As one of only two girls at school who admitted listening to John Peel (we never actually discussed it, but I knew her by sight) I suppose that’s where I must have heard this. A group of geeky lads in the year below mine were avid listeners and each day on the bus would direct me to the highlights of that week’s shows; sometimes forcibly lending me records. They were not impressed by the deeply unfashionable sixties and seventies music that I insisted on liking (Dickie Davies Eyes spoke particularly to me, but I’m not sure it was saying anything very complimentary) and actively pushed alternatives.
I’d forgotten until now, but at the time there seemed myriad bands lasting two weeks on one joke, lazily referencing children’s television or forgotten D-list celebrities in a bid for some sort of obscure profundity. Half Man Half Biscuit were a sharp cut above this formulaic crowd, immediately distinguished by their genius nihilistic whimsy. Dukla Prague Away Kit struck me as a surreal take on My Perfect Cousin (although the footie references passed me by, pretty much as I used to skip past Billy the Fish in Viz). I was however, always drawn to the unfashionable or overlooked, and Half Man Half Biscuit seemed to share this frame of reference, and use it to actually say something; their songs were accurately observed and intelligently crafted, mixing humour and pathos in the right proportions to avoid sentimentality. I was completely unnerved on first hearing the line in The Best Things In Life about writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro, which conjured somehow the particular powerless, aimless ennui of childhood. Obviously I would hate myself if I used the word ‘Proustian’.
Growing up, pre-Google, in an area more rural than suburban, Peel and the music papers were windows on a world that seemed totally unattainable; there was little access to culture either mainstream or alternative. Music was all-important, but the kind of confidence and flair involved in putting together a fanzine or starting a band, even one as lo-fi and left-field as HMHB, would have been as alien to me as aspiring to be the next Madonna. Despite this, or maybe because of it, just listening to the music of your choice felt like some kind of triumph. I have the Trumpton Riots EP – bought for me by my eldest brother with a caution against pretension and on the condition that I did not interpret the giving as an endorsement of the gift itself.
By the time I escaped to a Big City years later, life had taken over and somehow along the way I forgot to keep listening to music, or that I had ever thought it important. (Adults used to do this, I think.) Work dominated my life and I had conformed so successfully that I wouldn’t have recognised the funny wee misfit girl I once was. I didn’t even own anything other than a radio on which to play music. In the earliest days of Xfm, I heard (don’t laugh) Belle and Sebastian, remembered what it felt like to discover music that was more than wallpaper (from Belle and Sebastian to Arab Strap and Mogwai; Keith Cameron’s show was a must) and in doing so, remembered myself.