Half Man Half Biscuit - Interview
It's hard to imagine the likes of Snow Patrol snubbing Jools Holland to watch Dundee or whichever lowly Scottish team they support. It's more likely they'd be found gargling hot honey in the fruit-laden green room, talking fast and waiting excitedly for their summon. Before splitting in 1986, citing 'musical similarities,' Nigel Blackwell's Half Man Half Biscuit declined The Tube's offer of TV fame as the band had a more important event to attend - Tranmere Rovers at home. Even Channel 4's offer of a helicopter ride wasn't enough to tempt Blackwell and co. to the studio.
Formed in 1984 and championed by DJ John Peel for whom they recorded 12 sessions, Half Man Half Biscuit are famed for making ill-tempered music with a social conscience. Adopted by the angst-ridden youth of the eighties, the band's punk driven, lyrical rants, and protests against all things celebrity and fake, became the unofficial anthems of the underground.
Their debut album, 1985's Back in the DHSS, topped the UK Indie Chart and their first single, 'The Trumpton Riots', topped the British independent chart in 1986, before they performed at Glastonbury.
In a rare interview, Nigel chats to fellow Birkenhead native James Dodd about Townes Van Zandt, new cycling fans and his annoyance with Mrs Brown's Boys.
Q: You've played five shows so far this year. That's almost a tour, isn't it?
A: Five is an amount certainly! We've 'upped the ante' this year for reasons I can't be sure of although on a personal level I could tour incessantly now that I've been told that I can pay the milkman online. I've hitherto felt it slightly ill-mannered when I've not been in to 'sort Dave out' of a Thursday teatime because I'm engaged in some polite soundcheck chat with a lighting wallah. Consequently, we could turn that five into an eight easily I reckon.
Q: So a long awaited homecoming show in Birkenhead isn't beyond the realms of possibility?
A: I was thinking more of New Guinea to be honest ... Astoundingly, I was actually born there (Goroka) but don't recall any of it as I was here on the Wirral before I'd turned one year old. My mother was a missionary but by her own admission she was a shit missionary. Her and my Dad decided to 'fuck it all off' and come back home to shift work at Champion Spark Plugs.
Under other circumstances I could have played table tennis internationally for Papua. So they say....
Q: You speak passionately of your love to visit new places and tie those visits into a tour (of sorts). Is there a region of the UK you're most fond of?
A: The Oblong of Dreams (that's the Wirral Peninsula of course) remains my favourite area of the UK. I can't say I'm enamoured with the prospect of going to a place of interest and having to perform with the band as well because there isn't usually enough time to explore due to 'load-in', 'soundcheck' and 'where's the nearest bookmaker' type commitments. I like to keep bookings and leisure trips strictly separate. Ronnie Ronalde gave me that advice years ago at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton. A great show albeit criminally under-attended.
He whistled 'Ave Maria' and we were all in bits.
Got chips on the way home.
A Sunday it was.
Before the refurbishment.
Q: The Oblong of Dreams seems to be in a healthy state right now - musically, at least. Would you agree? (And yet the Wirral's premiere music festival is the Fake Festival of Birkenhead Park headlined by Oasish.)
A: I didn't hear anything regarding that fake festival thing, did it go ahead? Were there any knife fights? Who had the ice cream concession? I do agree. Alas, I don't listen to the radio really so consequently don't get to hear new music as such which isn't something I'm proud of in any way, it's simply the way my routine pans out. A mate did point me in the direction of a 'spectacular six piece from New Ferry' called THICK BITUMEN who play a sort of 'Industrial Gamelan' which had me nodding me head for a couple of days last Wednesday. The Globe won't touch them of course as they're not West Side. (I made a little hand shape there.) Other than that I just mainly walk around putting people's bins back for them. You've got to give a bit back haven't you . . .
Q: Has it always been the case that you don't bother finding new music? Do you still take enough from the punk era, for example? You seem to be content in working your words around three-chord songs. Is that fair?
A: I can see what you're saying as regards a lot of our stuff in that I probably do work my words around a three chord thrash in the first instance and see what happens from there (usually not much of course!) but I also believe there to be a fair few of our songs which don't fall into that category whatsoever. As regards new music I can't say I'm au fait with what the bands sound like but I'm certainly aware of their existence as I routinely pick up a copy of Bido Lito and still hear ABOUT current outfits 'on the brink nationally' as it were through mates younger than me who go to gigs and are as admirably excitable as they ought to be at that age.
I imagine there's loads of really good bands around (there always is at any given time) but I must admit I'm forever discovering artists from the past whom as a result of Punk and New Wave's 'Year Zero' philosophy of the time I was probably sniffy towards and in being so, missed out (until nowadays) on some astounding music.*
Example: I am only just getting around to actually LISTENING to the likes of Townes Van Zandt and others of his ilk such as Blaze Foley and it took me until 2006 to appreciate the wonder of James Carr and Arthur Alexander to name just a few.
I tend to read more about people first and then approach their work, although now and again something might come up and surprise me on 'Later' (which I'm never expecting as you can almost smell the self-satisfaction at times wafting through the telly from the studio) like when Future Islands appeared to remind us that 'moments' can still occur.
*I was always listening to The Residents and The Beatles however, both of whom are far from a three chord thrash of course.
Q: What’s vexing you right now?
Mrs Brown's Boys is FUCKING GASH no matter what anyone says by the way. "Oh but you should give it a chance, it's all done live." I have given it a chance and it's SHITE.
See also: New cycling fans who got into it all by way of the 'Wiggo ' factor ('quirky, mildly rebellious Brad, he likes Paul Weller y'know!) and bought themselves a SKY replica jersey and only watch the Tour de France and have no knowledge of the April Classics. Their first bike purchase for twenty years was a Boardman Hybrid on the 'cycle to work' scheme and then they got serious and thought that they too could be just like 'Froome Dog' (kill me now) so they upgraded to a carbon framed Pinarello and ordered Rapha polo shirts online.
Someday a real rain will come.....
Q: I couldn’t agree more. Finally, when can we expect some new ‘three chord trash’ from HMHB?
A: Fuck knows!