Half Man Half Biscuit – Northampton Roadmender, 29th November

“Anyone know what DNA stands for? It’s the National Association of Dyslexics”.

It appears that it has been decreed that today is ‘Black Friday’. Despite it being a term that I have never heard anyone else use before today, it has arrived on these shores as if by stealth – unbidden by all except the readers of Retail Week. The implication in the media is quietly sinister “Today is Black Friday. Today has always been Black Friday. Remember?”.

At 8.30pm on this day, HMHB emerge diffidently onto the stage at Northampton Roadmender, with Britain’s true poet laureate, Nigel Blackwell, carrying a guitar in one hand and a ‘Caution: Wet Floor’ sign in the other, which he deposits by his amplifier. Then, suddenly, he is gone, disappearing back behind the curtain, leaving his bandmates exchanging shrugs and nervous glances as the intro music continues to blare out of the PA. A minute or so passes, until he re-emerges clutching a crumpled piece of paper. “Forgot the set list” he explains, before putting it on his amp and returning to the microphone, and striking the first chord of the set before confusion descends again. “Now that I’ve got it, I should probably refer to it” he points out, although realises fairly quickly that he can’t read the handwriting anyway. They pile into ‘The Light At The End of the Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)’ and a two hour greatest hits set – of sorts – begins to unfurl.

Nigel would no doubt cringe at the very suggestion but there is an unrivalled warmth at the heart of this band, cheerfully unpretentious but also witheringly satirical and occasionally – very occasionally – righteously angry. When he talks about spending the bands milk money on a “decadent” trip down the M6 toll road, you can’t help but admire the band’s commitment to the cause of laziness and a proud lack of professionalism. There is no interest in a ‘career’, whatever that means. A handful of gigs a year, a record every three or four years and an enormous amount of sitting around in between, seems positively heroic in an era of desperation to be famous – for whatever reason. As the man himself sings: “There is nothing better in life than writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro”.

Yet, the lack of strenuous effort is tempered with songs that rail against the casual idiocy of modern life, from a lack of pedestrian etiquette to slack jawed singers appearing on Soccer AM, taking potshots at Sainsburys security guards, Slipknot, rugby players who have just discovered Johnny Cash and, brilliantly, managing to lacerate both the stupidity of colossal expenditure on pointless national celebrations and Sting at the same time. “She died with her telly on, eighty-seven and confused with not enough hospital beds ‘cos all the money’s been used on the end of the century party preparations and they reckon that the last thing she saw in her life was
Sting, singing on the roof of the Barbican – Sting, singing on the roof of the roof of the Barbican”. The final insult.

In an age where it seems that the only way of valuing people’s contribution to the world is how much money they generate for the economy, where social mobility is all about desperately grasping upwards for status and possessions, where we are encouraged to sneer at people who don’t fall into these weird neat boxes, whether they are ‘benefit scroungers’, immigrants, the disabled or gypsies, Half Man Half Biscuit strike a blow for the value of humanity, humour, wit, laziness and warmth.

Black Friday? It must be National Shite Day.

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