Of Rock, and Roll

Dave Woodhall watches the return of Half Man Half Biscuit to Bilston.

With two localish gigs in four months this is as close to a tour as Half Man Half Biscuit will ever get, so make the most of it.

I’ve said before that the band’s gigs tend to be the same. You know what you’re getting, and that’s what their audience likes. In fact, this is the biggest crowd they’ve pulled at the Robin.

They wander onstage with front man Blackie wielding an acoustic guitar he continues to wield throughout the gig. Joy in Leeuwarden opens the set, the song that was cheated out of becoming anthem of the 2010 European Korfball Championships.

Even though you know what you’re getting, you don’t know, if that makes sense, because HMHB gigs always throw in a few of the lesser-known examples of their back catalogue. Bottleneck at Capel Curig, A Lilac Harry Quinn and Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes (“When you’re down beside the lake you’re bound to hear somebody say ‘Careful now, that swan can break your arm’.) all get an early workout, along with a few from the recent  album 90 Bisodol.

The band’s anthems were also there in profusion, with Dukla Prague’s lyrics changed to provide a passing reference to contemporary happenings courtesy of drummer Carl Henry; And after only five minutes you were down to 10 men Cos he’d sent off your drummer for taking the base from under his right winger.”

There’s some very rock star behaviour with a drum solo appearing at one point and Blackie leaping from the riser in a most unbecoming fashion. It’s worth saying at this juncture that the Robin does have one of the great rock’n’roll carpets of our time. Walk across the floor slowly enough and you’re likely to leave your shoes halfway.

The sound, for once, was a bit muddy which meant that some of the bon mots, witty asides and jovial banter didn’t come across too well, or that might be my faltering hearing. I did catch the bit about Pam Ferris in Razzle, which doesn’t bear too much deep thought.

What else was there? The Pringles were an eye-watering £2.96 and Joy Division Oven Gloves didn’t close the set for a change – that honour went to For What is Chatteris?

There was an encore, which in keeping with the HMHB in Bilston tradition didn’t include a cover – probably coincidence but it’s the one venue where they never finish with a run-through of someone else’s post-punk standards. Instead, deceased band icons are paid tribute with the one that mentions Jim Reeves and 99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd.

Another night, another triumph.