Monday, 16 May 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #3

#3: Half Man Half Biscuit
The Tramshed, Cardiff - 14 May 2016

Sometime in the early 90s, I went to see James in Exeter. I went with a mate and his girlfriend. I'd sorted the tickets out and gave them theirs the day before. When we arrived at the venue, I realised something: I'd forgotten my ticket! As going home to get it and coming back would have taken at least two hours, I was forced to pay over the odds to a bastard tout in order to get in. Since that day, I've always checked, double-checked and triple-checked that I have the tickets before I leave home.

So MrsRobster and I left the house, drove to Cardiff to pick up our mate Colin and then onward to the venue. Just yards from the Tramshed, Colin jokingly quipped: "Now you have got the tickets, haven't you?" My stomach sank, MrsRobster let out a loud gasp, and a collective "Oh shit!" escaped our lips. Guess who'd left them on the dining table? Now, we were only half hour away from home, but a round trip of an hour would have probably made us late. But I had a brainwave. The tickets were print-at-home e-tickets delivered by email. We were just 10-15 minutes from work. A round trip of 25-30 minutes and we'd be back before the start. And so it was that the wonder of the internet saved the day. After a quick detour, a slight wrestle with a printer that decided it didn't want its weekend disturbed, and a huge sigh of relief, we were back at the Tramshed with time to spare.

I was happy as I really didn't want to miss Half Man Half Biscuit, a band I first got into at the age of 15 but had never seen live. A band who John Peel once described as "a national treasure" and who stated that when he died "I want them to be buried with me." Fortunately they weren't. HMHB appeared on stage to a rapturous reception from an audience who I have to say were among the most responsive I've encountered at a show for some time. Not bad considering the age of most of 'em.

For an hour and 45 minutes (which itself is impressive), we were slain by an onslaught of some of the boys from the Wirral's finest moments from their 30+ years career. I made a quick list of songs I remembered them playing the morning after the show. I got 17 without putting much thought to it. That would be more than you get at your average show, and I know I'm still way short of the mark.

Highlights were All I Want For Chirstmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit, Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride, We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune, Bob Wilson: Anchorman, For What Is Chatteris..., Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes - you know, this could take a while. Let's cut to the chase - the classics were aired: National Shite Day, Joy Division Oven Gloves, The Trumpton Riots, Time Flies By When You're The Driver Of A Train and Vatican Broadside. Nigel Blackwell blessed us with some great banter, and then, during the encore, the biggest surprise of the night - a full, proper rendition of Wales' favourite folk song Sosban Fach. In Welsh. Like, properly 'n' all. Cue mass singalong.

Us long-term fans loved it, of course, and there were plenty of us there. There was also a surprising number of people there under the age of 30! For a band that has deliberately done everything under the radar for so long, the fact they can still reach new audiences says a hell of a lot. The only downside had to be, once again, the sound at the Tramshed[1]. Too often Nigel's vocals were lost in the mix, coming over rather distorted and muddy. A shame, because as you know, without the lyrics and Nigel's droll delivery, Half Man Half Biscuit would probably have been a below-par indie band who would have broken up before the 90s began and long-forgotten.

But as it was, what did we learn from this splendid event? Well, five things actually:
  1) E-tickets are possibly the best idea ever;
  2) Nigel Blackwell speaks Welsh quite well;
  3) The public toilets at Bourton-on-the-Water are the cleanest in the UK (thanks Neil);
  4) The site of "some big stones" in Wiltshire that the band drove past on their way to Cardiff "will look quite nice when it's finished";
  5) And 99 per cent of gargoyles look like Bob Todd. But we knew that one already...

MrsRobster's verdict: She's not what you would call a fan, but has expressed amusement on occasion when I've been playing HMHB: "They were OK, but it [the vocals] just sounded like he was mumbling." Come on Tramshed, sort that sound out!

I'm deliberately avoiding the obvious ones here. If you don't know what they are, you're definitely in the wrong place...

And just for fun, here's a clip from back in the day (1986, in fact) from Whistle Test:

[1] I refer you to my previous visit to the Tramshed in December [here].


  1. Marvelous report of the gig. HMHB are one of my favourite bands throughout the last decades and sadly I never got the chance to see them live. Seems like you had a great evening. I'm no fan of E-tickets but sometimes you get a second chance when you forgot something.

  2. One of the best live bands aorund- I've seen them 3 times in the last few years and theyre always great.

  3. I suspect that HMHB could do an amusing song about your ticket shenanigans Robster

  4. Another one of the greats from the C86 comp. Who would have thought they would not only still be around but be relevant as well? Really enjoyed your review.

  5. Following them since 1985, but never got the chance to catch them live ... I'm really jealous, mate!


    I refer the author to the comments section and his promise of a Volume 2.......

    Go know you want to!