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Rule Britannia: Britpop Rules the Waves

The Rise and Fall of an Establishment

Blur – Promo shot from 1993 Album – Modern Life Is Rubbish

If a lanky git like me can do it, you can do it too”

Jarvis Cocker – Pulp Frontman – 1995

Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle, names synonymous with English football. The sight of Paul Gascoigne’s tears fill the front and back pages of the nations press. England once again have fallen foul to the dreaded penalty shoot out against the old foe (West) Germany.

What should of been a time of despair resulted in quite the opposite. England’s team returned back home to a hero’s welcome, the nation knew this was different. Britain was rising from the troubles of the 70s and 80s, the youth of the nation had decided enough is enough, this is our time. They had the world at their feet, and people realised this was a nation to be proud of, a nation that once again could stand up and be counted. The economical and social problems brought on by Thatchers government had gone, John Major was in charge and England seemed to want change. Music was at the forefront of this youth movement. Britain’s time to shine was here!

A inconsolable Paul Gascoigne after receiving the yellow card that would keep him out of the World Cup Final in 1990 fortunately for him England would not make it.

“The Battle for Britain”

The year is 1993 and Select’s April edition, sees Suede frontman, Brett Anderson, draped in an Union Jack flag with the the caption “Yanks Go Home… The Battle for Britain.”

Blur re-worked their music style after the slightly disappointing and uninspiring first album “Leisure.” They would return with the shoe-gaze Anglocentric aptly named album “Modern Life is Rubbish”. British bands such as Denim, Saint Ettiene and Pulp continued along the British sound path. Inspired heavily by the sounds of The Kinks, (Early) Pink Floyd and The Beatles.

However, there was still an unquestionable elephant in the room that was stopping this full scale British takeover. Seattle-based grunge rockers, Nirvana, are still the band everyone wants to see and hear. Radio stations did not notice what was happening and continually played the American based bands. Rather unconventionally the answer to pushing this British music to the forefront, lay in the United States itself. It was in 1992 that Damon Albarn, after a tour of America, began to hate everything that America had to offer and hated that this American culture was seeping its way into Britain. He began to champion (with his then Girlfriend Justine Frischmann formely of Suede and currently in Elastica) the manifest for “The Return to Britishness”.

An “NME Gold” edition featuring Nirvana as its cover stars

Fast forward to 1994 and the term Britpop and Britpop bands are now a huge thing. The untimely tragic suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, effectively ended the Grunge/American scene. The mood of optism within John Major’s Conservative government was no more, and with the emergence of the youthful Labour Party leader Tony Blair and his “New Labour” policy Britain had someone who the youth of the country felt was one of them and could help propel the nation forward.

“Cool Britannia”

Artists such as Damien Hirst were the focal point of the art world, creating works such as “Pharmacy”, “Mother and Child divided” and “Away from the Flock,” that not only shocked, but sent the message that Britain was in your face, loud and raunchy.

Danny Boyle’s iconic masterpiece; Trainspotting a hit film based around a group of drug addicts from Glasgow, (based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh) something that the country had never really seen before on the silver screen.

The European Championships were hosted by England, the first time the country had held a major sporting event since the World Cup in 1966. Euro 96 saw the feel good factor remain with England once again reaching the semi-finals of the tournament, ultimately meeting the same end that they had in the World Cup of 1990, penalty failure against Germany.

“The dentist chair” the iconic celebration that had been sprawled across the front pages of tabloid newspapers just weeks before hand. Replicated by Paul Gascoigne, Steve McManamam, Alan Shearer and Jamie Redknapp

It was not until 1995, however, that Britpop and the full impact of it on 90’s culture was propelled into the stratosphere. In 1994 a little known band called Oasis from Burnage in Manchester had released their debut album “Definitely Maybe.” After signing to the highly respected Creation Records (which already had pioneers Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain on its books), and under the guidance of Alan McGee, Oasis created an era defining album that propelled the group to superstardom. It would not be this album however that would cement the group as Rock and Roll Legends, but their second release “(Whats the Story) Morning Glory.”

“The Battle of Britpop”

In what many may have seen as a stroke of genius, Creation and Food Records pitted two of the countries biggest Britpop pioneers together; Oasis and Blur. Initially, Oasis and Blur had been good friends, championing each others music in an overall “come together” old fashioned British spirit.

It was decided that both bands would release singles on the same day with the winner being the band that topped the chart (or gained the higher chart position) In one corner was Oasis with their single – “Roll With It”, and in the other corner was Blur with their single “Countryhouse”.

This decision also emphasised the North/South divide. For the North of England was Manchester based Oasis with there working class background and baggy unclean look. Whilst the more affluent South had the pretty boys from London, Blur.

The greatest rivalry since The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came to a head on the 20th August with the results finally in, it was Blur and “Countryhouse” that took the number one spot. Selling 274,000 copies, whilst Oasis had to settle for second (selling 216,000 copies). Blur had indeed won the battle but the war was to be won by Oasis.

During a live broadcast of the Top of the Pops, Blur bassist, Alex James wore an Oasis t-shirt whilst performing, and this “shithousery” did not stop there.

During the 1996 Brit Awards; Oasis and Blur where nominated for the same award in no less than 3 categories (Best British album, Best Video and Best Band) it was this time Oasis who would steal the show and sweep all 3 awards. With Liam Gallagher, taking the stage to accept the award for Best Video with the rest of band. All singing there interpretation of the Blur song, “Parklife”.

“And they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their, SHITE LIFE!!!”

Liam Gallagher, aiming a “dig” at Blur whilst accepting the award for Best Band at the 1996 Brit Awards.

“New Labour”

When Tony Blair spoke, his words seemed to speak to people, young people. Call me naive but I felt something – I’m not quite sure what it was, but i felt it all the same.”

Noel Gallagher on Tony Blair 2017

In what coincided with the start of the Britpop era. A fresh faced 40 year old, Tony Blair had just taken over the leadership of the Labour party after the sudden death of John Smith in 1994. It was not until 1997 (coincidentally, the end of the Britpop era) that Tony Blair got his crack at the leadership of the country. Mr Blair decided that he had conquered the youth and had them on his side with his “Cool & fresh” New Labour approach.

To further cement this “coolness”, Mr Blair decided to throw a celebratory bash at 10 Downing Street. High on the guest list was his Britpop champion, Noel Gallagher. Gallagher had originally rejected the invitation, only turned around on the idea by his mum Peggy, saying that “I wasn’t going to go at first, but i phoned me mam and she said i’d better go as its a great honour for someone from Burnage”. It was as Gallagher had said either way if i go or not i’ll be slagged off regardless. Many had seen this as an act of “brown-noising by Blair and by Gallagher.

Tony Blair & Noel Gallagher at 10 Downing Street, July 1997

“Looks like we’ve made it To The End”

Well, you and I, collapsed in love and it looks like we might have made it, yes, it looks like we’ve made it to the end

To The End – Blur – Parklife, 1994

For something that was such a massive phenomenon, Britpop all but faded away into musical history. The 1997 release of Oasis’ 3rd album, “Be Here Know” was meant to be a joyous celebration that cemented this culture and ensured it grew and grew. However it was not as everyone had expected, after initially hitting high record sales, the album came in for its fair share of critiscism from the music press. With music critic, Jon Savage pinpointing this as the end of Britpop. Blur on the other hand tried to distance themselves from the whole thing. With singer Damon Albarn telling the NME,”We created a movement: as far as the lineage of British bands goes, there’ll always be a place for us … We genuinely started to see that world in a slightly different way.”

It seemed as if all the hype and fuss that this period had created before it could really grip and take hold of the world, it had all ended with nothing more than a flicker. Britpop was swiftly cast aside with the emergence of pop groups such as the Spice Girls and Steps. Band that had been the centre of this craze faded into the memory and only Oasis and Blur had sustained success after this period.

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music

Indie: In Memoriam

“I no longer hear the music” – Music When the Lights Go Out – The Libertines

The year is 2008, the Indie Revolution is in full swing. Oasis will release their final album, Dig Out Your Soul, in October, V Festival and Reading and Leeds are headlined by Stereophonics, The Prodigy and The Killers respectively. Johnny Borrell has just proclaimed himself an “Innovator” of music. All is well, all is calm, everything is going swimmingly.

At the time of writing I’m 29 and 11 months (a very important fact), maybe it’s being close to the inevitably bleak 30 that has me reminiscing on those glory days.

I was not able to fully grasp the concept of “Britpop” due to my age at the time, however what I heard during that period set me up for what would be my musical glory years.

The Britpop Battle between Oasis and Blur – 12th August 1995

That iconic bend of the 15th fret on the b string the smashing of the drums, and that roaring rhythm guitar will forever be stuck in my mind. For those of you who have absolutely no clue what I mean, I am of course describing one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed; “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory”

When I first heard this song I remember thinking, this is for me, this is what I want to hear, this will indeed, “do nicely”

Didn’t We have a nice time? Wasn’t it such a fine time? – To Be Someone (Didn’t we have a nice time) – The Jam 1979

Due to the Gallaghers well publicised hate for each other, and that guitar and bowl of fruit, we had lost one of the finest bands the world had ever seen and heard. The question on everyone’s lips was who would take there rightful place of ruler of this indie kingdom that had been built.

Below I’m gonna spotlight a few of those “chosen few”…

Carl Barat & Pete Doherty – The Libertines

The Libertines: Formed in London in 1997 by Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, these two and not to forget the clean cut bassist, John Hassall and animalistic drummer Gary Powell, combined together to create some of the most anthemic songs of the 00’s. From the growling scream of drummer Gary at the start of “Up the Bracket” to the melodic tones of “Music When the Lights Go Out”, and not to forget the feel good number, Don’t Look Back Into The Sun. The Libertines had everything, a punk edge mixed with feel good indie anthems, it was a cocktail for success. As we all know Pete had his demons and Carl explored other avenues but the buzz from watching The Libertines made you feel like I can do this. I can do what they are doing. Their simple style of leather jackets, Chelsea boots and ripped skinny jeans appealed to the masses and the boyhood swagger of both frontmen, downing bottles of Jack Daniels and copious amounts of beer instilled the post Oasis generation to refresh there rock and roll lifestyle.

Kasabian – Ian Matthews, Tom Meighan, Serge Pizzorno & Chris Matthews

Kasabian: Formed in Leicester in 1997 as an original 5 piece. These 4 lads honed in on the synth, acid house of the late 80s and early 90s mixed with rhytmic guitars. Another band who instilled the “lad” culture of indie music, with hit such as “Shoot the Runner,” “Empire,” “Club Foot” and “Processed Beats” (to name a few of their earlier pieces) and not to mention being the touring band with Oasis. Kasabian, whilst not ascending to the glorious heights they still continue to impress 6 albums later even in this time of Grime and Rap music filling the airwaves.

Arctic Monkeys: Nick O’Malley, Matt Helders, Jamie Cook & Alex Turner

Arctic Monkeys: Back in the 00’s young Alex had not had his head turned by the 50’s Rock n Roll scene, he still played with his guitar high up his body, sang in his native Sheffield accent and produced 3 of the bands greatest works to date. Founded back when MySpace was still popular this Indie Superstars began by filling dance floors across the UK with hits such as “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,” “Fake Tales of San Francisco,” “Teddy Picker” and “Fluorescent Adoloscent” to name but a few. The combination of lyrics, guitars and the high pitched backing vocals of Matt Helders from the drum kit provided the indie scene with a soundtrack that would live on forever.

Everytime you turned on the radio there were guitars being thrashed about, and that unique indie guitar sound resonating around. Some pale faced sweating (frankly unhealthy) looking front man leaning against a mic (al la Johnny Rotten)

NME and Q are out and about at local gig venues trying to get their hands on the next big thing or out on the streets of London and Manchester trying to get that prize snap of the next indie superstar falling out of their local boozer covered in sweat, beer and more than likely some other substance. Even branching out with their own nights. Who can forget the legendary Club NME nights, giving punters the chance to rub elbows with their idols, drink, dance and be merry.

I still struggle to this day to understand how that once fine empire crumbled. You ask anyone around in that period how it all came crumbling down to the diabolical music on offer now the answer simply put is “Who Knows?”

At the time of my writing I’m currently sat with headphones in on a train listening to some of the above bands having a great time listening to my youth

Now don’t get me wrong there are some bands who are breaking down the oppressive walls of mainstream society, Inhaler, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Sam Fender to name a few, however the scene to me is dead and it’s a crying shame.

There will always be someone in his bedroom strumming away to his old mans record collection and there may one day be another revolution of this type, but for me now at the 29 years and 11 months stage (again, still a very important fact) I can’t comprehend what could of been.

And so to finish…

Here lies the Indie Scene of the 00’s. Taken from us far to early. We all have our memories but the void will never be filled. Fly high you Wonderful Dreamer!

NME and Q Articles from the Indie Scene

“Take it away i never had it anyway. Take It away and everything will be okay” – Dosed – Red Hot Chilli Peppers