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The Midlands Rocks

Half Man Half Biscuit + Sonnenberg @ The Robin 2, Bilston – Thursday 2 February 2017

Wait ‘til their PR men read this…

Pen-and-inked by Jason Guest

Whoh-oh Black Sabbath, bam-a-lam. While heavy metal’s (three of)four fathers play their penultimate gig in their hometown, a bunch of Brian May-haired, Dukla Prague Away Kit-clad, Joy Division oven glove-brandishing, Bob Wilson-bewildered bodies emerge from the depths of the DHSS and pull the ice axes from their legs. They look to the sky and see the black and white rainbow over Bilston. Yep. It must be National Shite Day. Good job Half Man Half Biscuit are in town.

First up is duo Sonnenberg, singer/guitarist Zinney and percussionist/tabla-ist Saul Hughes filling the room with the gentle calm of their eastern-nuanced acoustic folk to soothe the Robin 2’s slowly-growing crowd. While Zinney’s hypnotic guitar work and his mellow vocal have a cool air about them, with the gentle low end throb of the soft rhythmic pulse subtly suggesting the occasional bass line, it’s Hughes’ tabla-work that adds further depth to the tracks. Offering up a more, shall we say, introspective and emotional set than this eve’s headliners, Sonnenberg get the respectful reception they deserve as they make their way back to the peyote-laden desert of earthly delights whence they came…

Trendsetter that he is, Nigel Blackwell enters the stage with a packet of crisps. Yep, rock ‘n roll has claimed another victim. It’s product placement and corporate sponsorship from now on for these high flying sellouts. Maybe that’s why the monotone request/warning to the audience to refrain from taking photos was repeated every 20 minutes. We wouldn’t want the unsolicited plunder of the paparazzi sullying the good name of Half Man Half Biscuit, now would we?

“Anybody here from Ballymena?” asks Nigel. Hmmm. Looks like Nigel’s yet to get the R-‘n-R banter down. I’m sure Ozzy is telling Sabbath’s long-serving fans at this very moment that he loves them and urging them to “go crazy”. But not us. No. We have to listen to an impromptu quick-fire quiz where one audience member has to guess the name of George Scorey’s fiancée who was made to wait just that little bit longer because the 1923 FA Cup Final went on a bit longer than planned. (It was Kitty, in case you’re wondering. Poor girl. Oh, and Scorey even has a Wikipedia page. No mention of Kitty though.) And with little respect for his fellow band members’ privacy, Nigel outs guitarist Ken as the first man in Wallasey to eat Yakult. O the decadence…

But it wasn’t all sport and scandal. With 2016 taking such cultural icons as David Bowie and Ian McCaskill from us, the band remind us that 2017 is already making a name for itself as the new celebrity slayer: Maggie Roche; the guy from Can; Kevin Ravenscroft’s grandad (nope, nor me). And of course the cinema manager, his funeral being held at 1.30, 4.30 and quarter to eight. Ba-dum tss!

They did do some songs too. Close on 30 of ‘em as a matter of fact. ‘Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus’ had everyone swearing in drunken unison. ‘Vatican Broadside’ had everyone shouting ‘Who the fuckin’ hell are Slipknot?’ in drunken unison. ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves’ saw a pair of Joy Division Oven Gloves aloft near the front of the crowd (handmade I suspect; I can’t find the official merchandise anywhere). And a “postmodern” performance of ‘It’s Clichéd To Be Cynical At Christmas’ in February because they forgot to play it at the Christmas gig goes down a storm. Classics one and all. All good fun. Until an inflatable seal – named Ron, geddit? – flies stageward and ruins everything. “This is now officially The Grumbleweeds show” declares Nigel. Finally, there’s the R-‘n-R banter. He’s getting it. When they came on, Killing Joke’s ‘Requiem’ was playing. “We’ll let the song finish, it’s all downhill from here”, said Nigel. How wrong he was. I don’t think I stopped laughing all evening. Bilston Ho!

Set list:

  • Joy In Leeuwarden
  • Bob Wilson Anchorman
  • Shit Arm Bad Tattoo
  • Fear My Wraith
  • Totnes Bickering Fair
  • Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride
  • If I Had Possession Over Pancake Day
  • Gubba Lookalikes
  • When The Evening Sun Goes Down
  • Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus
  • It’s Clichéd To Be Cynical At Christmas
  • Tommy Walsh’s Eco House
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
  • Twenty-Seven Yards Of Dental Floss
  • The King Of Hi Vis
  • The Bane Of Constance
  • A Lilac Harry Quinn
  • All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
  • Vatican Broadside
  • National Shite Day
  • Trumpton Riots
  • Lark Descending
  • For What Is Chatteris?
  • Joy Division Oven Gloves
  • Everything’s AOR

Encore:

  • Restless Legs
  • Busy Little Market Town
  • Final Solution
  • The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train

 

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