The year is 1997 and I’m going to my first ever festival, true I attended what became known as Britstock in 1995, but that was only one day and not the full camping experience. The venue was Reading, being a northerner this was in the days before there was a Leeds equivalent so it was a long trek, and the weekend promised a lot of good bands.
Friday was mostly a happy-go-lucky day for me, where I saw A, Symposium, Silver Sun, Carrie and James amongst others, with a bit more power provided by Sick of it All and Incubus on whatever the punky/skatey stage was called that year.
Saturday was a bit more of an indie day but highlights were provided by that new band Stereophonics (opening up on the main stage) and Republica while I was waiting to see my favourite band Manic Street Preachers for the third time. This being the one with Nicky in his infamous camo-dress.
But having said that, Sunday was the ROCK day. Metallica, Marilyn Manson, Bush, 3 Colours Red and Dog Eat Dog all put on great sets, meaning that this definitely lived up to my expectations of being the best day. But tucked away second on the main stage bill (only above those contenders for the where are they now file, Radish) were Feeder.
I can’t recall exactly whether I’d heard anything by them beforehand, free CDs would have been my only option back then, but I knew them in the same way that everyone else knew them. That band with the orange boiler suits, the band with the weird hair, the British Smashing Pumpkins.
Looking back now, Setlist.fm tells me they played a 5 song set, which seems a little short despite their billing. All I remember is that I enjoyed their set and made a mental note to check them out when I got home. If that setlist is right then “Cement”, “High”, “Shade”, “Stereo World” and one of my all time favourites “Descend” would definitely have had that effect.
And check them out I did, buying “Polythene” soon after. The aforementioned Smashing Pumpkins comparisons were warranted in terms of some of the riffs and rhythms, but there was none of the excess, none of the fat, just the songs and nothing else. They were also far too British-sounding for that comparison to ever hold too much water. Their appearance on the Gran Turismo soundtrack only cemented the impact of that first album in my head (not forgetting the earlier mini-album “Swim” which I revisited at a later date).
By the time the next album came around with its accompanying singles I would be kicking off a run of buying pretty much every single and album from that point on, in terms of volume my Feeder collection is second only to my Manics collection.
The singles that preceded that album, “Day In Day Out” and “Insomnia”, showed a different side to the band, the guitars had kind of thinned out a little, there was a leaning less toward the rock world and more towards indie, or even a break towards the mainstream. Regardless, the songs were strong and the title track of the second album in particular, “Yesterday Went Too Soon”, remains one of my favourite songs by any band.
I saw them twice around the time of the release of the album, firstly at my second ever festival (and the last time I camped), Leeds 1999, this time being halfway up the bill on the final day and a month later at Middlesbrough Arena, the first Feeder headlining show I saw. History has moved “Yesterday Went Too Soon” a bit further down in the Feeder album pecking order, but familiarity in terms of single and album releases and also live shows was fast establishing them in the upper echelons of my favourite bands.
“Buck Rogers” a couple of years later certainly didn’t do that any harm. Yes, the lyrics are complete drivel, yes it’s a long way from the likes of “Descend”, but it’s a fantastically brilliant and simplistic song and another one of my Feeder favourites. It firmly launched them into the ears of mainstream music listeners and all the positive and negative press that that might bring them. In quite possibly the most ill-judged move of all time they also threw out “Just a Day” as the B-side to “Seven Days in the Sun”. Now they always did have an embarrassment of riches among their B-sides but that was just ridiculous. Locking horns with “Motown Junk”, it’s a contender for my favourite song of all time, A-side status (and accompanying cult fan video) soon redressed the balance.
The album the singles came from, “Echo Park”, was a huge hit and along with those songs contained other minor classics in “We Can’t Rewind” and “Turn”. These days it’s not necessarily an album that jumps off my shelf and screams “Play Me!” due to some of the more understated numbers, but once I do give it a spin it never disappoints. It was also time for another regular Leeds festival encounter, slowly creeping up the main stage bill again in 2001 and notable for being a day that I saw what were now my two favourite bands on the same stage.
Little did I know that 5 months later, drummer Jon Lee would be dead. Now I don’t really create attachments to famous people, I don’t know them and in my mind their passing simply means I won’t see any further work by them in the future. Of course it’s sad but not necessarily any more sad than if it were someone who lives down the road. Jon Lee seemed different. Everyone said it was a total shock, he didn’t seem the type to take his own life (if such a thing existed). Grant Nicholas’ subsequent story of how Jon phoned him at a restaurant that day and how he ignored the call because he thought he would just be messing around was utterly heartbreaking. To me it seemed like it would be touch and go whether they would carry on, he seemed an integral part of the band. But just like my beloved Manics after Richey Edwards’ disappearance, a similar comeback was on the cards.
24th August 2002 and Feeder re-emerged into the spotlight with new drummer Mark Richardson in tow. They had headlined the second stage at the Reading festival the day before and now I was at Leeds to see a repeat. It remains my favourite gig ever. The sentiment within the crowd was palpable as the chants of “FEE-DER FEE-DER FEE-DER” echoed around the tent and I took my place just inside. Opening with “We Can’t Rewind” was an absolute stroke of genius. It’s a brilliant song anyway but the title alone said it all, like their own “Everything Must Go”-style statement.
The crowd chant remained between every single song, it was an awe-inspiring atmosphere coupled with a great set of tunes. By the time “Just a Day” closed proceedings, possibly my favourite song of all time remember, the triumphant feel of the whole event really hit home. I’m not an outwardly emotional person at all, but while belting out the words at the top of my voice it happened – the only time I’ve ever been moved to tears at a gig. They were well and truly back.
“Come Back Around”, the, er, comeback single, was also awesome. The most Foo Fighters it’s possible to be without actually being the Foo Fighters, it was a stormer with one of my favourite drum fills of all time (ok, maybe that is a bit geeky but you get the idea). The album itself was poignant and strong without necessarily always hitting the heights of previous albums.
A B-side collection and quite possibly the best ‘Best Of’ ever sandwiched the next album, “Pushing the Senses”, and it was another solid set of songs. “Tumble and Fall” was the resident classic this time, fragile and towering at the same time.
As my record collection increased, the time spent with new releases reduced, meaning that later albums “Silent Cry”, “Renegades” and “Generation Freakshow” haven’t quite been given the airtime they deserve. Needless to say though, Feeder have never released even an average album and the high quality of the songs kept on coming. In February 2011 I saw them for the sixth time, at Middlesbrough Empire, meaning that they held the joint record for the number of times I’ve seen a band with the Manics, China Drum and Symposium (the latter two more through playing Middlesbrough plenty of times than being a massive fan like with the others!).
If you haven’t really listened to Feeder, or maybe you only know them through “Buck Rogers”, and this blog has intrigued you then give Polythene a listen like I did back in 1997. You never know, you might then find yourself taking a shortcut through my journey.
Editor adds: Check out Ian’s Top 50 Feeder songs here for a start!