Honouring the Britpop generation and its leading lights.
According to this here internet, I was ten years old when the Battle Of Britpop was taking place. By that I mean, its happening in August 1995 would put me at ten years old; I haven’t clicked onto a site that’s giving me information about my own childhood or anything.
Said Battle was taking place between Oasis and Blur; the former, a bunch of unkempt ruffians wearing sunglasses, flicking Vs and generally not looking like they were happy to be filmed and photographed; the latter, a much more pleasant-looking bunch of mates. At the age of ten I was obviously too young to place any sort of context on these contrasting images seen on breakfast TV without the benefit of the music to back them up – all I did was decide that the nice looking people should be the ones who won this war for the simple fact that they looked like they gave a toss.
At that impressionable age, the mainstream press had me believing that only these two bands existed in the entire country, such was their place at the forefront of the strange genre known as Britpop. But to me it isn’t a genre so much as a mood – some sort of good feeling born of frustration (which is a James song released just a bit too early to be Britpop) where the country starts getting its cultural shit together while the night is darkest before the dawn of whatever age of enlightenment is upon them. (Remember how good most American rock music was during Bush Jr’s reign? Kind of like that.)
The baseline of Britpop was spiky, jangly guitars playing catchy hooks, led by charismatic singers and songwriters hitting it big on the back of the burgeoning British identity; so naturally the first thing most of them immediately did was try to crack America.
While I must confess ownership of Blur’s Best Of many years later, and a current tendency to go mental for the right Oasis riff at the right time of night in the right pub (Fucking In The Bushes or The Hindu Times, 2am, Fab Café), neither of them appealed to me at the time as I wasn’t even really into music at the time. But like most teenage punks who grow out of baggy shorts and into a snug pair of cords, I eventually picked up on the rest of Britpop during my descent into indie music – most notably when I went to study in Manchester in 2004. This was, of course, the home of not only Oasis but also the precursor to Britpop culture and the base of the swell of national pride that kicked off with the wildly successful football team and the rise of the common people (not those ones, they come later) – Madchester.
That was another layer of conflict in the Battle For Britpop that my ten-year-old mind didn’t pick up on: the great North-South divide. And although I did originally go with what turned out to be the privileged art school set from London, it was the Manchester lot who wore their heart on their sleeve and played the ‘gritty’ card that a miner’s grandson like me should’ve spotted from the start. Listening to their rival offerings all these years later, the squeaky-clean production and sing-alongability on the likes of ‘Country House’ and ‘Parklife’ are a far cry from the early Oasis stuff which has much less of an inclusivity to it; us Northerners keep to their own, you’d think.
In the end, Blur won that chart showdown, but went on to alter their sound completely in favour of something…well, less British-sounding (Frank Black and Kurt Cobain’s estate should be getting royalties on Song 2) while Oasis took full grasp of the British sound to resounding success worldwide.
By the time the public had been whacked with the double-whammy of Ginger Spice’s Union Jack dress and Noel Gallagher palling it up with the Prime Minister, we knew Britpop was done. And while nobody called Albarn or Gallagher can say they were truly chuffed with the whole typecasting thing, a lot of bands released some bloody great music under the Britpop banner. It wasn’t until years later that I gave Sleeper another listen after having read an amazing book by their singer called Goodnight Steve McQueen (not too ironically about a bloke trying to make it as a rock star by going with whatever’s cool at the time) and found three albums’ worth of gorgeous riffs, lyrics and vocals to play on repeat. (Incidentally, I also highly recommend Louise Wener’s memoir Just For One Day as a great barometer of the Great British Boom period.)
Which brings me finally to another band whose song was today voted the greatest Britpop anthem; celebrating 20 years since the whole crazy thing began. In the survey to find BBC Radio 6 Music’s Favourite Britpop Anthem you’ll see a dead heat between the two titans with a brace of songs each in the top ten; Oasis are in third and fourth (with Wonderwall very surprisingly edged out by …Anger) while Blur occupy fifth and seventh. But twenty years on from the feelgood hits of the mid-decade, it seems that the British public has had some time to reflect on the bands’ recent behaviour – the Gallagher Brothers won’t be having Christmas dinner together any time soon while Blur have the occasional gig back together – and voted for someone else instead; a band who started way before Britpop did and broke up a few years after – when Things had not only Got Better, but started getting worse again.
Take it away Jarvis, you talented sod.