Once upon a time in a land of near eternal sunshine there lived a young man called Max. Max was a mild mannered fellow and was possessed of a beautiful head of hair that drew admiring glances from…well, himself. Each Wednesday young Max would head off to the local newsagent to avail himself of the latest copy of a journal calling itself the New Musical Express. Within the pages of this journal one could find tales of rock and roll in all of its myriad forms and, occasionally, on the front page there would be a free gift. Yes, a free gift. This gift usually took the form of a tape upon which were recorded musical offerings from the great and the good of the current music scene. On those days young Max would whoop and holler with delight and rush home to listen to the delights that lay upon the strips of magnetic tape encased within a shield of plastic.
Remember those days?
Today I picked up three of these NME tapes, one from 1993, one from 1994 and one from 1995. Together they paint a picture of the Britpop scene as it grew and developed.
11th September 1993 “Field Trip: Glastonbury ’93”.
Conspiracy theorists will be having a field day with the all seeing eye atop the pyramid on the front cover!
Music fans will love the fact that each of these songs was recorded live on the NME stage at Glastonbury in June of 1993.
Britpop wasn’t a “thing” in 1993…it was a rumbling in the belly of the music press beast. A front cover for Suede here…a bit of grudging respect for “Popscene” by Blur there…the indiest of the indie talking in hushed tones about Pulp…but no “scene”. The country, the charts and the wider world were still very much in love with the unlovable din of grunge.
A quick look at the front cover of the NME from this week gives you an idea about where popular culture was at;
The folk pop, grebo rock, pop stylings of Miles Hunt and his Wonderstuffers.
Nods to Radiohead (proving my point that “Pablo Dummy” was, in fact, a grunge album) and Senser.
Inexplicably for a weekly “new” music paper in 1993 there were also pieces on both Iggy Pop and Big Star.
The tape itself acknowledges the more melodic side of the grunge “thing” with the presence of Lemonheads and Belly…neither of whom really sit comfortably within the parameters of grunge; too melodic I would argue.
Indie stalwarts Teenage Fanclub are here alongside Spiritualized to keep the sort of floppy fringed, scuffed Doctor Martens and Ian Curtis long winter coat brigade happy but it is the presence of one band, and one song, that hints at a shifting in the sands of pop…
“He’s Dead” by Suede.
By this point Suede were a thing.
Front cover of the Melody Maker without releasing a note of music.
Sell out tours.
Obsessive fan base.
The debut album, “Suede” had been released just three months prior to this and a clutch of incredible singles, and even more incredible B-Sides, had sent the music press, the industry and the listening public into a frenzy.
“He’s Dead” was the B-Side to the second Suede single, “Metal Mickey”, and it is a gorgeous and tender piece of pop music near guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of anyone with even semi-functioning tear ducts.
The Britpop game was, officially, afoot.
12th February 1994 “Mutha of Creation”
Once home to Television and Big Star obsessives only.
Indier than thou.
Alan McGee was driven by the sort of ambition that bordered the fine line between successful and psychopathic. He wanted to rule the world and, ideally, he would like to do it with the biggest band in the world by his side. In early 1994 that seemed unlikely.
The Boo Radleys were an established favourite of the NME. “Giant Steps” had received rave reviews on its release…I doubt anyone really believed that Martin Carr was about to craft a hit single so bothersomely catchy that it could induce blind rage in certain writers though. That though was exactly what was cooking in the Radley kitchen.
Oh look…it’s Teenage Fanclub.
The Fannies are as much a part of the UK indie scene as R.E.M are to the alternative rock scene in the States. Bathed in melodies that The Byrds could only dream of and drawing admiring glances from musicians, fans and critics on both sides of the pond they really are a band to treasure.
The B-Side features something from Sugar…a band I’ve just never really found the time to be bothered with. I heard about them at the same time as I was burning a copy of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in my back garden with my mate Chris as a sign of our rejection of American cultural dominance…or something. That actually happened. I’m not proud…I’m really proud.
The closing track is a cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” from Ride. Strangely this was recorded live in 1992 and I can only guess that it was included here for its rarity value. It is a wonderful little curiosity with Andy Bell doing that thing of playing his guitar better than almost anyone else has ever played guitar and Mark Gardener intoning and droning his way through the lyrics…as ever he sounds like the coolest person in any given room.
And that is that.
Apart from “that”.
This is February 1994 and a band who are attracting all sorts of fuss and buzz are given a bit of space here with a demo version of a little ditty they’ve written called “Cigarettes and Alcohol”.
They are called Oasis.
By the end of the summer every single person in the country will know their name.
Alan McGee has found his vehicle for world domination.
The front cover of the NME this week must be the ugliest piece of cover art for anything…ever.
In amongst all the Creation hype it’s worth noticing that their is a mention for the darlings of the New Wave of New Wave, S*M*A*S*H and that the paper itself costs just seventy-five pence.
Ah…the good old days.
28th January 1995 “Brat Pack ’95”
Just under a year on from the “Mutha of Creation” the NME gifted their readers this little chunk of perfection. It came with this edition of the paper;
While the rest of that week’s edition promised the likes of Weezer and Terry bloody Christian the tape was all the proof anyone could need that Britpop existed and that it had grown to utterly dominate the musical landscape.
“This is a Low” from Britpop overlords and originators Blur.
“Sick, Sober and Sorry” from top of the fops Gene.
A little slice of Britpop trip-hop from Portishead.
“(It’s Good) To Be Free” from those Oasis boys we mentioned back in February of last year.
A live recording of “This is No Time” from Modfather, and Godfather of Britpop, Paul Weller.
That is about as perfect a snapshot of the musical landscape of the UK in 1995 as you could ask for. The old guard of indie had been jettisoned, the reliance on a single label was gone, the need to cater for kids in plaid shirts was now a distant memory…this was the time of Britpop. You can be as sniffy and snooty as you like, you can wave your bootleg live recordings of whatever dismal American Sub-Pop band in my face, you can sneer about how it was all so backwards looking, you can do The Guardian thing of screaming “xenophobia” as loudly as you want…it makes no difference to me. This was my music, this was my time…and it was fantastic.
Before I go…PJ Harvey is great, right?