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PULP and GRACE JONES in HYDE PARK, Directionless Cut

(note - Luke Turner @The Quietus did an amazing job editing this overlong mulch down to what mattered. But this is what I had to say in full - overstressing the corporatisation of festivals without a doubt. Thank god for good editors)


Good bloody job I bought this bag full of sarnies & watermelon & Tunnocks teacakes. I'M NOT LINING THEIR POCKETS. Of course,  I'd like to enjoy pop in the modern age but unfortunately pop did a credit-check on me and it turns out my application has been refused. So let's sit out here and smoke this joint and sup these cans first cos the fuckers in the neon-green waistcoats and pink lanyards are only gonna take it away from us once we get to the gate just before they get their grope on. Lets drink now so we don't have to pay their prices and remember why were here. I believe that somewhere in that mess of advertising, somewhere past the noodles and the cameras and the credit-card billboards and the sponsored-VIP-stands, the truth may be told, and our past can be found again. Let's pretend that money is no object. Because money has fuck all to do with today. Because we CAN'T afford this but more importantly, we couldn't afford to miss it for a moment. Some things are bigger than you and me and the future. Sometimes you need to be a fan again.

Not a fan like THEY think of the word, an atomised unit, a customer. ALWAYS be suspish when you're called a 'fan', be wary of the scaffolded-bullshit that'll be erected in your honour. Following football's realisation that as soon as you call someone a fan you can perform the neat trick of pretending you 'understand' them whilst tricking them out on a daily basis, the music industry has been 'all about the fans' for 2 decades now, about our 'passion', our 'love' and our 'obsession' for music, our fanatical damn-near ZANY shorts-and-wellies devotion to pop. Festivals are the fulcrum where that gleeful submission on our part to the whims of 'organisers' (corporations) and their patrician-benevolent 'understanding' of our wants and needs can beam itself back to itself, a great time had by all, penetrative territories opened and splayed. The big screens in Hyde Park try hard to tell us we're all one, we're all sharing the same feeling whilst only really proving that there's no real crowd-identity any more, beyond a hacked and chiselled hoard seemingly hungry for all that high-impact product placement and the joy that can only come when a multi-platform brand identity has fucked your face for 3 days at your expense.

 I've avoided festivals for nearly 15 years now, avoided the live-music explosion that now so proudly is the real money-maker for the music-biz, avoided all the reunions & repackaging & remastering of my youth, resisted the irresistible lure of my favourite bands playing the same old shit they played when I first saw them. Nowt to do with principles, would've loved to have seen Pixies & Pavement for example-  I stayed out of it mainly because I've been too poor a punter to see any of it, priced out seemingly overnight by some decision made somewhere that every gig should leave at least a £100 quid-sized hole in your wallet. Can't bat my eyelashes and get freebies any more, can't write about anything for money and thus pay my way any more, another fan again, and I'm a fan that this future-of-endless-past is frankly kind of embarrassed about. I can't afford to bring kids, get a room or a train, tote a baby in a poncho with builders-headphones on, I'm economically USELESS to the music-industry at the moment, have plenty of free unbarcoded shit to be getting into and am more than happy to leave pop musiccc to the Fearne Cotton-style cheerleaders and NME-style fanboy frownyfucks forever. Their credit-checks went fine. Barclaycard Wireless Festival will sms you their thoughts on a minute-by-minute basis to your mobile or other hand-held device if you text your plastic numbers to 0800-AbandonHope now. Barclaycard Wireless Festival know that as a fan, all you care about is the music. Barclaycard Wireless Festival are fans too y'see. Fans of scraping you out like a barrel. Fans of your plastic numbers and your 3-digit security code. The evil multinational loan-sharks love pop music too, y'see because they love how it brings people together. Maximised spreads, subliminal association that's cost-effective for targeted markets and income-groups nicely demarcated thru careful pricing. The cattle thru the gates. The branding begins. Barclaycard Wireless Festival bring you this stun-gun to the temple, this Nintendo cocktail bar, this Live-nation VIP grandstand, this Jagermeister shot-bar, this gnawing sense that you're in an out-of-town leisure-plaza. Be grateful and be happy cos that's an order right from Huey Fun Loving Criminal on the big screen. He's got a Barclaycard too.

So far so harumph BUT I'm here squinting at the sun just off Marble Arch cos even my grouchiness can get broken. Even I can live in hope again. In 2 hours Pulp are going to be on stage and I can't think about anything else. Some bands get back together and you're happy for them ,wish them luck on their bank-raid, wave the fizz-swilling party out to the waves forlornly from the shore of your skintness, rattling your bottles in Rollocks Yard all the way home to watch it on youtube instead. Pulp I wasn't gonna miss. Pulp I had to see. Couldn't live through a year knowing they'd played and I hadn't been there. The kids can starve this summer and my arse is taking Barclaycard's short'n'scalys up to the hilt. Because if any band can rise above, just like they always did, then it's Pulp, if any band can remind you that music transcends commercial taint and transports you into another way of life, another model of living, then it's Pulp.  Yes I'm here chasing memories. But I'm also hoping for a reminder of hope. The whole day my skin is tingling, my heart is pounding, time lagging and then catching up with itself in crazy moments of blurred acceleration, every side-street a memory and every snicket a regret. Weird old journey down from Cov, driving down Holloway Road through Archway, remembering parties, times where you could hitch to the smoke with nowt but yr pretty face and still survive, still end up on a friendly floor or pitch up arse-about-tit on the pavement. Them London balconies, those mattresses and those regrettable fumblings, those pills and powders, those long nights of longing and laceration, happiest days of my life when I didn't have to worry about getting up in the morning, could start every day not knowing where the hell I was. 15 years on park my car at Euston, stroll past benches once kipped on waiting for the 5.30 am train back up to   Cov, take a long leisurely stroll down Tottenham Ct Road, the shock of the missing Astoria, the angry rush of Oxford St, a smoke and a wettened whistle on Soho square and then onward to the park. London's a city that immediately brings Pulp & the 90s vividly back to me, the still-resonant conviction that in an era draped in the flag, at a time where independence was being turned into a orthodoxy, Pulp uniquely were OUR band, for OUR people. In a pop world where other bands were trying so hard to be your heroes or your hearthrobs Pulp were like your mates, and knew that your mates and you were all the stars you needed. Like your mates, an odd bunch, ageless, sharp, like your mates shot through with a thread of genius that stood out in the crowd and drew the eye. OUR band, that repayed belief longer than the Manics or Suede ever did,  alongside Pram as true poets of that age, but writing pop-songs and blessed with a front man too good not to occasionally take over the mainstream they provided such withering counterpoint to. In an age wherein the dumb and clever-clever were being propounded as our only alternatives Pulp were about real street-level intelligence and guile and survival and they gave us songs that spoke like we did about the messes we got ourselves in without any jazz-hands smarm or monkey-walk lairyness. They delineated our first loves, our lingering decay, our furies and our freakouts and our dance-steps, the cuts of our jib and our clothes, helped us to know we weren't alone standing off to one side, scowling on the stairs, waiting moodily for their songs at the edge of Britpop's dancefloor, conquering it everytime 'Lipgloss' hit, their songs so much better than anything else, so naturally & effortlessly & breathtakingly superior in sound & word and stance. The last time I saw them was also in a park in London, Finsbury in 97, and it was perhaps the only time (this side of PE or the Muses) in my gig-going life where I'd felt proud to be part of the mass, proud to call myself one of the many, because it felt like a glorious calling-together of the Pulp nation, the Pulp tribe, it felt like going to see Pulp was a political act, an act of bravery and courage in a sea of rock'n'roll gestures and retrograde rearranging. Stella supped, roach ground out, wobbliness definitely setting in, let's see if we can belong to something bigger than ourselves again, lets go rejoin the Pulp collective and see how gracefully we've all grown up. I bet the bastards look better than I do.

GRACE myword. A true star. I'm not a critic any moree but holy moly I'm noting that the bass on 'Nightclubbing' is like a molten ball of god, I'm noticing that she looks bigger as a stick-figure in the distance than she does on the big screens because her body is something magical and her mouth is something magical and hilarious and her moves are something else – her form, even at ourway-backk remove, radiates pure star-quality, pure massive magnetism. I'm also noticing her band are incredible and that 'Bumper', 'Love Is The Drug', 'La Vie En Rose' & 'Jamaican Guy' are mere stunning prequels to the head wreckingg genius of 'Slave To The Rhythm', gliding out in sublime waves as shehula hoopsps, hollers like a bashment girl, reminds us that whilst some voices can take on a life and a presence like they're standing in front of you, Grace Jones' voice stomps into your city and flattens skyscrapers, her sheer force of personality and the tremendous hats she tops her dome with mopping up what's left of any resistance you might foolishly think about throwing up and down. For a moment you forget where you are because the vortex that is Grace has sucked you in, willing spiralling victim prone at her feet. Then she has to go, and the credit-card-company gets it's cock out and smears it in your face again on the big-screens and we sit down and allow ourselves a moment of reverie. In-between bands at festivals I used to go to, I'd go backstage to use the slightly-less-used toilets and hoover up more-connected people's detritus, my status as pophack entitling me to feel lonely and isolated in a less-populated environment, staring around for a friendly face, realising the rest of the music industry all seemed to know each other, realising that the paying punters everyone backstage so cynically took the piss out of were actually funnier and faster and smarter than most of the fucknuts who spent the whole weekend 'networking' and jabbing each other in the ribs just cos fkn Rick Witter had walked past. Today's crowd out front is not really a crowd. It is a group of people united only by a shared purchase, split into a few thousand groups of people each united by a shared ride home and a shared box of chips huddled around on the dusty ground (£5 quid). And, have to say, they don't LOOK like Pulp fans. Where's the nancy-boys, the anti-girls, the tall drinks-of-water and the little geeks? They're all wearing shorts and sandals and can afford the god-damnn food and are gonna sing along with Common People then go home and hate chavs and I'm feeling a trifle disconnected, a feeling I fear won't dissipate all night. For how can I feel connected with these people anymore? They're not my friends. They have their own friends. Pulp is all we now have in common and I don't think they need them as much as I did and do. I look around and I see all the things that have become associated with festivals, all the things I find impossible to know are real or not. Cowboy hats, dancing like a hippy, aviators, denim shorts, beach balls, whoops, phones aloft – are these things to do or things we do at the rock show now, expected behaviour waiting for ITS emblematic moment on the big screen from the swooping crane? So often seeing gigs recently I can't help thinking that in these Guitar Hero, TopShop Ramones-tshirt years all we've been doing is playing at stuff, bands PLAYING AT being in bands, audiences PLAYING AT what it means to see a band, behaving in a way as predictable and unspontaneous as the ghastly phrase 'party like a rock star' demands. Pulp themselves of course had presentiments of this:  'This Is Hardcore' is a whole album about how pleasure can play itself out, how those zones and centres of joy can become dry and arid through saturation, just how middling the highs and lows can become. So I find myself, holding my breath, wondering whether this show is for me and mine or everyone here, realising that no one here is lost, no one here is tripping the fuck out, most of us have work in the morning, everyone here is hoping that their entertainment dollar has been well spent as the clouds gather, the sun hides, and a message travels across the black sheet that obscures the stage. 'Do you remember the first time?”. We've changed so much since then, we've grown. Apart from each other. 

But. Hold the phone. There he is. There they are. Here is 'First Time'. All is whole. Pulp are still a deeply political act of listening and love. First thing that needs noting, my god how fucking brilliant do they sound? A band that's played together long enough to click in each others pockets & on the one straight off, never making a show of that rock solid togetherness, able to be 6 individuals yet part of something bigger than any single personality. Senior's violin has taken on a beautifully Cale-esque drone-ish pall, slightly off-tune, Candida marshals the full palette and pushes it to all the right peripheries, keyboards and string swelling with a symphonic strength bigger and louder than I've ever heard them before. And my god Banks, Webber & Mackay are still such a fucking amazing thump of electric wow, coiling round The Voice, attendant to every syllable, enacting high-wire drama and low-life luridness with a pan-optic blast that seems to fill the sky fresh every second. And of course, thank god, Jarvis is still perhaps thee greatest British lead-singer we've had in the past 20 years, sharp, bearded but beautiful, chatty, funny, serious, utterly believably still bound up in these songs and the memories and moments they evoke, not just for us, but for him and his band.

So it doesn't matter that the set mainly focuses on Different Class – these songs were universal and timeless to begin with, hearing them now, in the new contexts of both our age and his, they actually sound more lethal than ever, cast an even harsher light on the piddling pleasantry the post-Pulp age has mainly given us. 'Feeling Called Love' thunders with drama and heart, 'This Is Hardcore' blazing in red-littt Portishead-style doom and danger, 'Underwear' and 'Mile End' ushering in a beautiful sunkissed few minutes of bliss but smuggling pipebombs and prophylactics in the rear of your ear lyrically, reminding you how uncomfortably close to home, how voyeuristic Pulp always felt. OUR band. OUR problems. OUR only solution – by the time 'Mishapes' comes I'm remembering just how much that song held me together back in the day, how it still holds me together now, goggling at how Banks & Cocker have an almost Mick'n'Charlie knowledge of each others moves (loved it when Jarvis started intoning 'Ozymandias' like Jagger in 69), what a glowering still-fearsome presence Senior is in the sound. 'I Spy' and 'Bar Italia' are delightful surprises, 'Es and Whizz' still perhaps the greatest song of its era, everything played with a full-tilt perfection a million miles away from mere reanimation – these songs have grown since then, now stand mighty amidst the dwarfed mediocrity of modern indiepop, put out with a power and beauty that only seems to have increased with age, a dignity that feels immortal.  That's what's startling, how a 'reunion' show can actually reunite all those lost threads, bring something back full-force, can actually make you realise what you've been missing, how missed the majesty that is Pulp has been for so long. On a pulsating 'Disco 2000' and a riotous 'Babies' they're actually, impossibly, even BETTER than I remember them, somehow heavier yet freer, more precise yet even funkier (and they always were a bad-assed band to dance to).

Couple of really revealing moments – one when he mentions the student protests and how crucial education was in bringing Pulp together, one where he talks about the new billionaires development at the bottom of Hyde park (placing us neatly in-between the recently-closed St Martins College and Cameron's new Britain) – where the politics comes to the fore, and you're reminded, heartbreakingly, of just HOW FUCKING MUCH WE NEED A BAND LIKE PULP AGAIN in the current shitstorm, just what a big gap they left when they went, just how unprepared the modern audience has now been conditioned to be (both statements barely get a round of applause) for a band with something to fucking say. I can't see a thing but I can hear , and that's all that matters to me, that I'm here and in the same place where this righteousness and romance is erupting. And it doesn't matter that I'm disconnected from the crowd, because the best Pulp always reminds me that in family and in friends and in solidarity there's a way, a stylish rather than merely fashionable way, to stay sane, to stay good, to stay true. “Common People” is deeply telling tonight. Almost no-one here is living a life with no meaning or control, most of the crowd are singing along with 'Common People' cos it might just get them through, but some of us remember, and know in Cameron's new age how close that drift and derailment is no matter how grown up we might think we are, no matter how secure we think the emergency-credit is. Crucially it's still a song that divides, that knows, that calls you out, that's still murderously accurate, that still showcases what a truly great resistant voice Jarvis Cocker & Pulp have been in English pop. OUR band. Still like our mates, a bit grouchy with each other, but still in love with each other and what they can create together. The band least likely to do something new together, but the band I would most like to be back in the fray. My voice has gone, my body aches, I've just been jumping up and down and screaming for an hour and a half. I have a routine to get back to. But for 90 minutes in a field in central London Pulp have made me happy again, made me believe that despite pop's ongoing self-censorship and refusal of possibility, its glee in its own pimping and dumbing down,  there are still people able to take the form as far as it can go, to say things fearlessly, to try and create a heaven on earth, right wrongs, fight the good fight.  I have next to nothing to say about 2011, and very little to say about pop anymore but I do know this: it's not all about the music, it's not all about the fans, and it's not something that corporations have a fucking clue about. This much I know cos I am a fan. Despite the enforced commercialism, the Styrofoam and the big-screens and the smarming security, whilst Pulp were on tonight nothing else in the world mattered other than those 6 people under the big black sky and what happened in the space between them. Back in the game. Selling one of the kids to get tickets to Brixton cos tonight was an groundshaking reminder that where Oasis bequeathed condescencion, and Blur bequeathed caricature, Pulp, more than any other 90s band gave us compassion, something entirely different, something to live your life by, something that can sustain you. All hail.


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