“Spend ten seconds in a room with any of the bands poised on the starting line in the early days of Britpop when they called it the “new wave of new wave”. Share a line with Elastica, sup a spritzer with Gene, split a pasty with These Animal Men. They are all of them, every man jack of them, committed to being famous, desperate to get to number one. They would all sell their grannies to get a higher chart position than the other and while they are all skulking around in their leathers and Adidas, archly pretending “the music is all there is, man”, a thousand backroom deals and deceptions are taking place.”
(Louise Wener, “Just for One Day” p163)
It is Tuesday, 17th May 1994.
Thanks to a chance encounter with Paul Tunkin the day before in Glasgow I have managed to blag myself a spot on the guest list for this evening’s Blur gig in my hometown, Edinburgh. Paul Tunkin is the tour DJ and lead singer with The Weekenders. I had guided him to some second hand record stores in Glasgow before the previous evening’s gig and, as a thank you, Paul has placed me on the list. I haven’t ever been on the list before…if I am being honest I didn’t even know what the list was. I wasn’t what you would call a particularly rock and roll teenager.
This is the “Parklife” tour and it is the last time Blur will play venues of this size. They are about to become the biggest band in the country. The lead off single from “Parklife” is “Girls and Boys” and it had reached number 5 in the charts two months before this show. Two weeks from tonight the second single from the album, “To The End” will be released…
The show has finished.
The support act, Sleeper, were astonishingly good and, backstage, it is their lead singer, Louise Wener, that I am trying to find so that I can tell her how much I love her band…and to ask her if she would like to get married, specifically to me.
What actually happens is that I spot Louise standing near the bar and, for just a few moments, she is alone.
“This is your chance.” I think to myself.
“Go over there and introduce yourself. Tell her how great the band were. Say something funny. Win her heart.” I continue.
I don’t go over.
I’m haunted by memories of every encounter I have ever had with a female of the species…well, that and the fact that I am here with not just my mate Chris but also my girlfriend.
A few moments later though I am on firmer ground as I inch my way closer and closer to Damon Albarn, who is holding court with a gaggle of doe eyed boys and girls…damn it, I should have said girls and boys…who are happy to just be close to a genuine pop star. Being close isn’t good enough for me. I need to get closer and then become best friends. Eventually I find myself sitting on the left hand side of Damon and I realise this is my chance to become friends with a pop star. All I have to do is wait for my chance to say something fabulously witty in response to something equally witty he says.
Then I wait a bit longer.
It soon becomes clear that there is a flaw in my plan.
Damon isn’t saying anything interesting…or witty.
He isn’t talking about Mike Leigh films.
He isn’t talking about “Quadrophenia”.
He isn’t asking us any questions either.
He is, in fact, talking at great length about how upcoming single “To The End” is going to be very popular with housewives, about how Radio 2 are going to love it and about how that deadly combination of suburban ladies and daytime radio is going to land him a number one single.
It’s boring…and disappointing.
He sounds a bit like a sales rep. outlining how he is going to land a big client.
I try to locate Louise Wener again…I have a feeling that she won’t talk about her marketing campaign for “Delicious” but will want to talk about records and films. I don’t know why. Sometimes you just get a feeling about these things. Eventually I spot her but she is surrounded by a small group of girls…everyone is smiling and laughing. Nobody is smiling and laughing with Damon, instead people are nodding their heads and saying “Yeah” a lot.
People often believe that people in bands are just like them but the truth, I think, is that many people in bands are very different to you. They are incredibly ambitious, fiercely driven and, maybe, borderline sociopaths. Certain Britpop stars changed the way they spoke in order to sell a particular vision, version, of themselves to a particular fanbase…in that regard they really aren’t all that different from Darius Danesh; the owner of the largest ego ever to grace any UK talent show in the history of UK talent shows. What that means is that any encounter with them is either going to be laced through with artifice as they pretend to be just like you or be a crushing disappointment as their true character smashes you in the face.
That isn’t to say that those whom the Gods bless/curse with fame are all like that. I’ve met lots of my heroes and very many of them have been utterly charming or wonderfully eccentric; Morrissey asked me about “Take the High Road” which, even when he asked me hadn’t been on television for about a decade, Rick Witter looked astonished when I asked him for an autograph shortly before “Mark/Casino Girl” was released, Mark Morriss is just about the nicest and most charming geezer I’ve ever met and Martin Rossiter bought me pizza on the “Revelations” tour. None of them ever mentioned chart placings or Radio 2 playlists.
Being ambitious doesn’t make you a bad person of course. Damon Albarn didn’t ignore our requests for photographs and autographs, he was gracious and generous. He was also in the middle of a major promotional push for an album that, in many ways, was going to make or break his band. I am not criticising him…the blokes a genius and I’m a slightly pudgy, balding, big eared, middle-aged man, sat behind a keyboard writing stuff about stuff. Maybe if I had been a bit more driven I could have been a star…although the fact I can’t sing, play an instrument, clap my hands in time to music or any of the other stuff a pop star needs to do may have held me back.