The Seekers. The Beatles. Pet Shop Boys. U2. Longpigs.
Each of these has, at some point over the last 40-odd years, been my favourite band. But the first four were hand-me-downs, gifted by parents and siblings; Longpigs I chose for myself.
There was a little serendipity at play. Longpigs’ debut album, The Sun Is Often Out – sometimes styled as THE SUN iS OfTEN oUT (no, me neither) – was released in April 1996, just as I was preparing to flee the nest for the bright lights and student bars of Sheffield, their home city. Had I been a year or two older, or if another university had tempted me, then perhaps I’d have looked elsewhere. But the stars aligned, the sun came out and I had a cool, little-known newcomer to obsess about with my soon-to-be-fellow students.
The mid-Nineties marked the peak of Britpop, that nation-sweeping, much-hyped period in British music that refuses to pipe down more than 20 years on. And in many ways, Longpigs epitomised the Britpop band: northern, male, a bit moody, guitar-based, brilliant.
Their burst of fame came after they caught the roving eye of Chris Evans, who championed many new bands on his shows in the Nineties, a symbiotic blessing that boosted both their prospects and his ego. Subsequently, the band spent a brief time with one foot on those oft-distant pedestals of popularity and critical acclaim: four Top 40 singles, with two even breaking into the Top 20. And The Sun Is Often Out – we can agree to drop the unconventional capitalisation – climbed to the heady height of No 26 in the album chart. But this ranking tells us nothing other than how little we should use sales as a gauge of quality.
The album stands proudly as one of the finest of a decade, jostling shoulders with the likes of Pulp's Different Class or Suede's Dog Man Star. There’s a seam of quality throughout the 12 tracks (11 listed, one hidden). Their diversity is also notable, from the energetic fury of Far and She Said to the languid contemplation of Lost Myself and Over Our Bodies. They even pull off the trick of mixing up the styles within songs, such as the quick-slow Elvis and the quiet-heavy All Hype.
Yet it is the fourth track, On And On, which provides the gold-flaked cherry atop this melodic trifle. It can’t be listened to enough, from the unassuming intro to its morendo conclusion. The Crispin Hunt composition is no conventional slow-paced ballad, though; even here, they can’t resist tinkering with the classic slow-song formula, shoving some aggressive chords in after the first chorus.
The lyric is also a bit special. Rather than (yet) another lament about rejection by those girls who refuse to like you, it captures the very different pain of dumping someone you still care deeply about, the ‘It’s not you, it’s me, except it’s a little bit you’ conundrum:
You're the love that I've clung to
More often than I've let it show
And I wish you would leave me
And I wish you would go
On And On displays a tenderness that was heard too seldomly during a period dominated by shouted mockney knees-upery and lager-lager-lager-swilling lads behaving badly. The song was used to great effect during a poignant scene in the indie film Face, a British gangster flick that managed to outdo Guy Ritchie’s efforts. Starring Ray Winstone and Robert Carlyle, and featuring a debut role for a certain D Albarn, it’s well worth watching; like Longpigs, it didn’t receive anything like the recognition it deserved.
Perhaps there was simply too much going on back then for everyone to get their dues. Alongside the overwhelming musical tsunami, there was England’s semi-final near miss in the European Championships, the thrill of a promising new prime minister in Tony Blair swept to power, and even a minor Brit Flick movement as films focusing on the outskirts of society – Trainspotting and The Full Monty – popped their heads into the global mainstream. Only the boldest, pushiest acts fought their way to the top during the Britpop years, and Longpigs were never among them.
They didn’t even want to be associated with Britpop. This was another trait they shared with many of their contemporaries: a vehement eschewing of that label and all it stood for. ‘Hearing the word Britpop still makes me want to puke,’ bassist Simon Stafford later told Q magazine. “[It’s] a made-up word, with no meaning or relevance, and no place in the history books, except in the history of shit made-up words.’
Yes, but what do you really think, Simon?
There’s little sign that time is performing its acclaimed therapeutic duties, as Longpigs have failed to resurface in the current Britpop revival. There are no anniversary tours, no special guest appearances at nostalgia-and-alcopop-fuelled festivals, no new material to re-engage with their small but still devoted fanbase.
Instead, each ploughs his own furrow. Guitarist Richard Hawley continues to enthral as a solo artist, while Stafford has performed in bands with Joe Strummer and Jarvis Cocker. After a period spent writing and producing for others, lead singer Hunt now dedicates his time and his Twitter feed to campaigning for greater compensations for musicians from digital platforms. Drummer Dee Boyle sadly passed away in 2017.
Perhaps leaving things be is for the best. When you’ve produced something as wonderful as The Sun Is Often Out, as touching as On And On, how could you hope to get close to matching them? Maybe they concur, and that’s why these pigs remain firmly tucked up in their blankets.
Tim Woods is a Berlin-based writer. His debut novel, Love In The Time Of Britpop, is an unromantic comedy about bad sex and great music. He is an editor for Elsewhere: A Journal Of Place and writes for walking and travel magazines in the UK and beyond.