Who Really Remembers Britpop?

“Can you remember what you were doing at the height of Britpop? Perhaps you were running the country? Bands like Damon Albarn’s Blur furnished the soundtrack to the early Blair Years, ‘Cool Britannia’ and all that’.
(Steven Smith)

Er? No, except they didn’t did they?
Britpop was at its zenith between 1992-1995 (at its peak around 1995’s Oasis Vs Blur feud) all firmly within and during the Conservative years of John Major’s government and by the time Blair gained power in 1997 and attempted to co-opt the sound and cool factor for New Labour propaganda it was, as a scene pretty much on its way out and maturing into something quite different in the face of mainstream media hype and anyone who used the term ‘Britpop’ to describe their musical tastes in ’97 would have been seen as being rather naff and possibly a bit of a poseur than a fan. 

britpop fight
It’s true though that both Pulp & Blur released what I think are their best albums of that scene around that period. Pulp with the wonderful ‘This Is Hardcore’ in ’98 and Blur with ‘Blur’ in ’97 but that was a last surge of creativity as things seemed to come to a natural halt with the bands who’d been slogging away and ever changing their style since the 1980s C86 shoegazing movement, then hurriedly through both the ‘Grebo’ & ‘Baggy’ fashions. Some clearly worn out after the slog of getting onto Top Of The Pops and noticed by the NME long before the Britpop craze reached its peak, others were keen to shift indie on into other areas and reinvent themselves for a new decade such as the a more clearly ‘rock’ based sound which was finding favour during a resurgence in the generic ‘Alternative’ music scene which would dominate for most of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Pulp Blur

Most of the leading lights of ‘Britpop’ actually split up in the years 1997/1998 (their ranks include such stalwarts as- Sleeper, Lush, These Animal Men, Menswear) so it can hardly be said that Blair rode in on a wave of Cool Britannia rather than he attempted to go for a paddle as the tide was going out. I’m not sure where this myth originates but I think it could very well be with Blair, after all New Labour were brilliant at self-promotion and smarmily latching onto things which seemed to offer some semblance of credibility with the young voters. Or maybe we remember it that way because we’d like to think that the biggest explosion in creativity and self confidence in a sort of British identity for the modern age which whilst nostalgic was undeniably ‘now’. For a time we couldn’t go wrong in everything from fashion, music, film (Trainspotting springs to mind), art (the YBA’s ‘BritArt’) and even Comedy, touted as being the ‘New Rock n’ Roll’ at the time oddly enough. Maybe we’d  justrather pretend that it didn’t happen under the watch of a Prime Minister so characterless he was often portrayed as having grey skin and a nerdy voice by the Spitting Image to the cartoonist Bell. So Blair got all the glory and in the process he possibly killed Britpop, without anything to kick against anything approaching the angst which often sees a rise in such creativity soon fizzled out as Noel Gallagher supped champers with Tony and Albarn legged it to Iceland for a bit in a sort of self imposed exile.

Politicians of any stripe pretending to know or care about pop culture are just as embarrassing as the shyster talking heads for hire and self professed street culture experts who propagate these half remembered things as facts on TV items and thoughtful articles (such as this one).

blair and brown britpop or shit pop

As for what I was doing during Britpop, well for the latter half I was pretending to be at Art College whilst doing very little to be creative and wore the then appropriate ‘Indie Kid Uniform’ of charity shop long black overcoat, clumpy boots and floppy home cut fringed hair.

A book about Britpop and now I’m feeling rather old thanks to it.

Back to Britpop and the 1990s.

just for one day

I’ve lately been dipping in and out of the book ‘Just For One Day’ adventures in Britpop, the memoir of Louise Wener from the band Sleeper. I’m currently in two minds about this book on one hand it rekindles a strong sense of nostalgia in myself and my own tentative forays into the world of pop music fandom, that wonderful point in adolescence when you start to develop your own tastes in clothing and music entirely distinct from what you may have heard from listening to your parents record collection or from those of your friends and siblings, in my case I suppose my first love was undoubtedly indie music, the sort of post Grebo, post-post punk, post-Madchester boon bands who would later be rallied under the genre title Britpop and a thousand Union Jack motifs.

At times though the book begins to read like a sulky complaint ridden account of those years compiled by a slightly jaded but surprisingly not quite as bitter as she should be individual. Wener it would appear, never quite managed to grow entirely out of her petulant teenage stroppy persona. Don’t get me wrong I can strop with the best of them and by Lordy I have good reason to an all but after a while you start to find her sarcastic wit and dry commentary grating a wee bit which might be a bit unfair as after all is said and done she does do all said stroppy commentary with style and there is also a lot of humour dotted about so I’m still on-board and rather enjoying the read. If you’re looking for an unbiased history of the era and the scene then this  obviously highly personal account of one persons experiences within the eye of the media storm isn’t really going to deliver on that score. It is though an entertaining and insightful look into the experiences of Louise Wener and the manner in which Sleeper were ushered into the indie Top of the Pops fold but sadly though since Sleeper were never in quite the same level as the mighty super league of bands like Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede and Radiohead you always feel as though you’re rather slumming it a bit in their company. At times you can almost feel the chill of the shared bedsit with no heating and the tedium of being skint enough not to be able to go out to the pub but just flush enough to fork out for a few shared cans to be passed around whilst sat on the fag scorched sofa or on the sticky carpet as the telly blares in the background. No sooner have Sleeper seemingly started to ‘make it’ by appearing on Top of the Pops and being interviewed in the music press then they’ve split up.

louise wener from sleeper

This whole era in British pop music and cultural history is amazingly already the subject of much retrospective myth making and cliché driven nonsense, from the politics of New Labour to the woeful advent of reality TV, Princess Di to ‘Blur Vs Oasis’, it didn’t happen quite as it might seem thanks to several retellings later. Poor old John Major has been rather airbrushed out of the histories as no one can quite bring themselves to admit that the biggest boon in home grown guitar pop or the idea of Britishness being sexy and cool again since the 1960s happened on his watch and under a Tory government. Instead it seems that the whole thing was orchestrated by the then saintly Tony Blair and New Labour to get the UK economy back on its feet by selling copies of ‘Definitely, Maybe’ to foreign markets.

Of course the entire story of these years is way beyond both the scope of this blog and frankly my own and your patience to work through it. Suffice to say the whole affair was undoubtedly a less sexy on ground level far in the provincial north away from the champagne parties at No:10 and the coke fuelled loos of the NME and Melody Maker to say nothing about Camden lock and London in general.

noel uk

According to those in the know on high street fashion, which unsurprisingly appears to be the clothing retailers and fashion press we’re soon to face hordes of fresh faced twenty-somethings decked out in mid to late 1990s indie fashion which personally I can’t wait to see, I genuinely liked the 90s for youth fashion even though I was hardly best placed to comment being a bit of a nark and being way out of the cool leagues with my Travel Fox trainers and Brutus jeans not having quite the same cut n’ dash of vintage Adidas and red tag Levis. What most of the 1990s indie crowd wore going from my memory was practically a homage to many UK youth cultures prior taking elements from post punk, Skinhead, Mod and up to the terrace Casuals ( is it me or did Britpop also happen about the same time that Football became decidedly ‘posher’ and more middle class?) so a 1990s revival will all make a welcome change from the current trend of everyone, absolutely everyone! wearing those seemingly same bloody green parkas.

As for the original ‘Britpop’ fad I had a chance to be a part of this entire 1990s coolness the first time round but blew it through no fault of my own as I was blessed a painfully obvious lack of self confidence to ever hope to play the Brett Anderson like louche card, had far too much puppy fat to pass for a Jarvis like introspective waif and the biggest blow being far too middle class and lacking in the required Manchester accent to pass for a hooligan Gallagher-a-like … although I did have the mono-brow. In fact the look that I did rock back then has since been described by people looking at the collected photographic evidence in such heart warming descriptive utterances of  ‘ JESUS! Yuck!’,  ‘Aww bless him’  and ‘What on earth where you thinking?” and my personal fav being  “Did your mum dress you at the time?!”. Sigh, Life is cruel indeed as now this time round I’ve been equally blessed with a middle aged spread, a receding hairline and bad eyesight, hardly the stuff of uber cool now is it? My only hope is to write my own warts n’ all memoir of my time on the lowest possible rung of the rock n’ roll ladder and garner some dubious kudos points from naming names and shaming faces. More on this idea later.bootys



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