Wednesday, 30 April 2014

BRITPOP

The notional twentieth anniversary of Britpop seems to have unleashed what I can only describe as a tsunami of rage about Britpop, which is strange (when I say tsunami, a bit of blog grumbling and you know, a few tweets).

It's interesting that something as inauspicious as the twentieth anniversary has led to this, as despite 6music having a special week, it's not exactly apparent what's sparked the grumbling beyond a twentieth anniversary of Blur's Parklife that hasn't officially been marked in any way (in fact weirdly I was looking at the vinyl section on Blur's online shop and guess what the only record was that they didn't have in stock IT WAS PARKLIFE).

I can't help but think distance has led to a sort of mass misremembering of things as worse then they were (there's probably some sort of brilliant name for this sort of thing), because grumbles about Britpop being an abomination that set music back don't really gel with my memory of growing up through the time. Here are some things I remember about Britpop.


  • Nobody ever called it Britpop. I know it was called it in the press, but I genuinely don't remember anybody at school (I was at school)  ever saying they were into 'Britpop'. In fact I distinctly remember we called it 'indie'. because I remember being confused by the term given than none of the bands seemed to be on independent labels and I'd only really just found out what a record label was and now I was all confused.
  • The bands didn't seem very similar. At the most crashingly obvious level this manifested itself as the Blur-Oasis dichotomy, but really there were a pretty diverse array of bands. The mythical Britpop whipping boy act is a sort of monstrous chimera of Blur's attitude, Cast's music and Oasis's fans, but those acts had very little do with each other on any level - if they'd really had anything in common surely everybody would have been into all of them.
  • Indie music was just popular, is all. I saw Pulp, Blur, the Manics and Radiohead play gigs at the NEC within the space of about a year... clearly people were more into 'that sort' of music at that time than five years earlier, but what was 'that sort' of music? Ironically I'm sure grunge had probably done a huge amount to help, insofar as both mainstream media and public were primed to be receptive to rock acts.
  • It wasn't THAT popular. If you look at the Sixties charts, 'guitar music' was almost infinity times more popular than it was in the '90s. I mean, in the really, truly breakthrough sense, how many Britpop songs had the success of your average big pop smash? Wonderwall... maybe Don't Look Back In Anger... Country House... maybe Girl & Boys.... Common People... that's kind of it, really, period associated stuff like A Design for Life and Firestarter... 'proper' pop acts still dominated the charts.
  • Other people were fine. People talk about the time as if it was all beery dickhead lads, and maybe I was too young to see the full horror, but to suggest there was some sort of meaningful link between lairy laddishness and Britpop is absurd. More idiots liked indie then than like indie now because indie then was more popular than indie now.
  • Chris Evans would have happened anyway. I've seen it suggested time and time again that Britpop was somehow reponsible for TFI Friday and the like, but the fact is that radio and telly will just tailor itself to whatever's popular at the time, if nose flute music had been the biggest thing in 1996 then the gibbering Radio 1 idiots would have been into nose fluting.
  • It was just s silly buzzword. Britpop was just a douchebag word the press used to describe indie music for a bit, then got bored. People talk about Oasis's Be Here Now ending Britpop, but what does that even mean? Nothing really changed about their music, and bands like the Stereophonics had mass success afterwards, and if they're not Britpop I don't know what is. Blur's self-titled album came out almost half a year before Be Here Now, and isn't regarded as a Britpop record, but their new sound was no more or less similar to the majority of their peers than The Great Escape had been. 


In conclusion, it was fine, people talking about it like hellfire was raining from the sky should probably have a good rummage through their memories.

Monday, 28 April 2014

THE MIDLANDS

I recently read Bang in the Middle, a jovial book about the Midlands by a colleague of mine, Robert Shore. I would like to think I'd have read it anyway, as he's a good writer and it's a subject I'd like to think I'm interested in; in the advent two very clear reasons for my reading it were 1) he gave me a free copy because 2) he interviewed me for it and my name's in the credits and a few things I said about Birmingham are in there, albeit attributed to somebody else (for sound literary reasons, alas).

I enjoyed it, because it was funny, and had lots of facts, and I really like facts. But there was something more to it... it stirred a sense of I don't know... regionalist fervour? I think the book makes case for not only the injustice of received wisdoms about the 'north-south divide', but also the fact there's something quite insidious about it. Essentially I think he makes a pretty good case for saying 'the north' is a sort of oppositional construct, largely propagated by the peoples of Yorkshire and Lancashire, generally used as a badge of pride and means of suggesting that people from elsewhere are inferior. 

The thing is, nobody actually calls themselves 'a southerner', or if they do it's purely a geographical reference, it has nothing to do with cultural identity. They might call themselves a Londoner, which I think is what northern patriots really mean when they're talking about the south, but I do feel like the dichotomy isn't so much based on simplification as a sort of willful dismissal of the rest of the country that's actually quite callous. Talking about a 'north-south' divide implicitly denies the importance of not only the Midlands, but also the South East (it was interesting that the first comment on a Guardian article about Cornwall's recently granted minority status dismissively stated 'Many other places in the UK are far more qualified by the criteria you set out here. Yorkshire just for one' - a statement that, at the very least, blithely dismissed Cornwall's manifestly distinct and rich heritage as an irrelevance); the fens; a lot of places that you don't really mean when you say 'the south', depending upon how much you want to subdivide. I don't necessarily mean this to be a grumble about 'northerners', but I think 'southerners' tend not to think about the other peoples of these isles very much, while 'northerners' think about 'southerners' quite a lot. (I suppose there's an irony to the fact that the things people in Manchester don't like about London are probably the same things people in London don't like about London).

Am I going anywhere with this? Not really: I think having read the book I then got sensitive to a couple of southerner baiting comments made on Facebook and Buzzfeed, because they seemed so inherently crudely dismissive of where I'm from (as well as I guess Bristol). I think where once I accepted the north-south divide as a misunderstanding, now I've come to view it as quite an unpleasant thing and - and you can tell this to the king of the north and the queen of the south - I SHALL NO LONGER BE SUBSCRIBING TO IT.

I realise I've not really made a rousing defense of the Midlands' validity here, partly because you should totally check out Roberts' book, partly because much as the Midlands has many wonderful things going for it (Shakespeare, industrial revolution, landscapes, that red panda) its validity isn't a question of achievements - it should be viewed as valid because people live in it, and because it exists.