Track 11. You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For, Catatonia

Way Beyond Blue, 1996

Many theories have been put forward to explain the rise of Britpop. There’s the coincidence argument: several similar-sounding bands just happened to be around at one time. And there’s the backlash angle: listening to American grunge for too long drove young Brits to create their own sound. Another is plagiarism: that Blur, Oasis et al were merely aping what their Sixties forebearers had done thirty years earlier. Or was it all part of the wider wave of positivity sweeping the UK at that time, thanks to Euro 96, Tony Blair and Union Jack dresses?

It’s likely that each of these played their part. But it should never be forgotten that a rich seam of musical talent ran through the songs and bands of the time. Noel Gallagher is known for many things – his wit, his eyebrows, his sibling rivalry – but above all, he’s a phenomenal guitarist. Alex James: to some he’s a floppy haired cheesemaker, but to others he’s first and foremost a fine bass player. The Radiohead lads are all creative genii of the very highest order.

Catatonia 2It’s hard to think of a Britpop band who didn’t bring something to the party. Which brings us to Catatonia. A late arrival, maybe – they didn’t release their first album until autumn 1996 – but they also left an indelible mark, thanks largely to their charismatic lead singer.

Cerys Matthews’ voice is a truly wonderful thing. Rich, confident and as Welsh as pint of Brains bitter on the top of Cader Idris, she was equally at home duetting with Tommy from Space or tormenting her consonants in ‘Road Rage’. It’s a voice that sticks in the memory and it led the band to greater heights than they might otherwise have managed.

The best voice of Britpop? It was certainly the most distinctive, and that’s just as important. Never underestimate the need for an engaging front person. And its that showwomanship that secures her place at the front of my Britpop dream team.

Lead singer: Cerys Matthews.

Lead guitar: Bernard Butler. The toughest decision, but the intro to ‘Metal Mickey’ swings it in his favour.

Rhythm guitar: Richard Hawley. OK, he was lead guitarist for Longpigs, but he has demonstrated his versatility over the years.

Bass: Mick Quinn. Just listen to the opening to ‘Lenny’ and you’ll hear why; it takes something special to play one note for the opening 25 seconds of a song and still make it a thing of wonder (although Bryan Ferry just tops him on that score).

Drums: Keith O’Neill. My favourite drummer of the Nineties, an irresistible fusion of energy, ability and fury.

Songwriter: Thom Yorke. Yes I know, Radiohead weren’t Britpop, yadda yadda yadda. But he’s still at it and still wonderfully creative and weird.

Lyrics: Jarvis Cocker. Down with ballads: bring forth the songs about the seedy goings on in council estate bedrooms.

Top three Catatonia tracks:

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Photo from Pixabay

 

Track 1: Female Of The Species, Space

Spiders, 1996

I was convinced this song reached Number 1. It was everywhere in that glorious summer of ‘96, played constantly at festivals, parties and on the radio. Yet apparently it only climbed as high as number 14 in the charts; it didn’t even make the hallowed Top Ten. More people bought records by Gina G, Louise and Celine Dion that week. Songs that did reach Number 1 that year include one of those contemptible Robson and Jerome covers (the name of which I won’t write here, out of respect for the original) and ‘Forever Love’ by Gary Barlow. Peter Andre had two Number 1s,* as did Boyzone. A sobering reminder that the 1990s had a very dark musical side.

Space were the closest Britpop got to a novelty act (no, I don’t count Mike Flowers Pops). It’s hard to pin down exactly what it was that made them so much fun: the chirpiness of Tommy Scott’s accented singing, perhaps, or maybe the quirkiness of the lyrics – not every band could get away with releasing a song with “Tom Jones, Tom Jones” as its chorus. Whatever it was meant they weren’t treated with the same gravitas as the big bastions of Britpop. But that’s fine; music should be enjoyed and not every band needs to skulk about as if fame, fortune and widespread appreciation were absolutely the last things they were looking for.

This song is their most famous tune and can be found gracing the track listing of any nineties compilation album you care to mention. And it’s an intriguing one, a little outside the indie staples of the period: a spooky piano intro that is distinctively, instantly recognisable, while the lyrics are, frankly, a bit weird. I must have heard it well over 200 times, yet it still sounds fresh today: the mark of true quality. And Tommy Scott’s haircut was textbook Britpop, so they get an extra mark for that as well.

Top three Space tracks:

* ‘Flava’ and ‘I Feel You’, in case you were wondering. No, me neither.

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