Can’t believe they gave that Greatest Briton shit to Churchill when there’s a man among us who still plays Half Man Half Biscuit records on the taxpayer’s buck. [Unnamed member of the Dawn Parade as quoted in Margrave Of the Marshes, p.442]
Peel once said, and Andy Kershaw confirmed this in his tribute programme, that he regarded Half Man Half Biscuit as a national treasure and would like to be buried alongside them, Kershaw drily adding that he wasn’t sure where that left Nigel Blackwell, founder and dominating force of the band, he being still very much alive. Certainly, JP’s programmes would have been much the poorer without their biting satirical wit, shameless quotation and adaptation of all manner of popular songs and hymns, and sheer unadulterated laugh out loud fun. He booked them for twelve sessions: they were also a Kershaw favourite (he called them ‘the most authentic English folk group since The Clash’).
The first single,Trumpton Riots (FF 1986 #14), was something of an indie anthem, and introduced their fascination with referencing unhip areas of mass culture. At that time, their growling post-punk idiom owed something to the Fall and Josef K. Then it is said that someone in the band learned to tune a guitar and their style would change for good. They did a set at Glastonbury, an appearance on the Whistle Test and an infamous refusal to appear on the Tube because it would clash with a Tranmere Rovers game (a team supported by the whole band) before a sudden departure from the musical stage (Nigel stating that he was missing too much daytime TV as a result of fame). When Dickie Davies’ Eyes (FF 1986 #39), a classic example of their distaste for the effete middle class (‘if you mention Lord Of The Rings one more time, I’ll more than likely kill you’) was played on the FF, John declared them ‘gone but not forgotten’, and as a result they announced their reformation live on his show in 1990.
Their songs are full of references that non-Brits would find it impossible to identify with. Sporting a killer pay-off line, Paintball’s Coming Home (FF 1996 #43) takes on He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands and If I Were A Rich Man and skewers its subjects with unnerving accuracy. It also caused the following famous mishap on the 96 FF:
Every time I do the Festive Fifty, I don’t know, it’s been going on for twenty years, apparently, off and on, I always get really nervous before in case something goes terrifically wrong, and, up until now, there hasn’t been that much wrong…the occasional record at the wrong speed, and on one occasion, I think I played the wrong track (according to The Mail, anyway, only one person noticed it: there may have been others). But this is the first time I’ve run into really serious trouble. I could have cheated and pretended it hadn’t happened, but this is the number 43 record in this year’s Festive Fifty…or more accurately, it isn’t, because I can’t identify it. It’s by Half Man Half Biscuit, and people voted for Paintball’s Coming Home. I phoned Probe Plus records to try and discuss it with them, and they said, ‘well, Nigel changes the titles of things a lot’, so I thought, it must be one of the tracks he did when I was being Mark Radcliffe: so I got the people at Radio One in Manchester to send me a DAT of the session, and I went through them trying to find something that had got a reference to ‘paintball’s coming home’, and I did that this afternoon, and it isn’t there. So I just simply can’t remember where Paintball’s Coming Home comes from, so I haven’t got it to play, obviously. If you know anything about it…I’d be very pleased to know. I tried to phone Nigel, but I assume he’s gone to the match…so that would have been number 43 if we knew what it was.
JP is referring to the show of the 14 October 1996 where he stood in for Mark Radcliffe. The recording he couldn’t find was played the following night.