I am not a young man.
My body has been battered and bruised these past few years by a chronic health condition. I live with constant physical pain. That has taken its toll on my mental and emotional health too.
Boo, and indeed, hoo.
Everyone has problems…burdens to bear.
Crosses to carry to their own place of the skull.
I am not looking for sympathy, or worse pity.
I am not going into the sort of awful detail that some people on social media do…living their lives like an open wound. Every personal moment, every intimacy, every breath they take, every blink they make shared, shared and shared again.
I am giving you enough of an insight to help you make sense of what is to come.
Let’s recap…I am old, I am sick, I am tired and I sometimes feel blue.
Hey-ho, let’s go.
I enter the hallowed halls of the Kentish Town Forum and feel a flood of memories wash over me…I saw some of my favourite bands here in the nineties. I remember the young me, feel the warm glow of nostalgia wash over me, see myself in a mirror behind the bar and convince myself I still have a full head of hair.
The Supernaturals arrive and deliver a set that is designed to remind people how great they really were. All the best pop music is crammed into their songs…here come The Monkees, was that The Move I heard? Was it just me who caught Madness just then? Contemporary influences too, like Teenage Fanclub. It all blends together to form something so charming, so beautiful, so clever, so witty…that your heart beats faster and you find yourself praying to a God you didn’t realise you believed in to bless us all with one more album…and one more after that.
“I Wasn’t Built to Get Up” speaks to all the damaged souls in the room, the people who feel like they just don’t fit, that (as Limmy suggests in his autobiography) they have missed an important day at school and are now missing a vital piece of information…everyone else has got their act together but we still feel like jumping off a window ledge. To deliver a message of hope with something so, seemingly, hopeless is a wonderful thing. To do it wrapped up in pure pop hooks is a mark of genius.
Smiles as wide as the Clyde are plastered across the faces of everyone in the room by the time they finish their set.
Since I saw Sleeper play the much smaller Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh a few weeks ago a lot has happened. The death of Keith Flint had more personal resonance for Kieron Pepper who played alongside him in The Prodigy for ten years. We lost an icon…he lost a friend. Illness struck children while the band were in the middle of the tour…a child who has a sniffle is worry enough, but when you suspect it is something more serious, even if that worry is allayed soon enough, is deeply unsettling and upsetting.
Tonight though all of that is the past.
This is the end of the tour.
But it serves as the starting pistol for the future of Sleeper.
Make no mistake this was not a farewell performance.
This was a reminder of why we were all so giddy when they reformed for Star Shaped in 2017.
This was a performance that was so flawless, so perfect, so thrilling and so delightful that it placed a very peculiar thought into the hearts and minds of everyone there…could it be, just possibly, that for all the debate and discussion about Blur and Oasis, for all the column inches about Suede…could it be that the best of what we loved in the nineties and cherish now was not any of that but was, instead, Sleeper?
Hear me out.
Sleeper never released a single as achingly awful as “Country House”.
Sleeper didn’t ever think a song like “Roll With It” was a good idea.
Sleeper never let you down with a song like “Elephant”.
For Sleeper it was a run of hit singles that were “Smart”-er, w-“IT”-tier and more delicious than almost anything that any of their peers was doing.
Just think about the singles they play live tonight…”Nice Guy Eddie”, “Delicious”, “What Do I Do Now?”, “Statuesque”, “The Sun Also Rises”, “Look at you Now”, “Inbetweener”, “Vegas” and “Sale of the Century”.
Nine pop songs so perfectly crafted, so catchy, so awe inspiring, so memorable and so utterly modern sounding two decades later that you can’t help but wonder what dark magic has been employed to create them. That two of those singles are from their first album in over two decades simply makes the list more incredible…maybe even more incredible-er since they are just as good as the “old songs”.
The set is littered with songs from “The Modern Age”…a gentle sprinkling, enough to please the devout but not so many that the nostalgia freaks, here for the hits and the beers, will get fidgety. Although the very idea that anyone could be anything other than spellbound by “The Modern Age”, “Blue Like You” or “Paradise Waiting” paints a vulgar picture of that sort of person.
Before the end of the main set they play “Atomic”…a song that isn’t theirs but which, for the people here gathered, is. They have taken a song that was the sole property of one of the greatest pop groups of all time and made it their own. It serves as a connecting point between one radical, magical, female pop star to another radical, magical, female pop star. Tonight though, it also helps to tell the tale of the evolution of what we used to call “indie” music. As the song morphs into “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, we can see the line that takes us from the punk and post-punk outsiders of the late seventies and early eighties on to the likes of The Smiths and then to the loose fit groove of the Mondays and the Roses before we got to the conquering of the mainstream by the Britpop crowd.
I have watched the entire show from the back of the venue.
Stood beside the merchandise stall.
Looking out over the heads of the crowd.
Watching the bob, sway and thrust of the other people here.
Occasionally people break off from the main body of the crowd and head up to the space I am in…not to take a break or get a drink or use the loo but to dance with more abandon than the confines of a crowded dancefloor can permit.
I see smiling faces all around.
I hear voices roar every single word back at the band.
I feel love.
At the heart of all of this is the band.
Louise being Louise…a star in every way except in pride, she is humble and gentle with the adoring masses in front of her.
One of us.
Jon reminding everyone of something they hadn’t ever known…he is as fine a musician as any who are more lauded. He plays with power and delicacy…sometimes at the same time. He is lost in music, no turning back.
Andy beats, pounds, tickles and caresses the drums to deliver the beat, beat, beat that keeps us all together, marching, dancing, prancing and flouncing at his instruction.
Kieron plays the old songs like they are his songs and the new songs like they are old songs. He just…fits. He is Sleeper now.
There at the back of the stage is Amy…playing keyboards, adding layers, harmonising with Louise and looking like she is having the time of her life. She is, to be frank, bloody brilliant. I love her.
When it ends a curious thing happens…there is no rush for the door, people turn to their friends and lovers and smile, embrace and loud cries of “How good was that?” can be heard across the room. The move to the exit is slow…as if people want to make sure that they remember, that when the sun also rises on the morrow that what they are feeling will be lurking somewhere inside of them.
The question now is…what’s next?