Half Man Half Biscuit and the Festive 50 (1986-2004)


Despite the title of this blog I have been thinking lately of how there is hardly anything about those sardonic beatsters Half Man Half Biscuit on the site. With this in mind here is a piece on the group’s relationship with John Peel’s end-of-year Festive 50 chart from their first appearance way back in 1986 until 2004 and the great DJ’s passing.

Thumbing through Mick Wall’s 2004 John Peel book (the pages at the back list all the Festive 50’s) I noticed the lack of Half Man Half Biscuit entries between ’86 and ’96 (none in fact). It seems the listeners at the time were preferring the new wave of bands such as Inspiral Carpets, House Of Love, Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana and so on. Of course, the likes of The Fall and Wedding Present, unlike HMHB, never had trouble not showing up on this listener choice of favourite Peel show-featured tracks. In fact, as popular as it was it was usually a predictable list made up mainly of white-boy indie music, that even John himself had threatened on occasion to do away with; but out of popular demand the Festive 50 kept going, and still does over on Dandelion Radio.

After HMHB made their debut entry in 1986 with Trumpton Riots (a high-paced 14) and 39 with Dickie Davies Eyes, it was amazingly not until 1996 when they would make their return. This is despite having recorded several Peel Sessions and at least five LP’s. They returned to the Festive 50 nonetheless with Paintball’s Coming Home, which made a not shout-worthy number 43. Good choice of tune, though.

It’s also worth mentioning at this juncture that the B-side to Trumpton Riots was none other than All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. Looking back now its odd that this tune never made it into the chart at the time, as it has taken on a kind of cultish life of its own (hence this very blog title for example). They would be back again two years later, competing with the new kids of Delgados, Gorky’s and Clinic, all vying for spots in this cosy, seasonal chart. Turn a Blind Eye made number 25 on this year.

The following year things got even better for the four lads that shook the Wirral: Look Dad No Tunes at 11, and the Peel session version of 24 Hour Garage People made number 30 (and not 24, unfortunately). The LP version of the same song returned for another appearance the following year in 2000, making number 32, accompanied by Irk the Purists at 37. In 2001 they were there at 13 with the excellent Bob Wilson Anchor Man, and again at 16 singing Vatican Broadside.

They seemed to be as popular as ever by this stage, and after that strange absence from the chart between ’86 and ’96 they were more than making up for it now. The following two years would again bring another two entries apiece.The Light at the End of the Tunnel and Breaking News (nos 14 and 38 respectively).

Meanwhile the hilariously titled Tending the Wrong Grave For 23 Years made the number 7 spot its own in 2003, while It Makes the Room Look Bigger was there at 28, making sure Tending…didn’t feel lonely. The year that John passed away HMHB made the Festive 50 again, on this occasion kept alive by Rob da Bank on Radio One. The Peel session tune, Joy Division, made a rather impressive number 8. No doubt there is a possibility of a Part Two to this piece, from 2004 onwards, but whether I ever get round to doing it remains to be seen. A cup of tea, methinks.

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