Remembering 'Original Pirate Material' With Original Fans of The Streets

I went to Mike Skinner's recent comeback shows with one mission: chatting to all the heads about the importance of his debut album.

by Tom Usher; photos by Cleo Samoles-Little
May 4 2018, 2:45pm

Photos by Cleo Samoles-Little

Like many people who attended The Streets comeback shows last week, I was in my teens when Original Pirate Material was released. Though times have since changed (the financial crash, unforgiving Tory austerity and a bleak future of zero hours contracts and punishing rental prices), Mike Skinner’s debut album captured a unique period in British history—one where it was possible to get fucked up without feeling so much like you were fucking the future away at the same time.

Think of underage drinking, smoking weed and taking class A’s by the bucket-load on the weekend; of cigarette packets with their original artwork; of spangled excursions to the local corner shop. It’s incorrect to suggest the teenagers of today aren’t engaging in similar activities. However there is a particular nuance to that era: a distinct, pre-dystopian atmosphere that continues to live on in Mike Skinner’s astute, relatable and humble lyrics. As generational relics go, Original Pirate Material is the essential document of wreckheads who were hanging out and hanging over in the early 2000s.

Given that life has moved on since 2002, I wanted to find out whether the original fans of The Streets have changed too; if the backstreet brawlers and corner shop crawlers have ashed the once burning light of hedonism and resigned it to the past; and if, like me, they have distinct and formative memories of listening to Original Pirate Material. To find out more, I headed down to the Brixton Academy comeback shows and chatted with punters about how The Streets affected their lives (and, like the mashed up European Bob character in "Weak Become Heroes," managed to stumble and grin my way into every picture).

Holly and Luke

Alright! What does listening to The Streets remind you of?
Holly: My youth! Reeboks! I was probably about 14, nicking fags out of my mother’s packet, sneaking into the local pub, standard, and just trying to be like Mike really. I was 14 when Original Pirate Material came out and I’m 28 now. It’s mad innit.

Why is is important that Mike has done a reunion tour?
Because he’s original isn’t he! Plus he’s never sold out. He’s done all his albums, and all his tours and he’s retired and came back and he’s still never sold out. Like Dizzee Rascal, he sold out. But Mike never did. And I dunno, you can relate to him can’t you? Like: you listen to him an think, “Ohmigod I did that, I used to do that!’

What place does listening to The Streets take you back to?
Luke: The Crown & Thistle! Everyone in there was wearing Burbs, Reebok Classics...

Holly: Yeah the Crown & Thistle, our local pub in Oxford! Literally everyone in there thought they were Mike Skinner.

Lanky Luke

What tune by The Streets has taught you the most about life?
Lanky Luke (his choice of name, not mine): Empty Cans.

It taught me that if you get mugged over, don’t feel sorry for yourself, just be like, yeah, life’s fine! A Grand Don’t Come For Free yeah, it taught me all about life. It taught me that life can fuck you up yeah, and you can either be a cunt about it, or take it on the chin.

What time does listening to The Streets take you back to?
Secondary school.

What were you doing then?
I was doing drugs, and listening to The Streets, doing drugs. Everyone else was like, you’re a wanker, doing drugs, then ten years later, they’re all asking me for drugs!

How has The Streets changed your life?
Before The Streets yeah, I was just sitting around, wanking myself off, doing nothing. Now I’m still wanking myself off but I’m listening to great music as well!

Mason and Kristina

What did you used to do when you listened to The Streets?
Mason: I must’ve been about 13, 14, and I remember being at a house party and “Blinded By The Lights" came on, which I didn’t really understand at the time, but then as I got older…

And started doing pills?
Well, yeah, I remember being in the club on pills, then they dropped it and I was like ‘Oh, this is what it’s actually about!’

Kristina: “Blinded By The Lights” is actually the tune I’m looking forward to hearing the most tonight. It’s just the perfect description of getting on it.

How have you changed from when you first heard The Streets?
Mason: Well I haven’t changed personally but my musical taste has completely changed. I only listen to techno now really, but no matter what I’ll always listen to The Streets.

Jake, Joe & Jed

What were your first thoughts when you heard The Streets?
Joe (Streets tattoo): It was just something you never heard. We used to buy eight cans of beer for a fiver and go to house parties. Original Pirate Material—we still all listen to it to this day. I was 20, me and Jake were in college, Jed was just born!

How does listening to The Streets make you feel today?
My life has drastically changed, but listening to The Streets makes me feel the same today as it did back then; just young and reckless I suppose.

Jake: The Streets represent the average man, growing up, going out and living life. I think everyone can relate to that.

Zeena and Ginge

What’s your earliest memory of listening to The Streets?
Zeena: Sat in my aunt's car [points at Ginge; again her name, not mine], when I was about 13. She got me into them, took me to my first concert.

How old were you?
Ginge: Well I’m 60 now, so about 45? I’m the oldest person here!

What does listening to The Streets remind you of?
Zeena: Mainly just raves. Mainly just afters, the after parties.

What do you think about reunion tours? Good or bad idea?
Zeena: Sometimes they can flop.
Ginge: I went to see UB40 and they were terrible!
Zeena: I'm glad Mike is back to be honest!

Alfie and Gemma

Where did you used to listen to The Streets when you were young?
Alfie: At school, at break times, on the back field, having a fag, or maybe billing a zoot, and just relating to what he was saying.
Gemma: I’m just here more for him [points at Alfie]. Like I like The Streets but it’s his birthday so I thought I’d treat him.

Happy Birthday mate!
Alex: Thanks mate.

How did listening to The Streets make you feel when you were young?
I just related to it. Being young, hanging out with your boys, smoking weed, taking drugs… I’m from Essex so that’s what we did.

How has The Streets changed your life?
I don’t think my life has massively changed at all. I still like going out and getting fucked up with the boys. Maybe now I’ve got a bird and I’ve calmed down a bit, but I think that’s why I’m so buzzing for tonight, because I’m the same now as I was when I first listened to it.

You can find Tom on Twitter.

Roll through here to grab tickets for the screening of our new documentary Noisey: Birmingham, which is hosted by Mike Skinner.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.