There are few things in life that are more miserable than “comedy” songs.
You know the sort of thing “Weird” Al Yankovich gurning his way through a Michael Jackson parody. The Mike Flowers Pops smirking through their easy listening version of “Wonderwall”. Alexei Sayle and his suicide inducing “Hello John Got a New Motor”.
The last time I saw the wonderful Stewart Lee he ended his set with a song.
The moment I saw the guitar being handed to him I could feel a lonely teardrop work its way down my cheek.
Here was someone I adored and admired about to ruin everything good by performing a “hilarious” song.
Thankfully Lee is a gifted enough performer that it wasn’t in the same league of dreadfulness as the other acts I have mentioned but my devotion to Britains second best comic was tested to the limit…don’t do it again Stewart; you need me as much as I need you. Maybe. OK, you don’t but still.
Half Man Half Biscuit are a band who have a name so painful that it would be easy to dismiss them without ever having listened to a single note. For a very long time I refused to listen to them simply because of the name…it seemed a bit, well, “wacky” and student union for my liking.
The song titles didn’t help either…”All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit” for example.
I couldn’t get past it.
I don’t want musicians to be comedians.
I want musicians to be musicians.
I want them to write songs that lift me, crush me, console me, destroy me and understand me.
If I want jokes I’ll pull a cracker with my nan on December 25th.
This year however I was persuaded to listen to HMHB by a very dear friend, the singer-songwriter, wit and raconteur Ben Gunstone. He was evangelical in his defense of this band…they were clever, they were knowing, they were scathing, they were political and, yes, they had the ability to make you smile and laugh out loud (lol for younger readers).
I trust Ben.
So…off I popped to the local record emporium and selected “Achtung Bono”(2005) and headed home to place it gingerly on my record playing machine. As the needle hit the vinyl and the room was filled with that anticipatory hiss I felt nervous. If this was just a collection of comedy songs with wacky lyrics I wouldn’t ever be able to forgive Ben and a friendship would be forever damaged. A lot was resting on this.
I had put the future of my friendship in the hands of some Tranmere supporting Northerners.
What was I thinking?
Surely this wasn’t a risk worth taking.
Before I could swipe the needle off of the cold, black, disc the first song had started…
“Here she lies in a fleecy gown, by my side in the eiderdown but she can’t get a ticket to morning town, cos I’ve got restless legs”
This was funny.
But…importantly…it wasn’t wacky and it wasn’t a comedy song.
This was a song reveling in the ordinary.
An ordinary man, in an ordinary town, with an (extra) ordinary problem…he’s got restless legs.
I was smiling but I wasn’t laughing.
There weren’t any puns.
There were no comedy musings.
“In the kingdom of the blind it’s said the one eyed man is king…and in the kingdom of the bland, it’s 9 o clock on ITV”
“You never hear of folk getting knocked on the bonce but there was a drive-by shouting once”
“I could have put my head in a bucketful of porridge and moaned about the hospital parking scheme, I would have saved fourteen pounds that I just splashed out on your second album, for that’s what it’s akin to…”
Every track contained an insight into the world that people actually live in.
The lyrics were clever, thoughtful, acidic, vitriolic but also full of warmth, wit, verve and guile.
Ben hadn’t let me down.
My friendship was in tact and I had found a band to listen to.
That is the greatest compliment you can play to any band.
“I listen to them”
Few bands are worth actually and actively listening to.
I could name a few but you will have your own.
Songs appear on the radio and you tap a toe, hum along and swing your hips a bit.
You hear the opening bars of some indie anthem at the alternative night in the local nite-klub and you hit the floor with arms aloft.
You’re not listening.
You’re participating in something…and there’s nothing wrong with that…but you are not listening.
That is quite often a good thing because the moment you do stop and listen you are, more often than not, left with a feeling of crushing disappointment…Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, Oasis and a host of others are all bands who sold records to people who were not really listening. These are songs for drunk, stupid people made by drunk, stupid people. Good for them.
I want more care.
HMHB…despite a name that makes you squirm whenever you tell people about them are a band who are worth listening to.
You should listen to them.