Britpop was not a sound in the same way as glam, acid house, baggy or 2-Tone had been in previous years. It wasn’t about British guitar music and it certainly wasn’t a “sub-genre” of the impossible to define “indie” music. It was a moment in time, a musical and cultural movement. It was the soundtrack to Cool Britannia, a wider cultural movement that encompassed art, literature, film and politics. A cursory glance at “The Last Party” by John Harris, Matt Glasby’s “Britpop Cinema” or the epic “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Daniel Rachel will highlight how clearly Britpop can be defined, how ridiculous it is to suggest that it was press created and how rigid the guidelines are for when the whole thing started and ended.
It is difficult for people to see past the lazy, and often hazy, revisionist portrait of the era presented by spiteful journalists or ill informed broadcasters who would have them believe that the entire thing was nothing more than a few jolly records released in the nineties. It is equally difficult for people to see why it matters when all they have is a partial understanding. While many of the records, bands and films can now be dismissed the truth of the matter is that the label of Britpop is an important part of modern history and as such deserves to be written about and discussed with some level of seriousness and accuracy.
One of the great joys of the Britpop era was that it coincided with the peak of the music industry. By the mid to late nineties labels were making more money than they had at any other time in history and so they were able to offer deals to more bands than at any other time in history. Proof of this comes in the knowledge that Seymour Stein once flew to Britain to see Lick and instructed his UK representatives not to let them get away from them. Lick. Not Oasis. Lick. A great band and one of the great lost acts of the era but Seymour bloody Stein flying in from America to see them? Crazy times kids.
Some really great bands released some great music…some other really great bands didn’t release some great music…some more really great bands released great music on the b-side of singles that weren’t all that great. It was a time of plenty. While the era may be defined by “Common People”, “Alright”, “Wake Up Boo”, “Country House” and “Roll With It” for many the truth is that some of the very best songs of the era were never played on the radio.
While Luke Haines may well violently disagree with the notion that his band, The Auteurs, were ever part of anything, let alone Britpop, the facts remain that they were featured in the piece that gave birth to the term in Select magazine in April of 1993 (although the seeds for the movement/moment were, of course, sown much earlier than that) and so I have no hesitation in suggesting that “Staying Power” is a lost gem from the time. Originally released as the b-side to “Showgirl” in 1992 it is a fine example of what a great songwriter Haines was.
Big White Stairs were Macclesfields entry to Britpop. Fronted by brothers Steve and Andy Young they were all Brett Anderson yelps and Marion-esque melodies. By the time they began to make any sort of impression on the wider public the Britpop era was marching towards its end point and the ability for bands outside of the big four or five to make the move from the fringes was becoming more difficult. “Think it Over” from their final single “So Long” is a perfect example of why that was a bad thing.
At the height of the era Cornershop scored a number one record thanks to a remix from Norman Cook of their gorgeous “Brimful of Asha”. The remix is great fun and it is a good thing that the band were able to make an impression on the wider record buying public for all sorts of reasons but it isn’t really representative of who, or what, Cornershop are.
Their debut EP “Lock Stock & Double Barrel” was released in 1993 when Britpop was still a twinkle in the eye of a certain journalist. It was a gloriously DIY sounding collection of four songs that celebrated the diversity of their influences and that was violently political “England’s Dreaming” should, really, be the official Britpop anthem…a record made by a racially diverse, politically active, experimental, gaggle of young people in the dying days of the Thatcherite era. Notable too for its subtle poking of a certain Mancunian miserablist.
By the time the debut album from The Dandys, “Symphonic Screams”, arrived in 1998 Britpop, and Cool Britannia, were dead. But their debut single “I Wanna Be Like You” had, as the kids say, drrrrroppppped in 1997 so fits into the Britpop timeline!
The three bands from the era that I think best define what was going on if, like me, you were part of things are The Flamingoes, Mantaray and Soda. By 1993 I was buying records on an almost daily basis, going to gigs almost every other night, travelling to London every month to buy clothes from Merc and go to Blow Up, dancing the night away at The Egg every Friday and generally behaving like I was the ace bloody face. Those three bands felt like they belonged to me, sure they released records and they got attention in the press but they felt like mine.
“Some Pop” by Mantaray is still one of the great albums of the era and “Hide and Seek” from it is a cracker…
Soda, alongside Lick, are THE great lost band of the era. Their recently released “lost” album “Artificial Flavour” is the sound of Britpop in eleven songs. “One Sweet Lie” is the b-side to their 1996 single “Dragging You Into My Dreams”…
I’ve written a lot about The Flamingoes since I started the Mild Mannered Army and I’ve spoken with James and Jude on the podcast more than once so, for me, none of their songs are “obscurities” but they are probably another band that boys who think the Manic Street Preachers are that “.,..we only wanna get drunk” band then their album “Plastic Jewels” really is an obscurity.
This list could go on and on (ahem) with Rialto, Elcka, Bennett, Pimlico, the new wave of new wavers and more but, importantly, anything included comes from a very short period of time, five years. March 1992 (“Popscene” by Blur) through to the summer of 1997 (“D’You Know What I Mean” by Oasis) and that’s it. Blink and you missed it…except it was impossible to miss.