This is our truth, tell us yours
It’s the twentieth anniversary of Britpop h’allegedly.
For lazy music journos it’s another chance to act out their prejudices -Oasis versus Blur and all the rest, the panoply of barely remembered chancers who scarcely troubled the chart compilers and are back where they started from twenty years later.
The one thing the journos who compile the retrospectives won’t admit to is that movements like Britpop are externally created. No-one of any talent wakes up and says ‘I’m going to start a new pop movement.’ Journalists do it for them, and harness their careers to their creation. There are splendid passages in Stuart Maconie’s ‘Cider with Roadies’ that exemplify how the process at magazines like NME worked.
The first thing to say about Britpop is that really it was AngloPop. It preceded Cool Cymru by two years, but it was resolutely English, and white.
The second thing to say was that it was utterly incoherent, and that’s not a reference to nasal Mancunian whining or the mockney accents adopted by people who grew up wanting to be as cool as Phil Daniels. There was no motivating idea or intellectual core to Britpop, just a desire to crank out guitar pop endlessly.
Now I’ll make a confession here. As I get older I realise that Oasis actually did a decent job of writing songs for buskers – Half A World Away is classic busking material. The idea that there was anything deeper or cleverer about their mix of maudling ballads for lachrymose sixth formers and Small Faces rip offs is false though; I’ve often suspected that Oasis are seen as more credible than they really are because of the brilliance of whoever in Peter Flannery’s team chose Don’t Look Back In Anger for Geordie Peacock’s walk in Our Friends In The North, the intellectual highpoint of the 90s for me.
Mentioning Cool Cymru is deliberate – and not just because Catatonia provided one of my three all time great break up songs.* There was a sense in the Manics of a band in pursuit of something more than just a place on Top of the Pops, and in other Welsh bands like Catatonia, Gorkys Zygoti Mynci and the Super Furry Animals a sense of shared experience. Britpop gave off no such vibe, and bands were often promoted as being Britpop bands in the hope that the glitter and the sense of style would rub off. (There are some telling remarks in this article about Carl Bevan of the 60ft Dolls here.) Many of the Cool Cymru crew knew each other, since Wales is of course a small village just west of England, and had met up on the Welsh language circuit before they broke through into English language rock. (And it seems as it will ever be thus – here’s Duffy when she had a first name, in an audio recording of S4C’s WawFfactor, sometime round 2003 or 2004.)
Britpop passed me by in a considerable way – my 1990s were dominated by the reincarnated Americana of Del Amitri,the blue eyed soul of Deacon Blue, the crusty folk of the Levellers, the Ian Drury reincarnated as a rock and roller madness of Carter USM, and of course, the beacon of thoughtfulness that was and is the Manics. And for light relief, while Oasis were wibbling on about not looking back in anger, the Beautful South were doing emotions with much more force and authenticity via Don’t Marry Her Fuck Me. So, like so many English cultural strands, I observe it as a outsider, looking on, terrified that the lack of depth I perceive is really just evidence of my lack of understanding. In this case, I don’t think I’m wrong – Britpop really was as shallow as a coffee spill on a formica table in a cheap cafe just round the corner from Affleck’s Palace where the jukebox was still stuck in the sixties.
Britpop retains its attraction to journos partly because it was a masterclass in marketing, and partly because it fitted with a desire for Englishness to assert itself. As Wales and Scotland moved towards devolution, England wrapped itself in a Union Jack guitar and a fake north south rivalry that was staged and stagey. Small wonder then, as Scotland moves towards a decision on independence, that journos want to revisit it.
So for those of us for whom the red white and blue of Gallagher’s guitar was anathema, here’s a tune that was a jukebox favourite for me in the early 90s;
1. Say HelloWave Goodbye – Soft Cell
2. Strange Glue – Catatonia
3. Late For The Sky- Jackson Browne