Old Britpoppers Don’t Die
By Ben Myers.
If, in 1995, someone had told my amphetamine-guzzling, London-lurking, peroxide-haired teenage self that I’d be writing a piece about the singer from Powder’s trumpeted biography I would simply have enquired as to which crappy fanzine it was for.
As you may have noticed, former singer with the terminally crap and typically Camden band, ‘Primrose Hill set member’ and now – seemingly – a benevolent sage dishing out faux-spiritual, post-rehab advice to anyone fool enough to afford a coke habit, Pearl Lowe has written a book.
I’ve always viewed Lowe – nicknamed ‘Dyson’ due to her capacity to hoover up, ahem, powders – with a degree of fascination and disgust, possibly because I actually bought Powder’s second single ‘Afrodiziak’ and possibly because she was going out with the drummer from Supergrass, who I liked a lot at the time, and with whom she famously enjoyed a bit of partner-swapping with alongside Jude Law and Sadie Frost.
Lowe’s book is largely cack, the kind of indulgent nonsense that will make straight-edgers want to rush out and buy a few grammes in the hope you will never end up as clean, sober and deluded as Lowe – a musician less culturally relevant than Northern Uproar, as literary as Heat magazine.
But coupled with the publication of Alex James’ far funnier and incisive memoirs A Bit Of A Blur, Lowe’s book does get us thinking back to the mid 90s when British music briefly coalesced into an identifiable – if parochial – movement that galvanised a new breed of bands, designers, artists and possibly politicians too.
Britpop didn’t kill off indie but it did alert the record labels to the public’s appetite for skinny nerks denouncing American culture and proclaiming their own brilliance. Of course, beyond a few European cities and the odd Japanese discos, the world remained largely untroubled by Britpop, possibly because it was a movement based on culturally recycling three decades worth of distinctly English reference points (the lyrics of Small Faces, the clunky riffs of Wire, the sartorial style of Grange Hill) rather than anything approaching innovation.
Yet it was still an exciting time to be young, an era that saw an upsurge of creativity and energy, where Blur and Oasis were arguably the least interesting exponents. Personally, I favoured the devil-may-care teen energy of the aforementioned Supergrass or even the unashamed collusion between five Camden chancers and the music press that resulted in the utterly contrived – but for six weeks in 1995, quite brilliant – Menswe@r. I even bought some Shed Seven records.
So really the incoming wave of nostalgia for Britpop is understandable, if only because it was the last musical movement before the internet came along and took away the mystique and mythology of bands. Lowe’s book falls on the wrong side of Britpop – that milieu that gave NW1 scenesters a chance to slum it and make their bid for rock apocryphal, knowing there was always rehab and a big-house-a-very-big-house-in-the-country waiting for them when it all went to shit.
What’s surprising is that Britpop is still very much here. The Libertines were the kids in the crowd in the 90s who picked up the gauntlet and spawned a new generation of sub-standard copycats. Kaiser Chiefs are a bad Blur, Kasabian an even sillier Oasis. Menswear’s Simon White now manages Bloc Party, Louise Wener from Sleeper is a successful novelist, Jarvis Cocker is more credible than ever and even Kula Shaker remain popular on the international festival circuit. The list goes on.
Personally I can’t wait for the next round of post-Britpop biographies. The Bluetones, Cast and Heavy Stereo books should be crackers, if only to pick up some tips on the best way to wash a soiled Kangol anorak.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 13th, 2007.