Embrace the Golden – Parklife at 25

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Blue skies.

Not a cloud to be seen.

Sunshine.

It should be a fantastic day.

I am sitting in my place of work…a job I no longer enjoy, working with people who, I am fairly certain, don’t much like or respect me, feeling sick about tomorrow before today has even really begun.

Sound familiar?

I hope not.

If it does…I’m sorry.

Welcome to adulthood right?

A job.

A mortgage.

Responsibilities.

Some of the grown up thing is great…being a parent is incredible (and incredibly tiring), having a bit of money in your pocket (at the start of the month), my acne has gone (replaced by laughter/worry lines) and, well, that’s just about it.

It wasn’t always like this.

Twenty-five years ago I was…young.

On this day twenty-five years ago I was still only twenty years old.

My 21st was a few months off.

Britpop was a thing and I was very much a part of that thing, which was good because for most of my adolescence I had been, very much, apart from the thing…whatever that thing had been.

But at twenty and with the entire world listening to the bands I liked, wearing the clothes I wore and with people like Jarvis Cocker and Brett Anderson being feted as icons I was, suddenly and inexplicably, in with the in crowd.

My girlfriend at that time had told me that she intended to study at the Glasgow School of Art.  She felt sure that her series of portraits of Brett Anderson (no, I am not joking) would bag her a place at one of the finest art schools in the country.  I happened to agree with her.  I wasn’t bright enough to get into a good University and I wasn’t brave enough to tell my parents that what I really wanted to do was act or write for a living so I had been gently persuaded to pursue a career in social work.  This meant that I had applied to one of the glut of new universities that were springing up around the country in the early part of the nineties, specifically the University of Paisley.

I primarily chose this venerable institute of higher education and learning so as to be in close proximity to my art school girlfriend.  Paisley was only a stop or two away on the train from Glasgow and I imagined long evenings of heavy petting in a squalid student flat with Suede playing in the background helping me to cope with the challenges of trying to get a degree.

I was accepted onto the course.

I was delighted.

Not about the course, that was not something I actually wanted to do, but about the looming heavy petting.

She, however, was not accepted to Glasgow School of Art.  As a result she was going to be attending Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art in Dundee…on the opposite side of the country from Paisley and a two hour bus journey away.  That information was relayed to me only after I had accepted a place at the University of Paisley.

Gone went the dreams of heavy petting.

Gone went my vision of a bohemian lifestyle…part Sid and Nancy, without the heroin and death, part John and Yoko, without either of us being irritating or having dreadful hair.

Gone, gone, gone.

The dreams we have as children.

Fade away.

This all took place in 1993.

Into the awful void of nothingness that I had been plunged, and from which I felt sure I would never escape, came 1994.

Nineteen-ninety-bloody-four.

Good times.

Good times.

I have heard “Girls and Boys” on the Evening Session and found it…perplexing.

It was squelchy and synthy and sort of sexy and not at all like anything on “Modern Life is Rubbish”.

This was all very bad.

I didn’t cope well with change.

I liked things that I liked to stay the way I liked them because otherwise I had to find new things to like.

Despite my discomfort I bought “Girls and Boys” on cassette single.

If I am being honest I only did that because the packaging looked like some condoms and, given the enforced absence of any heavy petting and therefore the prospect of any need for some actual condoms this seemed like a way to make myself feel better about both of those things.

You don’t need to tell me that doesn’t make any sense.

I know.

Slowly the song began to worm its way into my heart.

The lyrics were catty and funny and true.

The near D-I-S-C-O beat made it a song I could actually dance to…and not just do my finely honed Morrissey impersonation to.  You know the thing…off beat flailing of arms and legs, tongue sticking out, hands up to push away imaginary foes.  No, “Girls and Boys” let me actually dance.

When “Parklife” arrived it seemed like a momentous occasion.

Genuinely.

I was giddy with excitement.

I had lectures for the first part of the day but as soon as they were over I headed straight for Stereo One behind Gilmour Street train station and purchased my copy before heading back to my digs to listen to it for the first time.

The front cover was the first delight.

Greyhounds.

Down the dogs.

I had been to the track with my dad as a little boy a few times to watch my uncle’s dog race.

It was exciting.

It was, according to Rob O’Connor from designers Stylorouge an appropriation of popular imagery.  The idea to use the dogs had come after Damon Albarn found himself looking in the window of a William Hill betting shop.  The designers initially created a complete window of sporting images before finally reducing it to just the dogs.  Graham Coxon said this was because they liked the “aggressiveness” of the dogs.

For all of its dizzy pop charms there is something aggressive at the heart of “Parklife”.  It is a violent reaction to the cultural dominance of American film television and pop music.  Where “Modern Life is Rubbish” had been a peculiarly English reaction to grunge…charming, psychedelic in places and, maybe, polite…”Parklife” was a punch in the face to the “I Hate Myself I Want to Die” mindset of the Seattle girls and boys.  A blistering hail of pure pop/art/punk bullets designed to kill the enemy.

It worked.

“Parklife” changed everything.

Oh yes it did.

It really did.

I don’t mean it was a great record and that it sold billions and billions of copies…which it is and it did.

I mean it changed everything.

Where “Suede”, “Modern Life is Rubbish” and “His ‘n’ Hers” had helped signal the birth of a renaissance in British pop music and helped bring indie into the mainstream, “Parklife” went several steps further.

It starts with the glistening production from Stephen Street who sprinkled stardust over each, and every, track.  Polishing them from nuggets of pop to gold bullion hits.  Absolutely everything on the album sounds…right.

That perfection meant that it was impossible for the songs on the album not to sound great on the radio…and they did.  It was difficult to turn the dial (ask your granddad kids) on the radio without stumbling across something from “Parklife”.  It wasn’t always a single either…later at night, in the further reaches of Radioland, you would often hear “This is a Low” or “London Loves” or…anything.

This was an indie album that people who didn’t know what indie was or who hated the very notion of that particular genre could latch onto and love.

The title track became an anthem…blokes in pubs sang it, football crowds adapted it, little kids liked it, mums on the school run loved it; it was the sound of the streets throughout the summer of ’94.  For snobs and pretentious wankers like me it may have become an irritating, populist, novelty but, if I stop rubbing my goatee and put down my copy of Derrida then I will admit, grudgingly, that it is a fantastically fun record.

Who doesn’t want a bit of fun in their life?

Much like “Modern Life is Rubbish”, “Parklife” brought about a significant change in my wardrobe.  My beloved Doctor Martens were jettisoned for a pair of Ellesse trainers…they looked a bit like these;

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I know what you are thinking…they should be some sort of Adidas but I am absolutely convinced I saw Damon rocking a pair of these bad boys at some point.

Hmmm.

I just used the phrase “…rocking a pair of these bad boys”.

This could signal the end of the Mild Mannered Army.

I can only apologise.

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Having said that here he is in an Ellesse t-shirt.

I wonder who that girl is?

She looks so happy to be with Damon.

“Parklife” was an album that injected a brand of hope and optimism into a tired and jaded nation.  Whatever the ills of the Blair era may be, and there were many, the truth of the matter in 1994 was that the country needed change…not just in the Government but in many other ways too.  Things had become tired, hopeless, dreary…in music, fashion, art, politics.  Here was a suite of songs that suggested there was no need to be quite so downtrodden…that there were, indeed, reasons to be cheerful.

Where “Definitely Maybe”, released later in the year, helped give birth to the lad culture that, ultimately, killed the era “Parklife” was free from the boorishness that dogs the later Britpop years.  This was Blur as cheeky chappies and not bear soaked Well-ends.  It was the sound of youth…ready to run free, happy to take risks, willing to put yourself forward, eager to make bombastic statements about how ace you are.

Lots of people have birthing music.

Do you know the type of thing I mean?

A playlist of favourite songs to help, allegedly, soothe the trauma of giving birth…music to take your mind off of the fact that you are about to say goodbye to a life of gay abandon and embrace a life of near constant worry and tiredness.

It doesn’t work.

Listening to M-People as another human exits your body won’t help that be any less traumatic.

But “Parklife” was the soundtrack to an entire country being re-born.

Born again.

Amen.

Hallelujah.

Praise be.

Forget what the dreadful post-modernists at The Quietus and The Guardian will tell you…this wasn’t the sound of “little England” or the moment that Brexit was spawned…this was the sound of celebration.

Patriotism for sure.

Not flag waving, jingoism and xenophobia but taking joy in the positives the country had to offer…musicians, artists, a new political moment.

Cool Britannia.

It was great.

Blur at the Ally Pally wasn’t a rally for the far right.

“This is a Low” isn’t “Deutschland Uber Alles”.

A parka and a Fred Perry isn’t a black shirt.

This was a moment of pure positivity.

An embrace of the golden.

It all seems so long ago now.

A quarter of a century.

I’m not the man I thought I was.

I’m not even the man I think I am.

Things change.