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The Windmill, Brixton
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
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Gig Review

Half Man Half Biscuit / Rita Payne
The Leadmill, Sheffield

Article written by Matt H - Sep 13, 2015

Half Man Half Biscuit - on the road.
Look anywhere amongst the middle-aged and you’ll see a strong crossover between football support and continued music fandom. The unexpectedly long shelf life of pop and rock bands we liked back then has generated a team-like loyalty and left the two fandoms looking increasingly similar. At one level this is stating the bleeding obvious - Half Man Half Biscuit probably did more than anyone to plant the seeds of this, having always had strong links and love for (lower league) football. They even have their own kit (Dukla Prague away, natch). But it’s not football references and the liberal smattering of those tops around the Leadmill that prompts the comparison. It’s the mix of different types of fan on crowd that mirrors the football most closely - especially for anyone that’s been in a few away ends over the years.

I’m going to go on to beat this analogy mercilessly and happily to death. First, a nod to the support act, Rita Payne. It can be a bit thankless to play to this sort of audience. There aren’t many who would make for a good fit. But they do a decent, if rather well-scrubbed, bit of upbeat Americana and beyond their own core support (who along with the duo themselves melt away baffledly not long into the main set) get the sort of reception a team of local lads having a halftime penalty competition would get.

I’ve been a long-term armchair Biscuits fan, much as I’ve been on and off as a football fan when it comes to going to games. I’d dip into the Forest matches in London along with odd trip to the City Ground (although this year’s birthday present of a season ticket for non-League Hallam breaks that tendency, as well as confirming me as a perfect cliché of the 5live/6music greyhaired crossover crew). And with HMHB I was properly (inevitably) a fan at the beginning and stayed engaged throughout – but this is my first actual trip out to see them. As with any away football crowd there’s a few like me around the edges– tolerated and even welcomed by a core who recognise and acknowledge each other even if they’ve never really spoken.

But attendance records aren’t the only thing that divides us. There’s people here that love the band as a rolling “I love the 70s/80s” litany of age-specific obscure references - “Fred Titmuss!”. There are those that love them as a cult-comedy series quote machine - “There’s a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets.” Or a niche observational stand-up routine "Darts in soap operas, oh so wrong.". And there are those that twat on about them representing a swathe of the aimlessly-educated drifting confusedly between a working class background and middle-class lifestyle (yeah, sorry about that…).

Whatever the source, this is a loyalty that can fill the Leadmill at £20 a pop, which seems a lot. But then you consider that down the road Wednesday are stinging visiting fans for £40 a time and suddenly it’s a bargain. Once here, as in a football crowd, the different reasons that we all came melt away into appreciation of the 2 hours of unbroken Biscuits that everyone loves. There’s a bit of everything from across their career (even what’s apparently a rare outing for one from Some Call it Godcore). I’m a reluctant nostalgist when it comes to HMHB (they've never been better than their last 4 albums), so it’s pleasing that (relatively) more recent stuff like National Shite Day and Rock ‘n Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools is clearly as essential to set as Trumpton Riots, if not more so. And it’s surprising how good it is to hear the stuff from the early days. It almost brings a tear to the eye – not least when Len Ganley Stance is given a rare outing within an extended spider’s reach of the Crucible.

This is where the football analogy breaks down. Football fans go for the thick and thin, the ups and downs, they only have the current team in front of them, living on the memories of decent players past. Lots of football matches are crap, but that’s not the point. There are some dedicated music fans who approach their favourite bands in a similar way – I’ve known fans that treat following a whole tour as like a season, embracing a lacklustre night as part of the whole. But mostly with music, enjoyment is more of a sure thing. A night with Half Man Half Biscuit was always going to be good and they can, in effect, bring John Robertson out of retirement to jink down the wing again as a seamless part of the entertainment. So while I’ll trundle to Forest again at some point filled with trepidation and scepticism, I’ll wander down to HMHB next time they’re in town knowing that a great night is in prospect.


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