Music

Britpop’s returning heroes remain a different class 

(From left) Damon Albarn’s Blur and Jarvis Cocker’s Pulp are back on the road. Will it be the Gallaghers of Oasis next? Images: Shutterstock/Alamy

There was a joyous moment at one of Blur’s two Wembley Stadium shows earlier this month, when
frontman Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon shared a cheeky kiss on the lips between songs. A slightly over-sentimental show of unity, perhaps. But as plain and earnest proof as you could hope to witness that the heart of one of Britain’s greatest ever bands has healed after so much bad blood, and that Blur’s happy resumption of business can be celebrated without cynicism. 

The second summer of Britpop, as some have dubbed it – with three of the era’s four biggest artists back on the road at the same time – is proving nothing if not emotional. Blur have performed their biggest-ever gigs, to a rapturous response. Pulp have rocketed into arenas and festival headline slots again for the first time since their first reunion over a decade ago, frontman Jarvis Cocker warmly dedicating the song Something Changed each night to the memory of bassist Steve Mackey, who died in March. Suede have been touring the trashy-euphoric hits, while the Gallaghers have been (separately) performing rousing Oasis classics among new solo material. Everywhere you look the clock is being reset to the end of a century in a tearful rush of Proustian memory.  

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“Do you remember the first time?” pondered Cocker in one of Pulp’s best-loved songs from their 1994 breakthrough album His ’n’ Hers. Fact is, if you can remember anything of the heady days of Britpop then you probably didn’t do it right. Blur and Oasis scored top five hit singles in 1994, and then in April 1995 Oasis had their first number one with Some Might Say. In June that year Pulp’s Common People reached number two. Then came the mainstream mass cultural event that was Blur vs Oasis a few weeks later. Swagger and indulgence were the order of the day.

It’s generally accepted that Britpop was a sleazy media and commercial construct rather than a genuine unified musical movement. But as time steadily passes, it’s funny how optimism has a habit of usurping scepticism, and how good memories eclipse the bad. The entire reunion business is practically built on it. 

Britpop collapsed under the weight of its excess and a lot of harsh words were spoken in its aftermath. It’s interesting to reflect today on the confident proclamations of younger men, and consider how indeed something changed in many of them. In 2008, Albarn – busy with Gorillaz and various side projects, and in no mood to give Coxon a kiss having scarcely spoken to him since the guitarist quit Blur in a cloud of alcoholism and acrimony in 2002 – declared in an interview: “Blur is over.” To which Coxon retorted: “Nonsense… it isn’t for him to decide.” Within a year they were triumphantly headlining Glastonbury. Blur’s second post-reunion album The Ballad of Darren was released last week, and it might be their best of the new century so far.  

In 2009, Cocker announced: “Pulp have no plans to get back together.” Fast forward two years and the band were back on stages around the world in their full classic line-up (though guitarist and violinist Russell Senior re-quit the band after just a few shows). Cocker’s reconciliation seems to have been with himself as much as anyone else. “I’d tell my younger self to just chill the fuck out,” he told The Big Issue in 2020. “Calm down. ’Cos at that age you think it’s just you who doesn’t know how to do things. And, of course, what I’ve learned in the intervening years is that everybody’s got that feeling of being an imposter or faking it. Nobody really knows how it all works.” 

You have to wonder if a lot of what we’re seeing today isn’t simply part of a natural process of getting older, and the self-reflection and greater self-discipline that comes with grey hair, grown-up children and departed friends. When you’re young, time feels infinite and mistakes and bad choices less grave. Age can focus the mind and helps filter out the things which matter least, like grudges or pride. You don’t need to be a rock star to recognise that, you just need to be human. Sure, big fat stacks of cash will always have their part to play. But in an industry where egos and emotions often prove much more fragile than bank balances, that’s only ever part of the story.

Which all leads to the question – could a rapprochement between the Gallaghers be next? Albarn seems certain of it, having gone so far as to say he’s “put money” on an Oasis reunion soon. “They’re brothers and it would be wonderful to see them reconcile,” he added, in a recent interview. Both Gallaghers have made positive noises about it at different points. They just need to stop publicly goading one another and pick up the bloody phone. The third summer of Britpop, whenever it comes, might just prove the most emotional of them all.  

The Ballad of Darren by Blur is out now, a livestreamed performance of the album can be watched on 25 July; Pulp play the Eventim Apollo, London 28-29 July

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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