Sunday, December 18, 2011


So Manchester institution The Ritz has been taken over by the HMV group as part of their business diversification strategy. Architecturally it keeps all its features and great sightlines but its ‘smartening’ up with padded booths and brown and beige paint everywhere just feels an attempt to turn the place into a (money-making) club. Which is only reinforced when finding out that tonight is curfewed at 10pm. Ah HMV, remember when it used to be about the music?

Support band Lovecraft are an interesting proposition: prog-pop played by what appears to be a band formed in the Junior Common Room: a polo-necked lead singer, a fresh-faced five piece backing band sporting white shirts and ties (lower sixth-formers?) and two female backing singers in boots and white cloaks and sporting gratuitous cleavage. And of course they are signed to Probe Plus Records – exactly the kind of non-conformist, ambitious – and fun - music that has nothing to do with the zeitgeist or the charts.

And so to Half Man Half Biscuit. As with their last Manchester gig at Academy 1, they occupy a large open stage with minimal set-up, lighting or stagecraft – but tonight with some surprising, occasional bursts of dry ice. There’s something of the workman-like pub band about HMHB: they’ll pitch up in unfamiliar locations and turn in a dependable set of old and new songs (27 songs tonight with 7 from this year’s release “90 Bisodol (Crimond)”). But unlike many bands, professional or amateur, Half Man Half Biscuit nearly 30 years into their career possess a peerless scathing wit, deliciously clever word-play and some thumping good tunes.

The sound wasn’t always the best, Nigel Blackwell’s vocals were occasionally muted, but the crowd bonhomie and singing overcame any deficiencies. All songs, even the newest, were sung word for word back to the stage by a motley (and let’s face it ageing) assortment of fans in Dukla Prague and Tranmere FC tops, many band T-shirts, the odd Santa outfit and even one man in a customised ‘King of Hi-Vis’ singlet.

Highlights? Too many to mention – ‘Running Order Squabble Fest’ early in the set, a six minute version of ‘Twenty Four Hour Garage People’ with a modified list of late night purchases (“a sachet of optimism”), a Manchester themed cover in the encores (The Bee Gees’ ‘Tragedy’), and even comedy in mundane incidents like faulty guitar straps. The recent, lengthy article on The Quietus makes an excellent argument for the importance and relevance of “one of England's darkest, funniest, smartest groups”. HMHB never tried to be ‘vital’ even back in 1985 but in a strange way their scathing attack on celebrity, pretence, pettiness and pointless behaviours could not be more relevant today. A great evening of communal goodwill and celebration with nothing to do with Christmas (well except ‘All I Want For Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’). As the band sing on their new album: “while you were capturing the zeitgeist, they were widening the motorway”. Genius.

The Set List:

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Joy In Leeuwarden
Running Order Squabble Fest
Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo
Petty Sessions
Excavating Rita
Bob Wilson Anchorman
For What Is Chatteris
Left Lyrics In The Practice Room
All I Want For Xmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Tommy Walsh’s Eco House
Look Dad No Tunes
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
Lark Ascending
Vatican Broadside
National Shite Day
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres
Restless Legs
Turned Up Clocked On Laid Off
Twenty Four Hour Garage People
Rock n Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
Joy Division Oven Gloves
99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
Fix It So She Dreams Of Me
Everything’s AOR

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