I put a seashell to my ear and it all comes back to me. It’s four years, almost to the day, since I first saw The Pipettes. It was love at first sight, of course. A bunch of lads on the Freebutt stage in Brighton, looking like The Flamin’ Groovies. Three girls in polka dots parading through the sweating crowd, shaking blue pompoms like Shangri-La cheerleaders on speed. Glorious.
And the songs weren’t half bad either. Songs about liking boys and girls in school uniforms, being tied to the kitchen sink and one-night stands. Songs about the tough girls in school. Sly lyrical inversions of typical Pop conventions. Feminist politics wrapped in candyfloss. Strawberry switchblades held at your throat. Magical.
A lot has changed in four years. There have been ludicrously collectable singles. Coloured vinyl. Branded lollipops and sunglasses. Gold polka-dotted boxes to keep your 7” singles in. An album that sprinkled fairy dust and gleefully pierced the glum façade of indie-cool.
And of course there have been the line-up changes. First went Julia, off to be wonderfully Indelicate. Then, earlier this year, Rose and Becki sloped off to Other Things. I’d be lying if I said I was not nervous about seeing the new line-up for the first time. Bassist Jon and guitarist Bobby (the only two to remain from the original group) seem to acknowledge this fact. There is a thought that it’s a bit like being back at the beginning all over again, only this time with the slightly sceptical remnants of a once not insubstantial fan base. And for sure there will be sceptics who will remain unconvinced; will be those who recoil from the new look Pipettes with something approaching disgust. But that’s fine. Those will probably be the kind of people who would rather hear worthy Indierock than flamboyant discopop. Their loss.
Disco and Pop are the key words here. Talking to Jon before the show we mention to each other about how out of touch we both feel with the contemporary scenes. I’m off listening to piles of late ‘60s soft-psych whilst Jon has been devoted to old disco. And as soon as the new Pipettes start, that devotion is clear. There are chirpy synth lines and deliciously groovy bass lines galore. My feet slip and slide inside my heart. Once upon a time I would have walked out of there with my head shaking low. Now I grin and fall in love all over again. What was it Dylan sang? You know, the old and the young. Well there it is. All over again.
I like the fact that people will probably take the same reference points for this new Pipettes look and sound and use it as ammunition for their agendas. Some will point to the pastel coloured dresses and mutter something about Bananarama, Stock Aitken and Waterman and the 1980s. They will talk of the horror of the times. They’ll be right too. Others will point to the same things and say isn’t it wonderful? The former will be people of my generation; the latter will be seventeen year olds who don’t really care. And why would they? It’s a Saturday night. They want to dance. They want to shake their brightly coloured asses. They want to squeal and shimmy.
Of course it’s not all it could be. I miss the slightly ragged glamour of Rose, Becki and Julia. I miss the sly lyrics. I shy from the audience orchestration (I’ve never been one to put my hands in the air when someone tells me to). But that’s okay. That’s just fine. I’m happy to smile and dance deep inside. Where it counts.
Four years ago I wrote about how The Pipettes were like The Flatmates snogging Tiger Trap snogging Dolly Mixture snogging Strawberry Switchblade. These days they are more like Sister Sledge snogging The Shirelles beneath the glitter ball at Butlins. And that’s a good thing.