The application of number in Half Man Half Biscuit songs
Almost everything on this Septic Isle of ours is subject to the tyranny of number. Whether that’s alcoholic units, railway punctuality and reliability figures, or our PIN number, they are used to reassure us or nanny us to drink less beer. Or they tell us which time our bus is not going to show.
Of course, musicians are subject to the whims of numerical forces, and for good reason. Knowing your musical notes and time signatures require a degree of mathematics. How many good songs can you think off where numbers are part of the title or the lyrics. For example, ‘I Would Die 4U’ by Prince was way before text messaging made this form of spelling was popular. A good title and a killer song, but how does that title compare with ’27 Yards of Dental Floss’ and ‘99% of All Gargoyles (Look Like Bob Todd)’?
Regular readers of East of the M60 may notice my penchant for Half Man Half Biscuit, protagonists of the two songs hitherto mentioned. Therefore, today’s post focuses on the numerical references in The Gospels According to Nigel Blackwell and Neil Crossley.
“1,2,3,4, John the Baptist knows the score…”
- 8/10: as in the line ‘…and if 8 out of 10 cats all preferred Whiskas’ in ‘99% of All Gargoyles (Look Like Bob Todd)’. Could also be…;
- 4/5: as in ‘4 out of 5’ in Mixmag on ‘Nove on the Sly’;
- 2: ‘Keeping Two Chevrons Apart’. Of course. As in the final track on ‘Four Lads Who Shook the Wirral’;
- 3: the platform number on ‘F*****’ ‘Ell, It’s Fred Titmuss’, possibly Birkenhead Hamilton Square, Hooton, Southport or Birkenhead Central stations;
- 3.10: as in ‘a dodgy transformer that cost £3.10’, stated in ‘All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’;
- 3.50: or ten to four, as in the trip around Katherine Hamnett’s warehouse and subsequent dinnertime appointment with David Emmanuel, stated in ‘A Country Practice’ on ‘Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral’ (1998);
- 4: (Innnnn four) Drinking weak lager in Camden boozer, it’s the ‘Four Skinny Indie Kids’ immortalised in ‘Four Lads Who Shook the Wirral’;
- 6: in relation to ‘M6ster’, first track on ‘This Leaden Pall’;
- 10: the number of Kit Kats ordered in ’24 Hour Garage People’. Also as in ’10 pence off Lenor’ in ‘F*****’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmuss’ and the disaster prone DC-10 aeroplane namechecked in ‘Albert Hammond Bootleg’;
- 13: as in the number of Eurogoths floating in the Dead Sea (’13 Eurogoths’ from the album ‘This Leaden Pall’);
- 14: the all day parking rate (£14) stated in ‘S*** Arm, Bad Tattoo’. Probably £19 under Lansley’s tutelage as Health Minister, thanks to the recent overturning of Labour’s free hospital parking policy (‘Achtung Bono’, 2005);
- 24: as in ’24 Hour Garage People’. The title is a play on the Happy Mondays song ’24 Hour Party People’;
- 27: from everyone’s favourite orthodontic HMHB number ’27 Yards of Dental Floss’ (‘Cammell Laird Social Club’, 2002);
- 41: the bus service driven by Tony on ‘Little in the Way of Sunshine’. It probably refers to the infrequent Chester to Whitchurch route operated by Helms;
- 71: the bus service namechecked in ‘Tour Jacket with Detachable Sleeves’ on ‘Some Call It Godcore’. The service itself runs from Heswall to Birkenhead and Liverpool through the Queensway Mersey Tunnel, and is operated by First Chester and Wirral;
- 99: the percentage of gargoyles which supposedly look like Bob Todd [citation needed – Wikipedia] in the titular song referring to Benny Hill’s sidekick;
- 113: the bus route where Duff Leg Bryn (previously namechecked in ‘A Country Practice’) was last seen, according to ‘Little in the Way of Sunshine’. It may refer to the Choice Travel service from Telford to Bridgnorth;
- 123: as in ‘tonight’s attendance, 1,2,3…’ in the song ‘Friday Night and the Gates are Low’, a paean to the joys of watching Tranmere Rovers in the early 1990s;
- 252: as in the hymn number quoted on ‘Petty Sessions’;
- 310: as is 310 pence, or £3.10. See 3.10 for further details;
- 552: as in the A552, the main road out of Birkenhead to Woodchurch (‘Nove on the Sly’ from their 2000 album ‘Trouble Over Bridgewater’;
- 1550 [hours]: look under 3.50 for details;
- 1984: “…anyway, I cut the caper in 1984…”, as stated in ‘Surging Out of Convalescence’ (‘Achtung Bono’, 2005);
- 1985: ‘…Luton Town/Millwall, 1985…’, as stated in ‘Uffington Wassail’ referring to the infamous riot that took place during the FA Cup Quarter Final tie between the two sides at Kenilworth Road;
- 2163: from the opening line of ‘Papal Entourage’ on ‘This Leaden Pall’ (‘In the year 2163, Chester Barnes will creosote the fence…’);
- 224350: as in the six figure Ordnance Survey Grid Reference SO224350, quoted for the location of ‘Lord Hereford’s Nob’ (CSI:Ambleside, 2008).
Upon Westminster Bridge:
For this song featured on the ‘Achtung Bono’ album, the adaptation of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is as follows:
Spoiling Good Friday, my ex-love sent to me:
- 12 drummers singing;
- 11 chairmen dancing;
- 10 mascots whingeing;
- 9 stewards flapping;
- 8 christening invites;
- 7 cows a barking;
- 6 vicars strumming;
- NICK F****** KNOWLES!.
4 boring words: Carphone Warehouse and Matalan, and a hold-up at Bangor-on-Dee…
Adaptation: © 2005 Half Man Half Biscuit from traditional song.
“Binmen, thin men, lexicographers…” (or anyone else just as mad about Half Man Half Biscuit like myself):
Feel free to add to this post by quoting other numerical references by Half Man Half Biscuit. Fractions, weights and measures are also accepted.
S.V., Friday 17 September 2010.