It’s hard to believe now but there was a time when this little island was home to some of the greatest music journals ever to lay in the hands of teenagers and people old enough to know better. N.M.E, Melody Maker, Sounds, Select…weeklies, glossies, monthlies. They would arrive on the shelves of W.H Smiths (if you were down South) or John Menzies if, like me, you lived in the wastelands of Scotland and entice you to part with the money from your paper round, or shift at Wimpy, with images of some indie starlet or other…usually, in the case of the N.M.E, that meant Morrissey (until they decided he was a racist). More often than not I would end up with N.M.E and Melody Maker every week and Select every month. Remember children, this was all before the glories of the internet and the press were the only source of information about Drugstore or Blessed Ethel.
During the Britpop years seldom a week/month passed without either a free tape or C.D being given away with one, or all, of these paper based blogs. Those musical gifts would invariably feature a b-side or radio session from a band you genuinely loved and then a smattering of tracks from bands you hadn’t heard of or heard. When I would make mix-tapes for winsome girls I was desperate to have fall in love with me I would include all of these songs in an attempt to show how “hip” I was. Oh youth, how I wasted thee. I remember one edition of Select magazine came in a mock cereal box and included all manner of gifts and goodies. There were chocolate bars, cereals…and a coaster! 1997 was a strange year.
From 1993 through to the end of 1997 I bought every edition of the N.M.E, Melody Maker and Select. I know what you’re thinking, “How was it possible that this guy didn’t have a girlfriend at University? Surely all of the girls were swooning over the prospect of a night in looking at his archive of music magazines?” I know, I know…it didn’t make sense to me then and it makes even less sense to me now. It was a treasure trove of live reviews, interviews, free tapes, posters, images, album and single reviews and all manner of other information. I threw them all out when I left University.
I’ve had a few.
That decision is one of them.
Imagine my joy then when a visit to Out On The Floor records in Camden presented me with the chance to make amends for that act of wanton cultural vandalism. There, in the basement, was a small collection of old music papers. One immediately caught my eye, Melody Maker, November 4th, 1995. A free tape. Jarvis Cocker before he decided to grow a beard. The promise of information about the Snoop murder trial (I don’t remember either) and even a hint of genuine British rock royalty in the form of Def Leppard (of course I’m being sarcastic).
The free tape featured tracks from Powder, Strangelove, Pusherman and Elcka. The darker side of Britpop. Not only had I owned this copy of Melody Maker 22 years ago I had actually attended the Glasgow leg of the tour the tape was promoting. I had to have it. I handed over £3.25 more than I had paid for it from John Menzies in Paisley when I as a 22 year old sociology student and felt like I had bagged a bargain.
Did it bother me that I didn’t have a tape player?
Just how Britpop was this edition of Melody Maker?
Why not join me as we take a stroll through the pages of the British music press in 1995.
Page three featured an article on the return to Oasis of Guigsy. The bassist, of course, had left the band due to nervous exhaustion a few weeks earlier to be replaced, for about 17 minutes, by Scott MacLeod of The Ya Ya’s.
Page 5 had two snippets of information about both Supergrass and Pulp.
Page 6 had live Menswe@r news.
One of the great joys of the pre-internet music press was the sight of a full page advertisement for a new album, single or tour from one of your favourites. Just look at page 7…
How awesome does that look? A full page in a broadsheet music paper. Single artwork, imagery for the two albums and range of formats. Glorious!
Remember Bawl? I do…sort of. The Melody Maker had high hopes for these boys, mentioning them in the same breath as Pulp and Magazine. That’s a hell of a lot to live up to. Arguably Bawl never did. Here they are on page 8…
Saint Etienne are a band who just reek of style. Proof of that can be heard every time you hear them. Further proof can be found with the artwork for this advertisement for “He’s on the Phone” on page 10…
The gig guide was essential reading on a weekly basis at this point in time. Every week there was a band you had read about the previous week popping up in a venue close to you. Even if they weren’t close by you would make the effort to travel to see them. It was also a time when the ability to buy a ticket for a gig didn’t require you to earn a six figure salary…touts were also “real” people you could haggle with and not corporations. “The Ones to Watch this Month” in this edition of Melody Maker included blur, David Bowie and Morrissey, The Charlatans, Maker Shaker Tour, Oasis, The Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub and Paul Weller.
Page 20 has a live review of Stephen Duffy (his “London Girls” single is a great lost classic of the era) and Tiny Monroe (their “VHF 855V” is an even greater and even lostier classic of the era).
Remember that full page Oasis add from earlier? That was good right? Arguably it was not as good as this effort from Pulp…
A live review of 60ft Dolls, an ad for the Maker Shaker Tour and another ad for Embassy completes the live section…
Remember those full page ads for Oasis and Pulp? Those were good right? Not as good as this I’ll wager…
The main event in this weeks edition of Melody Maker was an interview with Jarvis Cocker entitled, “Revenge of the Sex Nerd”. No, you didn’t misread. It was entitled “Revenge of the Sex Nerd”. It was that sort of time.
Britpop, of course, was a time when the sort of bands who were normally restricted to the occasional hearing at the local indie night crashed into the actual pop charts. Just look at the top 30 singles here, Pulp at number 15, McAlmont and Butler at number 30 and plucky Leeds lad Michael Jackson at number 11…I wonder whatever happened to him?
The indie top thirty includes entries from Ash, Echobelly, Northern Uproar, 60ft Dolls, The Bluetones, Heavy Stereo, Sleeper, Super Furry Animals, Echobelly (again) and…Scooter!
The singles reviews include a short write up of “Money/Kill Me” by Space…
Could this be the most Britpop letter of all time? Cast getting it in the neck from “Nige” from Nottingham.
Pages 40 and 41 were dedicated to short interviews with the acts featured on the free tape…
Melody Maker featured a “comedy” section that was most famous for “Mr Agreeable”…a sort of Roger Mellie for the music press. It was really funny. If by “funny” you mean “dire”. Here is their hilarious take on the new Pulp album…
That was it. Sixty pages for seventy-five pence. Twenty-four Britpoppy nuggets, including a free tape to listen to on your Walkman on the way home from the newsagents. Terrific.
What is really telling about leafing through the pages of this paper is how little advertising there is and what there is relates directly to the music; live ads, new releases, music/sound equipment and one advert for fags on the back cover. On almost every page there was something to actually read, it was almost as if the people responsible felt that their first responsibility was to ensure that the readers had something to…read. It’s very refreshing. The other thing that strikes you is just how many great bands there were at that point and how many of them were playing in venues that didn’t resemble aircraft hangers. It all seems so…intimate.
Today the N.M.E exists only as a musical version of the Metro, the Melody Maker is dead, Select is extinct…what remains of the music press is “Q” and their monthly interviews with either Bono or Chris Martin (same person), Uncut and their monthly coverage of Neil bloody Young and not a lot else. Thankfully the internet has provided a platform for people to share their own poorly written and ill considered thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics, including music. Not here of course. The M.M.A is a bastion of quality writing and careful thought.
It bloody is you cheeky sod.