Half Man Half Biscuit – O2 Ritz Manchester

28th Jan 2022

It’s date night for me and the current Mrs Callen and I’ve promised her a top night out on the town, to celebrate our first night out in 3 months. For many taking your loving spouse to a Half Man Half Biscuit gig on a Friday night, would have them reaching for the Marriage Guidance Hotline on speed dial. I know I’ve been punching above my weight for years, but my wife really loves the Biscuit, so the chance of me sneaking out on my own to the Ritz was never a realistic option. There is also the added bonus of her keeping my place and watching my pint, while I’m shooting in the photo pit. Them’s the breaks! With their 15th studio album (yes 15th!) The ‘Voltarol Years’ hoving into view shortly, you’d be forgiven for expecting a set constructed around it. Nigel Blackwell is anything but predictable and tonight’s set is a fan’s favourite and greatest hits mix rolled into one. Now in their 38th year, HMHB are the indie rock equivalent to a Grade II listed building. One worth cherishing and preserving for as long as possible. I’ve lost count of the number of brilliant nights out that Half Man Half Biscuit have been instrumental in, but tonight easily ranks up there amongst the best I’ve seen them.

Once the “first 3 songs, no flash” part of my evening is done, delivering She’s In Broadstairs, Running Order Squabble Fest and Renfield’s Afoot, I retire to my lofty perch upstairs in the Ritz. From there I can see the assembled mosh pit, high on expectation and probably prescription drugs. There appears to only be one person under 40, a young lady with long red hair in this assembled throng. As the evening wears on and presumably the meds kick in, the mosh sponsored by Age UK and Saga Holidays stirs. My heart zings at the sight of so many seniors enjoying a night out, whilst keeping a watchful eye out for DWP spies hell bent on rescinding their Blue Badge status (no abusers here!), bouncing around respectfully to the likes of Bob Wilson – Anchorman and Trumpton Riots.

Nigel discovers a pair of spectacles left on the stage and it later becomes a cause for concern to him that the owner doesn’t come forward to claim them. He also has a great knack of delivering seemingly throw away one liners to the crowd. Tonight its “does anyone know why the Police helicopter is up”, before careering into another Biscuit classic. We all look questioningly to each other as if one of us has the answer. I’ve always found it difficult to describe the band to those poor souls who’ve never heard them. Too often the response has been “oh, they’re a comedy band are they?”

Of course, Blackwell’s acerbic wit underpins the very essence of what makes their music, the clever word play (Outbreak of Vitas Gerulaitis), the voicing of collective minds (get your fucking hedge cut) backed by tunes with more hooks than a Velcro jumpsuit. They are so much more than that. The lyrics could easily exist without the music, delivered by bearded hipsters in plaid shirts at a slam poetry festival.

38 years has also given Nigel the chance to hone his heckler put downs, most noticeably “yep, that’s one of ours”, whenever a punter shouts a song title. Tonight, he also pays tribute to a long-standing fan, who has recently passed away by asking us to raise a glass. It’s a family affair being a Biscuit fan.

A blast through the set, gives us a sole glimpse of the new material, I’m Getting Buried In The Morning, before it takes us on a Merseyrail journey through the Wirral countryside, stopping off at Vatican Broadside, Restless Legs, All I Want For Christmas…, See That My Bike’s Kept Clean, For What is Chatteris?

The encore arrives and delivers Fuckin Hell It’s Fred Titmus, Everytime A Bell Rings and curtain closer Joy Division Oven Gloves, which sends the pit into a frenzy powered by Fishermans Friends and Ralgex. As always the band serve up a little something special at the end of the set. In the past, Manchester audiences have been treated to classic Manchester band songs, played straight –  New Dawn Fades, What Do I Get, The Air That I Breathe and Container Drivers. More latterly we’ve had Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat, Neil Young – After The Goldrush and even Dolly Parton – Jolene. The realisation of what is to come, when the first few notes of Dead Kennedys – Holiday In Cambodia, is tangible. Smiles as wide as the Mersey itself beam as Nidge rips into Jello Biafra’s greatest legacy. This is the second time I’ve seen this track performed on this stage in 7 years, and tonight’s was better than when the Dead Kennedys played here in 2015.

As we head off home I’m not alone as I scan the skies for any sign of the aforementioned Police helicopter. Was he joking?

Set List

She’s in Broadstairs
Running Order Squabble Fest
Renfield’s Afoot
Asparagus Next Left
What Made Colombia Famous
27 Yards of Dental Floss
Outbreak of Vitas Gerulaitis
Restless Legs
Reflections in a Flat
Vatican Broadside
I’m Getting Buried In The Morning
Harsh Times in Umberstone Covert
National Shite Day
Knobheads on Quiz Shows
Bob Wilson – Anchorman
Fix It So She Dreams of Me
We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune
All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit
See That My Bike’s Kept Clean
For What Is Chatteris…
Everything’s A.O.R.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light of an Oncoming Train)
The Trumpton Riots
Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus
Every Time a Bell Rings
Holiday in Cambodia (Dead Kennedys Cover)
Joy Division Oven Gloves
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