Back in 1995, I spent nearly a whole day in April sitting on the bed next to Jason, singer/guitarist of Vicarage Garden, who was suffering from a massive hangover. Vicarage Garden had just played their second show in Athens and I was interviewing him for my fanzine. It was miserable outside and I couldn't face going back home on the bus, so I sat there talking to Jason for ages while the promoter's mum (in whose flat the band were staying) kept bringing us tea and homemade cakes. The second issue of my fanzine never saw the light of day but I've still got that interview translated into Greek and I remember it was the first time someone mentioned Stoke-on-Trent to me. I was asking Jason about the indiepop scene in his hometown and he said that the last time Vicarage Garden had played in Stoke there were only 10 people there and the promoter stuck a gravestone made of cardboard in front of the stage that read INDIEPOP 1986-1994 R.I.P. I was shocked and appalled. Here they were in Athens, playing in front of 100 people, while back home, in bloody Stoke, no-one cared. I hated Stoke.
More than 10 years later, I found myself in Stoke and it was for pop. Pete, who used to be in The Rosehips, and Ian of The Mittens, were in a band called Horowitz and had also started putting on popshows in their hometown. I had nothing to lose apart from my hatred for Stoke - and I had almost forgotten about that. Stepping into the goth/rock/biker venue, faced by the immense sound on stage and the extra strong double house vodkas, I thought I was in a parallel universe where indiepop had gone all wrong. But it wasn't like that at all - and yes, no-one turned up at that first popshow but we had a brilliant time and stayed up late at Pete's house listening to pop and falling asleep talking about it. It was an important night.
Next time I went up to Stoke for a show there were a few more people there and I saw the Parallelograms for the first time and I kept grinning and grinning until my head started hurting. And the fine tradition of popshow curry started that night as well. Perfect in every way. Locked in a bubble of indiepop, thinking that this is how everything should be, is not a new thing for me, I've always been this way. I just never thought it could happen in Stoke too. The cardboard gravestone was truly irrelevant.
Going back there last Saturday evening, I took some time to walk around the bit of Stoke that's near the Glebe (the venue). The carpark was crammed but the streets were empty. It felt like a Sunday night, all quiet and eerie, threatening even - not that I've ever felt threatened in Stoke (well, apart from the horrible hangovers - bloody Stoke) and then, you know, as my talented indiepop friends started to arrive and there were hugs and jokes and glockenspiels, I knew I was lucky to be there, in that strange jigsaw puzzle of a city. And I know it could have been anywhere, it could have been in pretty Bristol, but it was important that it was in Stoke because indiepop is about politics and there that night, indiepop politics were making the biggest statement I could ever wish for: wide smiles, joyful drunkness, this matters. A lot. It works despite everything. And even the following day, when three wonderful people gave up their time to drive me to the bus station and there were no signs for it anywhere, and we were too shy to ask for directions, I still got there on time to catch my coach and even got a hug goodbye. Things work out in Stoke!
We are as one, we will never die, no we will never die.
The populist paradox
1 day ago