Reunion Wilderness

A pause for thought

I feel really guilty about my blog at the moment. I feel like I’m neglecting it. The problem is… The pieces I’m writing are getting longer, more in-depth, so take longer to write. I’m halfway through my next piece which looks at three albums by two artists (so 6 LPs in total), and I completed half of it yesterday and that took me up to 3000 words, and I know one of the albums I’ll be dealing with next is up there with “Can’t help falling in love” on the tear duct scale. So that probably won’t be available to read until the end of the week. Then I’ve promised to write another Toppermost and there’s more and more and time is passing… But what’s the hurry? Why am I so worried? It’s not like I have deadlines to meet. You’ll be patient for me, dear reader. I hope so anyway.

One of the subjects which has cropped up in passing regarding the current piece I’m writing is reunions. This will make sense when you read the piece, but I thought I might extrapolate a little on reunions here. There’s been two reunions in recent weeks which have interested me. One is the return of Slowdive, the other is the revelation that Bob Wratton is working on new material with Michael Hiscock – meaning the original duo of the Field Mice are working together again. Now one of these makes me really excited and the other leaves me cold. And I’m sorry to say that I’m not in the least excited by Slowdive reforming. I love them, honestly I do. I’ve said that previously. But if all they intend to do is play gigs and reap the adulation of 20 years of non-existence, then I’m not interested.

This is the essential problem with all reunions. Everyone wants the hits. Everyone wants to remember the highlights, relive their youth and sing along to the old favourites. And hell I’ve gone along with it. I saw Mott the Hoople a few years ago and loved every minute of it. Even when they trundled through “The moon upstairs” and “The journey”, we all knew they’d get to “Roll away the stone” and “All the young dudes” eventually. But it was special, because it was one of those occasions I thought I’d never see. And it was quite clear it wasn’t going to happen frequently. (Well not that often – my father and brother missed out in ’09 but saw them last year).

Slowdive though… I saw them supporting Ride in March 91 and it was like stepping into a whirlpool of noise. A song would start, the noise would engulf you for five minutes, the song would stop then another would start. It was great. This was the period when they were still critical darlings, so there were reports of people crying at their gigs, or couples copulating in the front row. (Not sure in the truth in that one). But as soon as the shoegazing backlash kicked in – at the point the “Just for a day” LP was released – they became the butt of every Thames Valley joke and their career never really recovered. Sure, people (like me) still bought the records but they were never cool again. When they quietly disbanded nobody really cared. Over time their reputation has soared – it now seems they were the premier shoegazing band alongside My Bloody Valentine – and it’s probably the right time for them to capitalise on their name. But it is still surprising that they have decided to reform, as Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell have both claimed there was no point in Slowdive reforming as they can express themselves through their individual solo careers.

The precedent in the shoegazing reformation game was already set by My Bloody Valentine who reformed in 2008 and played a retrocentric set for five years while still proclaiming to be working on a new album. Even days before it was issued nobody really believed it would actually happen. And this is a big difference – MBV had unfinished business, the years they’d spent recording for Island Records with no output (ignoring two cover versions). The Valentines’ “m b v” album was proof they were still creative and pushing their own boundaries. And it was good too, which helped. At the moment it’s unclear if Slowdive are going to create any new music. I hope they do, and I’ll gladly listen to it. But seeing them play live…

This is the problem with reunions. More often than not it is a simple act of nostalgia. An audience has been created for a band in their absence – through fans who remember them at the time, younger fans who acknowledge the act’s influence, a media who have been stoking the desire of the public, and people who are just generally interested. Will they live up to their old magic? What will the setlist be? Anything new? Of course this is nothing new at all. From the Stone Roses backwards, each generation has their heroes reforming on a regular basis so that the NME and Q and Mojo can put them on the cover and shout “They’re back”. (I do wonder if Slowdive will make the cover of the NME, seeing as the paper slagged the band off so much at the time.). I actually have more respect for some bands not reforming, despite the huge cash available to them – the Smiths honestly could not live up to what they would be expected to achieve by reforming.

And that is another problem – expectations. Nobody wants to say afterwards “Well that was a bit crap, wasn’t it?”. You want to be impressed, and if everyone else thinks they were great then who are you to disagree? If the NME or the Guardian or whoever calls it a triumphant return, then that’s the official line. The emperor’s new clothes all over again. Nobody dares to say “Bloody hell Ian Brown still hits a few duff notes”. And the reformed act had better sound like their records. I happened to see a concert by The Police on Sky Arts a while back from their reformation tour, and they kept wandering off into jazz improvisations in the middle of the songs and you could sense the audience falling asleep. Reunions have to be faithful to their audiences, because you have to give the people what they want. (By the way. Kinks reunion? Nah, don’t think so…)

There have been great reunions which have carried on being creative and fresh, and yes I might as well include Take That in that category. They could have reformed for the nostalgia market and churned out their old hits but they returned with new material and while sometimes it can be Ikea pop, sometimes it can be rather good (I’ve always had a soft spot for the Simon and Garfunkel-isms of “Up all night”). The Go-Betweens returned in 2000 and created three excellent albums before Grant McLellan’s untimely death. Even when the Walker Brothers reformed in the 70s they made some great music (once their label had said “Do want you want, boys” and “Nite Flights” was the result). It can happen, it does happen. This is why I’m excited about Bob Wratten and Michael Hiscock working together. Even ignoring their work in the Field Mice, when Hiscock played on Trembling Blue Stars songs it pushed the music in wonderful directions – for instance the graceful “Farewell to forever” on “Lips that taste like tears”. I’m not expecting them to play “Emma’s house” or “Sensitive”, I’m expecting something different but harking back to their past together.

I suppose I’m lucky… I saw a lot of the bands I loved at the time, from Microdisney to Cocteau Twins. (“That’s not very far” I hear you cry). Hell, I even saw Andy Williams and I never thought I’d see him perform. And even if I didn’t see the Field Mice at the time I did see Bob and Harvey perform “If you need someone” as an encore at a Trembling Blue Stars gig, and that’s good enough for me. That strikes me in retrospect as a slightly selfish attitude. I’m not saying it like that, I’m lucky because I’m old enough to be able to see these acts originally. But I can understand the demand for tickets to see reformed bands playing their classic album(s) in order. Just don’t expect me to be in the queue.

Next time – everything looks worse in black and white.

4 thoughts on “Reunion Wilderness

  1. Yes your posts are longer then some but always fun to read and insightful. Yes quite true about reunions – they often don’t meet up to expectations. Now the WIld Swans reunion – that was one I was very happy about and wish I could have been at their live shows.

  2. If someone’s compiling a list of “Successful reunions that made new and interesting music”, you can add Wire if you haven’t already.

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