'The Streets encapsulated the thinking drinker, the wistful working class weed-head: Skinner said more to the common people of Britain than Pulp ever did.'
Why does every Valentine’s Day have to end with heartbreak? When the office decided to write a blog on the bands, festivals or songs we love, to give you an idea about the people behind the site, it could have been anything (see what Chris Swindells loves here). I could have gushed for hours over Glastonbury or cackled on about Morrissey’s wondrous ‘Come Back To Camden’. But then Mike Skinner ‘retired’ The Streets and the news whacked me in the face like the cold pavement after too many brandies – and every other break up I’ve ever gone through. As usual I saw it coming but it didn’t register until I sat down the pub, swirling a beer in my hand, discussing the highlights with my mates, quite fitting really.
From the beginning The Streets encapsulated the thinking drinker, the wistful working class weed-head: Skinner said more to the common people of Britain than Pulp ever did. His recognisable spoken patter about Reebok Classics and the two-step resonated between wedge haircuts and bounced off of the Dance Tent canvas at Glastonbury 2003 as accomplished debut ‘Original Pirate Material’ was aired with, what was then, an unaccomplished live show. Eight years ago, the line: “I excel in both content and deliverance” only echoed half true, but by the time he’d reached third album ‘The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living’ – via the excellent and critically-revered ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ – things had evolved somewhat.
In the summer of 2008, when I headed out to Slovakia for Pohoda Festival, Mike Skinner had spent the previous five years turning from bedroom beat poet into headline material – the sort of “yeah, and then he did this and then he did that and it was all amazing” crap you slur on about weeks after a great live show.
The performance encompassed everything his albums had suggested: a personable, down to earth guy, a mate. And he was happy to break down the barriers between fan and artist onstage too. He hadn’t positioned himself on an untouchable (and uncomfortable) pedestal with the likes of Axl Rose, he was, as he’d always insinuated, just a regular geezer. The show’s premise was simple: not only did it have to entertain but it needed to do so with the performer and crowd as one. So cue audience members staring into the eyes of strangers, whispering words of love to each other and hugging someone they don't know. Not only that, but there are very few live performances where the entire crowd has sat down in unison or split like the Red Sea so the singer can run through and crowd-surf back, lauded like a king. The Streets were moving towards lo-fi KISS territory and nobody needed to paint their faces.
This love affair with festivals didn’t halt there either. When The Streets headlined Get Loaded In The Park, Skinner set a competition for someone to make a homemade bong that he'd try out live on stage, nodding towards the “I take pride in my hobby/Home made bongs using my engineering degree” lyrics from his track ‘The Irony Of It All’. His most impressive and outrageous venture was still to come at Glastonbury 2009 where Skinner created a giant image of his own face in the crops of a field by Castle Cary Station, presumably not just to make sure that all the thousands of fans that were alighting at the train stop would watch his performance on the Jazz World stage, but because he wanted to and he could.
And that's just it, The Streets always ran with the "cult classic, not best-seller" mantra that was drawn out from the off-set. Skinner was never destined to compete on the Pyramid Stage with the likes of the Muses, Coldplays or Kings Of Leons, he never seemed to want to either, and the fact that after five albums, including the resplendent final bookend 'Computers And Blues', he was still able to speak directly to a generation counts for more than any amount of sold out stadium shows.
Remember too all that bollocks about Arctic Monkeys cleverly levering their success through MySpace when it turned out they knew nothing about the site? Well, Skinner was someone who always remained techonologically aware. No marketing bod sat in a London office could tell him how to get the most out of Twitter, he found out himself. The phoneys are soon exposed as bores when left to their own devices, while Skinner turned it onto its head and used it to create songs with his fans, this of course, after he'd long been blogging, running a record label and producing videos for his Beat Stevie programme as well. He always tried, as he said, to "push things forward" until, well, I assume he couldn't any more from The Streets monkier. So for me it's another heartbreak this Valentine's Day, but instead of copping out and writing Dry Your Eyes Mate, I'll smack myself in the head and down another Carling. For the lads like.