The so called ‘Britopop era’ is celebrating some sort of anniversary this year. This widespread self-confidence and hedonism spread like a virulent flu bug down the streets of Great Britain, eventually stopping on the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street as ‘Cool Britannia’.
The term irritates me and I’m not too sure why, perhaps it is just the lazy journalism aspect of describing a phase in music, without any great explanation as to why there was a peak in a certain type of guitar music in the nineties. It was Loaded magazine, football, Blair and Britishness all rolled into one, with a hundred or so mainly pedestrian bands, who were snapped up by labels that for the most part were going nowhere. It was like an ill thought out British Tourist Board campaign. I remember appearing on News at Ten on the week of the ridiculous so called ‘Battle of Britpop’, the race to the number one slot between Oasis’s ‘Roll With It’ and Blur’s ‘Country House’.
Usually this sort of hyped crap was reserved for the Christmas number one tussle around the tinsel. This musical arm wrestle between the two most victorious purveyors of the genre was for me a low point. Although looking back through those rose tinted spectacles, it’s rather impressive to think that in between the more weighty world matters such as the Serbs’ heavy weapons pounding of Sarajevo, the Rwanda massacre, a cease fire in Northern Ireland, American forces in the Persian Gulf and South Africa holding its first inter racial national election, the news channels saw fit to report on the UK music scene. The major record companies would give their left arm for this kind of coverage these days.
Unlike the British Invasion of America from 1964 onwards, it did not travel across the Atlantic this time. The states saw this second coming as rude, brash, unimaginative and worst of all it was accompanied by bad teeth. Many lay claim to the term, rather like a bunch of over eager students trying to impress their tutor by sticking their hand up first and shouting “me!” Its origins go back as far as 1987. The respected journalist John Robb, a writer for the much lamented weekly music rag ‘Sounds’, first used the term to describe the La’s, who were supported by the Stone Roses and according to John he judged that they were going to be the band that led the northern revival of guitar bands. The week prior, his paper ran a cover story on the new British punk underground and tagged it Britcore. He ran his piece, describing this ‘would be northern uprising’ as Britpop, a word he had used as far back as the early eighties in the fanzine ‘Rox’.
On my show this Saturday, by pure coincidence, I talk to two artists who were in the thick of it. Stephen Jones of Babybird, hit home with a couple of great singles during this period, ‘Goodnight’ and ‘You’re Gorgeous’. I asked him if he was lumped into this scene “I was never part of that. The good thing about ‘You’re Gorgeous’ for instance in 1996, was that is was never regarded as such. Britpop was made up by the media. The thing that I remember most is the video for ‘Country House’, more than the song itself. Blur came across as these cheeky cockneys with page three models, it was all very strange”.
Simon Fowler, the lead singer/songwriter with Ocean Colour Scene, is in session with his new project ‘Merrymouth’. He is out playing folk as a three piece as we speak and has a new album out called ‘Wenlock Hill’. When we spoke there was not one mention of the dreaded ‘B’ word, just a troubadour going about his business of making music on his own terms. This got me thinking, after this diatribe about a genre of British music and how it is described does not matter one iota. If one kid makes the quantum leap from the dole queue to signing a little deal with a label that backs him and his songs because he was inspired by Oasis and Blur, then we should accept it as a positive action and just forget the frivolous, fluffy, lightweight descriptions and just get on with supporting new music.
I also talk to Morecambe band ‘The Heartbreaks’, a young band with a new album entitled rather fittingly ‘We May Yet Stand A Chance’. I rest my case your honour.
Pete Mitchell is joined this Saturday by Stephen Jones (Babybird), Simon Fowler of Ocean Clour Scene, and Merrymouth and The Heartbreaks at 10pm on Absolute Radio. Listen here