Friday, 2 October 2015

Pulp at Glasgow Barrowland in 1995

The other night, ahead of my blog on the 20th anniversary of Oasis' Morning Glory album, I posted a few things on Facebook talking of the anniversary. It prompted a friend to reminisce about his favourite ever gig - Pulp at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow and Morning Glory coming out the next day. Back in 1995 there seemed to be no shortage of brilliant music.

Steven Birrell is a lovely guy I met when I worked with the charity Maggie's Centres. Steven was a similar age and we got on well. Steven raised fantastic funds and awareness for the cause and through the power of Social Media we have kept in touch.

I asked Steven if he would write a guest blog about his memories and I have to say I was blown away reading it on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow this afternoon.

I hope you enjoy it...

Steven - Remembering the first time


The streets of Glasgow’s East End have seen their fair share of hardmen over the years. But the group of barechested young lads swaggering down the Gallowgate twenty years ago struck fear into no one. Yet “Fife’s Scrawniest Boyband” weren’t looking for a fight. They wanted donner meat and chips, another beer and, eventually, a bus back to their mate’s uni flat in Balornock. The swagger was because they’d just seen something special in the Barrowland Ballroom. Barechested, because the cold night air against the sweat soaked t-shirts was chilling them to the bone and a concert veteran had told them that ‘taps aff’ would be warmer. He was right.

I’d been going to the Barrowlands for a few years before the 1st of October 1995, travelling through from Dunfermline with some mates and one of their big brothers who was old enough to drive. The fifteen year old me was armed with a borrowed Lauder College ID with my photo blu-tacked over the real Steven Hunter. I’m convinced I only got in because the bouncer spotted the Fife address and thought I’d be safer inside the venue than stood outside waiting for a few hours.

In that time I’d seen some amazing frontmen, being blown away by Billy Corgan and being mildly terrified of Henry Rollins. But nothing prepared me for Mr Jarvis Cocker and Pulp’s 2nd gig of their Different Class tour and there hasn’t been a live music ‘experience’ that’s bettered it. I’ve never been able to explain why. There’s been plenty of other gigs since, including Pulp, but hopefully you might get an idea over the course of this blog.

I grew up with a bunch of friends who all loved their music and had a range of tastes. We’d spend our Friday and Saturday nights alternating between the bedroom of two friends, Jim and Mo, whose parents had to tolerate a five hour setlist that could swing from TTF to the Rolling Stones, New Order to Metallica, Arab Strap to Nirvana.

But Britpop united us all and Pulp’s His N’ Hers was one of the first albums that had universal approval across the group and was never off the stereo. A night would not pass without one of the group walking across the room that was strewn with NMEs, Select, Vox and Melody Makers to imitate Jarvis, flicking out a leg and then pointing to the sky, before heading downstairs to get the carry out from the fridge. But we’d only ever seen the band on telly, read about them in all the aforementioned and sadly missed titles (it’s not the same NME, I’m sorry!) and listened to them on radio. The Barrowlands was going to be our first live experience of them and they didn’t disappoint.

So, ‘do I remember the first time?’ Oh yes. Twenty years on, I still recall lots about that night. We’d met at Jim’s new flat in Glasgow. Mo had got his hands on a promo copy of What’s The Story from a record fair that afternoon, so we got a sneak preview of the 2nd Oasis album before heading out. But other than their name, I don’t remember much about the support act, Minty. I’m always in for the support slots and they’ve triggered some long term musical relationships with acts. But not Minty.

It was the Different Class tour, but the album didn’t come out until later that month. There’d been a few singles released prior to the gig including the game changing Common People but I went along keen to see and hear all my favourites from His ‘N’ Hers played live - the new material was a bonus!      

From the minute he strutted and shimmied onto the stage, I was captivated by Jarvis Cocker and barely took my eyes off him for the entire gig, smiling, starstruck. That’s probably not strictly true, I had a wee crush on Candida Doyle and I’m sure there was a few cheeky glances towards her throughout the set.

Jarvis and the band took us on a rollercoaster, we danced and bounced and sang along to
Razzmatazz, Joyriders and First Time. We were 17 and 18, a mix of freshers and schoolboys, not a care in the world and that ballroom was the centre of our universe, oblivious to everything else - even the sweat dripping off the roof and on to our ‘curtains’ hairdos.   

I remember being near the front when Acrylic Afternoons came on, and I just stood transfixed listening to the hushed, husky, almost breathless vocals. Even when the chorus burst into life and the crowd started bouncing and jumping, I just let myself get carried along in the sway. Mesmerised. It wasn’t my favourite song on the album before the gig, but as the years have went on, it’s the track I’ve listened to most - probably because of that night. If Kirsty Young ever calls, it’s on the Desert Island Discs list (which changes monthly).

We cheered the opening chords of Babies when we starting thinking they weren’t going to play it. I’m sure I flicked out a leg and pointed to the sky shouting ‘Alright’. I think we all did. The encore was Underwear, classic Pulp, and we all heading downstairs with Common People still ringing in our ears (and staring at the Transvision Vamp poster with Wendy James).

I’m not entirely convinced that I’ve explained what made this the best live experience - I’ll never be a gig reviewer that’s for sure. I was 17, just starting Stirling Uni and this was my first Glasgow gig where I wasn’t going home at the end of it. I was with a group of childhood friends that remain great friends two decades on. We still go to gigs together but the hairline has headed north and there’s no longer a fringe, never mind a set of curtains. On that chilly October night, Britpop took us out of the bedroom and into the Barrowlands. From sitting with our heads buried in music mags with economy cider to jumping about like idiots drinking watered down lager. And there wasn’t a smart phone in sight. This was ‘our moment’, our preview into the new songs and an album that would make them household names. And of course, I got to see one of my idols owning the stage, making us ‘dance, and drink and….there was none of the other stuff!’.

Last year I went along to a screening of Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets at Rough Trade Records and Jarvis and Candida were there to do a Q&A. At the end, the crowds swarmed in to get selfies and signatures and normally I'd be wading right in there. But Pulp are different. I've met plenty of my heroes (and never been disappointed) but Jarvis and co, I'm happy to admire from afar. Instead, I stood at the back, gave them both a wee salute before heading out down Brick Lane with a swagger. ‘Taps Oan’. Smiling. Remembering the first time.

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