Track 27: What Do I Do Now?, Sleeper

The It Girl, 1995

The Britpop behemoth had an insatiable appetite, gobbling up many a band that claimed they wanted nothing to do with it. But others leapt gladly upon its broad shoulders, eager to see where it might carry them. And no band seemed to enjoy the ride more than Sleeper.

They ticked every Britpop box going. Met at university? Check. Based in and around Camden? Check. One-word band name? Yup. Knowing, Carry-On-esque lyrics about saucy bedroom antics and the trials of romantic life? Most definitely.

Three albums and then finished?

Well, kind of.

SleeperBecause Sleeper are back: they’re playing live and writing new music. Whether it will still count as Britpop depends on your perspective – was it was a stylistic label or a time-bound phenomena? – but it will undoubtedly sound warmly familiar. Some critics dismissed their songs as one-paced, but in the Nineties that pace was perfect for head-nodding, beer-drinking and shoe-shuffling.

They’re not the only ones keeping the Britpop flag flying. Even now, 25 years after it all began, the spirit lives on in weekends and festivals; you can listen to the bona fide classics and forgotten gems on dedicated radio shows; people are sharing memories and memorabilia on Twitter, writing thoughtful blogs about it, making films about it … you can even go on Britpop cruises these days.

And of course there are five-star rated novels about the whole shebang. Yours for a very reasonable £6.99, or £0.99 as an e-book.

To paraphrase clubland’s Brian Potter, Britpop will never die. Not while there are still so many to whom it means so much. There are many who wish it would, of course, suggesting it’s to blame for everything from Brexit* to the decline in musical creativity in the Nineties, and especially Laddism. I never quite understood that last charge; I don’t remember seeing many Lads or Ladettes at Longpigs gigs, and their anthem of choice was the chorus to ‘Born Slippy’ more often than Oasis.

But as long as those of us who love it outnumber them, Britpop will continue to be held up as a good thing. I’d happily trade the fun-loving Britain of ‘96 for the divided, expensive mess we have referendummed ourselves into.** What’s worse, Union Jack guitars and mockney accents, or lies on buses and vitriolic politics? Was having Europe’s envy so much worse than having its disappointment and apathy?

It’s probably unrealistic to expect a new Shed Seven album to bring a divided nation together once more, or an Ocean Colour Scene tour to clamp down on the far right. Even the reformation of the ever-cheerful Sleeper might not fully get us through the next few months of TV debates and no deals and food rationing.

But it certainly can’t hurt to have a bit of decent new music to look forward to.

Top three Sleeper tracks:

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* He concludes that it wasn’t, to be fair. But it was a shameless and unnecessary bit of taunting.

** Admittedly I no longer live there, but it’s no prettier viewed from a distance. Trust me.

 

 

 

Track 24: Junk Shop Clothes, The Auteurs

New Wave, 1993

Luke Haines doesn’t like Britpop; that much is widely known. His repulsion wasn’t enough for him not to include it in the subtitle of his book, but it doesn’t require many pages to be turned before the vitriol flows. I wonder how he feels* about his book indirectly led to (yet) another book on the subject being written: mine.

Two years ago, I needed a fortieth birthday present for a music-loving friend. I wanted something Britpoppy, given we were both big fans back then, and there were plenty to choose from. But they were all from the perspective of those who found fame at the time – Louise Wener, Alex James and of course Luke Haines (the book I plumped for in the end) – or the journalists who described it all with increasing bewilderment and disdain.

That’s all fine and proper; they undoubtedly have many stories to tell. But without the fans, music would be little more than 3-6 people playing instruments in a large room. By themselves. Surely our side of the story can be heard occasionally?**

Fast forward a few weeks. I am, for reasons too convoluted to explain here (alright, work) a short way into an exceptionally long car journey across rural Guinea. My_MG_3141 translator fell asleep 10 minutes in, and shows little sign of waking up again today. The driver’s English is on a par with my French. The scenery’s stunning, but there’s only so often I can point at it and say ‘Vert, très beau’.

He only has one tape for the entire journey, but it’s good. Through our few shared words, he explains this was a band he liked as a teenager and he used to watch them play in Conakry. I ponder trying to tell him about the music of my own adolescence, but ‘Connaissez-vous l’Oasis ou le Blur?’ fails to elicit so much as a nod. Plus, we’ve been together for six days, and there’s been no mention of Longpigs, no casual whistling of Shed Seven album tracks. I conclude it’ll be a bit of a stretch to try and convey the full wonder and intricacies of Britpop to him, so settle back to enjoy a bit of Guinpop instead. But if I could explain it, what would I say?

Fourteen wordless hours later, as we crawl through the capital’s traffic-choked suburbs, I have the outline of a novel sketched out. Plus most of the jokes, both musical and rude, that I plan to scatter liberally within. While tempted to taste Conakry’s famous nightlife, a week of rural water means my stomach forbids me to stray more than single-digit metres from a toilet. I start typing that evening.

Two years later, it’s published. Reviews so far have been very positive. The proof of its qualities will be when I get one from someone who I don’t know/am not related to, but hopefully they’ll enjoy it, or at least be kind. If not … well, that’s fine too. I had a lot of fun writing it, not least as it pushed me to dig out some long-forgotten CDs from twenty years ago and listen to them repeatedly. It’s all about the music, after all.

Apologies if you were hoping to read something about the Auteurs, rather than a shameless and lengthy plug for my book. So, here goes. If you missed the Auteurs at the time – which according to their cranky frontman, far too many of us did – then delve in. The first two albums, New Wave and Now I’m A Cowboy have most of the best-known tracks – ‘Show Girl’, ‘Lenny Valentino’, ‘New French Girlfriend’ – but it’s the third, After Murder Park where things get really interesting, with singalong crowd-pleasers such as ‘Light Aircraft On Fire’ and the bubbly floor-filler ‘Unsolved Child Murder’, very much their ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’ moment.

His book is even more worthy of your time, though. ‘Bad Vibes’ bursts the Britpop bubble with a sharpened halberd, bringing a hefty number of his unworthy peers down a peg or twenty. I don’t agree with all of what he says – I loved it as a fan – but the important thing is, he was brave/angry enough to say it at the time, regularly venting spleen, pancreas and duodenum in interviews with the music press. There have been several Britpop hatchet jobs in recent times (like this one and this one) but they don’t run the risk of defying the zeitgeist. By contrast, Mr Haines didn’t so much swim against the tide as stand on the beach pissing into it.

And, in his determination to bolt down Britpop’s coffin for good, he caused another book on the subject to be written.

Never poke a sleeping dragon, Luke.

Top three Auteurs songs:

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* It’s not impossible that he is totally, utterly indifferent to the fact.

** This was before Caitlin Moran had written hers, or I’d come across ‘She’s Electric’ which is an(other) excellent Britpop-themed novel. More serious than mine, but there’s plenty of room for all sorts.

Book review: She’s Electric – A Britpop Love Story… sort of

Nick Amies, 2013

There are surprisingly few Britpop-themed novels. There are books – everything from autobiographies to in-depth analyses to hatchet jobs – but not many novels. Given the movement’s cultural dominance of the 1990s and its enduring popularity and significance, this seems a missed opportunity.

Thankfully, the few (currently) out there includes She’s Electric. A rich seam of Nineties nostalgia runs through this book’s core, capturing everything that made the era so memorable: the drugs, the clothes, the football, the sex, the drink. Despite the Oasis-nodding title, this is a novel about far more than music.

The story follows the lives of four lads who meet in at university, share the early days of adulthood then go their separate ways. Reunited for a cocaine-and-lager-fuelled weekend, they set about recreating the hedonism of their youth – with mixed results. At first, the premise may seem a little worn – four blokes talking about drugs and music over pints – but it works extremely well because it’s written with a keen eye for, and understanding of, the nuances that make up the young British male.

In fact, while the blurb might suggests this is a typical boy-chases-girl story, it is the friendships between the four lead characters that provide the main focus. Seen through the eyes of Danny, the book quickly reveals their characters (another strong point is how it makes four essentially similar men quite distinct from each other) then more gradually reveals the back stories that made them who they are. The pace is unhurried, so by the time we learn, for instance, what makes Scotsman McKinley the troublemaker he is, we care enough to sympathise.

In its early chapters, the writing style reminded me of Trainspotting and the early Irvine Welsh canon (i.e. before he made Begbie a fucking sculptor). At times shocking, consistently vulgar, and with dialogue peppered with swearwords, it’s not a book for sensitive souls. And some of the scenes in the book – a DIY porno, the mocking of the gang’s gay friends, the often dismissive descriptions of women – seem sharply out of step with the sexual politics of today. But this is a Nineties novel. Things were very different back then, the heyday of FHM and Loaded, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. These young men wear their New Lad badges proudly on the sleeves of their Ben Sherman shirts.

I learnt about this book via the thriving Britpop Twitter community, and read it partly as research for my own novel. The first few pages were turned with trepidation, fearing my own efforts would mimic it too closely – fears not assuaged by the use of Britpop tracks as chapter titles (OK, it probably wasn’t my most original idea).

But I needn’t have worried: this is a very different book. It delves into the seedier, E- and coke-laced corners of nineties Britain and is the perfect guide to the era for those who want to find out what the fuss was about, or relive their own decadent youth. It’s equally worth the time of those seeking a considered, often delicate, exploration of the complexities of male companionship. And if you simply want a highly entertaining read with a cracking soundtrack, well, it works for that too.

Nick is also working on a film of the novel; you can find out more, and support the project, here.

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Photo from Pixabay