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The Robin 2 has to be one of the hidden gems for live music in the Midlands. It’s easy to get to, with a nearby bus and metro station, and, if you drive, the car park is next door and free. For those who travel there is even a hotel within the venue and a room with breakfast starts at £35. Can it get any better? Well yes it can, you can add some cracking music, and the list of future gigs offers more than the usual tribute bands you’d expect from a venue like this. Tonight is no exception, as it’s a rare outing by Half Man Half Biscuit, who are like Marmite, in that you either love them or loathe them. I’m firmly in the ‘love’ camp.

First up is The Humdrum Express, a local lad with an acoustic guitar, and helped on a couple of tracks by a bit of backing sounds. What he does he does well, but playing to a sparse crowd is never going to be easy. For me The Humdrum Express never left the station but I would like to hear these songs again, but with some backing instruments to bring them alive. Next stop is Birmingham in April, and Stourbridge in June, details on his MySpace site.

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Before Half Man Half Biscuit take to the stage a projector screen is in place and showing a PowerPoint presentation of future gigs, but to the sounds of ‘Motherless Child’ (not the Eric Clapton version) the screen goes up and four lads who shook the Wirral walk on stage, opening with ‘Took Problem Chimp To The Ideal Home Show’ from their latest album CSI: Ambleside, from which a large part of tonight’s gig is made. After this a little tuning is attempted before Nigel declares “well that’s as much tune as we’ve ever been in” before going into “We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune”.

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“Henry Newbolt, son of Bilston, good town”, and with a venue like this he’s right. ‘Petty Sessions’ followed by a request for some smoke on the stage “make it atmospheric or just put that screen back down”. Next up is ‘Dead Mean Don’t Need Season Tickets’, ‘Eno Collaboration’, ‘Totnes Bickering Fair’ and ‘Bob Wilson Anchorman’. Acknowledgement is paid to Walsall Arboretum “nice day out but take a flask”. ‘National Shite Day’ with a view on the High Street “Fat kids with sausage rolls, poor sods conducting polls”, ‘Irk The Purists’, and ‘Blue Badge Abuser’ before Nigel comments on a punters attire, “that ‘round your neck will rob me of my slumber tonight”, I’m not sure what exactly he was referring to but if it was you please let me know to satisfy my curiosity. ‘Restless Legs’ and then an almighty version of ‘Dickie Davies Eyes’ which took me back to 1986 and my first ever encounter with Nigel and company.

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‘When the evening sun goes down’, ‘Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess’ ‘Trumpton Riots’ ‘For What Is Chatteris…’ and “seeing as we’re in the locality “Monmore Hare’s Running”. ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (is the light of an oncoming train)’ follows.

“I took a soluble Solpadeine four hours ago” and this obviously is why we then were treated to an extra long version of ‘Twenty Four Hour Garage People’, but at least the bloke in the garage now has an iPod. True to form Nigel says “if you can’t work with the public, don’t work with them, see also bus drivers” before telling us how he often calls his local bus drivers “lad” to belittle them, but “in my head anyway”.

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‘Running Order Squabble Fest’, ‘Them’s The Vagaries’, ‘Vatican Broadside’ and finally the set ends with ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves’ sadly not available on the merchandise stand but for sale are CD’s and T-shirts and vinyl. When was the last time you saw vinyl for sale at a gig?

A brief encore of ‘Evening of Swing (has been cancelled)’, ‘A Country Practice’ and then ‘Time Flies By (when you’re the driver of a train)’ closes the set. Half Man Half Biscuit don’t tour and this used to be, in part, due to the fixture list for Tranmere who the band supports. Gigs are rare but special when they do occur and tonight is no exception. Musically they are not going to win a Grammy, but lyrically they are some of the best on offer. If you’ve not seen them grab an album, anyone would do, but the latest, ‘CSI: Ambleside’ is recommended and just listen.

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You never know you may just become hooked, but it’s hard to say when they’ll next be in town, any town, so that precious live experience may have to wait a little, but with any luck they’ll be gracing the stage at The Robin 2 on their next visit to the Midlands, which really does deserve some credit as being a fine music venue, and certainly worth checking out for what would seem to be a fine array of planned live shows.

Review – Glenn Raybone
Photos – Andy Whitehouse

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