October 7th 1994 was quite the day for me and the legions of other Britpoppers across the UK because a major happening was going to be, well, happening in London that day. This wasn’t just a happening, it was the happening. It was going to be a moment that would confirm that we were right and that Britpop was the most important musical movement of all time. Now, with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear that Britpop was neither a movement (not in any meaningful sense) and its importance was limited to those of us who were aged between 15 and 25 between 1992 and 1997, for everyone else it barely registered aside from the ludicrous blur vs Oasis “battle”. At that moment though, particularly on this specific day it really did seem like we were all in the middle of…something. None of us could have told you what that something was but we all felt the same way, interestingly we were all dressed the same way too.
Blur had decided to bring their “Parklife” tour to a close with a massive concert at the Alexandra Palace in London. To mark the occasion they had put together a supporting cast of bands who were the epitome of Britpop in all its various forms and guises. First on the bill were Acid Jazz modernists, Corduroy, they were followed by Oxford urchins Supergrass and then Northern outsiders and perennial misfits Pulp would pave the way for blur themselves. It promised to be a day filled with great music and so I marched along to “Sleeves” in Kirkcaldy (a record shop that was less welcoming than even the infamous Eric’s in Liverpool) to order a ticket and then headed to the bus station to buy a ticket for the overnight service to London. I had no idea how to get to the Ally Pally itself or where I was going to stay once the festivities were over but I knew I had to be there.
Corduroy, aka “the fabric four”, were something of a novelty on the Acid Jazz label and the acid jazz scene…they actually seemed to be interested in having a good time, making the audience happy and not obsessing over the width of their sideburns. At this point in time their film soundtrack style grooves were a perfect fit for the Britpop generation as indie and Mod clubs up and down the country (The Egg in Edinburgh being one…Blow Up! in London being a better known example) were playing film soundtracks (the theme from “Get Carter” was very popular at The Egg), classic 60’s soul, indie floor fillers and whatever Britpop singles they could lay their hands on to create the perfect night out on the dancefloor.
Before the doors opened I had been sitting outside chatting to whichever group would welcome me. It was a bright, sunny day in London and the temperature wasn’t awful enough to require layers of clothing or hats and scarves. As I sipped gently on my Coca-Cola I found myself joined by a small gaggle of very young people, certainly younger than me. They had good hair, cool clothes and oozed confidence and charisma. We chitted and chatted about this and that then the conversation turned to the days main event. I asked them who they were most excited about seeing and they laughed among themselves and then one of them said “Probably us!” Further investigation revealed that they were in a band called “Supergrass”. They explained that they had a single coming out in a few weeks and I promised that I would buy it. Then they headed into the venue to prepare for their set. When they took to the stage I realised that what had happened outside was probably the last time I would get so close to them, they were astonishing and it was clear that they were going to be a very big deal. They had a joyful, energetic, frenzied and brash collection of songs, each one sounded like it could be a single and the crowd absolutely adored them.
“His ‘n’ Hers” was the fourth album released by Pulp and it was the first that had come anywhere near troubling the mainstream. Thanks to its weirdness, kinky sexual nods and pop brilliance it had been destined to be the album that pop historians would reference as a lost classic, then Britpop happened and it roared into the charts at number 9 and spawned three hit singles that define the time as much as anything by the likes of blur or Oasis; “Babies” and “Lipgloss” are fabulous but it is the gloriously titled “Do You Remember the First Time?” that really cemented the band and frontman Jarvis Cocker as a big deal in the world of Britpop. Up and down the country young boys started prancing and dancing like Jarvis on the dancefloor and took great delight in yelping “I don’t care if you SCREW him.” at nobody in particular. Their set was only nine songs in length, mainly taken from “His ‘n’ Hers” but it was notable for something much more important; it was the first time that most people in the room had ever heard a song entitled “Common People”; the track that would, in just a few short months, come to dominate the playlists of the nation’s radio stations and that would provide one of the most magnificent moments in the history of Glastonbury.
As we entered the auditorium we had all been given a bingo card and before blur took the stage a caller read out the numbers with the promise of a huge prize for the winning player, a night out with blur. Of course we all had winning tickets and so the boys from Colchester took the stage to the strains of “The Self Preservation Society” from the soundtrack to “The Italian Job”…possibly the most Britpop moment of Britpop. It was a fabulous celebration of what had been a remarkable year for a band who, less than two years earlier, had seemed to be remembered only as minor players at the fag end of the Madchester scene. Here they were though with a number one album, their faces plastered all over the front pages of every magazine and newspaper in the country, style icons and with the additional knowledge that three of them were bona fide sex symbols (poor old Dave Rowntree). They were even joined onstage by Phil Daniels for a full rendition of “Parklife” which, until they released the equally awful “Country House”, seemed destined to be the most irritating single of their career and of this period in popular music culture.
Earlier on the tour I had managed to hit it off with tour DJ and frontman of The Weekenders, Paul Tunkin. When the gig was over he invited me to the after show party at Blow Up. I didn’t have anywhere to sleep and a night in Victoria bus station didn’t seem all that appealing so I tagged along. I also thought it might be rude to say no. What unfolded there ranks as one of the most surreal nights of my life as I bought Jarvis Cocker a d rink, talked about Francoise Hardy with an intoxicated Graham Coxon and had a cheeky snog on the dancefloor with a girl whose name I never even asked (when you look like I do that is quite the achievement) and then, before I knew it, the night was over. A new day was dawning and my bus back home to Fife was waiting. Home I headed, the same person and yet never quite the same again. That, I think, is one of the things that people who are a bit dismissive of Britpop don’t “get”, it wasn’t just about the music (which you can take or leave, that’s a matter of personal taste) or the clothes (personal taste again, right?) but it was about the sense of optimism that seemed to fill the hearts and minds of young people from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. There was a sense of community too, it was perfectly possible to sit in the Good Mixer and take a seat beside the bass player from Menswe@r or stand at the back of the room beside Graham Coxon and just chew the fat, it was possibly the last time that the barrier between punter and star was so flimsy.
Blur at the Ally Pally…show time indeed.