1. Bring Down the Birds – Herbie Hancock
2. Just When You’re Thinking Things Over – The Charlatans
3. Anesthesia – Luna
4. Breather – Chapterhouse
5. Something and Nothing – The Wedding Present
6. Stroll On – The Yardbirds
7. Lamento – Antonio Carlos Jobim
8. The Nile – A Guy Called Gerald
9. Percolator – Stereolab
10. The Game of Eyes – Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci
11. Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Saint Etienne
12. Sick and Tired – The Cardigans
13. Do the Strand – Roxy Music
14. The Joy Circuit – Gary Numan
15. Moonlit Lungs – Sandy Dirt
16. Underwear – Pulp
17. Queen Bitch – David Bowie
18. Across the Universe (Wildlife Version) – The Beatles
19. Tere Siva Duniya Mein – Nahid Akhtar
20. Token Collecting – The Pastels
21. So it Goes – The Verve
22. Planet Telex – Radiohead
23. Sugar Kane – Sonic Youth
24. Twisterella – Ride
25. F=GmM(moon)/R2 – Man or Astro-man?
26. Rozmaryn – Hana A Petr Ulrychovi
27. Bitter Sweet Salsa – Herb Alpert
28. Watermelon Man (live) – Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan
27. Bitter Sweet Salsa – Herb Alpert
28. Watermelon Man (live) – Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan
29. The Ipcress File – Roland Shaw and his Orchestra
30. Pinto’s New Car – Money Mark
There are many ways to while away the hours in Hounslow in the year 1995. Charity shops abound, and are well stocked: Fred Perry tracksuit tops, tight fitting T-shirts, brown leather jackets with collars courtesy of the 1970s, Gabicci polo shirts in man-made fabrics – all vintage and all liable to attract the wrong sort of attention when out and about. Take a wander around the Treaty Centre with the guy with the indie tapes, who will then proceed to take moody pictures of you peering into mirrors and standing around in elevators with the chap who introduced you to Sarah Records. Let the lad who lent you The Sound of the Suburbs pay for a few games of snooker at Rileys off Bell Road, which you will invariably lose. Hang out in the Treaty Centre cafe drinking cheap tea with the chap who introduced you to Sarah Records, the lad who lent you The Sound of the Suburbs and the friend who passed out in Debenhams, or even the girl who lives across the road! Take a football down to Inwood Park – maybe a couple of cans if it’s the weekend. Go to The Rifleman to play pool with anyone other than the guy with the indie tapes, who doesn’t drink much and gets restless sitting around in pubs. Banter with the landlord, who is under the impression that we might be local band The Bluetones, may ensue.
The cohabitant from Brighton had bolted back to Brighton and the guy with the indie tapes offered to fill the vacuum. We employed the same tactic as the year before, but batted a little straighter: we asked around for three bedroom houses or flats, and failing that for somewhere with four evenly sized rooms. We would then gave tapes guy the option of moving in with us, should the property be to his satisfaction, which it more than likely would be.
And so it came to pass. We found a terraced house with a little more character than the last, in middle of Hounslow town centre, around the back of Argos, opposite The Rifleman, down from the rear entrance to Marks & Spencer, and only a few minutes’ walk from the bus station and thus The Chariot. The guy with the tapes took what was ostensibly the living room at the front of house, whereas I took the territory at the back beside the kitchen. The lad who lent me The Sound of the Suburbs was upstairs-front and the Cornish friend who swooned in Debenhams upstairs-back next to the bathroom. There was a pipe that travelled up through my room into that of my Cornish friend that we tapped to alert each other to our awakened states, a signal to open our windows to discuss exit strategies. The guy with the indie tapes was best avoided early in the day: rarely hungover, and with boundless energy, he could be very demanding of one's attention.
The former cohabitant from Brighton arrived bearing records: Chop Suey Rock - Songs about the Orient Vol. 1, Decade of Instrumentals: 1959~1967, Rare Tunes Chapter One “From Latin… to Jazz Dance, Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder by the James Taylor Quartet, and Intravenous Television Continuum by Man or Astro-man?. He also had a tape to give to me: the soundtrack to the film Blow Up. Main Title from Blow Up lasts 1 minute and 41 seconds. Short songs introduce playlists better than long ones do.
Just When You’re Thinking Things Over by The Charlatans is a rip off of Torn and Frayed by the Rolling Stones. I didn’t know this at the time but when I purchased Exile on Main Street some years later it was immediately apparent. Just When You’re Thinking Things Over was released on the 7th August 1995, exactly one week prior to Country House by Blur and Roll with It buy Oasis. The kids down at JFKs on Union Street, Plymouth, went mad for all of this, but Just When You’re Thinking Things Over is a much better tune than either Country House or Roll with It, in spite of its plagiarism.
Luna was the group Dean Wareham put together after dissolving Galaxie 500. Lunapark was played a lot during that first term at Hanworth Road. I say ‘term’ but actually I was on a sabbatical: I’d semi-flunked my sophomore year, swapped American Studies for English, but wasn’t due to recommence university until February. So I spent a lot of time in the room of the guy with tapes – the only room with a sofa and a television – drinking tea and sifting through his back-catalogue with whoever was around – thence Breather by Chapterhouse and thence Something and Nothing by The Wedding Present. I’d already been beguiled by Bizarro earlier in the year, so it was no surprise when I fell for George Best, or that I then bought the Mini EP on its release in January.
The soundtrack to Blow Up is mainly the work of Herbie Hancock but also includes a contribution by The Yardbirds, the hard, psychedelic rock of Stroll On. Perhaps this dichotomy explains Britpop’s bizarre fascination with easy-listening jazz and orchestral pop, exemplified by acts like The Divine Comedy and My Life Story and the canonisation of Burt Bacharach as some sort of musical saint. I didn’t have much time for The Divine Comedy or My Life Story but I didn’t mind a bit of easy listening. While the guy with the tapes bought second-hand Herb Alpert records and Bruton Music from charity shops, I reverted to my parents’ record collection to see what I could find, and found Wave by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It might seem odd to follow on from this with A Guy Called Gerald but it makes the transition from the ‘60s loungecore of Jobim to the ‘avant-garde pop’ of Stereolab a smoother one.
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci’s Game of Eyes off of the charming album Bwyd Time, which the guy with the taps had purchased in the summer. This is not the sort of music that the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records much appreciated, but was right up the street of the friend who lent me The Sound of the Suburbs. Saint Etienne was another product of Mr Tapes’ archives, but it was Mr. Sound of the Suburbs who provided The Cardigans, his first contribution to one of my playlists in some while.
What the hell was ‘Romo’? Whatever it was, the guy with the indie tapes was quite into it and insisted that the former cohabitant from Brighton and I accompany him to Club Skinny in Camden to find out. Apart from that one night – and I barely remember that – I don’t recall hearing anything directly associated with this Melody Maker championed scene, but we did suddenly find ourselves listening to Telekon by Gary Numan, For Your Pleasure by Roxy Music and Hunky Dory by David Bowie, all delivered by the guy with the tapes.
In the autumn of 1995, Blur, Oasis and Pulp each released albums, their third, second and fifth respectively. Of these three records, the only one that was played with any degree of regularity at 27 Hanworth Road, with woodchip literally on every wall, was Pulp’s Different Class. Oasis’s (What's the Story) Morning Glory? – possibly the most overrated album of its time – was ubiquitous: heard on the radio, television, in bars, out of cars, in shops. Blur’s The Great Escape was the oddest of the three. Almost impenetrable, I didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t consider it to be a bad record but I didn’t like that Blur had all of a sudden embraced sportswear so couldn’t muster the required enthusiasm to persevere with it.
It is often assumed that The Verve, Radiohead and Suede were actively part of the Britpop scene. They have in fact been affiliated in retrospect. All three groups were doing their own thing before the term was invented. When it was, they did not affect an about face, a change of musical direction or an artistic reinvention of any kind. The accusation that any of them adapted their sound to exploit the fashion cannot be made. Only Radiohead somehow managed to shrug off the association, but whenever a magazine runs a retrospective piece on the Britpop movement, the mugs of Messrs Ashcroft, Yorke and Anderson will more often than not present themselves amongst the accompanying montage of images.
The opposite might be said of Stereolab and Saint Etienne, despite them understanding better the ‘essence’ of Britpop – 1960s hairdos, the films of Michael Caine, vintage synthesizers, La Nouvelle Vague – than many of the more visible protagonists. Stereolab supported Pulp on much of their 1995 tour, whilst Saint Etienne were profiled alongside Suede, The Auteurs, Denim and Pulp in that April edition of Select magazine that all but prophesied Britpop’s coming. Stereolab covered the theme tune to Get Carter; Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs had the right hair. Nonetheless, time appears to have freed both groups from Britpop’s shackles, probably to their advantage. As with Radiohead, they have amassed bodies of work that have been allowed to stand on their own merit.
Then there are groups that were willingly subsumed into the movement having previously been associated with entirely different genres: bands like The Charlatans, Lush, The Boo Radleys, maybe Ride. I’m guessing the reason why, at least in part, is because they integrated socially and were party to the empty decadence that came to typify the Britpop scene. (How PJ Harvey managed to be both involved – she participated in the BBC 2 showcase Britpop Now – yet completely detached from the very notion of ‘British Pop’ is a testament to her musical genius.)
When I’d been around to the old house of Mr Tapes in May, he’d impressed me with The Verve’s new single, This is Music. Now he had their latest album, A Northern Soul, an expansive work anathema to the poppy urbanism that typified Britpop. The band’s image was shabbier – an unbuttoned Lacoste rather than a buttoned up Fred Perry – and Ashcroft looked to be afflicted in some way or other; he claimed he could fly. I explored some of The Verve’s earlier work, including a live version of Gravity Grave, the single A Man Called Sun, and the album A Storm in Heaven. Despite the purported psychedelic sound of their debut LP, it is in places really rather poppy – Ashcroft’s vocal presence is probably the edgiest thing about it. This is not a criticism but the sonic progress evident on A Northern Soul was an improvement of sorts. Nick McCabe’s guitar work is more expressive, more measured, and the overall sound more textured than was fashionable at the time. The drum work is of a higher order entirely. The Verve had more in common with Radiohead, who also eschewed the cheap thrills of Britpop for something more ambitious. I’d contest that A Northern Soul has the edge over Radiohead’s The Bends – an unpopular view – but both albums have dated far better than the myriad of Britpop fodder released around the same time.
Yet Ashcroft would ultimately succumb to the fascistic elements of Britpop just like the rest, for what was Britpop if not a syncretistic, quasi-fascistic movement? Consider the evidence: just as Italian Fascism eschewed peace, Britpop repudiated both the ethos of independent music and the concept of ‘selling out’. Rather than minding his own business, self-appointed Britpop commander-in-chief Damon Albarn proclaimed that he was all about resisting grunge and challenging the supposed banalities of American indie rock. Like National Socialism, Britpop simultaneously looked backward to an idealised past – a cult of tradition* doffing its cap to the 1960s – yet regarded itself as relevant and current, rejecting the perceived nihilism and degeneracy of the contemporary indie scene and creative liberalism that had hitherto typified the genre. Albarn admitted so himself when he professed that, “The whole thing about pop music is that… you’re ripping off as many people as you possibly can, and the trick is just to listen to the right people.”
Essentially a populist movement, Britpop embraced youth, flirted with violence and promoted masculinity (the Gallagher brothers presenting themselves as a physical force to be reckoned with; Damon Albarn getting into football). It exploited a fear of difference by encouraging its followers to dress a certain way, shedding more obscure sartorial references – desert boots and blazers – and replacing them with items of clothing that appealed to the ‘man on the street’ – trainers and anoraks. A looser fit was also appropriated. (Jarvis Cocker managed to circumvent this problem by making a virtue of his vestiary eccentricity, qualifying him as Britpop’s very own Herman Goring.)
Just as Hitler and many of his cronies were wacked out on barbiturates and amphetamines, the taking of heroin, ecstasy and cocaine became de rigueur, supplanting what had previously been a minor association with drugs like speed, acid and marijuana. The film Trainspotting – essentially an extended trailer for the Britpop movement – featured a drug addict as its protagonist. Those involved don’t like to admit it, but the use of heroin soared off the back of that film. Members of Elastica, Blur, Suede and Marion all confessed to taking the stuff, others to ingesting prodigious quantities of cocaine. This mindset perpetuates the idea that everybody can become a hero, just like Ewan McGregor/Renton.
The Beatles Anthology documentary series was first broadcast in November 1995. The only television at 27 Hanworth Road wasn’t up to much, so tapes guy and I went to the house of the Scottish comrade who resembled the ‘control freak’ from the Volvo advert to watch it on his much bigger set. A period of heavy Beatles rotation followed: “The White Album”, 1967-1970 (aka “The Blue Album”), and Rarities, wherefrom I obtained the World Wildlife version of Across the Universe. ‘Take 7’, as it’s also known, begins with the sound of tweeting birds and incorporates the backing vocals of two teenage girls who were found loitering outside the Beatles’ studio on the day it was recorded. Apart from that, it’s just a slightly speeded up version of the original without the strings.
As well as lending me his copy of Rarities (which on vinyl is itself quite rare), the Scottish comrade also introduced me to the culinary delights of curry. He didn’t mean to – he just wanted something else to drink – but we ended up sharing a chicken madras and a few pints at the Khyber Pass after hours. My Cornish friend was quite taken back when I suggested we make our own curry, but very willing, and it became a semi-regular thing, normally on a Saturday when the guy with the tapes was out of town and we felt relaxed enough to commandeer the kitchen. The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records soon got wind of our new ritual and would begin to call around late in the afternoon looking for a free feed – he even bought us a large ‘curry pot’ from a charity shop to facilitate his extra portion. To get us in the mood we’d put on the Nahid Akhtar tape that the house had gifted the guy who collapsed in Debenhams for his 21st birthday. Nahid Akhtar was a Pakistani playback singer and the music on the tape derives from various Urdu and Punjabi film scores, Tere Siva Duniya Mein being my favourite.
The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records had aborted college by this stage and his lifestyle had become peripatetic. I don’t know where he kept his records but he was able to lend me a couple of The Pastels’ albums after I took a shine to their latest, Mobile Safari, which was loaned to me by someone else entirely. This in turn led me to the Sandy Dirt EP, a collaboration between Stephen McRobbie and Katrina Mitchell from The Pastels and Al Larsen of Some Velvet Sidewalk.
The guy with the indie tapes’ contribution to this playlist probably stands at something like 40%, which is comparable to the impact he had upon The Sounds of Baden Pearce. Sonic Youth was him, as was Ride and Man or Astro-man?. He didn’t own a record player, but the Hana A Petr Ulrychovi LP was also his and so too was The Return Of James Bond In Diamonds Are Forever And Other Secret Agent Themes by Roland Shaw and his Orchestra, from which The Ipcress File theme was taken. But Pinto’s New Car by Money Mark wasn’t from him: that was from a girl who lived across the road, as was Radiohead.
Our year at Hanworth cannot be adequately conveyed musically via one compilation alone – not even with the addition of bonus tracks, which I added retrospectively as and when I was able to acquire digital copies. Rather than just being something heard at parties, or maybe through headphones, I began listening to dance music in the home. For this reason, I felt the need to complete a sister compilation entitled the Hanworth of Heroes, which never existed at the time but does fairly encapsulate what we listened to:
1. Saint Angel – Goldie
2. The Reno – A Guy Called Gerald
3. Shuffle – Dave Angel
4. Turbulence – Sonic Solution
5. X-Trak 1 – Percy X
6. Purple Road – DJ Misjah & DJ Tim
7. Mathematics – Barada
8. Ecsta Deal – Emmanuel Top
9. Break and Enter – The Prodigy
10. Chemical Beats – Chemical Brothers
11. Pearl’s Girl – Underworld
12. The Girl with the Sun in her Head – Orbital
The first six tracks were provided by my brother. He copied the whole of Timeless by Goldie and Black Secret Technology by A Guy Called Gerald for me, and the others appeared on a mixtape he compiled under my direction – he played a variety of tunes he thought I might like and I told him which ones I did. Tracks 7 and 8 came from a cassette entitled Journeys by DJ: 60 Minute non-stop dance mix by Justin Robertson that came free with Select Magazine, which I would often put on after a night down the pub, with people gathered in my room. I purchased Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy myself, the Chemical Brothers and Underworld records were recorded off the girl across the road, and my brother bought me the Orbital album In Sides for my birthday.
The bigger picture was this: the dance scene and the indie scene were converging. The Prodigy was perceived to be punk rock, at least in spirit. The Chemical Brothers had invited Tim Burgess from The Charlatans to add vocals to their single Life is Sweet and would ask Noel Gallagher to contribute to their next album. Everybody was into the Wu-Tang Clan all of a sudden. Big Beat, year of the trainer, Loaded magazine, pure hedonism. And with it went all notions of political correctness, artistic endeavour and integrity. Sarah Records had folded in the summer 1995 in an act that appears retrospectively symbolic.
[*In an essay entitled ‘Eternal Fascism’ the author Umberto Eco proposed 14 ‘qualities’ that could be said to typify fascism, which included the cult of tradition, the rejection of Modernism, fear of difference and that everyone is educated to be a hero. While we’re at it, we might also wish to consider an appeal to a frustrated middle class and selective populism.]