1. Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins
2. Brassneck – The Wedding Present
3. She’s So High – Blur
4. That’s Entertainment – The Jam
5. Inbetweener – Sleeper
6. Lipgloss – Pulp
7. Brenda – The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
8. Itchycoo Park – Small Faces
9. Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones
10. Cucaraca Macara – Harvey Averne Barrio Band
11. Teenage Kicks – Undertones
11. Teenage Kicks – Undertones
12. Deny – The Clash
13. A Morning Odyssey – The Sea Urchins
14. Try – Razorcuts
15. Rock & Roll – The Velvet Underground
14. Try – Razorcuts
15. Rock & Roll – The Velvet Underground
16. Maybe the People Would be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale – Love
17. She’s so Loose – Supergrass
18. Science Friction – Orbital
18. Science Friction – Orbital
19. Sour Times – Portishead
20. Sing – Blur
21. I Don’t Know – Teenage Fanclub
22. Starlust – Lush
22. Starlust – Lush
23. Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before – The Smiths
24. Sure to See – 14 Iced Bears
25. Sunflower – The Springfields
26. So Said Kay – The Field Mice
The Treaty Centre presides over Hounslow like a red-bricked monolith – only the vaguely modernist Holy Trinity Church can compete. The Chariot, The Noble Half and The South Western are our pubs of choice, although if we’ve just missed the H37 we’ll stop off for a swift bourbon & coke (easy on the coke) in the Duke of Cambridge on Kingsley Road while we wait for another. The high street has recently been – and only partially – pedestrianised. In spite of this, people continuously get in your way, careering out of Boots without due care or attention. Maybe that’s why we seem to spend so much time in The Noble Half, The Chariot and South Western.
The Chariot (aka ‘The Bobby’) is what’s been termed a ‘flat-roofed pub'. It is not necessarily a description to be taken literally. The appellation is supposed to convey the building’s age, interior decor and its clientele (post-war, brightly lit and pared back, hard drinking). The Chariot does have a flat roof but only if you take into account the office space in between. Like the Treaty Centre, it has a red bricked facade. Inside, there are fake plants, faux Roman busts, large mirrors, paintings of Piccadilly Circus on rain sodden nights, and an actual red telephone box. The people it attracts are a strange mix: students, leather clad rockers, and an assortment of downtrodden locals. The jukebox contains Hot Rocks 1964-1971 by the Rolling Stones. Despite the lighting being a bit on the bright side, it is a wonderful place to drink.
The Noble Half is also flat roofed but its interior is smaller, darker, cosier. Tuesday night is student night, and the many students who reside locally, in shabby semi-detached domiciles with archaic furnishings and neglected gardens, will turn up and take full advantage of the cheap booze. People we know have organised the event and called it ‘Lyfe’. I don’t know why they chose this name or elected to spell it that way.
The South Western on Whitton Road is a more traditional drinking establishment; prodigious fenestrations flanked by faded velvet drapery, the carpet is well worn. Students don’t tend to rent around these parts and it pays to be a little more discreet. We mainly go there to play pool and put money in the jukebox: more Rolling Stones (Jagger warming up in the wings), and the Small Faces too.
Carrington Avenue is a road in a residential area of Hounslow rife with avenues (Argyle, Park, Murray, Grasmere). It lies south of the train line that runs diagonally through Hounslow’s south-eastern corner, as close to Whitton high street than to Hounslow town centre. The feeling is of being on the periphery of something, separate from it.
The South Western, Hounslow
I was supposed to be moving in with a fellow from Cornwall, the lad who lent me The Sound of the Suburbs, and the guy with the indie tapes. I’m not really sure how it happened but the guy with tapes backed out after the rest of us found a house and ‘offered’ him the smallest room. We advertised for someone to fill the void and ended up taking in a first-year student from Brighton, who was our age but had taken a year out to make movies.
The house itself was a bit of a dive, very typical of student accommodation in the Hounslow area: a semi-detached 3 bedroom dwelling with an interior that looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the early 1970s. We had to move the dining room table to the lounge to free up the dining room to be used as a fourth bedroom, which was taken by my Cornish friend. I took upstairs-front, ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ took upstairs-back and the bloke from Brighton the box room adjacent to that. The rent on the whole house was about £700 a month.
Britpop was now recognised as a distinct movement, but the residents of 23 Carrington Avenue perceived it only as a vaguely entertaining sideshow. I’d sooner listen to Smashing Pumpkins or The Wedding Present than the likes of Cast or Shed 7. I hadn’t been sure about Smashing Pumpkins when the guy with the indie tapes played them for me a year ago. I visited the friend who had furnished me with indie music during my A-levels years, now studying in Portsmouth, and, despite not connecting with them emotionally, was converted. Again, indie tapes guy had the Wedding Present’s George Best, but I hadn’t really noticed. The jukebox down the student union introduced me to Brassneck; I borrowed the album Bizarro from a Scottish comrade who resembled the ‘control freak’ from the Volvo advert, and I was suddenly a big fan. The Wedding Present’s guitars are fast, repetitive, and David Gedge’s vocal style is droll, almost deadpan. Both these bands could be described as voluminous, in that guitars – loud guitars – are integral to their sound. Britpop tends not to paint broadly with guitars. Oasis are the exception, and in this respect they’re maybe not really a Britpop band at all. If there is a signature Britpop sound – and you’ll struggle to identify one – then it’s the stabbing, staccato guitars of punk and new wave.
This not to say we were completely disinterested in what was going on. When a chap I’d got to know towards the end of my first year (who would later introduce me to Sarah Records) told me he was going to see Blur at Alexandra Palace, the residents of Carrington Avenue expressed interest. The chap who later introduced me to Sarah Records went on ahead with his associate from Ealing, whilst the rest of – save our Cornish friend who wasn’t up for it – went about the business of trying to find tickets from touts. The situation initially looked rather precarious but we were given hope when one particular tout told us not to, "go home just yet.” We retreated to a pub, played some pool, put on The Jam to get us in the mood, returned about an hour later and managed to buy three tickets at pretty much face value. We missed Corduroy and Supergrass but did arrive in time to see Pulp. For any Blur fans out there, here’s the set-list:
Lot 105 / Sunday Sunday / Jubilee / Tracy Jacks / Magic America / End of A Century / Popscene / Trouble in the Message Centre / She's So High / For Tomorrow / Chemical World / Badhead / There's No Other Way / To The End / Advert – 1st Encore: Supa Shoppa / Mr. Robinson's Quango / Parklife (with Phil Daniels) – 2nd Encore: Girls & Boys / Bank Holiday / This Is a Low.
We were especially pleased when they played She’s So High, which was a favourite at the ‘can nights’ of Carrington Avenue where we listened to Blur’s album Leisure more often than we did Parklife. Can nights started off as a precursor to Friday evenings at the student union but might often happen before a Saturday night at The Chariot, or just randomly in the middle of the week. As the name suggests, they involved buying four cans of cheap lager or bitter – in my case, Castlemaine XXXX – and then sitting around in someone’s room – usually mine – and listening to records, often at great volume.
Can’t remember who picked up a copy of The Jam greatest hits compilation Snap! but I recall taping what of it I could onto the B-side of my Rolling Stones compendium.
According to lead singer Louise Wener’s T-shirt, Sleeper were just ‘another female fronted band’. She had a point – there was Elastica, Salad, Echobelly, and more on the way – but if Wener was trying to utilise irony to suggest Sleeper offered anything different, she was wide of the mark. Inbetweener is a jolly enough single though, as is the B-side, Little Annie.
His ‘n’ Hers had been out since April but I’d invested more time listening to Intro – The Gift Recordings, released the previous October. I eventually bonded with His ‘n’ Hers on a National Express coach back to London for the start of a new term. The coach dropped me off at Heathrow Airport, whereupon I took the tube to Hounslow Central to be greeted by the smell of kebabs and a pint(s) in the Bulstrode with the chap who was to introduce me to Sarah Records, the songs Joyriders, Lipgloss, Have You Seen Her Lately? and Pink Glove among my new favourites.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are chaotic, exultant – punk meets blues. I taped the album Orange off of the guy with the indie tapes. I liked it so much I later bought it on vinyl. The record did well. Despite Britpop, there was still an interest in things like this, in Beck or Pavement or Sonic Youth, even if it wasn’t what was getting the mainstream airplay.
Britpop's fashion sense was confused: a diffuse spread of influences ranging from '60s mod to '70s punk to '80s casual; desert boots, Ben Sherman button-down shirts, roll neck sweaters, Chelsea boots, anything by Fred Perry, Harrington Jackets, anoraks, wide collared shirts in man-made fabrics, flares, Adidas tracksuit tops, old-school trainers. It should be appreciated that wearing this sort of gear could still bid trouble. Having your hair layered, over the ears but not as far as your collar, invited derision. You were neither 'townie' nor 'metaller' and were therefore an object of suspicion. We didn't let it bother us, and tunes like Itchycoo Park and Lazy Sunday by the Small Faces and Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones provided a backdrop to many a Mean Streets moment playing pool in the back room of The South Western, in amongst the locals.
The influence of punk and new wave, although diminished since that new wave of new wave thing imagined by the music press earlier in the year, was still evident. As well as The Jam – propelled to the fore by Paul Weller's status as 'The Modfather’ – groups like The Clash and The Undertones would find their way onto any respectable indie DJ’s set list. Teenage Kicks was ready to go courtesy of The Sound of the Suburbs, and I found The Clash’s first album in a charity shop, probably whilst shopping for second-hand Fred Perry polo shirts and Adidas tracksuit tops in Plymouth.
The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records came around with a stack of records he thought I might like: Storyteller by Razorcuts, Stardust by The Sea Urchins, Loaded by the Velvet Underground, Forever Changes by Love, Singles Going Steady by Buzzcocks, a couple of Field Mice albums and EPs, and a few Sarah Records compilations. The Sarah Records’ records made a firm impression. Formed in Bristol in 1987, the record label was resolutely anti-fashion, anti-London music scene, anti-macho rock, and anti a lot of things I didn’t really understand. This political sensibility was married to a very British sort of aesthetic. But if Britpop fixated on, say, The Italian Job, Get Carter, Blow Up and Quadrophenia as its cinematic archetypes, then Sarah Records channelled more the spirit of Kes, Billy Liar, Annie Hall, or something by Jean-Luc Godard.
In any case, the Sarah Records’ band I took to with zeal was probably the band least representative of that particular scene: The Sea Urchins. In Sam Knee’s excellent indie-fashion retrospective A Scene In Between, he describes The Sea Urchins as veering off, “in a more militant pop-art mod fashion direction.” Think Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds. The Roberts brothers’ vocals were terribly nasal, but if you can embrace that then they’re really worth checking out. (After The Sea Urchins split up they reformed as Delta, exhibiting a bluesier and slightly folkier sort of sound.)
The Razorcuts could have very easily been a Sarah Records act but were instead signed to Creation. I put their album, Storyteller, onto the other side of the cassette I recorded The Sea Urchins’ Stardust, a tape I would often listen to on the two mile walk into college, along Whitton Dene and past Twickenham Ruby Stadium.
Loaded was Velvet Underground’s last ‘proper’ LP (Squeeze was a contractual obligation written and recorded by Doug Yule featuring none of the original group members). Having wasted the opportunity to get to know the band during my first year, I wasn’t well versed in Velvet Underground mythology and so took the record at face value. It's probably the band's most accessible work, and the reason why the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records had hold of it: the idea of him grooving away to the noise-rock of something like Sister Ray, or even Venus in Furs, is barely conceivable.
If 23 Carrington Avenue had a soundtrack then it would be Love’s third album, 1967's Forever Changes. I’d never heard of it before but was quickly won over by its string arrangements, Tijuana horns, Flamenco guitar, and the charms of frontman Arthur Lee. The chap who introduced us to it – who would often join us for our alcoholic ritual – was quite taken aback by our enthusiasm and returned to his record collection to bring us Da Capo, Love's earlier work, which was received almost as willingly. Taste is subjective, to an extent, but I never hesitate to recommend Forever Changes to anyone with the slightest interest in '60s rock music, and I have even been thanked for doing so.
I wonder if I’d seen Supergrass supporting Pulp supporting Blur at Alexandra Palace I would have liked them more. I didn’t have anything against Supergrass per se, but their whole shtick seemed a little silly. Perhaps at almost 20, I was too old? Nevertheless, She’s So Loose is a very, very good tune, and so lip service is paid.
Orbital and Portishead were a portent of things to come: the acceptability – nay, the expectancy – of absorbing genres that beforehand had been perceived as tribally distinct. I came across Dummy by Portishead on the same trip to Portsmouth that had me re-evaluating the Smashing Pumpkins. The hype surrounding the record had yet to transpire, and I didn’t see it coming, but I ended up copying the copy I took back with me to London for a number of friends. The Orbital album was recorded off of my brother in the summer before I left for university but proved less popular amongst my inner circle. Such eclecticism reflected the limitations of Britpop. I’d even taken to digging out a few of my older pre-indie records, much to the delight of our cohabitant from Brighton, who fell for Cucaraca Macara by the Harvey Averne Barrio Band in a big way.
Which leads to the missing pieces of this aural jigsaw: techno, acid, and trance. This sort of music came ‘ready mixed’, be it via the DJ Tsuyoshi cassette somebody copied for me or the tape exploring similar themes compiled by my brother, who was bang into this sort of stuff. It couldn’t very well be assimilated into my other, more identifiable, auditory explorations and so stood alone, to be listened to on my Walkman.
This, along with hard house, was the music that would play at any student house party worth its salt. The idea of a load of kids jumping around in someone’s living to an Oasis record appals me. Fortunately such abominations never came to pass. Carrington’s classics were confined to my bedroom mostly, or my headphones, or around the house of the guy who continued to amass tapes.
By the time we moved out, there were eleven bottles of whiskey lined up on the mantelpiece, and we owed a couple of months’ rent – taking into account the deposits we’d already surrendered in lieu. It should go without saying that the place was a mess. A few days after the May Ball, my Cornish friend passed out in Debenhams and was taken to hospital concussed, requiring stitches. The cohabitant from Brighton had abandoned university altogether.
It had been a strange and tumultuous year. The summer would usher in the farce that was Blur vs. Oasis. It is amazing how quickly Britpop revealed itself for the asinine nonsense that for the most part comprised it, and so I got back into the Beastie Boys and continued to harvest my brother’s record collection for more satisfying sonic alternatives.
[This playlist may be listened to here.]