All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit, Back again in the D.H.S.S., C.S.I. Ambleside, Dead men don't need season tickets, Editors Recommendation E.P., Eno Collaboration E.P., Four lads who shook The Wirral, Friday nights and the gates are low, Hair like Brian May Blues, Half Man Half Biscuit, Lark Descending, Paintball’s coming home, Petty Sessions, Running Order Squabble Fest, Some call it Godcore, This Leaden Pall, Trouble over Bridgewate, Turn a blind eye, Twenty-four garage people, Voyage to the bottom of the road
Famously spurning The Tube to watch Tranmere Rovers play on a Friday* night, these unique songsmiths continue to charm all and sundry with their idiosyncratic (al)literate tales that puncture the pomposity of the aspirational that deign to walk amongst us, wistful recollections all forensically outlining and highlighting the absurdity and minutiae of everyday existence, affectionately skewering, championing, lampooning, celebrating and rubbishing, ever with the detailed eyes and amour of the greatest poets. And hilarious to boot.
Pop cultural archivists of fads, whims and trends, evokers of folklorian ditties, shanties and shamanic arias, Peel favourites and in the words of Andy Kershaw ‘Britain’s finest folk band’ I bring you Half Man Half Biscuit.
After 14 albums, 5 singles and 5 E.Ps it is impossible to choose a ‘best’ of, however here are ten from over the ages. Sample ‘em and dig deeper.
‘Dead Men don’t need season tickets’ (Voyage to the Bottom of the Road 1997)
So, here’s what’s happened, your best mate Graham’s only gone and carked it. In shock you do all you can to help his widow with the ‘various chores … the lawn …. and not least of all those funeral arrangements’ even going as far to suggest she gets away from it all post-internment, the Lake District’s reasonably priced early September. Of course in early September the football season’s underway and well, the deceased isn’t going to be using that ticket is he? A friend in need is a friend indeed. This vivid tale is set to a grungey plod a la your Seattle Sub-Poppers. Sound gardeners.
‘Hair like Brian May Blues’ (Eno Collaboration E.P. 1996)
We all know of one, or two. The small-town hood who rules by fear on the estate, drinks chasers in the Dog & Gun and most locals (privately) wish that some bad luck will befall on him. What better than for him to wake up one morning and his hair’s gone all curly-locked like Queen-axe-astronomer-badger badgerer Brian May. Our fallen antihero ‘aint got no balaclava and his good girl ain’t got no snood’. His hard-man cred shot to bits, drowning by suicide the only option. A traditional bluesy number from the Dee Delta.
‘Twenty-four garage people’ (Trouble over Bridgewater 2000)
Picture this. It’s 02.00 a.m. you’re peckish so you pull in at the nearest garage to dine on some ‘Pringles … sour cream and chives’ only to come up against some fat-arsed grump who curses ‘my soul ‘cos I don’t want petrol’ which only serves to bring out the devil in you. Espying the stock on offer you ask one by one ‘what sandwiches have you got?’ causing said fat-rump to get up/sit down much to his disgruntlement before settling on ‘ten Kit Kats and a motoring atlas’ and the ultimate coup de gras ‘A blues CD on the Hallmark label, that’ s sure to be good’. Dissatisfied cashier’s head is later found on the local golf links. Fore!
‘Lark Descending’ (Editors Recommendation E.P. 2001)
A sort of sequel to ‘Four skinny kids’ in which our ‘hero’, ‘hands stained with Thistle milk’ and still suffering those delusions of blandeur, travels to ATP, Camber Sands, his identity crises in full force, tired of trying to ‘be Mansfield’s very own Steve Malkmus’ he’s now checking in as ‘J.Buckley’. The coda highlights the benefits of ‘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’ before the grim realisation that for all his pretensions he’s more Ken than Lou Barlow. Seba-doh!
‘All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit’ (Back again in the D.H.S.S. 1987)
A paean to a time of youthful idyll, when Scalextric was coveted, Subbuteo was king and far-flung European teams were the preserve of the cognoscenti, arcane knowledge that was earned through hard work not through 24 hour bombardment by media or ‘Hold on, I’ll Google it’.
The inconsistent performance of the motorcar racing game ‘it was a dodgy transformer (again and again)’ results in a game of Subbuteo, but, this is a match in which you’re supposed to allow the house-host (whose sports shop owning Uncle had access to the eponymous hallowed shirt) to triumph, the finale a riot of smashed up players, your ‘synthetic army of travelling supporters thrown in the bin’, the dog barking and expulsion from the house. Halcyon days.
‘Running Order Squabble Fest’ (This Leaden Pall 1993)
A pathological deconstruction of the perils of the band roster at the local hostelry for a CND fundraiser. Ego levels are high after the crowd at the last ‘event’ reached double figures, this time we’re the main men. However, trouble is afoot. You’ve been relegated to the half four slot, they ‘who can’t even play their own instruments’ are getting 5k yet we’ve even ‘got our own sound man’. Raging apoplexy cries ‘CND, CND, we’re not going on after Chas and Dave’ a misconstrual that climaxes with being informed that after all you’re going on after Manchester’s ‘could’ve been’ post-punk contenders Crispy Ambulance. All set to the glorious disdain-refrain redolent at football grounds in the 1980’s. You took a week off work for that.
‘Paintball’s coming home’ (Voyage to the Bottom of the Road 1997)
Arguably the epitome of the spiking of the social mores of the aspirational classes, they who’ve ‘surpassed the Jones’s’. Composed in 1997 it’s observations show its (vint)age, timeless actions (getting a ‘new’ conservatory, going up in a hot air balloon to woo, having a row on New Year’s Eve) to atavistic socially conditioned behaviour (‘know where things are in B&Q’, naming your German Shepherd ‘Prince’ following Sheba’s passing). All musically set to ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ the final pay off a rib-digging at the mass-appeal of Annie Lennox’s post-Eurythmics oeuvre. Thorn in my side indeed.
This was updated with references to the Henman Hill whoppers, meeting up for boxercise, purchasing cartoned soup over tins and being chosen by their cat (not vice versa).
‘Petty Sessions’ (C.S.I. Ambleside 2008)
To the sound of the ‘Hokey Cokey’ comes this jokey attack on (a typical target) the entitled, the self-aggrandising, the demanding and the erm, petty. From altercating with a barman over ‘that was a tenner’ to finding the time to query the pizzeria over their spelling of ‘Hawaiian’. The pay-off comes with the crosshairs settling on those perennial japesters, English cricket’s self-proclaimed ‘Barmy army’. Our narrator runs through the ‘characters’ ‘Bart, Elvis and the baby’ questioning their alleged mental instability before announcing murderous intent. Six!
‘Friday nights and the gates are low’ (Some call it Godcore 1995)
A lament to a bygone age, the late 80’s has Wirral’s finest Tranmere Rovers playing their home matches on Fridays* to avoid crowd clashing with their Merseyside neighbours the following day. It also witnesses the rise of the nu-fan who’s become a know-it-all steward, football’s dark days banished in favour of sanitisation, souvenirs and televised 24 hour coverage of all things ‘footie’ related, the revolving door policy of overpriced players who make no impact but a lasting (negative) impression and to cap it off the sub’s slipped and at fault for the defeat, there’s hardly anyone there and it’s raining. Weekend ruined before it’s got going. Back of the Netto.
This could easily emanate from Cherry Red’s fabled stable, choppy guitar, sparse percussion, short, sharp and sweet.
‘Turn a blind eye’ (Four lads who shook The Wirral 1998)
Lifting from Pastor Niemoller’s World War II ode ‘First they came …’ which lists numerous persecuted groups and factions and how wilful inaction/ignorance can result in there being no one left to defend YOU. This song ignores the eradication of the ‘palmists, the ROMOs, the fire-eaters, even the camp TV chefs’ before going as far to point out ‘Dani Behr, she’s over there behind the wardrobe’ and once Eamon Holmes has been found (on behalf of the nation) ‘I think I’m right in saying I applauded it’.
The close exhorts that sometimes it might just be best to ‘turn a blind eye’. For your sake if not anyone else’s. The Conservative Party anthem since time immemorial.