The Year in Britpop…2019

britpop

It all seems so long ago.

It was a long time ago.

We were younger then.

We are older now.

Look at you now.

Don’t look at me.

Don’t look back in anger.

Look back with misty eyes and a quickening of the beat-beat-beat of your heart.

Them was giddy days.

2019 has brought Britpop into our lives in a variety of ways; gigs, festivals, new albums, books and here at the Mild Mannered Army we have covered it all and more.  So here, for you, is the year in Britpop…

January

I wrote a series of articles at the start of the year which were inspired by ex-Flamingo James Cook’s memoir “Memory Songs” and one of the songs I wrote about was “The Drowners” by Suede.

“A finer debut release, a more complete calling card, it would be difficult to imagine.  To this day it sounds as fresh, as thrilling and as alien as it did in May 1992.  Few bands manage to capture their essence as brilliantly on their first release as this…I’m fairly confident that it may never have happened quite so brilliantly before, or indeed since.”

Memory Songs #5“The Drowners”

Shortly after that I wrote another “Memory Song” piece, this time about my meeting Damon Albarn around the time that “To The End” was released.  I left that meeting feeling a bit…disappointed.

“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.”

Memory Songs #6 “To The End

“Little Child” by Gene is a song that is very important to me…special…vital.  It marks a moment in my life when something awful could have happened…but when something wonderful happened instead.

“In the darkest moments of my life, when the black dog growls, when things seem unbearable, when anxiety grips like a vice, when hope departs and hopelessness resides there is one band I turn to without thought…Gene.  Nobody, not even the person you might think I would turn to for musical soothing, makes me feel more comforted, more assured that I am not alone in these thoughts, more confident that I can rise again from despair to somewhere than Martin Rossiter and his merry band.  It isn’t just the lyrics, it isn’t just the music, there is something in his voice that calms and heals.  He isn’t Frank Sinatra or Elvis Pressley but there is a fragility, an honesty, a tenderness in his voice that makes me feel, quite honestly, better.”

Memory Songs 8# “Little Child

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Louise Wener, TFI Friday, June 1996

Louise Wener’s memoir “Just For One Day” is a brilliantly written, evocative, provocative and hilarious look at her life and at her life as the singer in a “female fronted band”.  Throughout the book Louise references the music that matters to her and, because I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to write about every single one of those songs in a series of articles across January and February.

“In “Just for One Day”, Louise Wener discards traditional rock and roll memoir cliches where the authors describe how the first record they ever owned was “Low” by Bowie and their first gig was the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall (despite their not having been born) with the intent of proving how rock and roll they are.  Instead of that Wener does something radical…she is honest.  Every song that rocked her boat, every single that thrilled her, every band she was obsessed with in a way that only teenagers can be…well, teenagers and middle-aged men…and the effect is startling.”

Just for One Day – Songs in the Key of Lou

Soda are one of the great lost bands of the nineties…a riot of attitude and melodies and with their story laced through with tragedies great and small.  Their lost album “Artificial Flavours” is, at long last, available and I wrote a piece on the wonders of it.

“The decision by Mercury Records to shelve the debut album from Hull Britpoppers, Soda, back in 1996 has now been officially recognised as a crime against music lovers by the United Nations.  That inexplicable decision meant that one of the best bands of the era were relegated to little more than an afterthought when the history of the time has been written about.  Many “authorities” on the era wouldn’t even be able to tell you the name of any of the singles they released let alone tell you the story of the band.  That really is something that causes me sleepless nights.”

Cup of Tea…Put a Record On #2 Artificial Flavours

One of the great joys of the nineties was the fact that, frequently, both the NME and Melody Maker would give their readers lovely gifts in the form of tapes that featured bands you knew alongside bands you didn’t knew…

I wrote about three of those tapes that highlighted the way in which Britpop slowly, but very surely, began to dominate the musical culture from 1993 onwards.

“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.”

Tape This and Party

This month also saw the release of Steve Lamacq’s “Lost Alternatives”, a four disc compilation of forgotten, hidden and lost gems from the British indie scene of the nineties.  It is one of my albums of the year.  Disc 3 was the most Britpoppinest disc in the set…

“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.”

Lost Alternatives – Disc 3

One of the very best bands of the era were David Devant and His Spirit Wife and their debut album “Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous” is a classic…full of pop magic, glam sparkle and arch, art-rock, alchemy.  The good news is that they are set to return with a magnificent new album, Cut Out and Keep Me, early next year and they look likely to tour too…hallelujah!  But, this month I turned my eyes, and ears, back to that debut album and wrote this…

“What was becoming increasingly obvious was that David Devant and His Spirit Wife were making me think a little more than most bands.  There was the whole concept behind the name…a nod, an ode, a hymn to vaudeville, a loving look back at a time that was very different to the one they existed in.  It was backwards looking but not in an attempt to recreate or mimic what had gone before, instead, it seemed, it was a prop, a tool, a vehicle that they could use for something slightly grander than being another Britpop band.  Or any sort of band.”

Cup of Tea Put a Record On #3 – Work Lovelife Miscellaneous 

Sleeper released a video for their single “Look At You Now” in advance of their forthcoming new album this month and both song and visuals served as a reminder of quite how wonderful they were…and served notice of quite how wonderful they remained.

“The video itself presents a stark reminder of what happens when we allow ourselves to slip to the extremes in politics and while some may see that as a call to the centre ground the truth is that there is plenty of reasonable room on either side of the centre.  People who believe in entrepreneurial capitalism over massive corporations are not the same as Jacob Rees-Mogg.  People who believe in free, universal health care are not the same as Mao.  Reasonable people on both sides agree on problems…their differences lie only in how to deal with those problems.”

Sleeper – Look at you Now

The BIG Britpop moment of the month arrived with the announcement of the dates and line-up for the annual Star Shaped Festival.  The club nights are, without any argument, the home of Britpop and nobody has done more to support and promote the bands than the faces and hearts behind the scenes (and decks) of the Festival.  The Festival itself is also THE celebration of the era.

“Secondly, the Star Shaped festival is about more than the music.  I met so many genuinely lovely people at the events in 2017 and last year.  Strangers who draped their arms around my shoulder and sung along with songs that defined our lives…kindly souls who just wanted to chat about the old days…Twitter souls who made a bee-line for me to introduce themselves.  I haven’t left an event without a feeling of belonging to something…a real sense of community.”

You can read all about the line-up for the festival here and we will come back to it later in this review of the year.

While I adore so much about the Britpop era I am no blind, or deaf, acolyte and I am more than happy to acknowledge that for every dizzy high their were crushing, awful, lows during the time…three of those lows were the subject of an article I wrote on the worst songs of the era.

“The time has come to cast out the unclean things from among us.

No longer can we allow our spirits to be troubled.

The Unholy Trinity must be exorcised.”

Those three songs shouldn’t need to be pointed out but they are; Wake Up Boo, Parklife and Country House.

Find out why here.

I wrote a vaguely romantic piece on the first time I ever saw Suede live…but really it was about a particular moment and a particular person.

“On Monday I make a ‘phone call…01505…I still know the rest of it.  Over the next four or five months I call it every single day and soon we are a “thing”.  That, with hindsight, wasn’t a great idea given the impending two year mission…relationships that start off with that sort of trauma looming rarely end well.”

Do You Remember the First Time #2

I stumbled across a piece of post-modern, critical theory, writing about Britpop by the brilliant writer Simon Reynolds during January and, despite knowing my academic limitations, decided I should challenge this very well educated man over some of his assertions.

“The problem for people like Reynolds is that they are so involved and committed to critical theory that they cannot view anything free from its influence.  It is not a theory for them, it is an ideology.  It dictates how they view and interact with everything in the world.  Like all ideologues they are incapable of seeing, or accepting, any criticism of their worldview.  That means they occasionally say things that are…ridiculous.  He isn’t alone in this…you can find apostles of critical theory everywhere, they are easy to spot; they are joyless, speak in a language utterly unique to their faith and get very cross when people don’t submit to their position.”

Looking Back in Anger