Disc three of the forthcoming (22/3/19) compilation of “lost” indie hits from the nineties which has been lovingly curated by Steve Lamacq could, very easily, be called “The Other Side of Britpop” featuring, as it does, tracks from a whole gaggle of bands who floated around the periphery and tail end of Britpop.
Things start with the least Britpop of all the bands who arrived during that time but who are still much loved by people who understand that wearing a Ben Sherman and making records that sound like The Beatles wasn’t the sum total of the era…Bis.
Bis are a band who could only have come from Glasgow.
No other city could give birth to a band of such peculiar charm and eccentricity.
Glasgow is, despite the cultural dominance of the Edinburgh International Festival, the true creative heart of Scotland. It has produced more poets, writers, artists, musicians, designers and all other strands and brands of creatives than any other location in the country. That is, at least in part, down to the sheer size of the place, truthfully it is the only real city in the nation, and it is also a city of extremes; poverty and wealth, a heady multicultural mix, hardship and elegance, art and brutality all sit side by side. This cocktail has produced music that has defined several eras and genres from the 1950’s onward. Smiles better indeed.
Bis blend electronica, playground chants, pop, indie, disco and goodness knows what else to create something totally unique to them.
“School Disco” was the lead track on 1995’s “Disco Nation 45” and it really got up the noses of the Noel-rock brigade who thought that music was the preserve of earnest men in sensible shoes, singing about lasagne.
I love songs about lasagne.
I like earnest men in sensible shoes too.
I’m quite earnest.
I own sensible shoes.
I’m not judging.
But there has to be room for something a little…more. A little…different. A little…Bis.
“School Disco” is an infectious pop germ that evokes all the glory and misery of a night at the school disco with cool girls, cool boys, the smut, the hip kids and the squares all present and correct.
Fellow Celts and bubblegum popsters Helen Love are also on this disc and it is a source of great joy to me to know that I was alive at a time when a song like “Does Your Heart Go Boom” made it into the charts.
Heady days kids.
Fellow Scot poppers, Travis, are also here with “All I Want to do is Rock” from their debut album “Good Feeling”. Released initially in 1996 and then re-released in 1997 it scraped into the top forty but remains a live favourite. Both the single and the album are the most Britpoppy things the band did. Over twenty years later Travis are still releasing new music, selling out massive venues and touching people’s hearts across the globe…they are like Coldplay, but good. All heart and soul. A national treasure…like Alan Bennett but with better songs.
The darker corners of Britpop are explored here with the inclusion of tracks from both Marion and Geneva, bands who owed more to Joy Division, The Cure and The Smiths than they did to Madness, The Kinks and The Small Faces. “Violent Men” from Marion is a heart breaking tale of domestic abuse and family breakdown and “No One Speaks” is a thing so fragile, so delicate and so ethereal that you feel sure that at any moment it might disappear from you.
Another band who lurked in the shadows of Britpop were the magnificent Strangelove. A band who don’t sit comfortably underneath any particular label that you may wish to place on them…experimental, alternative, gothic, baroque, pop, rock, they had moments, flashes, of all of these things; sometimes all within one song.
Lead singer and songwriter Patrick Duff was an astonishing figure at the time…gripped by madness, genius, inner demons and deep thoughts he was a near shamanic figure during their riotous and incendiary live performances, the sort of person you wanted to get close to but didn’t dare for fear of getting burned. In truth he is a gentle, contemplative, thoughtful character possessed of a disarming and inspiring willingness to talk openly and honestly.
“Greatest Show on Earth” is taken from their third, and final, album “Strangelove” which, despite being their most accessible work, failed to break the top forty. The single fared a little better, reaching number thirty-six. My theory is that had this been their first single and been released in 1994 it would have been a huge hit and Strangelove would have gone on to become household names…just a hunch.
At the start of January, 1998, the record label Deceptive released a compilation album; Deceptive Fifty which gathered together a whole gaggle of bands who had released music on their label before, sometimes, moving on to fame and fortune. Gene, Placebo and Elastica were all there as were Scarfo…the only band to have two songs listed (although I have this memory floating around in my head that there may have been another track from Gene or Elastica, or both, as a hidden track? Answers on a postcard please). One of those tracks was “Alkaline” and that is the one that Lamacq has chosen to include here. It’s a great choice.
It’s a shame that this compilation is made up of songs that actually breached the charts because otherwise their cover version of the Elvis Costello classic “I Want You” could have been included instead…mainly to annoy those really weirdy-beardy Costello disciples who, much like Dylan obsessives, cannot acknowledge the fact that these are just pop songs and get very worked up whenever someone dares to touch the masters work.
Yah-Boo sucks to you.
Perhaps the greatest joy to be found here though is “Race” by Tiger which is a slice of pop magic seemingly carved from a rainbow such is it’s giddy wonder. I’m listening as I write this, which is proving difficult…you try it. Typing while your head is nodding, your body is swaying, your feet are thumping and your heart is racing ain’t easy brothers and sisters.