I used to think it was amusing and clever to shout things out at gigs. Not only was it clever but it made me look cool in the eyes of everybody else at the gig. I once went to a Green On Red gig at The Town and Country Club and Sid Griffin was the support act. I was standing right at the front of the stage and could clearly see the set list taped to the floor. After four songs, I could see that the next song was “Citadel”. I shouted out “Citadel! Play Citadel! It’s really good.” I had no idea what any of Sid Griffin’s songs sounded like but he looked really pleased and said “we’re just about to play that one”. That’s what I mean about being a smart arse and thinking I look really cool and clever.
At another Green On Red concert at the same venue, they played “Keith Can’t Read” which is a great song from “Here Come The Snakes”. One of the lines is “Get off of your knees right now. Your looking up my nose” but when Dan Stuart sung it he got muxed ip and sung “Get off of your nose right now. Your looking up my knees.” At the end of the song I cleverly shouted out “Get off your nose Dan” to which he replied “One of those fucking nights!” Luckily for me, this is “clearly” audible on the LP “Live At The Town And Country Club”.
The Blue Aeroplanes were Roo’s favourite group for many years and we went to about ten gigs in the space of four or five years when we first got together. One of the (many) guitarists in The Blue Aeroplanes was Rodney Allen who had a great song called “Fun”. Once, when we went to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Rodney was not in the group. After every song, I shouted out (from The Circle where I was sitting comfortably) “Where’s Rodney?” After three or four of these, Gerard Langley, the super cool leader of the group glared at me (or so I assumed since he always wore super cool shades) and said “Rodney’s not well”. I felt put in my place but the feeling was ameliorated by the knowledge that everybody around me would be impressed that I knew the names of the members of the group. Or so I thought.
There have only been two occasions when I walked from home to see a band. Once was when Roo and I walked from our house in Falmer to see Loudon Wainwright III at The University of Sussex and the other time was when I walked from my
penthouse flat in Harlow to The Square to see Half Man Half Biscuit. I guess this was around 1990 after a brief hiatus when there was a fear they wouldn’t record anything after their first two albums. I had these albums and was excited to see that they were touring again, even if it was only The Square (which was a great venue but quite small). In my excitement, I started the evening as I intended to finish it by drinking several pints. By the time HMHB came on, I was ready and after every song I shouted out “I hate Nerys Hughes” which seemed a very funny thing to do and drew admiring glances from everyone around me. At least, I assumed that they were admiring. I didn’t let up and just before they played their last song I was rewarded by Nigel Blackwell announcing “that gentleman is going to get his wish” and they played a blistering version of the song that opens side two of their debut album.
The problem when writing about a Half Man Half Biscuit album is that the temptation is to simply type out all the lyrics to every song because they are all so good. However, that tends to diminish the importance of the music that they make and “I Hate Nerys Hughes” is an example. It’s a really exciting song with a great riff and indecipherable lyrics unless you refer to The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics website. This song refers to St Vitus visiting a cemetery and waking the dead who then claim their supplementary benefit from the Social services office thus ensuring that “the necrophiliacs were walking round in misery”. Obviously, to understand the song, you need to understand that a St. Vitus’ Dance is another name for a movement disorder (or Sydenham chorea). The climax of the song comes when Nigel Blackwell belts out “I hate Nerys Hughes” four times.
Nerys Hughes is not the only person that Nigel Blackwell has it in for in. The opening song “God Gave Us Life” starts with the title of the song sung repeatedly. The reason that God gave us life is so that “we could take sweets off strange men in big cars and get driven to the woods to stroke non-existent puppies.” The second half of the song gives us the price we pay for God giving us life because He also gave us celebrities such as Una Stubbs, Little and Large, Keith Harris, Wendy Craig, Thora Hird, Matthew Kelly, Eartha Kitt and Lionel Blair. The sneering disdain with which he sings “Lionel Blair” is a wonder to behold.
In 1979, I went on a Summer holiday to Switzerland with forty children and ten adults. One of the adults was Chris and his Mum and Dad also came with us. Whilst on the coach, I played Chris the second track on this album and, being a cricket enthusiast, he loved it. He took my personal stereo and headphones to his Dad, who, as well as being a little hard of hearing, was also a cricket lover. After a minute or so, his Dad exploded with laughter and, not being used to headphones, shouted out “Fuckin’ Hell It’s Fred Titmus” much to the amusement of the children on the coach. Fred Titmus was a spin bowler who played for Middlesex and England. He smoked a pipe, ran a post office near where I lived in Enfield and became a national selector in the Nineties. Once, during coverage of a Test match, the camera panned to the England balcony outside the dressing room and all over the country, Half Man Half Biscuit fans shouted out “Fuckin’ hell – it’s Fred Titmus” because there he was, smoking his pipe, watching the game. Nigel Blackwell is shopping, “looking for ten pence off Lenor” when he bumps into someone “and seeing who it was I gave a cry. ” When HMHB play a gig, they invariably start with this song and after this line the music stops and the whole audience shouts out “Fuckin’ hell it’s Fred Titmus“. How must it feel to have written this song in 1985, probably alone in his bedroom, chuckling to himself and for the next thirty five years, groups of strangers will shout this punchline back to you in auditoria all over the country?
I am no connoisseur of poetry but I do understand that there needs to be a rhythm to the best verses and I believe that some of the lyrics on this album are a work of genius. As well as being hysterically funny.
“They’ve been cooking on Blue Peter
Now they’re sampling the dishes
‘I don’t normally like tomatoes, John
But this is delicious’”
“Frank was going through a state of depression in his bedroom
When he reached out for the jar
He swallowed every last pill and he lay back on his duvet
A Haliborange overdose is perhaps not the right way
To ooh-ooh, to kill yourself“
And best of all
“We sat and decided as the seasons collided
That our love was fairly utopian
If it wasn’t for my pills, my psychiatric bills
And your unreliable Fallopian“
“Time Flies By (When You’re The Driver Of A Train)” starts with Captain Flack’s roll call from Trumpton: “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb” and imagines the thoughts of the driver of the train who is transporting cocaine and finds that the only way to cope with football hooligans from Chigley is to “get me syringes out and crank up once again”.
The title of the album is, of course, a pun on The Beatles “Back In The USSR” (which, itself, is a pun on Chuck Berry’s “Back In The USA”) and reflects the (relatively) high unemployment rates of the mid Eighties. It became the highest selling independent album of the year. It still makes me laugh whereas my witty comments, shouted out at gigs, never made anyone laugh. Oh well. Older now: yes. Wiser? Who knows?