Patrick Widdess reports on Half Man Half Biscuit – The Junction, Cambridge, 24 March 2010

A Half Man Half Biscuit gig is a rare treat. The band’s laziness and contempt for the music industry has led them to skive off the duties of endless touring. The capacity crowd that turns out at the Junction seem like supporters of a lower division football team; loyal to the team and the true values of the sport. Several are wearing Dukla Prague away kits and a pair of Joy Division oven gloves can be seen waving near the front as the band take to the stage. There is no support act giving the band a full night to cover their extensive back-catalogue. Nigel Blackwell is a unique song writer with lyrics rich in cultural references, parody and surrealism. Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes makes an early appearance in the set and bears all the hallmarks of HMHB. Folky guitar strumming accompanies Blackwell’s easily audible and instantly funny lyrics sung to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain. "Do you switch the kitchen light off with your chin? / When your holding tea and toast and there’s no one else about, do you switch the kitchen light off with your chin?" Goes one verse.
The lyrics and humour are not always so transparent. Sometimes the words are lost in the jaunty grind of electric guitars and not everyone can get all the cultural references. Early classic Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus! has little meaning to younger fans. Nigel Blackwell keeps finding new targets for his sardonic wit like bad losers on Yahoo! Chess and pretentious middle-class teenagers making angst ridden alternative music in the song Look Dad, No Tunes.     
Blackwell must have been taking notes when I was playing Subbuteo as a kid. The pitch was full of creases that could never be ironed out. The only friend I played against used to beat me all the time and when my little brother pushed him onto the pitch crushing most of the players it was pretty much game over. Such childhood woes are echoed in All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. Everyone listens to this classic song with an air of solemnity as if standing for the national anthem at an England game.
Blackwell is wonderfully observant finding humour in every day moments that pass most people by. 24-Hour Garage People is part song, part dialogue with a grumpy garage attendant. He savours each moment like a well-worn anecdote, drawing out the details, adding embellishments. “Where’s this going?” shouts a heckler. Unperturbed Blackwell ponders the set list for a while before launching back into song with "I’ll have ten Kit-Kats and a motoring atlas.”
The between song banter is as witty as the songs and tailored for the Cambridge crowd. The Sedgewick Museum is criticised for it’s lack of cakes and Trumpton Riots is rechristened Trumpington Riots.
The one and a half hour set passes too quickly. The band return for an encore with Nigel sporting a novelty caravan shaped guitar. They close with Joy Division Oven Gloves which could be their first top ten hit if a campaign in support of 6 Music is successful in getting the song to number 6. Chart success has never been high on the band’s agenda. They have long been successful at not being very successful at all. They should have more fans, tour more frequently and get more airplay but that would ruin the charm of British music’s most endearing anti-heroes.

 Writer: Patrick Widdess