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.


By Adam Atkinson

Music Lover and new found blogger

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s