1. Ana Ng – They Might Be Giants
2. Lenny Valentino – The Auteurs
3. No. 13 Baby – The Pixies
4. Cannonball – The Breeders
5. Rebound – Sebadoh
6. Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite at :17 – Pavement
7. Arms Control Poseur – The Fall
8. Ghost Highway – Mazzy Star
9. Capital Letters – Moonshake
10. Marbles – Tindersticks
11. Transona Five – Stereolab
12. Tearing Apart My World – Beatnik Filmstars
13. Water – Automatic Dlamini
14. White Shirt – The Charlatans
15. For Tomorrow – Blur
16. Line Up – Elastica
17. Columbia – Oasis
18. His ‘n’ Hers – Pulp
19. The Reckoning – The Fall
20. Red Right Hand – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
21. Hand in Glove – The Smiths
22. Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) – Buzzcocks
23. Naked Cousin – PJ Harvey
24. Popscene – Blur
25. Bike – Pink Floyd
26. Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground
27. Ballad of a Thin Man – Bob Dylan
28. The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
29. Papua New Guinea – Future Sound of London
30. Chime – Orbital
The Sounds of Baden Pearce: ‘Baden Pearce’ being the name of my hall of residence at university, 'The Sounds' being a collection of tunes encountered over the academic year I resided in them. Baden Pearce tended to be the domicile for people who came through clearing – ‘clearing’ being the system whereby you applied anew for a place at a particular university after receiving your A-level results, maybe because you did better than expected and wanted to explore other opportunities, or worse and were obliged to. (I had done better.)
Our rooms were meagre cuboids: a tiled floor, a rug, a single bed, a wardrobe, a desk come chest-of-drawers, a shelf and a large cork notice board with room enough for that Reservoir Dogs poster which came free with Select magazine. Boys were slept on the ground floor, girls on the first in what was a two-storey building. There were no en suite bathrooms; sinks, showers and toilets were shared. My lodging overlooked portacabin-style classrooms. Ducks used to congregate outside my window some mornings. There was a television, piano and table tennis table in the common room. It was a lot of fun but there were only two washing machines and no tumble dryer to speak of. One’s radiator took on a more vital dimension.
In My Room
Keen to expand my knowledge of all things ‘indie’, I made an association with a guy who was well acquainted with the genre. He had tapes of the stuff and seemed to make a new purchase almost every week, which we would then listen to in his room, maybe over a cup of tea.
Sartorially, indie music could be hard to pin down, but in whichever direction one was drawn the point seemed to be very anti-fashion. Footwear and jeans might be bought new, but T-shirts, jumpers and coats were typically purchased in charity shops and weekend markets – Camden and Portobello in our case. Brands and labels were meaningless conceits. Having much money did not make you a better dressed person. Clothes were not worn to reflect status or hierarchy; indie was supposed to be beyond all that. The attitude was that anything was permissible, both with regards to music and a band’s image: alternative, lo-fi, shoegaze, grunge, baggy, dream pop, chamber pop, jangle pop, art pop, drone pop, noise pop, slowcore, sadcore, hardcore, post hardcode, post punk, straightedge, industrial rock, garage rock, gothic rock, experimental rock, art rock, noise rock... the indie scene was a very broad church.
This being said, there were a number of identifiable ‘looks’. Fans of American indie generally favoured plaid shirts, loose fitting jumpers, Converse trainers, suede jackets, well-worn denim and long hair. Skateboarding gear would also feature – apparel for the Slacker Generation.
British followers were more eclectic, and sometimes smarter. With their mop top hairdos and roll neck jumpers, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of St. Etienne and Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream appropriated the 1960s way before Britpop laid claim to it. In the wake of their album Modern Life is Rubbish, Blur came up with a sort of Mod/Skinhead hybrid involving Fred Perry polo shirts, blazers, Harrington jackets, desert boots and Dr. Martens. Pulp had also developed their own style – a retro, charity shop get-up comprising Nylon and corduroy. Tindersticks wore suits. V-neck jumpers were doing the rounds; I sifted through my dad’s old clothes and found a few, as well as a brown leather ‘car coat’ dating back to the early 1970s worthy of Luke Haines (of The Auteurs) himself.
The Sounds of Baden Pearce was the name I whimsically came up with when I began collating the music I had on cassette and transferring it onto MiniDisc in and around the year 2000. In actual fact, there was no cassette carried over from this period. I would certainly have thrown something together during that time – quite possibly a number of tapes pertaining to various genres – and I’m confident that many of these tunes would have appeared on one compilation or another, if only because of the strong association they still hold. The first 18 tracks are particularly poignant, although thereafter the connections become slightly more tenuous.
Nothing dubious about the first track. I already possessed a copy of Flood by They Might Be Giants, but Ana Ng comes from an earlier album entitled Lincoln that I borrowed from the guy who owned all the indie tapes. They Might Be Giants were by now old hat, but I was still playing catch-up and did not know this.
I’d read about The Auteurs in that copy of Select magazine and was persuaded to buy Now I'm a Cowboy on the strength of the single Lenny Valentino – the album version is even better. Unfortunately, Now I’m a Cowboy didn’t live up to the expectation that The Auteurs’ debut album, New Wave, foisted upon it.
Every aspiring indie-kid listened to the Pixies and the Breeders, most to Sebadoh and some to Pavement (as well as Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Nirvana, etc.). If any specific sound defined indie music back in the early ‘90s, it was expressed via bands like these. The guy with the tapes provided The Pixies, The Breeders and Pavement, whilst I bought Sebadoh’s 4 Song CD – on vinyl – on his advice. All the songs worth hearing on this EP later appeared on the album Bakesale, rendering it obsolete.
The Fall were at the height of their popularity after 1993’s The Infotainment Scan had entered the album charts at no. 9. I borrowed Extricate from the guy with tapes, which was the only Fall album he had, and played it to death. Come the end of the academic year, I’d own This Nation’s Saving Grace, The Wonderful and Frightening World Of..., The Frenz Experiment, Bend Sinister, Shift-Work, Code: Selfish, The Infotainment Scan and Middle Class Revolt. Arms Control Poseur is my favourite track off of Extricate, although frustratingly it isn’t included on the abridged vinyl copy I picked up some years later.
Tapes guy purchased the Mazzy Star LP So Tonight That I Might See almost as soon as it came out (October 1993). It made such an impression that I quickly bought their earlier record, She Hangs Brightly (May 1990). We journeyed to the Mean Fiddler intent on seeing the band play live, only to find the gig had been cancelled. If we’d bought tickets in advance we would have probably been notified of this, but as it was we had no way of knowing – no internet, no mobile phone, no nothing.
Moonshake utilised drum machines and samples but were still considered to be an indie band. Tapes guy had a copy of their first album Eva Luna, and on a visit to Bristol to see family I purchased the mini-album Big Good Angel, from which Capital Letters is derived. This was last release featuring the old line up, before band member Margaret Fiedler left to form Laika, which was a shame.
Tindersticks were from Nottingham and seemed older and more sophisticated than many of their peers, which they were. Their music could be described as dark chamber pop, incorporating string arrangements, woodwind instruments, horns, Spanish guitar. Tindersticks’ eponymously titled debut was nominated ‘album of the year’ by the magazine Melody Maker, and I wouldn’t disagree.
It appears that the passage of time has tricked me into associating Stereolab with a period of my life it can’t really have had much to do with. I purchased the Ping Pong EP in July 1994, which was almost as soon as I returned to Plymouth for the summer holidays. I then procured the LP Mars Audiac Quintet in August. In any case, this music has a strong association with that which surrounds it, lending weight to the theory that I did indeed compile something representative during this period, perhaps in Plymouth.
The Beatnik Filmstars had quite a hard, lo-fi sound more akin to American indie-rock, but with the softer vocal inclinations of British jangle pop/shoegaze. Automatic Dlamini was John Parish's band, but their second album, 1992's From a Diva to a Diver, included musical contributions from Polly Harvey. Both groups where part of a Somerset and Bristol based indie scene that the guy with the tapes was also part of, by way of his involvement with a band called The Tony Head Experience.
As well as hanging out with the guy with all the tapes, I was friendly with a Welsh who looked a bit like Keanu Reeves (it was just his hair really). I possessed the Charlatans 12" Weirdo but nothing else. Welsh lad had The Charlatans’ first album, Some Friendly, on vinyl, and we both bought Up to Our Hips on tape when it was made available in March for the paltry sum of £3.99 (tapes normally retailed at around £8, give or take, while CDs would set you back about £12). White Shirt is my favourite tune from Some Friendly, and better than anything off of Up to Our Hips, which isn’t The Charlatans’ best work.
The Charlatans would later find themselves co-opted into Britpop movement – willingly, I feel – but the zeitgeist that was to beget the scene had still to be given its name. You sensed something was happening but didn’t know what it was, but it still fell under the umbrella of indie music. The term ‘new wave of new wave’ was being bandied about, with regards to groups like Elastica, SMASH and These Animal Men, but it never really caught on. In any case, Pulp and Oasis couldn’t have sounded more unlike each other. The scene as it was, there was plenty of room for both and no obligation to align yourself this way or that. If you stopped the clock here – 1993 running into 1994 – you might think British indie music was a wonderfully diverse and multi-faceted thing.
At any rate, For Tomorrow by Blur correlated with my impression of London – trips to Portobello Road on a Saturday, exploiting all-you-can-eat buffets at pizza restaurants on Leicester Square, drinking in shabby pubs in Camden. I perceived Elastica to be a more local concern. Lead singer Justine Frischmann grew up down the road in Twickenham, and tapes guy and I once ran into her in Richmond out shopping with her mother. Unlike myself, tapes guy was never very shy, and so he introduced himself, informed her we were fans, to which she responded with good grace.
A couple of weeks before Blur unleashed Parklife, a band called Oasis released their debut single, Supersonic. Whereas Blur’s game changer shot straight to number one in the UK album charts, Oasis’s single only made it as high as number 31 in the concomitant ranking. Supersonic was still a good song, as was Columbia, which appeared on the CD version. The next two singles leading up to the album (Shakermaker and Live Forever) fared much better, and by the time Definitely Maybe hit the shops in August Oasis were easily as popular as Blur.
Meanwhile, Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers had almost slipped under the radar, although it still peaked at number 9 in the charts, which was more than respectable. The title track wasn’t actually included on the album but surfaced on The Sisters EP released little more than a month later – late May – just in time for my 19th birthday – bought for me by the guy with tapes.
I also treated myself to The Fall’s new album, Middle Class Revolt, their first release since I’d become a fan. The Fall didn’t officially tour in support of their new albums, the reason being that they were nearly always either recording albums or touring. They could be quite a difficult band live – or rather Mark E smith could be – and had been when I saw them the previous October. When I went to see them again in January 1994 they were on good form. For any Fall fans out there, here’s the set-list:
Happy Holiday / Return / M5 / I’m Going to Spain / 15 Ways / Free Range / Big New Prinz / The Mixer / The Reckoning / I’m Frank / Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room / Glam Racket / Hey! Student / A Past Gone Mad
I didn’t take to the front cover of Let Love In by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but trusted that the guy with the tapes knew what he was buying. I don’t actually recall much of the album other than the track Red Right Hand, but it’s quite some track, and one that Cave still plays live to this day.
I picked up a copy of The Smiths’ debut in an indoor flea market in Richmond that no longer exists for about £3 (along with a 12” copy of the Hey! Luciani by The Fall). The tapes guy had Hatful of Hollow on tape so this purchase was by no means out of the blue, but having a vinyl copy of that album felt significant somehow.
Another one of my new university chums owned a compilation entitled The Sound of the Suburbs, all about punk and new wave. This is where the Buzzcocks tune came from, and it also put me in touch with The Jam, The Undertones, The Stranglers, and Blondie (although I’d already picked up on Blondie by way of a girl I liked who was a huge fan).
As well as lending me his cassettes, the guy with the indie tapes introduced me to a number of other things, such as the NME and Melody Maker, suede as a viable material, the films of Woody Allen, John Peel’s Festive 50. I must concede to having never listened to John Peel up until this point in my life, and although I didn’t suddenly start religiously tuning in I did make a point of recording that year’s Festive 50. This allowed me to obtain a copy of Naked Cousin by PJ Harvey, which hadn’t hitherto featured on any of her records and was only made commercially available in 2006 when she collated her Peel Sessions onto an album.
Until the release of Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide to Blur, the same could almost be said of Popscene. Although released as a single, it was subsequently omitted from the album Modern Life is Rubbish to spite those who hadn’t bothered to buy it. I was new to the game, so they couldn’t blame me, but circumnavigated the problem by borrowing the record from a friend back in Plymouth.
It became evident that to fully appreciate indie music you had to know a bit about the history of alternative music in general and some of the acts that comprise the cannon: The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, The Byrds, The Smiths, etc. The Welsh lad who looked vaguely like Keanu Reeves was very into The Beatles. Many evenings were spent listening to Abbey Road and ‘The White Album’, as well as Paul McCartney and Wings. My parents used to play these records when I was younger, but it was revelatory listening to it now as a teenager, earnestly in a darkened room. I was also introduced to what might be called progressive psychedelic rock: bands such as Gong, Caravan, Camel, Focus. I guess I never liked this stuff enough to bother recording any of it (although I did enjoy Angel’s Egg by Gong). The same cannot be said of Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which I obtained from the lad who lent me The Sound of the Suburbs. There are far better songs than Bike on this album, but when I was putting this compilation together I felt I needed to convey some of the more humorous aspects of the music I was being introduced to.
Indie tape guy obliged with the first VU album, but I never gave it the attention it deserved; all I cared for was Venus in Furs, which had recently featured in an advert for Dunlop tyres. However, tapes guy also had a recording of The Gift off of Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat. It tells the improbable tale of Waldo Jeffers, who, lovesick, mails himself to his long distance lover, Marsha Bronson, only for her to inadvertently skewer him with a sheet-metal cutter as she struggles to open the box that transported him. The plot is not so much the thing, it’s all about the language, the phrasing and John Cale’s delightful Welsh lilt.
The Welsh lad who looked like Keanu Reeves – who didn’t have a very strong Welsh accent come to think of it – also liked a bit of Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac. My old man liked a bit of Bob Dylan too, but his music had never left much of an impression. Repeated listens in Welsh lad’s room to Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde saw this right. Fleetwood Mac I was more familiar with, but again, I’d never really made any effort to properly engage with them. Welsh lad had Rumours, and I borrowed my father’s copy of Greatest Hits (the 1971 edition). Over the years, I have included both The Chain and Dragonfly on this compilation, but never at the same time, so take your pick.
Despite my previous penchant for hip hop, dance music had never really appealed to me. I’m referring to house music, maybe techno – groups like The Prodigy, The Shaman, 808 State, KLF, The Orb, if you want points of reference. DJs Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold and Judge Jules were familiar names, but I wasn’t concerned either way. There were guys at school who used to trade flyers for raves they’d never been too, which is not to say they weren’t clubbing, because Plymouth had a very active rave scene, but it seemed to be more of a social thing, the music secondary.
At university, I met students with the same level of interest, and others who really knew their stuff. The records that initially grabbed my attention were probably Go by Moby, Papua New Guinea by Future Sound of London, and the second Orbital album. Beyond that, I’d happily listen to techno, trance and acid in persons’ rooms or in their cars, at house parties, or at club nights down the student union, but wasn’t inclined to take it further.
Down the Town Wharf
The calm before the storm. I’d seen The Breeders and The Fall at The Forum in Kentish Town (separately), The Fall again at The Brixton Fridge, Moonshake at The Garage in Highbury, the Moonflowers somewhere between Fulham and Hammersmith – all in the company of the guy with the indie tapes – and These Animal Men at Connections in Plymouth. The criteria for going to these gigs were just fancying it and the availability of tickets. There was never any question of being part of something, of it being a communal experience. When did it all change? When did indie music become embroiled in another scene?
Britpop’s ascendancy was gradual and by no means assured. The received wisdom is that it started with Popscene by Blur in the spring of 1992. If that’s true then nobody really noticed, and besides, it was Suede who were making waves. Their debut single The Drowners was voted single of the year in the NME, although it only reached number 49 in the charts, which isn’t the stuff movements are made of.
How about 1993? Did that April issue of Select Magazine – the one that’s wheeled out every time the origins of Britpop are being discussed, with the serpentine Brett Anderson on its cover – not signal the start of something? To a degree: both Suede’s eponymous debut album and Blur’s second, Modern Life is Rubbish, made it into NME’s top 10 albums that year. But then so too did Black Sunday by Cypress Hill, Come on Feel the Lemonheads by the Lemonheads, Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, Star by Belly, and Bjork’s debut, Debut. (Cannonball by The Breeders was voted best single.)
What about April 1994, the month that saw the release of two of Britpop’s defining albums: His ‘n’ Hers by Pulp and Parklife by Blur? Possibly, but the effect was not as immediate as one might assume. Britpop’s prime movers were still sharing a fair proportion of airtime, the front covers of magazines and placings in polls with artistes as diverse as R.E.M., Manic Street Preachers, Stone Roses, a recently deceased Kurt Cobain, Morrissey, Primal Scream, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Auteurs, The Prodigy, Jeff Buckley, Beastie Boys, NAS, Public Enemy, Johnny Cash, Pavement, Sebadoh, Pearl Jam, etc, etc, etc.
You have to hand it to Oasis. It was Definitely Maybe that promulgated Britpop’s arrival as a populist movement. The lads who had been grooving away to the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and The Farm just a few years earlier were not the sort to be seduced by the likes of Suede, Pulp and Blur. But know this: it took until 1995, maybe even 1996, for the aggro vested upon fans of alternative music – or towards people with alternative lifestyles in general – to finally settle down, for the jibes and the dirty looks and the threats of violence to subside, the objections towards how you wore your hair, or how thin you were, or something as innocuous as a leather jacket or a roll neck sweater.