Book review: Firelight On Dark Water

Bill Allerton, Cybermouse Books, 2015

You need a few things when writing your first novel. First, you need a story, preferably a good one (and one that hasn’t been written too often before). Next, you need the free time and motivation to actually start typing those words that have been dancing around in your head. A computer is also handy, of course.

But those only gets you so far. You also need a bit of luck. And mine was meeting Bill.

I contacted him while fishing around for publishers in the north. Despite not knowing me, and having his own books to work on (plus undoubtedly a hundred other things he could be doing), he offered to take a look at my draft. A day later, it came back with guidance suggestions and criticisms. He managed to see instantly what needed doing, and edited sections to show me how. Switch to the present tense; cut out the redundancy; add a little nuance; slow it down a touch. All excellent advice, delivered frankly and free of charge. All things I would never have spotted myself, too, no matter how many read-throughs I gave it.

More useful still was the encouragement, which came amid a wave of rejection emails. Keep going; stick with it; try this publisher; get it finished, one way or another. I did. Maybe I would have done anyway, but a firm-yet-friendly kick along the way was very welcome.

Bill’s input, already above what I could reasonably expect from a stranger, didn’t stop there. For reasons unknown (other than he’s a thoroughly decent chap), he showed me how to typeset for publication and offered to design a cover for me. He patiently talked me through each step, and once the text was with the printer, he quietly went away and made a podcast of the first chapter. Just as a favour. Like I said, a thoroughly decent chap.

I would probably have bought one of Bill’s own books anyway at that point, as a way to show my gratitude. But I was also keen to explore his writing in more detail, to see what else could be gleaned. I started with his collection of short stories, Firelight On Dark Water; there are several more to choose from.

At this point, it would be easy for this post to become a sycophantic letter of appreciation. Experienced author helps debut author, who writes gushing review in return, etc etc… log rolling, I think it’s called. So I’ll start my review by stating that I didn’t like all of the stories. One or two passed me by: I either missed or misunderstood what it was trying to say. Yet these were few and far between; overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection.

It’s an unusual one, too, at least when compared with the books I usually read. It’s mostly set in and around Bill’s northern home, and the themes covered – motorbike parts, ageing – are not typical literary staples. The thread that binds them all together, though, is the dialogue. Each character, however briefly they appear, is distinctive instantly in the way the author writes their words and thoughts. It’s a talent, and one he has spent years mastering to the point of excellence. It stands out especially in ‘The Big Idea’, in which he pulls off the tricky feat of a dialogue between two versions of the same people.

The mastery of dialogue is most clearly expressed in my favourite story in the collection, ‘Vayu Manush’, which tells of the travails of a collection of Indian villagers. The shift away in style is done so well that the reader is instantly transported from Sheffield suburbs and northern nooks without any jolt or even any turbulence.

One perk of knowing an author, even if only virtually, is that you can quiz them about details. I took advantage of this and asked Bill where in India he had set this charming little tale, which place during his travels there had inspired the story.

‘I’ve never been to India. That’s what your imagination is for.’

Yet more valuable advice from my northern mentor.


Image by JAHuddleston / Pixabay

Track 32. If…, The Bluetones

Return to the Last Chance Saloon, 1998

Take a moment. Imagine that the Beatles wrote ‘If…’.

It’s not a huge leap to make. The song has a laid-back, shuffling bassline not a hundred miles from ‘Come Together’, and the singalong finale is positively Hey Judian. The lyrics are also Fab Four-esque, eschewing the usual boy-loves-other stuff to explore … well, I’m not 100% sure. A discussion of prison release dates, maybe?

But think what could have happened if it had come out thirty years earlier, perhaps replacing ‘Good Day Sunshine’ on Revolver or doing us all a favour and booting ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ into touch. Today, it would be an unofficial national anthem. Kids would sing it during school assemblies; football crowds would use it to abuse referees; we would hear it regularly via the hinterland music that soundtracks our lives.

Yet I almost never hear it. Outside of dedicated Britpop shows, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it on the radio. No one I know ever hums it, no cover bands take it on. And this is an injustice, because it is the fifth-best song of the 1990s (the others being, in ascending order, ‘A Little Soul’, ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’, ‘On And On’ and ‘Spice Up Your Life’*).

Bluetones 1995So good a song is it that it can heal damaged-if-not-fully-broken hearts. I listened to the Bluetones a lot at university; partly because they were great, but there were a lot of great bands around back then. But the Bluetones were the only Britpop band that my sort-of student girlfriend deemed tolerable (sort-of my girlfriend, not sort-of a student). As a result, Return To The Last Chance Saloon got many, many repeated plays back in ’98, as I leapt to the CD player to avoid the awful alternative of it being replaced by something from the (mercifully short-lived) drum’n’bass  genre.

The relationship didn’t end that well – for me, anyway, she seemed to survive easily enough – and by association, that album should have been condemned to a lifetime at the back of the drawer, never to be played lest it tugged at still-raw wounds. But even now, even though it still carries that painful whiff of rejection, I still love it. And I love ‘If…’ most of all, because it’s soaringly, achingly brilliant.

It’s curious, then, to discover that so few people share this view. It never makes listicles for the best Britpop tracks – not this one or this one or this one. And if the combined readership of NME honestly think that ‘Kandy Pop’ by bIS is a better tune, then I have little hope left for Britain.

Incredibly, ‘If…’ doesn’t even make lists of the top ten Bluetones tracks. And the official Bluetones 1998video on YouTube has a mere 55,000 views. Respectable enough, but still only 0.003% of the total garnered for ‘Baby Shark‘. Seriously, what is wrong with people?

One thing this demonstrates is just how much competition there was back then. At times, I struggled with writing my Britpop-themed book – it’s never easy trying to pen a grubby sex scene that you know your dad is going to read – but writing about the music never caused a problem. There were so many bands, songs, gigs to choose from, so many joyful musical memories to include, that it wasn’t possible to fit them all in.

I made sure the Bluetones were included though; no question about that. (They get a live gig and the title of the final chapter, if you’ve not already read it. And if not, why not?)

This is my last chapter-based blog post and, over the course of 33 songs, I have at times wondered whether Britpop is quite as important as we Nineties aficionados think it is. Did it really, hand on heart, have a greater impact than any other musical era? I have seen thousands of people – all of them roughly 10 years older than me – pack out a field in Guildford to watch a line-up of Sinitta, Kajagoogoo and one-quarter of UB40. Trust me, they were just as excited about it as any Britpop audience I have seen. Poor fuckers.

I don’t think there is anyone out there who would credibly claim that Bros were better than Blur, or that Five Star can hold a candle to Pulp. The point is, every generation likes to think that they produced the best music.

Only mine, though – the Britpop generation – is right.

Top three Bluetones tracks (other than ‘If…’):

Bluetones 1996

* This is a joke. Number 1 is of course ‘Flying Without Wings’.


Track 26: Goldfinger, Ash

1977, 1996

I had a friend in Sheffield.

Mike and I had much in common. We both liked beer. We both liked football. That’s usually enough for two 18-year-old males to bond.

Mike was a one-paced-but-gritty central midfielder for my football team, the hilariously titled David Mellor’s Football Task Force. Think Steve Stone, or Mark Noble in today’s money. And he was a reliable drinking companion for Monday nights glued to the early days of the Premier League, on its new home of Sky TV.

More nobly, Mike accompanied me on cold, underwhelming trips to watch our respective football teams play in the small towns around Sheffield. If Swindon were away at Chesterfield, I knew who to call. And to return the favour, I would begrudgingly tag along whenever Palace were playing nearby.

barnsley-143463_1280It was on the way back from an incident-of-any-kind-free 0-0 draw at Barnsley on a dull grey November day (I am yet to be convinced Barnsley has any other type of day) when Mike shared a pearl of wisdom that I cherish to this day.

“We’re probably not going to keep in touch after university” he said, with curmudgeonly insight that defied his 18 years, “but I’ll always give you a thought when Swindon are mentioned on Final Score.”

Mike, you see, kept a mental list of people – friends, associates, randoms – who he associated with one club. Quickly I realised I had my own list, which persists to this day. For Aston Villa, it’s Andy, my friend Julia’s boyfriend (now husband: he even checked the Villa score between the speeches at their wedding). Scunthorpe are Christopher Davis, the son of my dad’s church warden; he’d never been there, he just picked them just to be different. Stoke City are Matthew Cubley, who turned up one day at my primary school without warning and left six months later. His was the first Northern accent any of us in darkest Wiltshire had ever heard, meaning we treated him with Elephant man-eqsue curiosity for the first few weeks.

It also works for bands. If it’s the Super Furries, I think of former housemate Gordon. Should Ben Folds Five make a rare appearance, then it’s Charlotte. With the Doors, I think of my brother. And change the radio station.

And if it’s Ash – see, we always get there eventually – then I think of Mike. Even before we got to football, we talked music. He revealed his love of Ash on the first night we met. And, as we sat around our one-pound pints in the hall bar, I drunkenly shared my own Britpop secret with him.

I didn’t like Ash.

The music, that was fine. Great, actually. They even pulled off that rare trick of having album tracks better/as good as the singles.

No, it was the mocking, goading, taunting title of their (officially) debut album which grated.


The year Tim Wheeler was born. Also the year I was born.

And that’s what hurt. He may as well have called it ‘I’m not even 20 and I wrote this: what the feck have you done with your miserable life, eh? EH?’. Wheeler might claim it’s a Star Wars reference, but we all knew that’s what he meant.

Time heals. I’ve mellowed now. I’m seeing Ash in Berlin in a couple of weeks and will look them in the eye as an equal. For I too have now achieved. Has Tim Wheeler written a book that reached #2 in Amazon’s bestselling snooker-related titles? No, he has not. Not according to Wikipedia, anyway.

So I can listen now to 1977, revel in its glorious energy, my cheeks no longer burning with shame and jealousy and fury. I’ve even smoked a Henri Winterman cigar. Without coughing.

The pints will cost considerably more than one pound, but I will raise a couple of them to Mike. Who – just as he predicted – I haven’t seen or heard from since university.

Top three Ash songs:

Ash 1997

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:


* 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.

The station café

All writers need a place to write. A place to muse, pontificate, edit, scribble, procrastinate. Or to weep silently over the latest rejection email (it’s all part of the process, right?)

My own desk-away-from-the-desk is a small café by a suburban station in Berlin. It’s handily located between my flat and my daughter’s kindergarten, making it the perfect stop-off on the way back home, when I’m too exhausted/despondent to open my emails, or need a creative kick. I call in two or three times a week. And I’m not alone in making it my usual haunt.

Another regular is the old man who arrives pünktlich at five to nine each morning. He always has an espresso (most of which he leaves) and sits outside to enjoy a thin, dark cigarette while flicking through the Berliner Morgenpost. He has an immaculate moustache and a smart beige jacket which he is wearing religiously, even in this current mid-thirties meteorological madness.

One morning I said ‘hallo’ to him once, reasoning that he must have noticed me there and we should at least acknowledge each other. He didn’t reply; didn’t even look up.

I haven’t tried again.

A late-forty-early-fifty-something couple also stop by most mornings. They always sit by the kitchen and never waver from their chosen breakfasts – him a croissant and cappuccino, her mint tea with a muesli and yoghurt bowl – and they both read separate papers. They rarely speak to each other, but more often than not embark on a passionate, mid-food embrace. Tongues and everything. Yet they turn up in separate cars. Are they a couple? If so, why do they arrive from different directions? Are they having a secret affair? I’m no expert, but surely going to the same place each morning isn’t the most inconspicuous way of carrying on?

I would be too nervous to ask what’s going on, especially in fumbling German, but I don’t want to. It’s more intriguing not to.

I’ve been going there for five years now to write down ideas, cross them out again, read magazines, kill time. In all that time, the owner has never smiled once; never asked my name, never offered hers. But a few weeks ago, we had a breakthrough.

“Hallo, kann ich bitte –“

“Latte macchiato, oder?”

She knows what I drink. I no longer have to order. She even knows not to bring the gluten-laden complimentary biscuit I can’t eat. She still doesn’t know my name and is unlikely to ask at this stage. But it matters not: I’m now officially a regular. Welcomed – however begrudgingly – into their little corner of the city.

It would ruin it if we all started talking to each other.


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.


Photo from Pixabay

Track 10: You’ve Gotta Look Up, Dodgy

Free Peace Sweet, 1996

Dodgy. Were they trying to tell us something with that name, a confessional moment of nominative determinism? Maybe it’s a trick that certain bands like to play with the band and album titles they choose. As my friend Stevie said after picking a CD from my collection: “Warning, Green Day. They’re not fucking kidding.”

The general consensus back in the Nineties was that Dodgy were OK, not much more: as their big hit had it, they were good enough.

Dodgy 96But by God they were reliable. Whichever festival you went to, there they were, second or third up on the billing. At around three in the afternoon, before you were properly pissed, they’d bound onto the stage, careering about like peroxide Labrador pups (plus the drummer) and giving it their all while the crowd paid half-attention, at least until they got round to ‘Staying Out For The Summer’, at which point we all went crazy and chucked cider everywhere.

As motivation/homework for writing my Nineties-set novel, I listened to the bands I hadn’t concentrated on back in the day. When it came round to Dodgy, I almost boycotted them on account of the diabolical name of their signature album, which contains not one but three crowbarred-in puns. But those were heady days; such behaviour can, just about, be excused.

On I ploughed, courtesy of everyone’s favourite Swedish online streaming service.

Less than a minute in, my head was nodding. I’d forgotten about ‘In A Room’. Hearing it again immediately escorted me back to those sun-drenched, lager-soaked, noodle-riddled festival fields, those teenage years when I didn’t have to worry about stuff like mortgages, career progression and why publishers keep rejecting my book. ‘Trust In Time’ is also highly enjoyable.

And ‘You’ve Gotta Look Up’ is another strong tune that I missed the first time around. It’s vibrant, easy on the ear, uplifting: everything that jangly festival pop should be. In fact, the whole album is a highly rewarding assortment of energetic indie bop.

Dodgy, I can only apologise. I misjudged you badly. I was young, too easily swayed by the stardust sprinkled by the bigger names of the Britpop scene. As I sat on the flattened grass of the festival field, flicking through the NME and waiting for Kula Shaker to come on, I should have paid attention. I should have listened. My mistake. My loss.

That title, though. Free Peace Sweet. Jeez.

Top three Dodgy tracks:


Track 7. Lucky Man, The Verve

Urban Hymns, 1997

There was more to the 1990s than Britpop. Indeed, a quick run-through of the Number 1s from the decade suggests that cheesy pop was by far the dominant commercial and cultural force, with the Spice Girls, Westlife, Peter Andre among the horrors to leave their filthy, manufactured mark on those times.

Then there were the genres that barely troubled the charts, such as dance, metal, trip hop, and the mysteriously elusive drum ‘n’ bass (I’m still not sure what that was, or where it went).

Many people chose their camp and largely stuck to it. But uVerve 1998nlike many of its Nineties peers, Urban Hymns transcended the boundaries of musical taste. You heard its melodies jangling from everywhere: student bedrooms and coffee shops; in supermarkets, cafes and bars; on commercial radio stations and at dedicated Britpop nights. The shoe-staring indie kids loved it, naturally, but so did the clubbers, the goths and the popsters. Druggies admired the post-addiction angst wrought deep in the lyrics. New Lads loved it as much as anyone, finding a new hero in Richard Ashcroft, who instantly made it acceptable to swagger through the streets swinging your arms and acting like a tit.

As a Britpop devotee, I had a copy; of course I did. But I didn’t listen to it that much back then. The songs seemed to go on slightly too long, meandering beyond their natural cut-off point (the whole album clocks in at well over an hour). It was also among the more melancholy and introspective offerings of the mid 90s. This is unsurprising, given the not-so-private turmoil the band had been through, but this was a period when I felt anything but. I was having the best time of my life, and Urban Hymns failed to chime with it; I was more at home with the upbeat jollity of bands such as Supergrass and Cast.

I dug Urban Hymns out while writing my Britpop-themed novel, to see if the more reflective, middle-aged me could reappraise and appreciate anew its qualities and charms, which are widely acknowledged by critics and fans alike. Still nothing; it’s just possible that I’m the only person who grew up in the 90s who doesn’t like it all that much.

In fact, in pretentious, self-important muso style, I prefer their earlier stuff, especially A Northern Soul; a simpler, more plaintive and (slightly) more upbeat record. This really is music. And the fact that I like it best, while most people prefer Urban Hymns, makes me extremely cool and knowledgeable. So there.

Top three Verve tracks:


Track 4: She Makes My Nose Bleed, Mansun

Attack Of The Grey Lantern, 1997

Mansun passed me by at the time. There I was, running around the student pubs of Sheffield, telling anyone who would listen why Longpigs were so much better than current flavours-of-the-month Kula Shaker, and before I had even got halfway through my in-depth analysis, everyone was talking about Attack Of The Grey Lantern being the best album of the nineties. And, while I was trying to scrabble together enough money to buy a copy, Radiohead released ‘Paranoid Android’, attention shifted yet again and I could thankfully dredge up my well-honed monologue about how Pablo Honey was loads better than The Bends, actually.

Mansun 1999The net result is that I never got a copy of Mansun’s debut album. Music was expensive back then, with each album purchased (instead of burned or stolen) setting you back the best part of a tenner. With student grants only just stretching beyond Christmas, we had to be selective. The youth of today don’t know how luck they are. Yes, university fees are now nine grand plus a year, there are no jobs available and even fewer houses. But students today can listen to whatever they like, for free. And I don’t remember anyone eating avocado toast back then, either.

Praise the Lord for the gift of Spotify. While writing my Britpop-based book, I knew Mansun would have to be in there. So I listened to their back catalogue to see what I’d missed.

A lot, it seems. I knew the big hits, the ones that made the Shine compilations, like ‘Stripper Vicar’ and ‘Wide Open Space’. But there was so much more to enjoy; ‘An Open Letter To The Lyrical Taxpayer’ is a new favourite.

Is such widespread accessibility to music a good thing? It’s certainly convenient; if I hear a band I like on 6Music, I can simply add them to my playlist, safe in the knowledge that I’ll hear it again at some point in the future. And new bands now find it an easier to promote themselves and build a following, saving themselves (at least partly) from the whims of the record companies.

But do people develop the same obsession with a particular band, or a certain album, as we did back then? I played All Change on repeat for six weeks one summer, not just because I liked it, but because I didn’t have that many CDs back then (and when you’ve saved up your paper round money for weeks to buy a new CD player, listening to music on copied tapes no longer cuts it). As a result, I developed an affection for this album that will never die.

On the flip side, I was able to discover Mansun twenty years too late, without even having to leave my sofa or spend a single cent. Good for me, less so for them (I assume Spotify royalties take a while to tot up). So it’s a mixed bag, I guess.

And after that in-depth analysis of the state of the music industry, I’m off to listen to Kleptomania with some smashed avocado on toast and a decaf soya milk flat white.

Top three Mansun tracks (I feel a little unqualified to choose them, but here goes):


Track 2: Finetime, Cast

All Change, 1995

It was All Change that first made me realise that we might, just might, be on to something special.

A friend in the sixth form – Jeremy, who also introduced me to another legendary bit of Cast 1995nineties culture, Father Ted – asked me if I’d heard of Cast. I hadn’t and so, next day, he duly handed me a tape of the album, which fitted neatly on one side (it wasn’t until I bought it on CD that I discovered it had a hidden track at the end). I took it home, stole something from the fridge, and stuck it on.


From the opening chords of ‘Alright’, I knew I was going to love this band. It’s a superb opener, superior to Supergrass’s ‘Alright’ (the lesser-known, secondary Battle of Britpop) and things get better from there onwards. It’s a joyful, vibrant album, full of energy and crammed with melody.

Cast were even better live. Keith O’Neill remains the most energetic drummer I’ve ever seen, and a night in their company always flew by; don’t take my word for it, take Noel’s. That’s what I want in a band; I want them to be deliriously, stupidly happy on stage, utterly incredulous at the fact that they are getting to be rock stars, to do what so many of us dream of doing for a living. (Not me, though; first I wanted to be James Herriot, then I wanted to play for Liverpool. I still haven’t fully given up hope of the latter.) It’s comforting to know that the band are still touring, still playing festivals, still doing what they do best.

If they ever make a film of Love In The Time Of Britpop (a big if, admittedly, but let me dream), this will be the song that opens it. It was, and remains, a definitive nineties anthem and is, for me, Cast’s signature tune. Listen to it, marvel at it, then ponder this: it’s not even the best song on that album. Fourth place at best, after ‘History’, ‘Four Walls’ and ‘Walkaway’. Perhaps even behind ‘Promised Land’. A song this good, struggling to scrape into the top five on a debut album. That’s why Britpop was so fucking awesome.

Top three Cast songs: