(This suggestion provided by @dtl)
Your thoughts on BritPop, 15-20 years after it happened.
My first thought on Britpop, 15-20 years after it happened is “Holy hell, there is no way that Britpop happened 15-20 years ago”. My second thought is “Oh my god. That makes me old.”.
Britpop was my music. I’ve written before about how David Bowie was the best of all musicians and songwriters, and that’s true, but if there’s a genre of music that defined me in my formative years, it was Britpop. Never in my life was I so into music than I was during the peak Britpop era of around 1994 to 2000, buying more albums than at any other time and actually purchasing music magazines like Q and Select and NME and Melody Maker (RIP Melody Maker). At university in the late 90s I went to many, many gigs, and I attended the Glastonbury Festival in 1997 1, 1998 2 and 1999 3. Music was so important back then. I couldn’t revise without listening to it. I had CDs or the radio on all the time I was in and not watching TV. So much music, but almost all of it Britpop.
I owe a lot to finding out about it due to Radio 1, mainly John Peel’s show and Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session, but also because my younger sister seemed to get into it at about the same time and she’d obsessively buy music magazines that I’d get as, er, hand-me-ups. I don’t know why the sort of music appealed to me so much at the time, but maybe it was that the 80s soppy love songs didn’t and the early 90s seemed to be mainly American bands, terrible pop, and comedy records. I didn’t hate those, but I didn’t buy the records. Well, not many of them. Britpop was something different. Mainly guitar based music, bands with gorky looking singers who seemed poor and unwashed and not rich and massively popular. What was the alternative at the time anyway? Take That and The Spice Girls? Oh please.
For Christmas in 1995 I asked for my first album on CD. Actually, it was probably the first time I ever asked for any music at all. I’d a few compilation albums that came free with Q and Select, and I’d bought some singles, obviously, and I owned a few albums I’d bought second hand or were old records my parents passed down to me (David Essex and Showaddywaddy – oh yes. Stone cold classics, I’m sure you’ll agree, but not actually mine), but this was my first, chosen by me, new release album on CD: Different Class by Pulp. I almost wore it out.
I don’t think I’ve ever played any album more times than that one, not even Crepes & Drapes by Showaddywaddy. It was on repeat for weeks, and still years later was listened to a lot. I could recite the lyrics of every track, in order, from start to finish. It was fantastic. Why I chose Pulp’s album, I’m not completely sure. Of course I loved Common People – everyone did – but I think it may have been the amount of airtime John Peel in particular gave to them. I’d heard some of their slightly earlier stuff from His ‘n’ Hers (Babies and Do You Remember the First Time?) and thought they were great, and so that was probably it. Later albums were also excellent, and I eventually picked up a lot of their back catalogue too, but Different Class was, and still is, their best.
Like a gateway drug, I was into Britpop. Of course, I was probably already into Britpop, as I’d liked Blur and stuff previously, but didn’t realise it at the time. For what it’s worth, I was on the Blur side of the Great Britpop Battle of 1995. I wasn’t a big fan of Oasis and I’m still not, but they have some undeniably fantastic tracks like Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova. The “battle” was Blur’s Country House versus Oasis’ Roll With It, and with hindsight they’re probably equally good although at the time I much preferred Blur’s. Neither were anywhere near either band’s best work, however.
Once I was into Britpop, I was really into Britpop. So many excellent bands, most of which were really of their time and very few still exist in any real way today. Some might still be going, but their time has long past.
Then, though, it was all Ash and Mansun and Space and Elastica and Sleeper 4 and Dodgy and so on. There seemed to be just so many bands around at the time, and you know what? Pretty much all of them seemed great. Most had a short life in the charts, and now some of the tracks that made it do sound a little embarrassing (I’m looking at you now, Space), but in the late 90s music in the UK was properly awesome.
15-20 years on, Britpop is long dead. Every so often a band resurfaces, perhaps even with new material or maybe just to tour for a bit or play Glastonbury just one more time, and I do wish that maybe, just maybe, the charts will suddenly be filled again with more The Bluetones, Kenickie and Menswear, but things move on and that’s no more likely to happen now than Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys doing it. Blur’s recent album The Magic Whip, although very good, isn’t really Britpop. It’s more like a Gorillaz album than a Blur one, both musically and stylistically. Even Glastonbury, for better or worse, is less guitar band heavy than it used to be. Kanye West performed in 2015. Kanye West. I’ve nothing really against his music, to be honest, but at Glastonbury? I was watching on TV and turned it over to watch Suede instead. I suppose it’s human nature to wallow in nostalgia once you reach a certain age.
Speaking of Glastonbury, I remember one person who just seemed to know everything about the music scene at the time. He still does, actually. @stokesie was a friend of a friend at Uni. He wrote for the Uni student newspaper, doing gig reviews and stuff, and just knew everything about every band doing the rounds at the time. I’m pretty sure he was friends with some of the bands too. Drunken chats with him about music were great, and when I bumped into him at Glastonbury he tipped me off about which bands were worth going to see and which were not. I think I spent most of that year glued to the Second Stage rather than the Pyramid Stage, as the Second Stage was where all the great bands he suggested and I enjoyed were playing. He writes for Q these days, such was his love for and knowledge of music.
I suppose no article about Britpop would be complete without some sort of playlist, would it? Here are some of what I consider the best of the era:
(Spotify link here if this doesn’t work for you)
I still listen to my old music. It amuses me that when I occasionally unearth an old CD single and I want to rip it with iTunes that Gracenote 5 has no idea who Nut or Mundy are. Who remembers them? Or Bennett? Or The Young Offenders? I do.
- Mud. ↩
- Worse mud. ↩
- OH GOD SO HOT. ↩
- I vaguely remember one of the music magazines lamenting how there were so many indie bands with “er” on the end of their name, and they were all rubbish. Except “Tiger”. Tiger? Who are they?! Exactly. ↩
- The service iTunes uses to recognise the CD and automatically name the tracks on it. ↩