Auto Festival 2002 Review

We checked out the new mini festival put together by Steve and Jarvis from Pulp, held in some revamped Steelworks in Rotherham (until 1993 the largest foundry in Europe) - quite a setting for a night of rock and dance festivities!

Templeborough Steelworks is an imposing testimony to the sheer scale and innovation of 20th Century industry, once being home to nearly 10,000 workers. But on this freezing December evening the intermittent drizzle and biting gusts dampen any architectural or historical appreciation that the 3,000 or so gig goers may have had.

As we line up outside the newly renovated Magna Centre, now serving as a ‘Science Adventure Park’ on the Sheffield/Rotherham border, increasing impatience is beginning to set in as the doors fail to open until quarter past seven. Only 15 minutes late but in these sub-zero conditions those minutes feel a great deal longer.

For once, stewards and security are sympathetic and it’s clear that they’re equally relieved when the crowd begins to move into the venue. Immediately inside, a stage is located to the right, forming the basis of  ‘Auto 1’. Yet, it’s impossible to hang around this area and watch any acts due to the influx of people entering through the main doors. We move onwards and find ourselves in a small, inflatable dome structure, Auto 4, currently playing home to Asleep at the Wheel DJs.

It’s Jarvis and Steve we want to see as they’re scheduled to DJ under the alias of Desparate Sound System but by the time we find Auto 3, the largest and most traditional performance space, James Yorkston is on stage entertaining the assorted few with his own brand of folk melancholy.

It is apparent that a great deal of imaginative and logistic effort has been exerted in order to transform the steelworks into a workable festival site. Aesthetically, it’s breath-taking at times and negotiating between ‘stages’ feels, in places, like genuine exploration. Unfortunately, the novelty soon fades as the building offers little protection against the extreme elements. There is a generous provision of gas heaters throughout but they bravely fail to impact upon the icy atmosphere.

Auto 2 is the coldest of all but we huddle together to watch Erlend Oye, Royksopp‘s chart-busting vocalist and half of Kings of Convenience, perform material from his forthcoming solo album. It’s only a small gathering but one that is soon charmed by an eccentric combination of singing and DJ-ing, punctuated by Erlend’s unique flapping arm movements that must constitute dancing in Northern Europe. Whilst the Norwegian troubadour struggles to traverse both disciplines, his failure to cue another CD is acknowledged with the comment, “It’s difficult to be a DJ when you’re really not one.” The tempo is then bizarrely raised when he drops the Pet Shop Boys‘ version of ‘You Were Always on My Mind’ and, in response, at least 6 people begin to frug frantically. It’s an even bigger surprise when Erlend swings his lengthy legs over the crowd barrier and joins them for the duration of the song, bouncing up and down occasionally.

The large number of people awaiting Lemon Jelly‘s appearance are becoming quickly frustrated at the stage’s proximity to the entrance. The space also acts as a main corridor linking all other arenas and as such, we have to move on, missing what we hoped would be one of the evening’s highlights.


Despite objections to the contrary, Auto is about one act. Everybody is keen to witness more musical history in the making and it’s probably pertinent to note that Oasis are tonight performing another soulless arena gig only five minutes away. Britpop has, of course, been dead and redundant for a number of years but Jarvis knows how to make an exit. Not for him the self-destructive indulgence of the Gallaghers or the self-important pretensions of Damon All bran. Tonight, Matthew he will cryogenically suspend past glories amidst the ambitions and vision of 21st century music in a location that also harks back, emphasizing the importance of Pulp‘s working-class roots and philosophy.

The familiar introduction of ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ is greeted by passionate roars and it’s a joy to witness Candida’s trademark keyboard stabs accompanying the theatric, pointed vogue-ing of Monsieur Cocker for one last time before he departs across the channel. Ross from Fat Truckers and Richard Hawley also assist, as members of Pulp’s extended family.

The set is a strange combination of older, obscure tunes with only a smattering of populist favourites but Cocker’s charisma and in-between banter ensure that everybody’s interest is sustained. Before the rarely aired ‘Lyndhurst Grove’ he warns fans with a nut allergy to, “shut yer gobs,” and then proceeds to indiscreetly lob handfuls from the stage into the congregated mass. Later, the sleaze and pure perversion of ‘This is Hardcore’ presents an opportunity for an erstwhile commentary on the Spearmint Rhino lap-dancing club due to open soon in the Cultural Industries area of the Steel City. But, a reference to Gummi Bears in the encore signals the moment we’ve all been waiting for – “They may be different colours but they look the same,” teases Jarvis. Common People. It would have been unimaginable for them to finish with any other song.

The band are individually thanked by their lead singer and we finally have confirmation that this is the last of Pulp we’ll see for a while. Is this really The End? Never say never as Jarvis playfully exclaims, “We’ll probably meet again one day!”

To follow such an exhilarating and emotional display proves more difficult than was initially anticipated. With only two bars (woefully under-staffed by two bar staff each!) the punters can’t drink to their heroes’ demise and slowly head towards the exit, ignoring The Kills‘ cacophony of distortion as they leave.

Numb and freezing, we nevertheless remain for the last couple of hours ‘encouraged’ by booze liberated from ******’s dressing room earlier. However, it’s obvious the party is over and for the last hours we flit between rooms taking in bits of Royksopp and Chris Coco until we hear the pounding bass of Mark Bell, the only DJ left showing any signs of life and reward him by throwing the occasional shape on the dancefloor.

The weather outside has worsened and although it was a triumphant, celebratory occasion for many – the lack of taxis and transport arranged outside is a major dampener for others. We gleefully depart in the comfort and warmth of a pre-booked cab. There’s a lesson, there, kids.

Click here to see Pulp’s Set List.