Cult popsters Half Man, Half Biscuit turned down The Tube to see their team. But singer Nigel Blackwell tells JUDITH DORNAN he hates football.
WIRRAL’S hilarious postpunk popsters Half Man, Half Biscuit famously turned down invites to appear on then-massive primetime TV music show, The Tube, because their team, second division minnows Tranmere Rovers, were playing.
They refused to relent even when the show’s bosses offered to helicopter them to the game immediately post-performance, reasoning that they might miss the first half. So it’s a bombshell when frontman Nigel Blackwell declares casually: “I don’t even really like football.
“I was just dragged along at an early age so it’s more of a habit. I don’t particularly look forward to it, I certainly dont get excited about it.”
So why turn down The Tube? He laughs: “It’s one of those things where you would feel a bit lost if you weren’t there. I would hate to be missing out on something. And I probably got marginally more excited in those days when I was younger - though I still buy a season ticket and still go to all the home games. I only live round the corner from the ground anyway.
“But I must admit now, as the years have gone by and you see stories about players and the general moral breakdown...I just talk to my mates all through the game to be honest. I talk about Coronation Street throughout the match. Football is very unlovable at the moment.”
Half Man, Half Biscuit burst on to the post punk scene in 1985, appealing directly to Thatcher’s Britain with their wryly titled debut, Back in the DHSS.
Though their satirical songtitles touched the nation’s funnybone and their fixation on minor celebrities like venerable TV presenter Fred Titmuss and Liver Birds star Nerys Hughes heralded the current national reality TV obsession, they never made the mainstream, thanks mainly to their refusal to take it seriously.
Championed by Radio 1 DJ John Peel, their first single, Trumpton Riots, second single, Dickie Davies Eyes and their debut album topped the independent chart. But before they could release the follow up, the band, who formed on a Birkenhead council estate in 1984, had split.
They reformed in 1990, with a triumphant appearance at Reading Festival and have been together ever since, although their attitude is lacksadaisical to say the least.
As we speak, Nigel is at home on the Wirral, being the ultimate anti-popstar. He grins: “I’m just sitting here watching the Commonwealth Games with me porridge. I’ve just walked the dog.”
Tonight’s show at 53 Degrees was rescheduled with literally hours to go last month after Nigel reportedly got laryngitis. He explains: “On the Saturday, I was sort of OK, you know.
“But we were going through the set - because contrary to popular belief, we do rehearse and I actually do worry about things like setlists - and I realised, hang on, my voice isn’t going to hold here.
“I don’t know if it got as far as laryngitis but it was very weak. Started talking like Orson Welles, haha, if only! Probably more like Jack Duckworth actually!”
A session for BBC6 Music’s Marc Riley a couple of months ago unveiled four new songs, Tommy Walsh’s Eco-House, R.S.V.P., Left Lyrics in Practice Room, and L’enfer c’est les autres, and Nigel told the presenter a new album could be out by Christmas.
But he admits the session itself made them work. He says: “He’s been asking us for a while but it was a bit embarrassing because we didn’t have any new stuff. So we kept putting it off because we felt, if we’re going to do it, at least do it properly.
“Some of them were just works in progress but they were all finished more or less. They’re just the usual throwaway nonsense really, a lot of shouting and complaining. It sounds like a long letter of complaint to the council, to be honest, our stuff nowadays. I’m the Roy Walker of Pop, I’m saying what I see. It’s all I can do.”
Former Groundforce star Tommy Walsh seems to have taken over from Nerys Hughes, about whom Blackwell penned the single, I Hate Nerys Hughes, as a pet-hate. He laughs: “He’s just always annoyed me!
“I mean, this is someone who wears a toolbelt. You can’t really take someone like that seriously. The frightening thing is there is a need for him because he’s on the television and people like him. But I cant go down that way too much because that frightens me mentally.”
He admits his songs are like your Dad shouting at the telly from his armchair but adds: “It’s not the obvious ones - things like Pop Idol and X-Factor and Big Brother, they don’t bother me. It’s almost cliched to slag it off because it’s just giving people entertainment and I haven’t got a problem with that at all. In fact, I often roll my eyes when I hear people slagging it off.”
His habit of slagging off celebs in song has come back to haunt him several times - most notably when 1970s star Dean Friedman, another focus of a HMHB slating, showed up unexpectedly at a show in Edinburgh and introduced himself.
Luckily, he took it in good spirit and recently even penned a response about Nigel, asking if he could play it at one of their shows in Bilston, Wolverhampton.
Nigel recalls: “The difficult thing is, he’s a lovely bloke, Dean Friedman, he’s just a dead nice fella. So I just thought, right, call his bluff, just say, oh yeah, we’ll see you down at Bilston, sort of thing, and he might not turn up.
“So we were sitting in the dressing room in Bilston, eating a bag of chips, and he walks in - on his own, I mean, hats off to him. But he just sort of saunters in and goes, Alright chaps! I mean, it’s strange, just saying, ‘Alright Dean, because I remember I was at school, 1978, and he was massive! We hated him but the girls loved him, you know.
“The crowd were very good towards him, chanting football chants at him and stuff. He was made up with it so it was a harmless night for all.
“When we first met him in Edinburgh, he was charm personified. Between you and me, I think he really thinks its a homage to him, the song we wrote. Now although I’ve never written a song out of pure hatred because that would be stupid and pointless, it was more of a Tommy Walsh thing because we were listening to punk rock in 1978, we didnt want Dean Friedman
“I dont think he’s ever fully accepted that in his mind. I think he just thinks it’s one big laugh. Which, of course, ultimately, it is really.”
That’s not the only time his satire has come back to bite him. He grins: “My Mum got a job cleaning - and one of the houses she was cleaning was Nerys Hughes’s mother.
“My Mum doesn’t really know, I mean, she’s knows I’m in a band and that but she just thinks I should get a proper job sometime. But I think my sister informed her, like, ‘Our Nigel’s written a song about Nerys Hughes, not very complimentary.’ So my Mum never ever mentioned anything to her!
“In fact, my Mum went to Nerys Hughes’ Mum’s funeral! I’ve kept that quite quiet to be honest!”
Half Man Half Biscuit play 53 Degrees tonight, Friday November 12. Tickets are £16.