man Half Biscuit, so that’s what I did.
I don’t know what’s sadder :
1. That I wanted to take this picture.
2. That I stood there and framed it, alongside a picture of the album cover for reference.
3. That I sat here and cropped it, alongside a picture of the album cover for reference.
Wirral, UK – September 21, 2009 – Probe Plus Records, Harmonix and MTV Games, a part of Viacom’s MTV Networks, today announced the December 2009 worldwide release of Half Man Half Biscuit: Rock Band. The music-based video game, an unprecedented, experiential progression through and celebration of the music and artistry of Half Man Half Biscuit, will be available simultaneously worldwide in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other territories for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PLAYSTATION3 computer entertainment system, Wii home videogame console from Nintendo, and the Atari Jaguar.
Half Man Half Biscuit: Rock Band will allow fans to pick up the guitar, bass, mic, drums or theremin and experience Half Man Half Biscuit’s extraordinary catalogue of music through gameplay that takes players on a journey through the legacy and evolution of the band’s legendary career. In addition, Half Man Half Biscuit: Rock Band will offer a limited number of new hardware offerings modeled after instruments used by Nigel Blackwell, Neil Crossley, Ken Hancock, Carl Henry and all them others that have been in the band throughout their career.
Players of the game will be able to replicate the unique experience of playing in such legendary venues as the Metropolis Club, Lerwick, Chatteris Town Hall and the Prince of Darkness, Whitby. Avid fans will experience a myriad career highs and lows, including appearing in John Peel’s Festive Fifty, hillwalking in North Wales and – through a secret hidden bonus level – going to Prenton Park instead of appearing on the telly.
All of the band’s beloved worldwide smash hit singles are expected to feature in the game, including Look Dad No Tunes, National Shite Day, All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit, Four Skinny Indie Kids, The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train), Fuckin’ Hell, It’s Fred Titmus, Running Order Squabble Fest and many more.
Half Man Half Biscuit: Rock Band will be available in no good videogame outlets in December 2009.