Dave Woodhall eventually sees Half Man Half Biscuit at the Wulfrun Hall.
I hadn’t seen Half Man Half Biscuit for a few years, which unless you’re the sort of fan who plans their holidays around gigs isn’t that surprising. Hardly the most hard-working of bands, an unfortunately-planned bit of overtime and a weekend away will probably seeing you missing all their nearby dates for the best part of a decade.
They’ve played the nearby Robin a few times but this was their first venture to the refurbished Halls that I could think of and it was also my first visit since the re-opening. It’s a bit smart and the floor isn’t that sticky, both of which can be a mixed blessing if you like your live music a bit on the atmospheric side.
I don’t know if HMHB would think of themselves as atmospheric. I know they came on to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Number One, or the end of it at least because a combination of bad time-keeping and circumnavigating the Wolverhampton ring road on a Friday night meant that we got into the Wulfrun just as the band were strolling onstage. It also meant that we missed openers the Hitchers, reckoned by veteran Biscuitmen to be one of the better supports they’ve witnessed.
And it was into the first song of the set, A Lilac Harry Quinn, followed by another old favorite The Light at the End of the Tunnel. By now we were into the first of a running joke throughout the set, the nearby metropolis of Oldbury. They’ve got seven recycling bins, apparently. Not every house, for the whole town.
You know what you’re going to get with this band, you just don’t know how you’re going to get it. There’s always a few lesser-known ones thrown in but most of the audience knows everything they’ve ever released and besides, the highlights of the set are as much what comes between as the songs themselves. Neil the bass player sang the opening of the Beverley Hillbillies themes, leading into Awkward Sean and It Makes the Room Look Bigger got a first airing for seventeen years according to one far more knowledgeable than I’ll ever be.
We got a few references to the Wolves, harking back to the days when they and Tranmere were at the same level. The intro to Black Night preceded For What is Chatteris and a fair bit of Brimful of Asha led us into the one about Slipknot’s papal engagement. There was also a lengthy ramble about visiting the Charles Darwen museum in Shrewsbury on the way to the gig. There were eight people in the queue and it only holds ten so the band barged to the front, nicely proving Darwen’s theory of natural selection.
A few old favourites – Everything’s AOR, Dukla Prague Away Kit, Trumpton Riots – and a few newer classics; Oblong of Dreams and Every Time a Bell Rings from (comparatively) new albums and that’s the set proper done with. After showing a worrying knowledge of prog rock lyrics, Nigel thanks everyone for coming, the early start means you’ll be home for Graham Norton then he starts up with the final song, Joy Division Oven Gloves. The trouble is that the rest of the band have remembered there’s another one before that. It’s the traditional HMHB encore cover, this time Take the Skinhead Bowling, which more people know is by Camper van Beethoven than know how it goes.
The Joy Division one eventually gets played, and it’s a sign of the times that there are more phones in the air than oven gloves. That finally was it and as I left I saw a touching tribute to the recently-deceased Geoff Davies, the band’s guiding light and all-round good guy at the merch stand. I couldn’t get off the ring road on the way home either.