I was either 16 or 17 when I first saw Pop Will Eat Itself, so it was either 1986 or ’87. They were headlining a gig at Bay 63 (later renamed Subterania) in Ladbroke Grove, London with Bambi Slam supporting. I’d bought Bambi Slam’s seven-inch ‘Bamp Bamp/Hit Me With Your Hairbrush’ on a whim and wanted to see them live, so off I went. While The Bambi Slam were great (while they lasted), the Poppies grabbed onto my soul and have never let go.
I’m not sure how many times I saw them between then and their eventual demise in 1996 (the last was definitely at Rock City, Nottingham the night we went out of Euro ’96 to Germany), but I’m confident it’s in triple figures. From scruffy guitar grebos to scruffy techno grebos, they were always a blast live, a laugh in the pub beforehand and always moving forward musically; there was never a dull moment. I bought everything too, and still have it; all the promos, the coloured vinyl, the T-shirts.
When they returned in 2005 with the complete original line-up, I was over the moon. Just five shows, only two of which I made it to, but it was a brilliant comeback and gave that chance that there would be more.
But key man Clint Mansell had moved to the US to work in the far less energetic world of film soundtracks and slowly the rumours emerged that, as far as he was concerned, Pop Will Eat Itself had been confined to the dustbin of history.
Then Vileevils arrived; three of Pop Will Eat Itself armed with some new tunes and a bunch of old favourites. But although there were some fun gigs, it just never set fire as PWEI had and after a stuttering few years they were gone once again.
But it’s clear one particular Poppie, Graham Crabb, wasn’t giving up that easily. While the exacts of who was and wasn’t invited back into the band (and the decisions/arguments that followed) will probably remain speculation and hearsay, the key was that in 2011 Pop Will Eat Itself were back, again – minus all but one former member.
Reaction to this was mixed. Personally, I couldn’t give a monkey’s; the band I’d enjoyed most, especially live, over 25 years of loving music were back. Nothing was going to take those memories away, so what did it matter if this was a disaster or a success? Either way, I wasn’t going to miss it. And luckily, they were booked to play the Beautiful Days Festival, alongside Levellers, Carter USM and some other old duffers – perfect.
So there we were, early evening on the Saturday night, pissed and happy, standing near the front with former Poppie and Vileevil keyboard masher Adam Mole and Vilevil guitarist Luke. It felt weird for me, so god knows what Adam was really feeling, but he wished them all the best. Could they pull it off? The answer was yes, in spades.
The key had been replacing Clint and Graham pulled off a master stroke drafting in Mary Byker. Not only can the former Gaye Bykers and Apollo 440 frontman sing, but he’s also the right age and has the right attitude; I couldn’t of thought of a more natural replacement. But the rest of the new guys rocked it too, punching out a cracking set of mainly old favourites but with a taste of the new stuff to come. I didn’t hear a negative word from those that saw the show.
So fast forward to October 2011 and the ‘new’ Pop Will Eat Itself head off on tour – just as I’m off to New York for a wedding, as well as helping my dad move house to deepest, darkest Devon. All I could manage was one measly night in Oxford, with a three-hour coach ride there and back… but it was worth every second (even the bit going through Bedford bus station – bugger me, that really is hell on earth). A similar mix, with a few extra new ones, but enough people to fee like it was happening all over again and enough sweaty old buggers up the front to make it memorable.
So the next morning I wake up in the B&B with a hangover, the obligatory T-shirt and the new album, ‘New Noise Designed By A Sadist’. Fellow old timer Gary tells me its a winner, after a few plays, so I get home and shove it into the iPod (boy, how times have changed but no, I didn’t put it on shuffle).
Intro ‘Back 2 Business’ is as crap as it was live and I’m already starting to worry. It’s followed by ‘Chaos & Mayhem’, a radio friendly pop-rock attempt a friend is sure sounds like Roxette and who I struggle to argue with on the point. But from there, things pick up. It’s dirty techno pop, but most importantly it sounds like a natural progression from last album ‘Dos Dedos…’ all those years ago. The politics is gone, but otherwise it just sounds, well, right. And Gary was right; with more plays, it gets better and better – even the Roxette one sticks in the head for all the right reasons (but the intro is still crap).
So are they back 2 business? Certainly sounds and looks like it to me; there may only be Crabby in the band, but it feels like PWEI. New dates are allegedly planned for March, and with my dad moved and plenty of holiday in the kitty I can comfortably say I’ll be dusting down the kit bag come Easter (well, maybe a nice little suitcase with wheels on the bottom, but it’s the spirit that counts, right?). And if I know you and you get married and clash, sorry, but I’m washing my hair that night; in blood, sweat and beer.