1990 – The gigs continue…

Next up gig-wise was Billy Bragg at the Town & Country Club in May. I have very fond memories of Billy Bragg gigs around this time. For me it’s the ‘classic’ Billy Bragg period. By then he’d released four albums, ‘Life’s a Riot..’, ‘Brewing Up…’, ‘Talking with the Taxman..’ and ‘Workers Playtime’. There’s not a weak song amongst that lot which made the gigs just perfect. Add great songs to Billy’s between song banter and you had the recipe for a great evening.

Looking back over the list of gigs I’ve attended there’s quite a few which make me wish I’d paid a bit more attention to the support act. This was one of those. The support was from The Coal Porters featuring Sid Griffin who was previously in The Long Ryders. I bet that I didn’t appreciate this at the time and probably spent most of their set queuing for a beer or deciding which Billy Bragg t-shirt to purchase.

The next gig on the list is an important one. A group that quite rightly are described by people in the know as ‘a national treasure’, about whom John Peel said “When I die, I want them to be buried with me’, a group that describes life in the UK better than anyone else. It is of course, Half Man Half Biscuit.

I don’t know how I discovered them. I wish I could pinpoint the actual day as I’d celebrate it every year more so than I would my birthday. I no doubt read about them occasionally in the music press and may have heard them on the Peel show. Somehow I ended up purchasing The Trumpton Riots 7” single.

The A-side was tremendous, an angry tale of a militant uprising in Trumpton with all the characters I recalled from my childhood TV viewing, PC McGarry, Captain Flack and Mrs Honeyman, playing their part. But it was what was on the b-side that immediately converted me into a life-long fan.

I think it’s fair to say that ‘All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’ is, for those of a certain age, the ultimate song about childhood. Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ probably comes a close second.

It’s the story of going round to a friend’s house to play on their Scalextric, only to be disappointed with the amount of time it takes to set up and then being faced with problems associated with a ‘dodgy transformer’. Scalextric always looked amazing on the adverts but they never showed the hours it took to set it all up properly, they also omitted to show cars flying off at every corner and disappearing under the sofa. It was a minor miracle if you managed to do a whole lap without leaving the track.

The tale continues, abandoning the Scalextric idea the Subbuteo gets dusted off and fetched down from the loft. Subbuteo was another game that bore no relation to the adverts. Once you smoothed the pitch down it looked great but it wasn’t the easiest game to get to grips with. The outsize ball always ended up rolling off the pitch and when you moved the goalie on their stick the whole goal moved as well. I’m not surprised it caused arguments. Which also reminds me that The Undertones’ ‘My Perfect Cousin’ is also noteworthy, not just because it mentions Subbuteo, but also because it’s another fantastic song about childhood.

So the match ends up in disarray with a 4-0 loss. After the floodlights are smashed up the narrator leaves the chaos behind and his ‘travelling army of synthetic supporters’ are thrown in the bin.

The story ends years later with the narrator collecting his gyro from his Subbuteo, Scalextric, Dukla Prague away kit owning friend whilst on the search for a ‘proper transformer’.

The whole thing is just perfect and is still one of my favourite songs written by anybody.

So when I saw that they were playing at the Powerhaus in Islington I knew I had to be there. I’d purchased ‘Back in DHSS’ and ‘Back Again in the DHSS’ and was looking forward to hearing tales of minor celebrities and snooker referees.

I discovered that a HMHB gig wasn’t quite like other gigs. For example I’d never been in a room with a couple of hundred other people all shouting “Fuckin’ ‘ell, it’s Fred Titmus!” at the top of their voices before.

I’d like to say it was the first of many HMHB gigs, but as they’re not a prolific touring group I’ve only seen them a few times over the years. That said, it makes each gig a very special occasion.

Next on the gig-agenda was one that I file under ‘Not sure why I went’. It was at the University of London on the 29th of July and my recollection of it is vague in the extreme. I’m blaming this on the very reasonable bar prices at ULU. According to my notes there were four groups on the bill, none of whose records I’ve ever purchased so I am intrigued why I went. Anyway, first up (I hope I’ve got these in the correct order) were The Honey Smugglers. They may ring a few bells with some of you out there. They had a track on the Indie Top 20 volume 11 compilation.

Next were Jive Turkey. I’m afraid the only thing I know about this lot is that they were from Devon. Here’s one of theirs entitled ‘Goodbye Johnny Ray’.

I’d definitely heard of the final two bands. On stage next was The Mock Turtles, from Middleton in Greater Manchester, fronted by Martin Coogan, Steve’s older brother. It was a year before their hit ‘Can You Dig It?’. This is what they sounded like in 1990

The headlining act was Five Thirty (if I’ve got it right). A three piece from London who from what I recall had quite a bit of press at the time. They had a few singles out in the early nineties, none of which made much impression on the charts. Having had a look at a few videos on Youtube they look like a really good live outfit and I’m sure I must have had a good time. And probably a hangover.

Next up will be Reading Festival, Pixies, PWEI, The Boo Radleys and some discussion about the number of toilets at the Brixton Academy.

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