Let’s go back.
25 years ago Oasis played the 100 Club in that London.
For people who don’t know about London it is the centre of the universe and the only place in the world where anything of any consequence occurs. If you don’t live in London, work in London, come from London…then you, my friend, are nobody and no-thing.
Of course there is another view of London which is the one expressed by renowned radio and television personality Alan Partridge; “Go to London. I guarantee you will either be mugged or not not appreciated. Catch the train to London stopping at rejection, disappointment, back-stabbing central and shattered dreams parkway.” Famously, Partridge also spelt London “S-H-I-T-H-O-L-E”.
The truth about London lies somewhere in the middle of the two.
It is a vibrant and exciting city for sure but, at the same time, it is home to a peculiar attitude that sees the media set seemingly incapable of understanding the world outside of the city…even if they themselves come from far flung, exotic locations like Bristol or Sunderland. It seems to cast a spell over people that stops them from seeing things outside of the M25 and of remembering where they came from.
Little Owen Jones described the media worldview in his book “Chavs” when he discussed the very different reactions from the hacks at various newspapers to the disappearances of Madeleine McCann and Shannon Matthews; acres of column inches, all soaked in tears of compassion and empathy were written when the daughter of two wealthy doctors went missing and a palpable sense of “How could something so awful happen?” could be found in nearly every article written…particularly from the broadsheets. Their was a slightly less compassionate tone when it came to Shannon…who was Northern and came from an area of high unemployment and poverty. The tone then was…sniffy. Less compassionate. Jones argues that this was because the McCann’s were just like the journalists writing about them; Oxbridge educated, wealthy, middle-class but the Matthews family were…not.
There is a point here.
The scenario painted above exists, or existed, in the world of music publishing too. Lots and lots of Oxbridge types, middle-class, comfortable boys and girls from the suburbs dipping their toe in the world of rock and roll. Take the likes of Simon Reynolds and David Stubbs…both educated at Oxford, both from comfortable, middle-class homes, both bathed in postmodernist philosophy. Fine writers. Successful too. Better writers than me. More successful than I could ever dream of being. But the idea that people from those backgrounds could ever really “get” a band like Oasis is, frankly, ludicrous. They could enjoy or not enjoy them of course but it isn’t possible for them to feel what kids from the same background as the band themselves did when they heard them. To employ language they would understand…their lived experience denies them the ability to truly understand.
Back in 1994 Holly Barringer wrote a review of this Oasis gig.
I don’t know about Holly’s background or her “lived experience” but the fact she was writing for the NME at this point says good things about her as a writer. This was the NME when it still mattered. It was essential reading for anyone who cared about music. It’s worth noting too that, even in the enlightened nineties (not really), the music press and industry in general was not what one would have called a “safe space” (you’re welcome Simon and David) for female writers or artists. Just take a look at the sorts of questions Louise Wener from Sleeper was routinely asked by journalists or try to find her appearance on TFI Friday when Chris Evans showed himself to be uglier than any of us suspected…and most of us suspected he was pretty ugly. So for Barringer to be working in that environment says only good things about her.
Her review is negative.
She really didn’t like what she saw or heard.
But unlike the sneering after-the-fact sort of articles written by the people I’ve previously described this wasn’t an attempt to position herself as being arch and nor was it inspired by a dodgy theory. No, this was good old fashioned opinion…the lifeblood of good music journalism. I want to read people who have a reaction to something. I don’t want to read anything other than that really…I want to know how the music makes somebody feel, the impact it has on them, the way it moves them. Honesty. Passion. Fire and fury.
“So what am I supposed to do, lie? I look around with eyes that are not yet blinded and see that the kids who are wanting Oasis are, well, wanting. These “kids” are richer in years than I am, and certainly old enough to know better, they can’t hide behind the excuse that this kinda thing is fresh to them.”
I can’t excuse starting with “So…”.
That is unforgivable.
I don’t care what you are going to say or whether or not I am going to agree with you.
“So…” is a sin.
Don’t do it.
It makes you sound like a guest on one of those late night shows the BBC used to run where esteemed individuals would tell one another how rubbish the creative endeavours of other people were; “So, the problem with Kubrick is…”.
A bit pretentious.
Holly then tries to convince us all that the people at the gig are all older than she is.
Of course that’s subjective isn’t it?
How old is Holly?
How old are the people in attendance?
She doesn’t tell us.
She also doesn’t tell us how she knows how old they are.
Maybe they looked older?
I also don’t understand the problem even if they were older than her.
I’m not a tweenager but I still love a lot of modern pop and rock and hip-hop and who knows what else.
She also seems a bit cross that people are hailing Oasis as something “fresh”.
Nobody was hailing Oasis as something fresh in 1994.
The Beatles thing had started from the moment they arrived.
It wasn’t the freshness of Oasis that had people excited, it was the attitude and the tunes. It was the clobber and the choruses. They were retro from the get go. Nobody cared.
“They remember the Roses and have (rashly, I think) chosen Oasis as the vehicle through which they might live again. So soon. Oasis are the future, they state with a definite flourish. The word “Bollocks” springs to mind.”
Funny because that is exactly the word that sprung to my mind as I read this Holly.
Nobody, but nobody, was talking about Oasis as a replacement for the Roses.
Most of the kids who were buying Oasis records in 1994 had been at Primary school when the Roses were a going concern. Oasis were not a vehicle through which to live the Roses again…Oasis were their band. The Roses belonged (good grief) to the big brothers and sisters of the boys and girls (girls and boys) who were buying Oasis records.
Dig the new breed.
What Holly is writing about here is a vision borne out of discussions in the NME offices and through actually experiencing things in the real world.
Dare I say it…it’s a bit of a London attitude?
“Figuring out why everyone now thinks they are the best thing since KY Jelly is foxing me, especially since their first offering tonight reveals itself to be a mutated version of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”. I assume that this coy, kitsch little number is supposed to be amusing and endearing…”
“…the best thing since KY Jelly…”
A fascinating, or terrifying, glimpse into the world of a music journalist in the nineties there.
What exactly does this reveal about Holly?
I don’t think it reveals anything really…except that she was probably a bit dull and thought that dropping in the name of a lubricant might paint her as some sort of sexual, or sexy, terrorist, living a life of libertine thrills in that London.
Behold the snooty attitude in that last line too; “I assume that this coy, kitsch little number is supposed to be amusing and endearing…”. It’s the sort of line one can imagine a character in a Wilde play spitting out. Some elderly upper class matriarch sneering at a younger, less wealthy, suitor of her daughter say.
Say it with the voice of Dame Edith Evans.
What would be the problem with a song being amusing and endearing?
The answer is nothing.
Unless you were a music journalist.
Then only the authenticity of the HOWL of grunge could pass muster.
Right…because Cobain and the rest of boys from Seattle really meant it man.
I like songs that put a smile on my face. Not comedy records but songs that are laced through with wit and comic moments…The Smiths, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Cure, Blur, Oasis, Public Enemy, Eminem; all have moments that make you laugh out loud. Amusing. Endearing. Brilliant.
“Supersonic”, Oasis’ acclaimed single, does itself no favours in the originality stakes. Tonight, by enveloping itself in wavy guitar wash, slurry vocals and lyrics that anyone willing to work hard enough at nonchalance could deliver, it comes up with the goods for those who are desperate to hold onto the past because Cool things happened then. But what’s gonna happen in the future? That’s what these people don’t wanna think about.”
I don’t know about you but I’m going off Holly a bit now.
I quite liked her at the start of this.
A young woman making her way in a male dominated world, sticking it to the man and the men…but now I have a horrible feeling that she’s, well, not very nice.
Here is an interesting thing to consider Holly…I like a wavy guitar wash, slurry vocals and lyrics delivered with nonchalance and made up, largely, of nonsense. You know why? Just because. I’m not trying to hold onto, or recreate, a past where I still had hair or, as was the case in 1994, because I thought cool things happened in the past. I just liked it then…like I like it now. It sounded thrilling. “Supersonic” gave a whole generation of kids an entry point into a world of music and fashion and attitude. I loved it then. I love it now. I’m not a booze soaked, coked up, Stone Island wearing knob…and I wasn’t in 1994 either.
“What if our generation can’t come up with something cool enough? What if our generation does something totally unique and everybody loathes it? Can we stand the rejection, the humiliation? No. Why? Because we’re weak and we can’t say what we think because someone might take the piss, and we’ll feel vulnerable and stupid and alone. So we’ll just stick to what we know, and pray that nobody has enough imagination to figure out that with our wave upon (new) wave of inward-looking, ancestor worship we’re actually playing it very very safe.”
You need to get over the “cool” thing.
Because it’s not a real thing.
Or it is a real thing but it’s self-defined…it’s whatever you decide.
If you can’t stand rejection or humiliation then you need to do a bit of work on yourself Holly. That isn’t the fault of kids (or old folks) who you have determined to be the architects of a grand ancestor worshipping conspiracy. It’s because you care too much about what other people think. That’s not the fault of Noel and Liam Gallagher. Or me for liking them.
Who is this “we” that Holly is talking about?
I’m not so weak that I can’t say what I think.
I don’t care if people take the piss.
I’ve felt vulnerable and stupid and alone for a lot longer than Oasis have been making music.
What’s the problem with playing it safe?
I don’t get that.
Safe is familiar and comforting.
Other people take risks and push boundaries and create new sounds…sometimes I like those things and sometimes I find them confusing or unpleasant.
Again…that doesn’t have anything to do with the past or with Oasis.
“We’ll carry on letting bands like Oasis (or Primal Scream) occupy a place in our hearts and act like they’re new and exciting. We’ll dress up in our Adidas trainers and our slip dresses and tell ourselves that we are different, if not from each other, then to the Tracies and Kevins who are still into the last wave (crusty, trance, whatever). We’ll wear horrible shirts and pretend to be mods and convince ourselves that we’re eccentric and that we’ve always had that slight tendency to say “ow” instead of “oh”. We’ll go and see Oasis and Pulp and Suede and we’ll make like we’ve created some kind of scene that our children will want to know about. The hell they will. This has to end.”
A lot of anger here.
Oasis were new.
They were also genuinely exciting.
Anyone who says different is lying to you.
You didn’t have to like the music to get that.
Primal Scream were not new but they were doing exciting things.
By dressing up in our Adidas trainers and slip dresses we were different from the crusties, the grunge kids and the trance gang.
She was absolutely right about some of those shirts people were buying from shops on Carnaby Street though…awful. What does it mean to pretend to be a mod? The nineties weren’t a fancy dress party. People adopted the mod look, listened to mod music, watched mod movies, went to mod clubs…they were mods. Other kids just wore Fred Perry and sang along to “Chemical World” at indie clubs…they weren’t mods but they got the general idea. What’s the problem? There isn’t one. There really isn’t.
A minute ago Holly was banging on about feeling lonely and vulnerable, about being worried by the prospect of people taking the piss out of her for daring to be different…now she is getting stuck into Pulp and Suede who told an entire generation of kids it was OK to be different, it was OK to say what you wanted to say and to say it in the way you wanted to say it, that being gay, or weird, or different was a cause for celebration. Not good enough for Holly because…well, I’m not sure why but she certainly seemed very cross about their efforts.
“…we’ll make like we’ve created some kind of scene that our children will want to know about. The hell they will. This has to end.”
Oh, and indeed, dear.
It’s difficult to write about anything at the time the thing is happening of course…you don’t know how things are going to play out. Holly was a journalist on a music paper and not a seer or prophet. She can’t be judged too harshly for failing to see what was going to unfold after her “review” of Oasis. How could she know that their was a scene…that that scene was going to define an entire decade…that it was going to help usher in a new government for the first time in nearly twenty years…that it would shape fashion, art and literature for a decade…that it would still be thrilling new audiences a quarter of a century later? She couldn’t have known.
The interesting thing is…we all knew didn’t we?
We probably couldn’t have told you that we knew but we felt it.
Because while Holly was trying to find an angle, trying to show much smarter she was than the schlubs in the crowd she dismissed as being too old, trying to prove she could match the other snobs in the office…we were all living it.
Britpop was, and remains, a thing to be derided by the critics who, like the eunuchs in the harem were there every night, saw it done every night but couldn’t actually do it themselves and that made them cross. Their years at Oxbridge, the safety of their suburban childhoods, their inability to just let go and enjoy things robbed them of the ability to see Britpop the way that we saw it…the way that we still see it.