As time goes by, its becoming easy to forget just how bloody massive Britpop was before it all imploded as dramatically as it burst into the mainstream. Not just in the music charts, which were dominated by it in all its various strands from Blur to Robbie, Union Jack flags printed on both dresses and guitars, its stars adorning the front pages and the gossip pages. Sleeper were right in the thick of it, Louise Wener an inescapable presence in the charts alongside her band (affectionately known at the time as the ‘Sleeperblokes’). Last year saw them return to the fray for the first time in 22 years with a show at The Haunt that showed that none of the affection that they were held in had faded. That lit the spark that sees them return as a touring band proper, with new songs to boot. On tonight’s showing, they won’t be going away again for a good while yet.
The Boy Least Likely To give the perfect support tonight, fellow long-term indie survivors who have also stayed the course. ‘Faith’, their banjo-led George Michael cover is as addictive and good fun as it ever was. At points pausing to chat about what train they got to Brighton, or breaking into fits of giggles at singer Joff Owen’s extravagant hand gestures, their entire set is one of good-natured, endearing smiles from the stage and the crowd.
Straight in with ‘Nice Guy Eddie’, the years fade away for everyone as Sleeper take to the stage. With thanks to anyone who also attended the gig at The Haunt (“This is all your fault…”), it brings the same feel-good vibe that made Britpop such a heady period. Those Sleeperblokes, namely Jon Stewart on guitar, Andy MacLure on drums and new bassist Kieron Pepper, still are as integral to the band as their more-famous singer – Stewart in particular kicking and spinning his way through the set like he’d never been away.
Next year promises new music, and three new songs are revealed tonight. Two jump out straightaway on first listen, ‘And The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘Look At You Now’ leaning more towards the synths with catchy choruses. The latter in particular feels like it is a perfect update to the classic Sleeper sound, though either would slot into The It Girl. As welcome as they are though, until they are more familiar it is still (obviously) all about the nostalgia trip. And what a trip.
‘What Do I Do Now?’ still sounds as fresh as the day it came out, as does ‘Lie Detector’, ‘Statuesque’ and ’Inbetweener’. All indie disco classics, all perfect gig fodder for this crowd, lapping up every move and handclap from Wener as she orchestrates the room. Their cover of Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ from the Trainspotting soundtrack still acts as the perfect epicentre of Britpop at the height of all of its cultural importance. ‘Sale Of The Century’ is, of course, the sparkle on top of the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. Perfect in its day, and still perfect now.
If The Haunt gig was a “can we still do this?” dipping-the-toe moment (the answer being a resounding yes), then what has followed have shown there is not just an appetite for nostalgia but for newness too. The successful baby steps of their return continue then, with excitement and hope growing for that fourth record…