Half Man Half Biscuit
Nigel Blackwell (right) and Ken Hancock performing in 2015
|Origin||Birkenhead, Merseyside, England|
|Genres||Indie rock, post-punk|
Half Man Half Biscuit are an English rock band, formed in 1984 in Birkenhead, Merseyside. Known for their satirical, sardonic, and sometimes surreal songs, the band comprises lead singer and guitarist Nigel Blackwell, bassist and singer Neil Crossley, drummer Carl Henry, and guitarist Karl Benson.
Half Man Half Biscuit were formed by two friends from Birkenhead, Neil Crossley and singer, guitarist and songwriter Nigel Blackwell who was (in his own words) at the time "still robbing cars and playing football like normal people do". In 1979, Blackwell was editing a football fanzine (Left For Wakeley Gage); he met Crossley when he went to see the latter's band play. In 1984, when Half Man Half Biscuit were formed, Crossley moved to bass and the two were joined by Nigel's brother Simon Blackwell (lead guitar) and his friend Paul Wright (drums), both previously with a group called Attempted Moustache. The quartet started to rehearse in the Liverpool-based Vulcan Studios, where they soon turned a five-piece, with David Lloyd now on keyboards.
Their debut album, 1985's Back in the DHSS, topped the UK Indie Chart and reached number 60 in the UK Album Chart. Its title was a play on The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." and also a reference to the DHSS, the government department that dealt with the unemployed, Nigel Blackwell having been on unemployment benefits since 1979. The band's first single, "The Trumpton Riots", topped the British independent chart in 1986, and they went on to perform at Glastonbury Festival. The second single, "Dickie Davies Eyes", also topped the indie chart. In late 1986, the band split up, giving as reason "musical similarities". The album Back Again in the DHSS, containing previously issued, unreleased and live tracks, followed.
The band reformed in 1990, with a performance at the Reading Festival following, and a new single, "Let's Not" issued before the year was out, followed in 1991 by a collaboration with Margi Clarke on a version of Edith Piaf's "No Regrets". The third album was McIntyre, Treadmore And Davitt, released in October 1991. By the time This Leaden Pall was released in 1993, Wright and Lloyd had left the band, with Carl Alty joining on drums. Simon Blackwell left the following year, with Ian S Jackson joining. Jackson (who later joined Rooney) and Alty (who joined Joyrider) departed in 1996, to be replaced by Ken Hancock (guitar) and Carl Henry (drums). Since reforming, the band have produced an album every two or three years.
Half Man Half Biscuit turned down the chance to appear on The Tube, as Tranmere Rovers were playing that night, even though Channel Four offered to fly them by helicopter to the game. Blackwell has been a fan of the team since "sometime after the Coventry City cup win in 1968".
The band's styles parody popular genres, while their lyrics allude to UK popular culture and geography. Blackwell often refers to Wirral and to North Wales, often in the context of hillwalking in Snowdonia; he also appears fond of Shropshire, East Anglia, The West Country, and Oxfordshire. British or international football, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Hardy, and the Bible are referenced in his lyrics.
As the 1990s progressed, Blackwell's love of blues and folk became more apparent. Bassist Crossley's tastes include late 1970s and early 1980s new wave or post-punk bands, and during live sets HMHB have performed covers of acts as diverse as Joy Division, Magazine, Tim Buckley, The Beach Boys, Tommy James and the Shondells and Ike and Tina Turner.
In April 2010, the band's song "Joy Division Oven Gloves" from their 2005 album Achtung Bono was the subject of a Facebook campaign to get it to No. 6 on the chart for 12 April 2010, in response to the rumoured closure of the indie-supporting radio station BBC 6 Music. The song reached No. 56 on 11 April 2010: this was their first UK Singles Chart appearance. It also reached No. 3 in the Official Independent Singles chart the same week, and was No. 1 in the HMV UK Digital Downloads Top 40 Tracks on 16 April, knocking Ultravox's song "Vienna" off the top spot - itself part of a separate Facebook campaign the previous week.
Ken Hancock played his last gig with the band in summer 2017, and was replaced at the end of the year by Karl Benson.
Andy Kershaw has described Half Man Half Biscuit as "England's greatest folk band" and "the most authentic British folk band since The Clash". James Dodd on Bido Lito! praised (as many others did) Blackwell's "uncanny way of chronicling two of his greatest passions in life: television and small-town England".Eliza Carthy praised the band for their "pathos disguised with wit and sarcasm", describing Blackwell as a "genius". Journalist Ben Myers has described Blackwell's lyrics as "the antithesis of most rock songs, and iconoclastic in their total avoidance of cliche".
Geoff Davies of Probe Plus recalled that after hearing a test pressing of Back in the D.H.S.S, John Peel said "Geoff, what's this, I've just played the first side of this, what is it, tell me, it's just fantastic and all". Other famous Peel quotes about the band include "I've said it before, a national treasure, there's no question about it. When I die, I want them to be buried with me." (14 August 1996) and "In a decently ordered society, members of Half Man Half Biscuit would be routinely carried shoulder high through the streets of every city they visited" (10 July 1997).
According to music writer Paul Du Noyer:
References to Half Man Half Biscuit can be found on episodes of EastEnders,Brookside, Hollyoaks and Byker Grove, as well as an episode of Football Focus and the BBC serial Elidor. The cricket commentator David 'Bumble' Lloyd often makes reference to songs and lyrics in commentaries, often completely lost on other commentators working with him.
|1985||Back in the DHSS||60||1|
|1987||Back Again in the DHSS||59||2|
|1991||McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt||-||-|
|1993||This Leaden Pall||-||-|
|1995||Some Call It Godcore||-||-|
|1997||Voyage to the Bottom of the Road||-||-|
|1998||Four Lads Who Shook the Wirral||-||-|
|2000||Trouble over Bridgwater||-||-|
|2002||Cammell Laird Social Club||-||-|
|2011||90 Bisodol (Crimond)||85||14|
|2014||Urge for Offal||68||13|
|2018||No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut||33||7|
|1986||The Trumpton Riots (12" EP)||82||1|
|1988||The Peel Sessions||-||18|
|1996||Eno Collaboration (EP)||-||-|
|2003||Saucy Haulage Ballads||-||-|
|1986||"The Trumpton Riots"||82||1|
|1986||"Dickie Davies Eyes"||86||1|
|1999||"Look Dad No Tunes"||-||-|