Nigel Blackwell of Half Man Half Biscuit fame is an elusive figure in popular music, who has spent many years avoiding interviewers from many prestigious publications, so I feel very honoured that he was happy to answer the questions I had after listening to the latest album Urge For Offal. It’s as good as anything the band have done and if you haven’t listened to them for a while, it’s a great introduction to where they are now.
Right, first question: there’s a touch of John Shuttleworth on the new album. I’m thinking of the line about the beach having a ‘blue flag status’. How do you feel about that comparison?
John Shuttleworth – I must own, I haven’t really listened too much as I’m not particularly an avid radio listener but I did like Jilted John of course.
Urge For Offal has just made the Top 40 album charts. Are you worried you might become successful?
Not in the least. I would honestly be delighted to sell truckloads of records and make enough money to buy a kitchen for the house.
Why do you turn down so many interviews? Don’t you want to sell records?
I don’t mind doing the odd interview but I’m not one for doing them regularly as the nature of the beast often results in me repeating myself and boring people. Nothing against them per se though I’m not always e-mail/telephone accessible either which can prove problematic for both parties. I do definitely want to sell records though!
There’s a song on the album called ‘Baguette Dilemma For The Booker Prize Guy’. Do you read the Booker Prize winners? And if so, are there any that you rate? Or would you say, overall that they are overrated?
I’m fairly certain I’ve not read any Booker prize winners but that’s not a conscious decision. They’re probably very good. I wouldn’t know. I certainly couldn’t name any off the top of my head with confidence.
Who are your favourite lyricists and why?
I like all of ’em! All the really good ones especially.
There has been a lot of speculation about who Adam Boyle is. Some people think it is a reference to Alex James, others think it is Noel Gallagher. I assume it is actually an amalgam of a number of now aging ex-ladrock guitarists. Does this kind of speculation amuse you? Do you do it to wind people up?
Adam Boyle is simply a made up character who never actually got further than the rehearsal room. Alex James was not in a ‘ladrock’ band I would argue (more to Blur than that I feel) and I’ve got a lot of time for Noel Gallagher. I reckon he’d be good company on a long train journey. Oasis however, were responsible for lads hitherto uninterested in guitar music getting a bit excited and ‘having a dabble themselves’. That’s where Adam Boyle comes from. Oasis are not directly to blame, people can be astoundingly snobby towards them. In the last few years of course, young Boyle (about 38-45-ish actually) has realised he’s not getting anywhere with his own group and has collected around himself a broader cross section of pals one of whom has perhaps lent him The Wicker Man, another of whom has maybe passed on a Mumford and Sons CD to him along with a CAMRA newsletter. And y’know, good luck to the feller, life’s too short etc (I’m just here to gently chide!) p.s. while we’re here, our song ‘Shit Arm Bad Tattoo’ is most definitely NOT about Pete Docherty either! I can see how it would appear so in hindsight but I’d never set eyes on their album sleeve when I wrote the song – I’ve heard perhaps TWO Libertines songs in my life and liked what I heard. Fat bass players in local heavy metal outfits with no biceps and cap-sleeved t-shirts is SPECIFICALLY who the TITLE of the song is about. The lyric of the song doesn’t really have much to do with the title in actual fact. Apart from the chorus obviously! If it was about Pete Docherty I would mention him by name. He seems ok to me. He hasn’t got a shit arm either as far as I can make out, having just this minute ‘google-imaged’ him
The music has changed over the years, opening out to include influences beyond the ken of rock. Who are the bands/artists that have influenced this development?
I have honestly not noticed this so cannot answer without sounding like I’m making something up.
BBC 6 have been a strong advocate of HMHB. Before that it was John Peel and Andy Kershaw. But other than that, it’s hard to hear your music. Why do you think other DJs and stations are so reluctant to play you?
I’m not aware of that if truth be known. I’m happy enough with the exposure we get.
How do you see the relationship between poetry and lyric writing?
I haven’t thought about it. I don’t read that much poetry and lyrics don’t matter that much to me in a song. It’s the music that matters mostly I feel.
Have you ever been tempted to extend your writing to other forms such as novel writing or short fiction?
Not at all. Too many bike rides to go on and books by other people to read.
You’ve had a long relationship with your label boss, Geoff Davis. What do you attribute to the success of this relationship?
He can organize all the stuff that we could never hope to do or indeed wish to do. He’s also a one-off and has a superb speaking voice. He should be narrating Howard Hawks documentaries on BBC 2.
What keeps the wolf from the door the most, is it the live gigs or the album sales?
The wolf is prowling constantly I’m afraid but that’s probably good for the soul I imagine.
Why don’t women like HMHB?
They do! There’s a lady in Saundersfoot! (I definitely see females in our audience – the songs aren’t all “Jonah Barrington gave me his Harrington” type of stuff. There’s a whole heap o’heartache for the lassies….
Finally, I’d like to share a nightmare with you, Nigel. I woke up at 4.30am the other morning after a bad dream. I dreamed that I’d been to a Half Man Half Biscuit museum. The first room was a library of all the books that had been referred to in your lyrics. The second room was a record shop and all the records were those that had been referred to. The next room was full of TVs playing excerpts from television shows that had been referenced. In the final room was a souvenir shop. It was cluttered and as I travelled through, it became more and more narrow, down a twisting staircase and down a narrow corridor, that I had to squeeze through. I started to panic as I realised I was getting further and further underground. When I woke up I had palpitations, I was sweating and shaking. I had to think calming thoughts. I pictured Nick Cave in an open necked shirt and I fixated on the stripes on the back of his collar. This was the only way I could find peace of mind. What do you fixate on to find peace of mind?
No Comment. Nigel Blackwell has left the building.
The album is available directly from Probe Plus records http://www.probeplus-store.co.uk/
For tour dates, click here: http://www.chrisrand.com/hmhb/breaking-news/