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Half Man Half Biscuit - SEOing The HMHB Back Catalogue
Alex Ogg , July 13th, 2009 06:44

Looking over some job advertisements recently, I discovered that an unseemly number were for “Search Engine Optimisation specialists” whose skills should include “knowledge of keywords”. After researching the topic feverishly (ie looking it up on wikipedia) I decided it might be fun to apply said logic to an artist’s canon.

“Their cultural references are always spot on,” John Peel once noted of Wirral satirists Half Man Half Biscuit, essentially the brainchild of Nigel Blackwell, who from the mid-80s onwards picked off a series of unlikely targets ranging from the humdrum to the surreal. Reaching the sort of unlikely conclusions you might, should you inhabit a world full of daytime TV, footie references and an unhealthy intimacy with the more idiosyncratic foibles of the independent music industry. All underfunded by HM Govt’s Giro. Sometimes overlooked following their brief mid-80s fame (we all know the story about refusing to go on The Tube because Tranmere were playing at home that night, right?) their momentum was somewhat hindered by Blackwell’s ambivalent attitude to fame. And workload. Yet, quietly, through approaching a dozen full albums, Blackwell has become an ever more acute writer. There are few perversities of human endeavour that have escaped him in that time. A veritable Socrates of the dole queue, our Mr Blackwell, is possibly the most wonderfully parochial songwriter England has.

So let’s SEO the crap out of the HMHB back catalogue, as someone in an executive boardroom has probably never said, ever.

'99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd' (Back In The D.H.S.S. 1985)

The stock comedy stooge on Benny Hill, Dick Emery and Spike Milligan sketches immortalised on the Biccies’ 1985 debut album and placed in his rightful iconic pantheon.

Sample lyric: "If you ever wondered how you get triangles from a cow / You need butter, milk and cheese / And an equilateral chainsaw."

SEO Keywords: Dairylea Cheese Triangles * Bob Todd * James Dean * Marilyn Monroe * Cross-dressing * Blue Peter * Jimmy Clitheroe * Lesley Judd

'All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit' (Back Again In The D.H.S.S. 1987)

A proposed Scalextric tournament is nixed by the omnipresent “dodgy transformer”, while match-fixing allegations ruin the subsequent Subutteo encounter amid infant rioting.

Sample lyric: "You’d always get palmed off with a headless centre forward / And a goalkeeper with no arms."

SEO Keywords: Scalextric * Subbuteo * Dukla Prague * Floodlights * Giro [occurs in 84% of all HMHB songs]

'Everything’s AOR' (McIntyre, Treadmore & Davitt 1991)

Being persecuted in the workplace isn’t fun for anyone. When you’re being persecuted in the workplace by someone with appalling musical taste, that shit hurts.

Sample lyric: "Ever since your bubble perm / I’ve gone ex-directory / Just in case you need me."

SEO Keywords: Kendo Nagasaki * Jackie Magazine * T-Pau * Luther Vandross * Sade * Whitney Houston * Flintlock * Rab C Nesbitt

'4AD3DCD' (This Leaden Pall 1993)

What the esteemed Ivo Watts-Russell ever made of the analogy of foundation course students playing “eerie madrigals on the campus egg slicer” to his cathedral of elegiac noise is unrecorded.

Sample lyric: "Formed a band and had loads of good songs / like ‘Love Froth Tuesday’, ‘Pancake Candy Shoes’ / Got a good guitarist, but he’s got a sad barnet."

SEO Keywords: 4AD Records * Foundation Course * Tony Iommi * David Dundas

(Bonus track: One has to acknowledge the genius of the same album’s ‘Running Order Squabble Fest’ which concludes with the perversion of the popular terrace chant to “You’re going on after Crispy Ambulance”).

'Sensitive Outsider' (Some Call It Godcore 1995)

Like Jarv’s ‘Common People’, Blackwell uses St Martin’s College as the natural territorial habitat of the faker.

Sample lyric: "Said the lecturers of St Martin’s / I will always have five farthings / As long as my old man’s about / Scripting Whitehall farces."

SEO Keywords: Athena Posters * St Martin’s College * Glastonbury (Acoustic Tent) * Enya * Throwing Muses * Suzanne Vega * 10,000 Maniacs * The Late Show

'Tonight, Matthew, I’m Going To Be With Jesus' (Voyage To The Bottom Of The Road 1997)

In which our protagonist is saved by the big JC from his former life as a Factory Records completist.

Sample lyric: "I walk a country mile / Just to taunt your Koi Carp / It prods me out of my sloth."

SEO Keywords: Rock City, Notts * Cowes * Factory Records * Julian Bream * David Vine * Armageddon * Koi Carp

'Four Skinny Indie Kids' (Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral 1998)

The grim reality of the 90s indie-kid experience.

Sample lyric: "We’ve got stickers on guitars / We’ve got a tape for Steve Lamacq / We’ve got celibate lead singers / We’ve got Sebadoh’s and Docs."

SEO Keywords: Indie music * Camden * Sebadoh * Steve Lamacq * Weak lager * Tie-Dye * Chapterhouse

'Irk The Purists' (Trouble Over Bridgewater 2000)

To the tune of ‘Give Me Joy In My Heart’, Blackwell pick ‘n’ mixes the critically revered and forsaken. The intonation of Husker Du-Du-Du (by way of ‘Agadoo’) is pure gold.

Sample lyric: "Give me Rush, give me Marquee Moon / Michael Ball, or The Fall / I could listen to them all."

SEO Keywords: Rush * Marquee Moon * The Fall * Michael Ball * Hall & Oates * Sly Stone * Simply Red * Patti Smith * Sun Ra * Del Amitri * Husker Du

'The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)' (Cammell Laird Social Club 2002)

A tale of romantic loss to, horror of horrors, “featureless TV producer Steve”.

Sample lyric: "She stayed with me until she moved to Notting Hill / She said it was the place she needs to be / Where the cocaine is Fair Trade and frequently displayed / Is the Buena Vista Social Club CD."

SEO Keywords: Notting Hill * Cocaine * Buena Vista Social Club * Fair Trade * Sylvia Plath * Eva Cassidy * Picardy * Capri * Mrs Gibson’s Jam *

(Bonus track: the following song, ‘When The Evening Sun Goes Down’ sets out a to do list that memorably includes going to see The Bootleg Beatles as “The Bootleg Mark Chapman”).

'Upon Westminster Bridge' (Achtung Bono 2005)

The Hampstead set laid bare, in which the second coming would end up with a crucifixion using “MDF and No Need For Nails”. The venom directed at Nick Knowles has not been present in the Biscuit canon since 1985’s ‘I Hate Nerys Hughes’.

Sample lyric: "Oh help me Mrs Medlicott / I don’t know what to do / I’ve only got three bullets / And there’s four of Motley Crue."

SEO Keywords: Ken Horn * I-Pod (Jog-proof) * Dead Sea * B&Q * Homebase * MDF * Foot Spa * Ladbrokes * Carphone Warhouse * Nick Knowles * Edgware Road * Bangor-On-Dee Racecourse * Oxfam

'Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess' (CSI: Ambleside 2008)

A deliberation on bad form internet time-killers who can't even lose with grace anonymously. Compares their moral turpitude ("getting a cob on") with Ernie Shackleton's decision to abandon his South Pole expedition in order to preserve his comrades’ lives and Zulu king Cetshayo's honouring of the survivors of Rorke's Drift.

Sample lyric: "Checkmate / Dennis Bell of Torquay / Too late / With your N at e3."

SEO Keywords: Yahoo Chess * Rorke's Drift * Ernie Shackleton

With thanks to the Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project website – a great place to waste an afternoon.

The band's own website is here.