Track 20: Sun Hits The Sky, Supergrass

In It For The Money, 1997

It’s widely considered that the Nineties were one of the better decades in Britain. It certainly felt that way growing up in them: we had great films, positive politics, the fashion, and of course the music. But for me, and no doubt millions of others, one thing tarnished these otherwise perfect ten years.

Manchester United.

They weren’t a problem at the start. As a young Liverpool fan in its natural habitat of south Wiltshire, I revelled in the Barnes-Beardsley-Burrows team of legend, all ready to settle in for another ten years of trophies. The cup final in ’88 had been annoying, certainly, and the Thomas goal of ’89 even more heartbreaking, But in 1990 we were league champions and only a lucky win for Palace in the semi-final had cost us another Double. Next year we’d put that right, certainly; it was nothing more than a hiccup in our ongoing trophy binge.

Except we didn’t. In stepped Man United who, through an unbeatable mix of ref-bullying, huge expenditure and 98th-minute winners, took our rightful, comfortable place at the top. It was confusing, depressing and hugely annoying.

Perhaps the low point for ABUs was the mid Nineties vintage: the Golden Generation of Giggs, Scholes, Butt, Neville and of course Beckham. “You can’t win anything with kids” mused Alan Hansen after a defeat to Villa in 1995. Oh how the United fans mocked when they finished that season with another league and cup double – conveniently ignoring the fact that alongside the kids were Peter Schmeichel, Paul Parker, Gary Pallister, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Andy Cole, all signed for sums that were huge back then (and would get you Rochdale’s reserve team left-back in today’s money). Without that experienced, expensive supporting cast, the kids would have won bugger all.

Likewise, the musical golden generation of that period – Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp – almost certainly wouldn’t have reached such heights of celebrity, acclaim, popularity and wealth without their own backing cast. And of all those just outside the top four places, Supergrass were one the biggest, battling for the UEFA cup spots with Ash, Ocean Colour Scene, Cast, Elastica and the Charlatans. It’s that depth – of quality, originality and productivity – that made Britpop what it was: a nationally significant, generation-defining movement, rather than just a few decent bands.Supergrass 1997

My abiding memory of Supergrass is that they were a lot of fun. Fun to see live, fun to listen to, fun when appearing on TV or the radio. Their songs are upbeat, infused with humour and a knowing nod towards the everyday experiences of the typical British adolescent. Their early albums are always an enjoyable, uplifting listen, spattered with some of the period’s most memorable hits (‘Alright’, ‘Moving’, ‘Richard III’) and a generous helping of high-quality album tracks (‘Your Love’, ‘Sofa (Of My Lethargy)’, ‘Jesus Came From Outta Space’).

As much as any Nineties band, they signified the positivity that was flooding the UK back then. You could never feel down when listening to Supergrass. ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ is a classic example of that: a cheering, energetic blast of goodwill and major chords.

And there’s probably a good reason behind this bonhomie: Gaz Coombes is a Man United fan, so the decade must have been utterly perfect for him. Imagine what he might have written if he’d had to watch the current team every week.

Top Three Supergrass tracks:

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Track 13: One To Another, Charlatans

Tellin’ Stories, 1997

Career-wise, I’m lucky. When not wasting time in coffee shops or reading about Liverpool’s latest match/transfer/injury, I write about environmental issues. Subjects that I care about, and which (usually) interest me. I even travel to exotic places on occasion,  once sleeping in the President of Mali’s exclusive suite (he wasn’t there, just to be clear).

But more often than I’d like, when I eventually sit at desk and prise open laptop, boredom sets in swiftly. I’ll spend today doing what I did yesterday, and what I’ll be doing tomorrow. Typing, reading, flicking over to Twitter, making more coffee …

Repetition is a fundamental element of any job, of course. It might be more stimulating to do something fresh each day, but it wouldn’t work in practice. How would you feel, sat in the dentist’s chair, if the person in white with the sharp metal things casually mentioned that this was the first time they’d extracted wisdom teeth? How reassuring would it be if a pilot stopped you as you boarded the plane, asking if you knew what any of the buttons did? Even in ultimately pointless professions, it rarely ends well to let just anyone turn up and have a go for the day. Loris Karius provides painful proof of that.

Is it the same for musicians? They live a life many of us would greedily assume: headlining festivals, trashing hotel rooms, the occasional spot of devil worship. But does all this hold an endless, unbreakable thrill? Do they, too, get bored with having to do the same thing day after day?

Charlatans 1999Earlier this year, I went to see the Charlatans with my good friend and musical guru AJ. I utterly love the Charlatans and, in the run-up to the gig, dug out all their CDs to refresh my memory of their genius. Among other things, this indulgent evening reminded me that I love ‘One To Another’ more than any of their other works of brilliance. And when, shortly after arriving at the venue, AJ managed to get hold of a setlist from their merch stall, I knew for certain they would be playing it.

But as we waited for the band to arrive, I wondered: do they still love it? However many times I’ve listened to the song, they have done so a thousand-fold times more. And they have sat through the rubbish versions too: the shitty early demos, the rehearsals gone wrong, the aborted soundchecks. Surely some of its majestic sheen must have worn over the years?

And the Charlatans have been around for many, many years. They were there before Britpop, and have endured, largely without respite, since its demise. There have been solo side projects and new members added – but the core of the band have been hearing their songs for close to three decades now. That’s a long time to be strumming the same chords.

The lights dimmed; tendrils of smoke crept across the stage. On they came, to heartfelt, grateful acclaim, and set about doing what they do. And, as the setlist had promised, before long that oh-so familiar keyboard-heavy intro kicked in. The crowd became giddy, like a kid who hears the doorbell ring, heralding the long-awaited arrival of a much-loved family friend … but was the friend as pleased to see us?

Martin Blunt hunched over his bass, fretting over frets; Tony Rogers thumped his keys with righteous fury; Tim Burgess leant far out from the stage, his peroxide haystack bobbing with each beat, his arms reaching into the worshipping crowd that chorused back every word he sang.

Do they still enjoy playing it?

It certainly looked that way.

AJ’s top three Charlatans tracks:*

* He would have opted for ‘One To Another’ but I wouldn’t let him. He wanted that stated on record, though.

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