In part one of our interview with Crispin Hunt – one-time frontman of the Longpigs and current Chair of the Ivors Academy – we look back on the Britpop peak of the band upon the re-release of their debut album The Sun Is Often Out on June 5th…
Britpop is now regarded with disdain by some and while it’s fair to say it had negative aspects, it was also a time of inspired creativity and cultivated enthusiasm. Unlike previous musical movements, the three ‘big hitters’ – Oasis, Blur and Pulp – were three very different types of band, and further down the pecking order the only uniting factor for those concerned was that they all had guitars.
For the nineties, the term ‘Britpop’ began life in ’94, but what are now recognised as the defining albums of the era were all released by the tail end of 1995. Not willing to let a cash-cow die, the ‘second wave’ brought many more acts into play, including a four-piece from Sheffield called the Longpigs.
Yet the moniker never sat comfortably with this band; “We always thought we were an art-grunge band,” Crispin Hunt tells Live4ever. “We didn’t like being called Britpop. We wanted to be Pavement. We were a noisy, heavy band and that was difficult in the 90s. It was an extraordinary time with Cool Britannia, and the world was looking at London and British music. It was a heyday, if you like, and really good fun to be on the radio and in London at the time when the world was listening to the radio in London! That was amazing, but it does mean that everything got packed under the title of Britpop, which was always a pretty unsavoury aim for anything.”
Longpigs’ debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, contained a string of successful singles including Far and On And On, which also reached the Alternative U.S. Top 10. In the two-and-a-half-decades since its release, it’s gained cult status and is now being reissued on its silver anniversary. “I’m glad that it’s still got a life twenty-five years later and people still want to listen to it, which is exciting,” Hunt tells us, although typically for a creative, he won’t be revisiting it himself: “I find it impossible to listen to, because with your own work all you hear is the mistakes. You don’t hear the whole thing so it’s difficult. But sometimes you go in somewhere and it’s on and I go, ‘This is actually really good’.”
Despite the success of the album Hunt and his bandmates, including guitarist Richard Hawley, had the classic indie band outlook: “I grew up in the days of the Stone Roses and Echo & The Bunnymen, and we thought they’d sold out if they got into the Top 20. So for us it was almost deliberately cool to fail.”
Yet failure was not on the agenda: following the album’s success, things moved very fast. “We did amazing things: we played with U2 when they were doing massive tours, it was an extraordinary thing. For a little bit we were better known in the States than we were here. It also meant that it was a long time between records so when we came back, we had a very short amount of time to write the second album.”
You’ll be familiar with this part of indie tale; ‘The Difficult Second Album’. The theory goes that bands have all their lives to write and perfect their first album and a few weeks to write their second. The quality levels dip as the artists struggle to maintain their standards. Such a fate befell the Longpigs, but rather than writer’s block affecting the work, they were instead victims of their own success.
“We sort of finished doing The Sun Is Often Out in the UK and Europe, and we had a really good time doing it, then On And On became a big alternative radio hit in the States,” Hunt explains to Live4ever. “What we probably should have done was say ‘no’, stopped and gone to work on the second album then. Instead, you’re being pressured by your record labels, and also the thought of doing two years touring America is pretty attractive.”
“When we came back in ‘98 we were in pieces after five years of constant gigging. It’s the same amount of time as The Beatles spent constantly gigging and then they stopped, and I understand why they did. We were frayed at the edges a little bit. You go on to the tour bus and it starts like Summer Holiday, but two weeks later it’s like Das Boot. You’re really close and uncomfortable. But it was an amazing journey and a fantastic time.”
“So when we came back, we had a very short amount of time to write the second album. I always thought Mobile Home was brilliant lyrically but not as engaging melodically as the first record, if I’m being totally honest.”
Sadly, after the second album failed to hit the same heights as their debut, the Longpigs disbanded. “I think it was just the right time,” Hunt recalls. “It burnt very brightly at both ends and then it just burnt out, frankly, which is fine.” Yet twenty-five years on, The Sun Is Often Out is more than worthy of re-evaluation, as demonstrated by the clamour for this re-release. “I’m very flattered but apparently there was an awful lot of demand for it, so it’s been put out,” Hunt concludes.
“What heartens me now (Hunt now co-writes songs for numerous contemporary artists, including Florence & The Machine and Jake Bugg) is that I get a lot of really cool young bands who are coming in and saying, halfway through a session, ‘We loved your band’.
“We used to cite Television as a group that nobody had heard of but were really cool.”
It’s fair to say a lot of bands now see Longpigs as a similar influence.