The Waterfront, Norwich November 12, 2022
by Paul Hammerton
Half Man Half Biscuit are famous for their fanatical fanbase who follow the band to all their relatively rare live appearances.
The band don’t do tours – they just schedule one-off gigs through the course of the year, supposedly fitting their performances around the fixture list of their beloved Tranmere Rovers.
After a long absence from Norwich, we lucked out this year.
There are enough Dukla Prague away shirts on display in the crowd to not only field a starting XI but fill the over-inflated subs bench of the modern game.
Add to that the King Of Hi-Vis jacket and at least one pair of Joy Division Oven Gloves, and the more casual attendees could be forgiven for fearing they might feel excluded.
But that could not be further from the truth, and a happy vibe of anticipation unites all those present.
With no support act, HMHB arrive on stage just before 8pm and go straight into tracks that everyone here knows. The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train) is followed by Fuckin’ ’Ell It’s Fred Titmus, the latter with audience participation contributing as much as frontman Nigel Blackwell on the vocals.
As the night progresses it feels as though the setlist is made up of the songs they just fancy tonight, with old favourites interspersed with the more obscure in a trail through nearly 40 years of social history.
“Did we do this in rehearsal? No? Let’s just do it – it is hardly Van Halen,” quips Blackwell at one point.
It’s easy to focus on his rapid delivery of clever lyrics, but bassist Neil Crossley and guitarist Karl Benson produce a powerful sound while drummer Carl Henry seems content to lurk in the shadows.
HMHB continually switch between pop, punk, folk, musical hall and variety.
Slipknot are given a Vatican Broadside to the tune of Glory, Glory Hallelujah. Requests for I Hate Nerys Hughes are met with the response that “opinions can change”.
Alterations to the A14 on their drive down from the Wirral are admired – “very pleasing on the eye, though we could have made a small diversion” – before they launch into For What Is Chatteris…
Geographical references are scattered through many of the songs, although Blackwell politely declines to sing about Swaffham – it’s “too predictable”. But he does admire Norwich Castle for its collection of ceramic teapots.
The pronunciation of Norfolk place names is a recurring theme, with an admission of knowing how to pronounce “Happisburgh” thanks only to watching TV presenters reporting from the top of crumbling cliffs. “Wymondham” proves a challenge too far.
Blackwell tells us that he rather likes On The Ball, City and the crowd respond with a full rendition of the Canaries anthem.
The main set ends with the recent catchy Every Time A Bell Rings, which implores for the hedge to be cut, and the early punky Trumpton Riots, in which Captain Snort brings about a military coup.
Two hours have flown by in a flash.
When the encore arrives, we get a surprise cover of Jimmy Jimmy, less than a month after The Undertones performed their song on the same stage.
The Wombats closed their recent UEA gig with a frenzied delivery of Let’s Dance To Joy Division. Not to be outdone, HMHB end things tonight with Joy Division Oven Gloves, accompanied by equally energetic dancing but with oven gloves held aloft.
There’s the promise of another HMHB appearance in Stowmarket in April. But with tickets for that one having sold out earlier today, Norwich needs its own return show sometime soon.