Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s Retrospective adventure thro’ the Birth of Britpop
So, the Seattle-face’d period of anxiety & self loathing was over, the time of the Orcs had begun. Well not quite Orcs, but definitely dodgy council estate Mancs from Burnage. The one thing these pioneering Britpopeers did keep carrying on from Grunge, however, was proper crunchy guitars, & Oasis had them in abundance. Just listen to the opening of their debut single, Supersonic, when the guitar claws its way down the psychic spine before shattering everything we thought we knew & enjoyed about music
I need to be myself
I cant be no-one else
Im feeling supesonic
Give me gin & tonic
I loved it. From the shaky ploddy drum rattle to the Beatlesque ahhhs, & all those daft lyrics, including lines about cane-sniffing & gin & tonic. On adding the latter beverage to that song called Cigarettes & Alcohol which I’d listened to earlier in the year as the last song on a giveaway NME tape (issued February 12th), I’m like, these guys are just gadgies with guitars. Cool! Thatcher’s Britain had finished, Spike Island was like 4 years earlier, when live music & raving came together as the Woodstock of the Acid House generation. Since then, everyone seemed to have had a major collective come down, but things in that summer of ’94 were just about to change. A new generation, too young to go to partying in the late 80s, were ready & raring to go, & they need a soundtrack of their own.
For once the market adjusted to the music, & a series of definitive albums were released to popular acclaim throughout the year… the retro-rock of Definitely Maybe (Live forever, Cigarettes & Alcohol), Blur’s new-Mod album Parklife (End of a century) & Pulp’s glitzy, disco-intellectual His’n’Hers (babies, do you remember the first time). Oxford trio Supergrass released their honky-tonk I should coco, whose piano-driven tune Allright became the anthem of the summer. Dodgy released their deliciously optimistic album Homegrown (stayin out for the summer, so let me go far) & Beck gave the world his Mellow Gold, whose Loser must be the most famous chorus in the world where nobody knows what they are actually singing. Radiohead released their My Iron Lung E.P., hinting at what was to come in throughout mid-nineties epoch. Ride’s carnival of Light looked after the Shoe-gazers, while Prodigy catered for the ravers. Their Jilted Generation (Poison) was played everywhere & I’ll never forget seeing them play at Newcastle’s Mayfair club, late ’94, a flame-haired Liam rolling onto stage in a see-thro sphere, ripping his way through the clear plastic to begin the first tune.
A few months before that gig in Newcastle I had just found myself in Skegness, your A-typical Yorkshire seaside town. Often battered by the breeze flung ruthlessly across the North Sea from Scandinavian fjords, they often have a certain charm. Places like Scarborough & Whitley Bay are well worth a visit, & the region contains Robin Hoods Bay, a wayfarers paradise of little streets, good ale, old seadogs & their even older shantys. Yet that was the Bay & this was Skeggy. As it was mid-April the place was hardly lively… in truth it was dead. The season was set to begin in a few weeks, so this was the best time to get a job. As I arrived late in the day I bought myself a room in a B&B & settled down for the night. With morning I arose, breakfasted, groomed myself & set off out in the search of work.
Ah Butlins! The paradise of childhood. On several occasions as a boy my family had gone lock, stock & barrel to Butlins for a weeks holiday. It was generally to the camp at Pwhellhi, North Wales, sat idly on the coast & the focal point for the whole of the North West. The affordable nature of the holidays enabled many a working class kid to experience a real holiday, & boy were they good. Games, arcades, football, swimming, snooker, funfairs & archery were just a few distractions for a kid who usually had his head in a comic. Believe me I had a whale of a time & perhaps this was what had drawn me to the camps in the first place. I associated the place with pleasure & escape, & here I was again. Unfortunately, my sacking had been recorded (I had thrown milkshake over this bird who’d try to make me mop the floor – as if!) & I was forcibly ejected from the camp by a burly Security Guard. It seemed all my plans had come to naught & as I trudged along the beach I wondered what the hell was I gonna do. Then I looked at Skeggy & thought, ‘Thank fuck fer that,’ & did the usual thing I did when I was homeless & in a bit of a scrape… I rang Nick.
Now Nick’s mi best mate & the coolest guy I’ve ever had the pleasure to buzz off. We met when we were ten, played footy together for various teams… were rival quarterbacks in the schoolyard when American football hit England in the late eighties… played the Ghost Valley Two track on Super Mario Kart at least a million times… messed about with Live Role Playin & then, as the teenage years took hold, started getting wrecked. The guy gave me my first ever spliff & turned me onto the Stone Roses, took me raving & got me laid… what more can I say, he’s my buddy-buddy longtime. I put my ten pee in the phone box (that’s what it cost in ’94) & dialed that familiar number.
“Listen, I’ve just tried to get a job at Butlins, but it’s gone arse over tits… can I come an crash”
“Wait a minute… Mam, can Damo stay… Yeah no worries man.”
“Sound… I’ll give you a bell from Skipton!”
So I put down the receiver, smiled a smile & left Skeggy… an I ain’t never bin back since.
In the world beyond England’s chilly East Coast the West Indian batsman, Brian Lara, scored 375 runs against a typically weak England seam attack. It was ten runs more then Sir Garfield sobers, who was the first to congratulate him as he lefty the crease. Elsewhere Stockport had been fire-bombed & a middle-aged Irishman called Paul Hill was released from prison. He was the last of the seventeen Irish who had been wrongly imprisoned by Britain after the IRA hit England in the mid-seventies… you had the Birmingham 6, the Maguire 7 & the most famous group, the Guildford Four. A film had just been released entitled ‘In the Name of the Father’ which showed what had happened to Gerry Conlan at the hands of the British Justice system. After threats with revolvers followed by a hard diet of food & sleep deprivation… a broken Conlan signed the first thing in front of him. Combined with the supression of vital witness statements this served to have an innocent man locked up for the better years of his life.
As the train left Skegness I found myself hiding in the toilets to avoid paying my fare… successfully of course. Once I had retaken my seat I sat & pondered upon what the fate had in store for me… little did I know of the fun & frolics that lay in wait. My train meandered back awesterly to Leeds, where I swapped trains & trundled to the old market town of Skipton. Now I’ve never really warmed to Skipton, there’s something a little Stepford Wives about the place, & as the town’s gloomy castle came into view I began to think I’d made the wrong move, rather like going off on holiday & finding yourself in Grimsby. Now as this was 1994, only 6 people in a hundred had a mobile phone, & the concept of text messaging was a twinkle in some clever geezers eye. Hardly anyone was hooked up to the internet so communication relied on the postal service (sketchy at the best of times) & the phone, including queuing at phone boxes when out & about. I rang up Nick, told him where I was & waited the twenty or so minutes for him to arrive. He was driving his mate Easy Ste’s shiny black car & soon I was inside, smoking a spliff, watching Yorkshire turn into the far superior county of Lancashire.
Barnoldswick, or Barlick as its more locally known, is a remarkable little town of about ten thousand souls, perched right on the border tween the roseate counties, & still divided over which of the two counties they should belong to. It is about an hour’s bus ride from Burnley, which I had undertaken many times since Nick’s family moved there in about 1990. The place is mental… everyone below the age of thirty is a raver… the chief currency of the town is weed & it is here that my eyes were opened to music, drugs & fun. On Saturday nights, after crazy hijinks in the town’s pubs, a vast posse of Barlickers would drive en masse to the After Dark club in Morley… where on a night called The Orbit techno would blare out of the giant speakers, the roman ampitheatre like club heaving with many a raver. Wicked nights were had by all as Joey Beltram, West Bam & Sven Vath brought the club to such a pumpin height that the club easily became the techno capital of Britain.
We next drove down the, long sloping road from Thornton-in-Craven & into the hilly terraced streets of Barlick. On the corner of one stood the Rainhall Food House, an excellent Chinese chippy. O, did I forget to mention it, Nick is half Chinese & his mam ran the chippy for years. On many an occasion I said to myself how lucky I was to have a best mate whose mam runs a chippy & I said it again as I sat down in their kitchen to my favourite dish… it was the same every time, a massive pile of chips, fried rice & chicken curry… bliss!
“So what are you gonna do Damo?”
“Fuck knows Nick, I’m reyt up fer some adventurin tho.”
“Well, I’ve just been on the phone to mi sister Michelle, an she says there’s a room goin near where she lives… rents paid up fer two months!”
“Cool… where is it?”
And that was that. In a relative instance we were on our way, the two of us, best mates ready to take on the world. So this is how the world works… one person’s life effects subtly, yet profoundly, another’s. As I finished off my meal I remembered Michelle. She is Nick’s eldest sister (he has three more younger ones) & has always had a rebellious streak. She’s the kind of girl that ends up living in Wales fer fucks sake. Even as a fifth year at Gawthorpe High School, when I was a first year, I remember her prancing about sporting wild, bright purple hair. I quietly wondered what colour her hair was now…
After some final preparations for our trip we called on Easy Ste. Now Easy is a cool guy, a laugh-a-minute & always carrying weed. He lived with his mum, listening to jungle & drawing funky graffiti on his bedroom walls. He’d offered to drive us as far as Manchester, where we’d catch a train to Wales. Before we set off we all had a bucket & a few hot knives & by the time we hit that Victorian megalopoli we were pretty fuckin’ stoned. It was hilarious watching Easy tryin to find somewhere to park. He did tho, & we went for a farewell beer. Next door to the pub was a music shop, & I remembered that Supersonic had been released the previous week by that new Manchester band, Oasis. I wandered in, found a 12″ copy on vinyl & paid my four quid or so… proud as punch I rejoined the lads.
“Who’s them?” asked Easy.
“It’s Oasis… they’re pretty good”
“They look like the Roses,” said Nick.
“I reckon they’re gonna be massive,”
…said I. Now, it would be easy to say I had such an insight, but there was some kind of mystical buzz that surrounded those particular Scallys in the early days. It was the same energy that overtook gingery Alan McGhee of Creation records as he watched them play in King Tuts Glasgow in May ’93. Oasis had randomly turned up & were determined to play 4 songs at this weird city of culture thing with 18 Wheeler headlining. McGhee was up from London, wondering what all the commotion was about went to see the band & immediately signed them once they stepped off-stage. ‘We thought he was takin’ the piss,‘ said Liam, ‘cos he was all armarni’d up, a bit of a smoothie, like.’
From here the juggernaut just kept on rolling, picking up young spirits along the way & depositing them all in a field at Knebworth a couple of years later. I’d jumped off way before then, but I was there at the beginning, listening to Cigarettes & Alcohol on my sisters yellow cassette player one dark evening in February. But there was sunshine in that tune, & hope for a buzzin’ summer. Oasis were simply grabbing Britain all by the scruff of the neck & hauling us into the sun. They were to be the flagbearers, & its no coincidence that their earliest symbol was of a warped Union Jack. Backstage at the Word where they were playing Supersonic on TV for the first time, hypnotic-eyed Liam Gallagher give some interesting shpiel about the formation of the band;
I weren’t into music. I’d be like, shut up with that bunch of crap you’re playing on the guitar, you can’t play it, shut up. I was into football, & being a little scally & that.
Things changed for Liam when he saw the Stone Roses as a 16-year old. ‘It was the first gig I ever went to,’ said Liam, ‘And Ian Brown came on, & he was giving it the vibe & all that.’ Liam was inspired to form his a band of his own, called Rain, which Noel caught on his return from roadieing with the Inspiral Carpets. He immediately took over the band, bought them a load of gear, made them practice 4 times a week, & most importantly gave them the cheeky chappy tunes we would all soon love to hear. By March 1994 they were on the road, touring Britain extensively. ‘Certainly,‘ reviewed Ted Kessler, ‘Liam Gallagher could do with shaking off some of his more latent Ryder-isms – the hunchback microphone molesting, the between-song banter (“Cheers, big ears”?). But he’s twice the singer Ryder was, much better-looking – and if he just stands up straight every now and then, he’ll be on Top Of The Pops by Christmas.’
Backstage at the Word in March, during their TV debut, the Melody Maker were interviewing Noel;
‘If there’s one gripe I ‘ave, it’s this,’ says Oasis leery, cocksure guitarist, Noel Gallagher, swigging from his umpteenth jack & coke of the day. ‘Listen right,’ the fiery Manc carries on, ‘if anybody doesn’t buy my music I’ll be the most upset man in the world.’ We write music for the man who walks dwnn the street to get his copy of the fucking Daily Mirror & his 20 Bensons every day, & he’s got fuck all going for him, he’s got no money. Even if somebody cant afford to buy our record, if they put on the radio & while they’re cleaning the house , & whistle along & go, ‘fuckin’ ‘ell, did you ‘ear that tune?’ That’s what its all about.
As for the Roses comparisons, Liam was basically a Roses fan, & Noel was an Oasis fan. ‘Of course we’re gonna be compared to the Roses. But not even they could write a song like Digsy’s Diner or Supersonic,‘ splurted Noel. ‘And we couldn’t write a fucking tune like Fools Gold or I Wanna be Adored,’ retorted Liam. Another sample of their fireworky fraternal feistiness came in an interview with the NME, in which we hear
Liam: You want to be Andrew Lloyd Webber, yo do. You f—er.
Noel: Who’s Andrew Lloyd Webber
Liam: I havent got a clue, some golfer or something.
Noel: Right, shut the f–k up then
In the same interview, Noel showed how Alan McGhee was a big fan of their music;
I get a buzz giving new songs to Alan McGee, ‘cos he actually thinks we’re the greatest band in the f-ing world. He phones me up at four or five o’clock in the morning: I’ll get out of bed & its McGee on teh other end, going, ‘I’M FEELING SUPERSONIC! GET ME GIN & TONIC! WE’RE GONNA ANNHIALATE THE WORLD, MAN!” That, in a nutshell , is why we’re on Creation records: ‘cos the ‘prez is up at five in teh morning, reciting the lyrics down the f- phone!”
Whatever & whoever they were, they were ready to inveigle themselves into the British psyche. They knew it was coming. The vast majority didn’t but I did, a poppy Stone Roses would do while the real thing were working on their masterpiece. ‘You wanna know something?’ said Noel, ‘this band, in the next two years, will win the Eurovision Song Contets with a track called All Around the World, It’ll sail it by, at least, 30 points., This is the track to end all tracks. We will win the Eurovision Song Contest. Its like an 11-minute epic. Put it this way, if John lennon would have written this track he’d have been shot 5 years earlier.’
As can be seen from the above footage from’ 92, their cockiness was definitely out running their talent. “All Around the World” was eventually released on 12 January 1998, & it did get to number one; not quite the Eurovision Song Contest triumph, but from an early stage Noel could sense something big was just around the corner.
With a few beers down our necks & my new record tucked under mi arm, Easy Ste said his farewells & left us to the road. All about us lay Manchester… or to two kids from Lancashire, Madchester. It was a place where Bez would dance about shakin his maracas, where Ian Brown would swagger about cool as fuck. It was a place where you got shot if you even caught a bus thro Moss Side, a place to go shoppin’ at Christmas & ravin’ if you were feelin adventurous. It was the place of the G-Mex, Old Trafford & the Arndale. It was the city of the Hacienda & Sankeys Soap. To a true Lancastrian (none of this Greater Manchester nonsense) we had a simple name for the place… Skankymancwankland. But it was always the music that belted out of Manchester’s bands that mattered the most. From the Carpets ‘Find out why’ on Saturday Morning TV; to parking me arse on the dance-floor whenever Sit Down came on down a nightclub; to having mi bath after footy to Some Friendly, it was always there. We made our way across to Piccadilly station, checked for a train to Cardiff, & made our way onto the train.
“So how we gonna jump it then?”
Asked Nick, who’d never Faded before.
And off set the train.
TRAINING IN THE ART OF FARE EVASION : THE FADER CODE
1 Remain alert
2 Always keep your cool
3 Trust your instincts
4 Never show your money
5 Know your stations
6 Another five minutes won’t hurt in the loo
7 Know your enemy
8 Know your postcodes
9 The train’s going there anyway
10 When in doubt, clout
11 The train always comes when you’re skinnin’ up
12 It is every Faders duty to baffle & confuse
13 Always remember your free cup of tea
14 There’s no need to rush – unless you’re being chased