“Fame, fame, fatal fame…it can play hideous tricks on the brain.”
“Fame, fame is just a game…just waiting to occur.”
Britpop is a scene that is oft derided by the media. It’s dismissed on the dual grounds of being frivolous and not being “authentic”. Quite why anyone would want anything from pop music other than frivolity and why everything needs to be authentic is beyond me. When you’re dancing at the disco, bumper to bumper the only thing you are interested in is having a good time…not whether or not the singer is a genuine cockney or if the song is a commentary on Marxist dialectic. Maybe that’s just me.
“It was a sunny time” says Nick Kenny, lead singer with one of the great lost Britpop bands Thurman.Thurman “I’ve got really fond memories of going to Blow Up, meeting some really beautiful people and there being so many gigs to go to. I just loved travelling to Camden and meeting people, going shopping in Miss Selfridge for shirts and make up, then just hanging out with people at gigs. A happy time really and it was very free of politics. The media LOVED it too. If they try to tell you otherwise now they are fucking liars.”
The low point of Britpop, for me, was the decision by the press to promote menswe@r as heavily as they did. Not because they weren’t any good, they were a funny, quirky, band but they were nowhere near good enough to be able to deliver on the hype and, crucially, there were other bands who had paid their dues and who were more deserving of a Melody Maker front cover.
For me the best band never to make it were Thurman. They were a band with magpie eyes and who wore their influences on their sleeves…utterly unafraid to let the world know who they loved, who they were listening to and who they wanted to be.
“Our influences at that time were The Who, Bowie, The Kinks and Bolan. I think we did wear our influences on our sleeves, certainly as much as any other band at that time did, but there was one particular song we recorded, “Loaded”, which was a bona fide steal! When we were recording our album, “Lux”, we would be listening to our contemporaries and spotting the steals they were doing and we tried to out-steal them. It might not have been a great idea as the press used it as a stick to beat us with.”
One of the reasons why Thurman invoked the wrath of certain journalists at that time was because they hadn’t always been mod/glam Britpoppers Thurman. Brace yourselves kids because Thurman were at one point…METAL! 2Die4 were the band. I know right. The horror. Imagine playing different music and having changing tastes. The truth is, of course, that like all of us people in bands change.
“Oh the indie press really hated us for it. There was a massive snobbery that came from the NME and Melody Maker towards rock or metal bands at the time. In fact, there still is with many “alternative journalists”. Me and my brother Simon described ourselves as rock and roll culture junkies from a very early age.
When we first got into music, we were listening to The Cramps, Iggy Pop, Bowie, Elvis, a lot of cool English rockabilly music that was around in the ’80s, Sputnik, The Clash. It was a journey of musical discoveries. And what we listened to would reflect in the music our band would play. By the time we got halfway through secondary school we were discovering Van Halen, AC/DC, Motley Crue, and all the rest, on our musical journey. Our band reflected our current record collection, and once I’d turned fifteen, we’d been signed up to a major record label in America. They flew us out to Los Angeles to make the record, I said bye bye school, and we had the time of our lives! I wasn’t singing then, just playing guitar. We were on MTV, travelled the world, lived the rock and roll life, and after a couple of years, it was clear that we weren’t gonna get a chance to make another record with that band, so it ended.
The singer Andy Shaw went back home to Liverpool. That left me, my brother and Diz in a rehearsal room playing records, and making music.
While 2 Die 4 was born out of our disdain for English music at that time, Thurman was a bit of a reaction to our American experience, and a rediscovery of cool 60s pop culture. And finally, there were some good bands emerging, like Suede, Blur, PJ Harvey and Pulp. We formed a record label with our management…and off we went!”
Off they went indeed. From the metal licks and long hair of 2 Die 4 to mop tops and glam riffs of Thurman. I first heard them on the Fierce Panda compilation “Return to Splendour” with a song called “This Way” in 1994 and that was followed by a single that was so Britpop it could have been made the national anthem for the independent state of Britpopia. That single was “English Tea”. Urging its listeners to have a cuppa, talk about the weather, read the papers and do it all on a luvverly day.
Now, isn’t THAT luvverly?
“Talk to Myself” was the next single before the release of the debut, sadly the only, album the following year. It sounds a lot like “Modern Life is Rubbish” era blur. It also sounds a lot like The Kinks. This was just one of the great things about Thurman; they were a jukebox of British pop influences. “That sounds a bit like…” and yet it all comes together to form a sound that is, well, Thurman.
“Lux” arrived in 1995…peak Britpop…and with any sort of support at all it would have been massive. Sam Upton at Select magazine was a near lone voice in offering a fair and positive review of the album awarding it four stars out of five. On the subject of influences vs plagiarism he had this to say; “…but as most bands today aren’t renowned for their high moral stance on plagiarism Thurman at least are in good company.” When one thinks of the pilfering by Elastica, menswe@r and The Verve to name just three it’s clear that there was an agenda at work by certain journalists who had decided that Thurman and their past didn’t pass their “authenticity” test.
The album kicks off with a proper glam stomper in the shape of “She’s a Man”. It’s so steeped in Bowie and Bolan boogie that it’s difficult not to want to dig out your mums old platform boots and strut your way around the bedroom singing into a hairbrush. It sounds dumb and young just like all the best pop songs should.
A year earlier Morrissey had released his own glam rock record with “Your Arsenal” which had included a direct rip off of the T-Rex classic “Ride a White Swan” for the single “Certain People I Know”. Given the presence of rockabilly legend Boz Boorer (The Polecats) in the band and Alain Whyte (a music obsessive) that wasn’t all that surprising. But where that track was welcomed as funny old Mozzer doffing his cap to a hero when Thurman did the same thing with “Loaded” there was a lot of sniffing and harumphing. Nick is up front about this particular song and it’s influences; “We’d been tagged early on as a mod band, and we were pretty keen to show our glam influences on the album.”
Before “She’s a Man” was released the band let loose the fabulously jaunty and superbly Kinksy “Famous” as their third single. It’s a thousand times better than “Sunday Sunday” by blur but again it failed to bring the band to a wider audience or to win over the press. The rest of the album is an utter joy, I listen to it far more often than the likes of “Parklife” or “Different Class” and I don’t think there’s song I ever want to lift the needle from to get to the next one. It’s 13 tracks of Britpop perfection.
They shoulda been famous.
Despite not receiving the success or recognition they deserved Nick has only good memories of the Thurman period.
“I’d say one of the highlights was going over to Japan for a tour. As soon as we landed, we had loads of girls following us everywhere we went. I remember going through passport control, and seeing a group of glammed up girls waving and crying, and I thought there must be someone famous behind me, but it soon became clear they were there for us!
They were amazing fans, who would send lovely letters, and make prints for us, or shirts, or food…. really dear people. So polite too. By contrast, a low point was our van breaking down outside Edinburgh castle after a gig. It was snowing, and the sliding side door wouldn’t fully close…we were covered in sweat, freezing cold, unable to move and with an 8 hour journey ahead of us to get home.”
It wasn’t a freezing cold night in my home town that ended Thurman though, that “honour” goes to the lovely ladies and gents of the music press;
“I think we just felt that we had got as far as we were gonna get with it. The press were pretty tough on us, and I remember they would just lie about things. There was one live review they did of us in Oxford. They wrote that even in our hometown, there was hardly anyone attending the show. In fact, we had sold it out. They just fucking hated us. Agendas were made, and I guess we just didn’t have enough cocaine to grease the palms of certain hands…”
The good news is that Thurman wasn’t the end of the musical journey for Nick and his brother. They have continued to make music and it’s encouraging to know that despite the negativity they encountered back then it didn’t strip away their desire to do the thing they loved.
“With The Long Insiders, me and my brother hav come full circle. We’ve gone back to our rockabilly records, and Cramps records, and play the music we first started out with, and it feels so right. I love it. It’s primal rock and roll, and the live gigs are the best we’ve played. Like Elvis with a v 8 engine. I record in my studio as and when, and stick em out on the net. All born out of out initial love and desire to play music from the hip, not the head…”
From long hair in 2 Die 4 to the Long Insiders via the best Britpop band you never knew you loved it’s been a hell of a journey for Nick Kenny. He’s a man who loves making music and that’s something to be celebrated…in a world full of people who only want to be famous to get their pictures in the papers here is a man who really does only care about the music. To prove that Nick provided me with his Britpop Top Ten…
1-Animal Nitrate by Suede
2 Girls and Boys by blur
3-Common People by Pulp
4- Something for the Weekend by The Divine Comedy
5- Mansize Rooster by Supergrass
6-For Tomorrow by blur
7- Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers
8- Live Forever by Oasis
9-Famous by Thurman
10- Girl From Mars by Ash
Huge thanks to Nick for agreeing to speak with me. A diamond geezer.