On Half Man Half Biscuit, “Joy Division Oven Gloves”, and the “Save 6Music” campaign
Little brings as much joy to my empty heart as the despair some people feel when they realise the musicians and songs they hold dearest to their hearts have now been appropriated by the advertising industry. It doesn’t matter what Vashti Bunyan means to you personally, because to everyone else she now means 300 texts and 250 minutes for £25 a month on any Vodafone contract. Have the words of John Prine talked you out of ending it all on many an occasion? Well maybe now they’ll talk you into buying the new peri peri chicken Subway. And regardless of the exhilaration of that last minute bid war with a Norwegian cratedigger for a Freestyle Fellowship promo vinyl on eBay, everyone else has now heard that unreleased joint because it’s now soundtracking NASCAR 2010 on the Wii. I found this stuff hilarious. And then the “Save 6 Music” campaign happened.
ILB has never been backwards in coming forwards when it comes to our love for Half Man Half Biscuit. They’re our favourite band currently recording, our favourite band of the past 20 years, and possibly our favourite British act of all-time. According to last.fm, one in 20 songs ILB listens to are by HMHB. “Deck quoits with the French trance vets” is our favourite lyric ever. And so on and so forth So this whole campaign to protest the possible close of 6Music by getting “Joy Division Oven Gloves” in the top 40 just seems… unseemly.
We have nothing specifically for or against 6Music. The fact that it’s there is kinda comforting, the way that you can turn it on and Steve Lamacq is playing the 2010 equivalents of the kind of godless no-hopers he was spinning back when I was doing my GCSEs (step forward Skint and Demoralised). But to be upset that it’s too be closed (along with BBC Asian Network) in order to fund Matt Smith’s paycheck and another thrilling Dawn Porter documentary on BBC 3 where she investigates whether sex is a good thing or a bad thing? These things happen.
Part of it is that we can’t imagine that Half Man Half Biscuit would care about any of this. Sure, they got some shine on 6Music occasionally, but then they also got airtime on Football Focus, and I can’t imagine the boys trooping out for a “Save Manish Bhasin” protest march either.
I know we’re all meant to go “Ah, but John Peel” here, but… Look, the BBC did actually kill John Peel, let’s not beat around the bush here. They put his show back and back in the schedules, stressed the dude out and gave him a heart attack. Phill Jupitus has talked about how 6Music is carrying on Peel’s work, and clearly Jupitus is so invested in following in Peel’s footsteps that he’s deliberately followed a diet over the past 35 years that will allow him too to die of multiple heart attacks. John Peel played music that wasn’t going to get played elsewhere on mainstream radio, that was his schtick, that was what he did. 6Music plays what is being played on every other station, except with JLS replaced by Fleet Foxes. Is this really progress?
I suppose part of this is down to people being drunk on the success of the Rage Against the Machine campaign over Christmas (ironically enough, there was a Facebook group in protest of that protest dedicated to getting HMHB’s “It’s Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas” into the charts at #39 on December 25). But there’s a clear, obvious difference here: Rage Against the Machine were always attention whores out to make big money. They were signed to a major label, they did the soundtracks to Hollywood blockbusters, it was always in their make-up to have big glitzy hits. HMHB are a band who have repeatedly turned down the chance to appear to television, faked breaking up in the late 80s when it looked like they were going to become big, never play more than two gigs in a week, and, like Sir Cliff Richard and Kool Herc, have never signed a recording contract.
And it’s not even a great HMHB song. It’s fun, it’s goofy, it’s novelty, it’s throwaway, but you put it up against a “Evening of Swing Has Been Cancelled”, “A Country Practice”, “Paintball’s Coming Home” or, ILB’s favourite, “Epiphany”… it’s a “Warren Zevon being more famous for ‘Werewolves of London’ than anything else” scenario again. I just don’t want HMHB’s lasting impact on British culture to be as some sort of Al Yankovich with politics. They’ve given far too much to music in the past 25 years to be diminished to that level. I mean, can’t we just combine the “Save 6Music” and “Save the Asian Network” campaigns into one and get My Vitriol back in the top 40 instead?
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