Do you remember the second time?

At the start of 2011, I took a bin bag full of old T-shirts down to my local charity shop. Its contents were mostly “skinny-fit” tummy-exposing affairs, some bearing the names of lesser-spotted indie bands last seen in 1997. My Life Story, you just don’t sparkle any more.

But should I have stockpiled my faded collection, sucked in my stomach and readied myself for the 1995 reunion phase two? Or set up a shop in Second Life staffed by a virtual Menswear?

When future historians gaze back at the musical trends of the early 21st century, they might find it a muddle. In the noughties we relived the 1980s (cassettes, hoop earrings, the hipsterfication of Phil Collins); now we are reviving the 1990s (Take That, centre partings, Reebok Classics).

Blur returned in 2009 with two massive Hyde Park shows and a Glastonbury headline set. Suede followed in 2010 with a reunion tour that finished off at the Millennium Dome (that’s the O2 in modern-speak). And the trick of playing a “seminal” album from start to finish (Screamadelica, Deserter’s Songs, Foxbase Alpha) has become so routine it is hard to remember that gigs used to be about surprises.

But there has been a notable absence at the nineties jamboree.

On 3rd July, Pulp keep 60,000 people (standing in a field) waiting just a little bit longer by communicating, seemingly, via the technology of ‘95. A stream of messages appears across the screen in faint neon: a dot matrix tease, a pager bleep, asking if we “remember the first time?”

As frenzy-inducing stage stunts go it is hardly up there with the 21st century’s raw meat couture but the crowd of (slightly older) misfits is mad for it nonetheless, because Jarvis Cocker is back, still stack-heeled and snake-hipped, talking about his mum and pointing his pointy fingers. Oh, is this the way they say the future’s meant to feel?

“We all thought our sexual organs would have migrated to the side,” muses Cocker on the progress of humanity in the decade since he last commanded a crowd like this. “You look quite young. What you doing watching these old farts?” he adds, before ripping through a greatest hits set largely made up of tracks from 1995’s Different Class.

Vintage Pulp visuals are present and correct: a pop-up disco floor for Disco 2000 and a fake gas fire (“I’ll put another bar on”), which glows centre-stage. We allow nostalgia to spill over during Something Changed (it did: from our waistlines to our parental responsibilities) before Jarvis stripteases through a venomous ‘I Spy’. Like a football chant for the first batch of nineties divorcees, the crowd delights in singing every spiteful word: “Cause I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past 16 weeks / smoking your cigarettes / drinking your brandy.”

Meanwhile, Babies (from 1994’s masterpiece His n Hers) is dedicated first to Cocker’s mother, then to the entire crowd: “This one’s for me mum, with slightly inappropriate lyrics. In fact, it’s for all of us. We were all babies once.”

Sorted for Es and Whizz is more a case of “topped up with expensive cider and fajitas” in the context of the Wireless Festival, which shoves Barclaycard logos in our faces at every turn. Jarvis atones for this, taking swipes at capitalism and the oligarchs of One Hyde Park just over the hill (‘F*** them!’) before voicing his support for the student protests.

Always political, never Political, Cocker remains one of a rare few in pop able to weave “issues of the day” into his music without sounding like a knob. In fact, a couple of weeks later (at T in the Park) Jarvis is at it again, using the final issue of the News of the World as onstage toilet paper.

Unfortunately, Hyde Park’s curfew rules are a harder hegemony to break. Off-mic Jarvis is overheard asking “what f***ing time is it?” before realising the moment has come to launch into Common People and say his goodbyes. There is no time for encores. The crowd is left dazzled and in need of an expensive cider, but reassured that an old friend is back.

That’s because Jarvis Cocker is the “national treasure” graduand of Britpop. He is David Attenborough to Damon Albarn’s Chris Packham while the Gallaghers squabble over whose turn it is to kick the dog. Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown? It is strange, Jarvis, but welcome back.

And if anyone wants a faded size eight T-shirt from the summer of ‘95, try Scope on Camberwell high street.

Anna Doble

This article first appeared in the Spectator Arts Blog, July 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s