Starter for Ten: Half Man Half Biscuit

Pop cultural archivists of fads and whims, evokers of folklorian ditties and shamanic arias, Peel favourites and in the words of Andy Kershaw ‘Britain’s finest folk band,’; we bring you 10 Top Tracks by Half Man Half Biscuit.

Famously spurning The Tube to watch Tranmere Rovers play on a Friday* night, Half Men Half Biscuit, the unique songsmiths, continue to charm all and sundry with their idiosyncratic (al)literate tales. Their anecdotes puncture the pomposity of the aspirational that deign to walk amongst us.  The band create wistful recollections, forensically outlining and highlighting the absurdity and minutiae of everyday existence as well as affectionately skewering, championing, lampooning, celebrating and rubbishing, with detailed eyes and amour of the greatest poets.

After 14 albums, 5 singles and 5 E.Ps it is impossible to choose a ‘best’ of, however, there are ten brilliant ones from over the ages. Sample ‘em and dig deeper.

‘Dead Men don’t need season tickets’ (Voyage to the Bottom of the Road, 1997)

So, here is the deal; your best mate Graham has only gone and carked it. In shock, you do all you can to help his widow with the ‘various chores … the lawn …. and not least of all, those funeral arrangements’.  You are even going as far to suggest she gets away from it all post-internment with the Lake District’s reasonably priced early-September.  Of course, in early-September, the football season is also underway and well, the deceased is not going to be using that ticket, is he?  A friend in need is a friend indeed… This vivid tale is set to a grungey plod marking the Half Man Half Biscuit as the ultimate sound gardeners.

‘Hair like Brian May Blues’ (Eno Collaboration E.P. 1996)

We all know of one; the small-town wrecker who rules by fear, drinks chasers in the Dog & Gun and most locals (privately) wish that some bad luck will befall him.  What better than for him to wake up one morning and for his hair to have gone all curly-locked like Queen-axe-astronomer-badger badgerer, Brian May. Our fallen antihero “ain’t got no balaclava and his good girl ain’t got no snood”. His hard-man cred is shot to bits which means that drowning by suicide the only option. A traditional bluesy number from the Dee Delta.

‘Twenty-four garage people’ (Trouble over Bridgewater, 2000)

Picture this. It is 02.00 a.m. You are peckish so you pull in to the nearest garage for ‘Pringles … sour cream and chives’ only to come up against a fat-arsed grump, cursing “my soul ‘cos I don’t want petrol” Naturally, the devil is brought on in you.  Espying the stock on offer, you ask one by one “what sandwiches have you got?” causing said grump to get up/sit down much to his disgruntlement, before settling on “ten Kit Kats and a motoring atlas”.  Then, requesting the ultimate coup de gras: “A blues CD on the”Hallmark label, that’ s sure to be good’. The dissatisfied cashier’s head is later found on the local golf links. Fore!

‘Lark Descending’ (Editor’s Recommendation E.P. 2001)

A sort of sequel to Half Man Half Biscuit’s ‘Four Skinny Kids’, in which our ‘hero’, whose “hands stained with Thistle milk”  travels to ATP, Camber Sands. Our protagonist’s identity crisis is in full force as he is tired of trying to “be Mansfield’s very own Steve Malkmus” and now he is checking in as “J.Buckley”. Benefits of “a job on the bins” are highlighted before the grim realisation that for all his pretensions, our main man is more Ken than Lou Barlow! Seba-doh!

‘All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit’ (Back again in the D.H.S.S. 1987)

A paean to a time of the youthful idyll.  In the era when Scalextric was coveted, Subbuteo was king and far-flung European teams were the preserve of the cognoscenti, arcane knowledge was earned through hard work and not through 24-hour bombardment by media or the phrase ‘Hold on, I’ll Google it’.

The inconsistent performance of the motorcar racing game (“it was a dodgy transformer (again and again”) results in a game of Subbuteo, but, this is a match in which you are supposed to allow the house-host (whose sports shop-owning Uncle had access to the eponymous hallowed shirt) to triumph.   The finale is a riot of smashed up players, as well as your “synthetic army of travelling supporters thrown in the bin”, the dog barking and expulsion from the house. Halcyon days.

‘Running Order Squabble Fest’ (This Leaden Pall 1993)

A pathological deconstruction of the perils of the band’s roster at the local hostelry for a CND fundraiser. Ego levels are high after the crowd at the last ‘event’ reached double figures.  This time?  They are the main men. However, trouble is afoot.  The band have been relegated to the half four slot, they “who can’t even play their own instruments” are getting 5k.  Raging apoplexy cries “CND, CND, we’re not going on after Chas and Dave”. A misconstrual that climaxes with being informed that after all, the band are going to be on after Manchester’s post-punk contenders, Crispy Ambulance.  All of this is set to the glorious disdain-refrain redolent at football grounds in the 1980’s. You took a week off work for that.

‘Paintball’s coming home’ (Voyage to the Bottom of the Road 1997)

Arguably the epitome of the spiking of the social mores of the aspirational classes; they who have “surpassed the Jones’s”. Composed in 1997, its observations show its (vint)age, timeless actions (getting a ‘new’ conservatory, going up in a hot air balloon to woo, having a row on New Year’s Eve) against atavistic, socially-conditioned behaviour (‘know where things are in B&Q’, naming your German Shepherd ‘Prince’ following Sheba’s passing). All musically set to ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’, the final pay off a rib-digging at the mass-appeal of Annie Lennox’s post-Eurythmics oeuvre. Thorn in my side indeed.

This was updated with references to the Henman Hill whoppers, meeting up for boxercise, purchasing cartons of soup over tins and being chosen by their cat (not vice versa).

‘Petty Sessions’ (C.S.I. Ambleside 2008)

To the sound of the ‘Hokey Cokey’ comes this jokey attack on the entitled, the self-aggrandising, the demanding and the petty. The payoff of this track comes with the crosshairs settling on those perennial japesters – English crickets’ self-proclaimed ‘Barmy army’. Our narrator runs through the ‘characters’ “Bart, Elvis and the baby”, questioning their alleged mental instability before announcing murderous intent.

‘Friday nights and the gates are low’ (Some call it Godcore 1995)

A lament to a bygone age, the late 80’s has Wirral’s finest Tranmere Rovers playing their home matches on Fridays* to avoid crowd clashing with their Merseyside neighbours the following day. It also witnesses the rise of the nu-fan, who has become a know-it-all steward.  Football’s dark days are banished in favour of sanitisation, souvenirs and televised 24-hour coverage of all things ‘footie’ related.  The revolving door policy of overpriced players, who make no impact but a lasting (negative) impression. Weekend ruined before it’s got going. Back of the Netto.

This could easily emanate from Cherry Red’s fabled stable, choppy guitar, sparse percussion, short, sharp and sweet.

‘Turn a blind eye’ (Four lads who shook The Wirral 1998)

Lifted from Pastor Niemoller’s World War II ode ‘First they came …’ which lists numerous persecuted groups, factions and how wilful inaction/ignorance can result in there being no one left to defend YOU, this song ignores the eradication of the “palmists, the ROMOs, the fire-eaters, even the camp TV chefs” before going as far to point out “Dani Behr, she’s over there behind the wardrobe”. Once Eamonn Holmes has been found (on behalf of the nation) “I think I’m right in saying I applauded it”.

The close exhorts that sometimes it might just be best to ‘turn a blind eye’. For your sake if not anyone else’s. The Conservative Party anthem since time immemorial.

Half Man Half Biscuit’s new LP No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut is out on Probe Plus, 18th May 2018.

Kemper Boyd