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The Strictly Hall Of Fame – Inductees #4-5: Blur & Pulp

Pulp and Blur might have had their most famous moments at Glastonbury (the reunion and saving the day in 1995, respectively) but like the movement they so perfectly encapsulated, they truly defined a generation at Reading. Glastonbury was always a hodgepodge, but Reading rolled with the punches and got stuck in. When Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede broke through, Reading was quick to give the scene leaders their big breaks and happy to book the clingers on that followed in their wake.

It’s telling that, despite being given big headline moments at other festivals, London/Essex’s Blur and Sheffield’s Pulp have played Reading and Leeds more often than any other UK Festival. When Blur had alienated the populist masses with their proto-Kid A, 13 and even odder follow up Think Tank – Reading stuck by their side, booking the band in a headline slot in 2003. Reading is often dismissed as fickle and full of the follies of youth, but it was the young fans in attendance who were willing to be chilled by the harrowing “Trim Trabb” and “This Is A Low”, while other fans held their noses and demanded “Country House”.

Pulp had a similar experience. The supposedly older and wiser festivals had moved on to new electronic thrills, while Reading still held a spot for them, initially above, and then just bellow The Strokes. It was a wonderful moment, the coolest band of the Brit Pop era, full of nerdy bookish charm, passing the crown to the next generation of ultra-cool nerds on the biggest stage of all. The Strokes aquitted themselves well, relying on the crowd to carry the day, while Pulp used all their showmanship to remind the assembled masses just why they were considered the best live band of the Brit Pop era.

 

It speaks to a band’s belief in their own abilities that they would not only ditch “Disco 2000” from their setlist, but throw “Common People” out as a set opener. Jarvis Cocker doesn’t lack confidence, but it’s hard to imagine him pulling the same stunt at V Festival. He knew if he delivered the goods, the crowd would stick around. Rather than building this headline set around his biggest hits, Jarvis structured it around the live epics: “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E”, “This Is Hardcore” and “Sunrise”.

When it came time for a well-earned encore Pulp took Reading back to the its roots, “Do You Remember The First Time?” and “Babies”. The two tracks that closed their breakout 1994 set, that served as a reward for sitting through all those annoying new songs like “Common People”, “Sorted For E’s and Whizz” and “Something Changed”.

In 2011 The Strokes and Pulp recreated the magic. They headlined alternate nights at Reading and Leeds and provided a perfect one-two-punch. One delivered a raucous, unpolished hedonistic escape and the other an intellectually magnetic masterclass in stage craft. Both bands were enjoying one last moment in the sun; surveying their surroundings and reflecting on 10 and 20 years, respectively, of ruling the indie roust. They had already ceded the throne to fellow Sheffield lads the Arctic Monkeys, but as the strangely intertwined icons shared the stage and paid tribute to new wave icons The Cars, the message was clear: who’s next? Who can carry indie forward?

Disappointingly we’re still waiting on Blur’s triumphant return to Reading and Leeds. Damon Albarn loves Glastonbury, we know it, he’s knows it, but we also know that Graham Coxon has a soft spot for Reading. Throughout the 2000s he was given top billing on the NME stage, strong slots on the Main Stage and even in his shyness, we could tell he loved every moment of it.

In the 1990s Blur comprehensively owned Reading and not Glastonbury. I remember jealously asking my older friend what he thought of Blur in 1999 and 1993. His opinion never changes. In 1993 they were incredible. Mixing Modern Life Is Rubbish, the album that spawned Brit Pop, with these strange but mind blowing new tracks named “Parklife” and “Bank Holiday”.

As for 1999, a set that was legendary during my youth; it was one of those performances the older kids at school would always reference knowing that no one my age group could have possible seen it. We’d missed out, they’d witnessed it, tough. Well my buddy had a different take: “you can always rely on Blur to be shit live, it’s why they’re great”. He’d moan that tracks were out of tune and that “Song 2” was inaudible, then he’d say that it didn’t make a jot of difference. When Blur sucked, the crowd endeavoured to shout the words back as loud as possible, drowning everything out. Underworld, he reliably informed me, were better back then (a sentiment many older fans agree with).

Still thanks to the magic of YouTube we now know that both sides were right. Blur were brilliant and rubbish, but the crowd were uniformly amazing. To put it as unscientifically as possible: Reading fucking loved Blur.

Both Blur and Pulp are ubiquitous today. They are models of professionalism and good taste. The modern fans of Reading could never hope to see the wild and rampant bands of old, but there is a certain joy at watching the old clips and seeing Damon and Jarvis spasmodically jerk across stage. These rough around the edges early days are an essential part of a bands evolution, it’s a reminder that Damon and Jarvis were a match for Enter Shikari and Savages back in the day – and that one day, some small little Reading band might be a match for Blur.

There’s something wonderfully hopeful about the stories of Blur and Pulp. They mirror one another. Two bands who started ragged and raucous before refining their work, slowly getting better and better, until they became the biggest bands in the UK. Reading isn’t always about overnight success. It’s about the long haul. It’s about persistence and earning respect the hard way. It’s about Biffy Clyro crawling their way up the main stage year after year. It’s about exceeding your expectations, and you better believe it’s about Blur and Pulp. David Hayter

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Author: david

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