Pop Will Eat Itself

It’s 10:00PM on Friday 11th April 2014, and looking at the largely empty space inside Warehouse 23 in Wakefield you have to wonder about the future of music.

As you get older, as sadly we all must, time – like the Euro – gives less return. It goes quicker; again, like the Euro. Twenty years ago – twenty years! – Oasis unleashed Definitely Maybe. Two years after that, Ocean Colour Scene released Moseley Shoals. This was at the height of what was Britpop. The scene was massive. There was Blur, Pulp, The Bluetones, Supergrass, The Super Furry Animals, and on and on and on (which reminds me – there was also The Longpigs). The movement still is massive in the hearts and minds, trainers, polo shirts, desert boots and field jackets of those who passed through it – and it doesn’t seem like twenty years ago. And nothing much has happened since. Apart from The X-Factor and Coldplay. Neither of which I imagine will inspire much reverence twenty years hence.

Steve Craddock, of Ocean Colour Scene (and Paul Weller’s band) is in Wakey to play a set made up of material from his solo albums. As mentioned, it’s now 10:00PM, Steve has yet to show up on stage, and the place has less than a hundred punters in it. It’s a long trudge north with the mellotron and the rest of your kit to play to so few people. I last saw Steve in December 2013 at the Academy in Leeds, when he appeared with Ocean Colour Scene, charging through the Marchin’ Already (1997) album in full. It is perhaps indicative of the scene that many of its disciples seem unable to move forward – because that night the Academy was packed. Tonight Warehouse 23 is insultingly empty.

Blame the promoters? Or the fact that Steve’s target audience are now mostly over forty and rarely venture out of a Friday night, unless there’s a pub quiz on at the local… or a 1990s greatest hits night promised…? Who can say…? But whatever the reason – the people who loved Ocean Colour Scene in the mid-1990s missed a treat.

Steve eventually got tired of peeping from back stage, waiting for the crowd surge that never came, and delivered his set with ease. Though I did get a slight feeling of resentment coming from him, which was mis-directed at the people who had tipped up, rather than stay at home with the Sky box and last week’s telly. Still, the gig was faultless and the tunes suitably 60s/90s tinged.

I met him briefly afterwards when he signed a copy of Travel Wild, Travel Free (2013) that Bernard Docherty gifted me. It’s becoming routine at these gigs – like the ones at The Duchess in York, where I’ve seen Chris Helme (who also supported Steve tonight with a brilliant set as usual – despite a drunken fan forcing a drink on him; which remained, strangely, untouched), Johnny Marr and Tim Burgess – for the artistes to hawk their wares personally (Johnny Marr isn’t at the point where he has to stoop so low as to actually meet real people yet). Steve seemed affable enough, despite my half-cut ramblings and the long journey to play to an empty(ish) room.

But the lack of attendance had me pondering. Where is music going? There have been times lately when I’ve felt that popular music – in the form we’ve known it since the fifties – has lost all relevance. That it is a historical medium, like the sonnet or comic opera. Or the motion picture. No one is interested in anything new. Nothing new sticks in your mind. Like Steve’s stuff, it can be pleasant enough, but somehow doesn’t smack you in the face. The envelope is not being opened anymore – the huge rise in the prevalence of the ‘tribute band’ on the live scene is evidence of that. John Lennon was wrong when he spoke to Maureen Cleave about pop music outliving Christianity. It didn’t. It hasn’t. Less than fifty years since Lennon uttered that pronouncement, pop music is dead. The missing congregation inside Warehouse 23 tonight showed that.