The ‘halcyon’ days of Britpop by Reza Mills


As someone who was born in the late 70’s (‘79 to be exact), I was there at the right time and  remember the hype, furore and all round ‘excitement’ surrounding this thing called Britpop. Back in 1995 I bought my first and only copy of the NME and on the front-page was the now legendary Blur vs Oasis headline. It was the battle to see who could reach No 1. (It turned out to be Blur with Country House if you’re interested or had previously lived under a rock). I remember buying some Britpop related albums at the time, such as Blur’s Parklife, Supergrass’ I Should Coco and Pulp’s Different Class. I also if my memory serves me correctly, remember buying The Bluetones’ Expecting to Fly (ok we all make mistakes). In a dark moment I even contemplated purchasing Bryan Adams’ 18 til’ I die, thankfully I saw the light and went instead for Terrorvision’s Regular Urban Survivors, an infinitely better…er…wait that was shit as well. Fuck.

Back in the 90’s the Internet was still a new format, in fact its’ easy to forget that the internet has only been around since about 1994, especially as it’s’ become synonymous with our everyday lives; everything from banking, social networking, job applications and shopping. It has changed our lives beyond recognition and as someone who teaches it, I am often astonished that there are still sections of the community who either have had little to no contact with it or who consciously choose not to have anything to do with it.

Anyway I digress, back in the 90s’ we lived in a far simpler age. Pre X-Factor, Pre Britain’s Got Talent, hell even pre-Pop Idol. We didn’t have the wonders of Myspace, Youtube and Spotify to help expose us to new music. We had to take a risk and this meant either buying aforementioned copies of the NME, Melody Maker and the much underrated Select or doing what I did, gathering together your hard earned pennies and getting down to Our Price and taking a risk, which I did on many an occasion. Sometimes it paid off with Black Flag, Soundgarden and Black Sabbath, other times it would prove disappointing as it would eventually with Britpop. But that was one of the joys of the pre-download age, many a time I would buy a band’s CD based on the artwork. Kids these days don’t know what they missed.

Britpop was dominating everything and I being young and impressionable bought into the hype. This Britpop phase didn’t last long however and as soon as I heard Master of Puppets by Metallica and Voivod’s Killing Technology I was a fully-fledged metal head and remain so to this day (more or less, for better or worse). My brief love affair with Britpop fell by the wayside and I cringe at some of the records in my collection, so much so that I soon traded them in at what used to be called Scorpion Records down in High Wycombe where I lived for a lot of my early life. Even now, after nearly 20 years, I’m still embarrassed at the thought of my gormless teenage-self bouncing up and down to the likes of ‘Parklife’ and ‘Common People’.

You see here’s the thing, I have been on a music journey since about the age of 16 and have embraced a lot of different genres from Krautrock to Free Jazz, Hardcore Punk, the Avant-Garde and part of my musical explorations have led me to the underground scenes that existed before Britpop, one of these being  Grunge. One of the major reasons given to the importance and necessity of Britpop was that it helped wrestle control away from the Americans and towards a more Brit centric musical focus. For me this is a pretty lamentable justification. Good music is good music, it makes little to no difference (at least to me) where its’ authors are from, they could come from Timbuktu, but if the music is decent then that’s all I care about. Britpop was solely about reviving the spirit of The Who, Beatles, Kinks and The Small Faces with exclusively British lyrical matter. Music was becoming interesting and inventive; you only needed to look what was happening in America as well as The UK. Hardcore punk had led to Alternative Rock with bands like The Wipers, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and the sadly overlooked Die Kreuzen. In turn these bands would begat the nascent Grunge scene happening in Washington State with bands like Green River, The U-Men, Melvins, Soundgarden and Tad. These bands took their musical cues from Hardcore bands such as Black Flag and mixed this up with The Stooges, MC5 and Black Sabbath. What emerged was a truly unique and exciting sound that was the real sound of Grunge, not fucking Live and Candlebox! On our side of the Atlantic there were the shoegazers with bands making beautiful ethereal noise in the vein of Sonic Youth with heavy distortion but also with melodies. Music in other words was doing just fine without Britpop. Even more disappointingly was once creative bands such as Lush, Boo Radleys and Ride jettisoning their original sound in a desperate attempt to shift units and stay relevant reduced to selling out by releasing dreadful Britpop orientated efforts that in hindsight shouldn’t have seen the light of day. There were outfits that got lumped into Britpop who it must be said I have far more time for such as the progressive Mansun and the cutting social observations of Luke Haines and The Auteurs, Outfits that to my ears were worlds apart from the likes of Blur, Suede and Oasis. In summation, Britpop had about as much impact on me as Madchester (that won’t make me many friends), none at all.