Menswe@r front-man Johnny Dean shares his first-hand perspective on the Britpop movement, as a member of one of the sharpest dressed bands to be associated with the term. Johnny kindly put together this 'Britpop' Spotify Playlist and told us a little about his thoughts on the tracks he picked out.
Ok. So, Britpop. If you want to talk about the roots of Britpop, well then it was something that stretches right back to Mersey Beat in the 60s and took in every major British musical movement right up to the 90s. It’s often put forward that the first seeds were planted during the “baggy” movement of the late 80s early 90s. Bands such as The Stone Roses, The Charlatans and Blur sprang from “baggy” and later became hugely successful during the Britpop explosion. In fact, Blur’s single “Popscene” is often thought of as the first Britpop release proper. Quickly followed by “The Drowners”, a Suede song. So that would be spring 92. Both were incredibly important in creating an aesthetic that became the template for nearly every band to follow. Including Menswe@r. Almost a year later Select magazine ran a cover with the questionable “Yanks go home” banner. And that was that.
There is an argument that Britpop didn’t really exist, but was just a name the press gave to a scene that had it’s base in London. And at the time, the term wasn’t used half as much as it is now. Personally, to me, that is what it was. A scene. A movement. There was nothing new about the Britpop scene musically. It was very derivative. It wasn’t like the genre’s which existed previously that were new and seemed alien at first. What Britpop did was cherry pick from those genres to make something else. Some bands were a lot better at hiding this than others... However, a lot of people now, especially people who weren’t part of it, seem to lump all indie guitar bands from that period under that banner. Britpop. Which makes it easier to talk or write about. But at the time, if you had gone into a club, you’d have been hearing more than that. And many people, in and around that scene, were making music that wasn’t entirely guitar based but was played alongside their six string strumming contemporaries. So you had the Chemical Brothers being played alongside Pulp or collaborating with The Charlatans and Oasis. This has somehow gotten lost in time. The fact that it was quite a wide and encompassing thing. People tend to need things black and white so it can be easily digested. But to me, as someone who was involved, the thing we now call Britpop was a movement, not a musical style.
Funnily enough I didn’t listen to much of the music which is now called Britpop other than a few of the major players. I was listening to a lot of Bowie, and some electronic music. My favourite album of 1995 was by an American band (The Rentals).
But, here’s my playlist. Enjoy.
1. To The Birds – Suede
What is amazing about this song, which is basically Suede doing shoegazing, is that it was a b side! I think it’s one of their best songs. It’s also one of their earliest, being the b-side on their first single “The Drowners”. It’s so big and Anderson sounds so confident. They became known for their quality b-sides, eventually putting many of them out as a collection on “Sci Fi Lullabies”. One of the best bands from that time.
2. For Tomorrow (Visit to Primrose Hill Extended) – Blur
This song. I just don’t know where to start. It’s beyond beautiful. Especially this extended version. It’s a perfect snapshot of early 90s London. So Kinks it out-Kinks The Kinks. It has everthing, hope, desperation, the frustration of bedsit youth. The lyrics are so, so good. The leap from Blur’s first album to their second was considerable. This song was a rallying call for me.
3. Do You Remember The First Time – Pulp
So it’s pretty well known we used to knock about a bit with members of Pulp, Blur, Elastica, and somehow along the way me and Chris Gentry ended up the video for this song. It’s a great song. One of their best. I just love the sound of it. The synth pad intro still makes my hair stand on end. And it builds beautifully. Wonderful lyrics and delivery from Jarvis too. Perfect really.
4. Life Is Sweet – The Chemical Brothers
In the 90s you had Oasis making these Beatles tribute songs, using guitars which is fair enough, and people liked it. However the Chemical Brothers were using contemporary methods to kind of do the same thing. And that made more sense to me, because I felt that that’s what the Beatles were about. Finding new ways to do old things.
They were part of the scene, and you can hear them in a lot of stuff made by guitar bands at the time. Especially The Charlatans. And vice versa, on this track for instance Tim Burgess is an vocal duties. They were so psychedelic. Lennon would have loved them.
5. One To Another – The Charlatans
The rhythm track on this tune comes courtesy of The Chemical Brothers. The Charlatans were Baggy survivors, and they deserved to be. Before Britpop revived them they were still battling away and putting stuff out and touring. They’ve been one of those bands that suffers from terrible luck but still ploughs on. I respect them so much. Fighters. And they had an enviable rhythm section. Really muscular bass. Underrated. Love this song. I got to hear it before it was released and it blew me away. An example of how Britpop could straddle both guitar and dance music.
6. History – The Verve
Before he started writing Oasis songs this was the kind of thing Richard Ashcroft was capable of. The strings on this are so heart breaking, but it’s his voice that always gets me. Incredibly plaintive. Awesome vocals. Just beautiful. AND HE’S QUOTING WILLIAM BLAKE! Controversial, but “Northern Soul” is a far better record than “Urban Hymns”.
7. Faster – The Manic Street Preachers
Not really part of the Britpop scene at all, but often lumped into it or its welsh equivalent “Cool Cymru”. This songs lyric is just as raw as it gets. Self loathing, vitriol, classic Wire/Edwards invective. It sounds like an orgy of self destruction to me. Fantastic and horrific. Incredible stuff.
8. Stars – Dubstar
Again, lumped in with Britpop, but sample friendly. Another melancholy one that seems to have a shred of hope threaded through it. If most of the Britpop bands had taken 90s wonder drug Prozac most of these brilliant songs wouldn’t have happened. Christ we must have been depressed. But seriously, this is a beautiful song. I recommend listening to it whilst floating on a lilo in a swimming pool at midnight.
9. Born Slippy – Underworld
Lyrics that perfectly encapsulate the Lad and Ladette culture that plagued the mid to late nineties. Played in every club by every DJ every night anywhere in London or anywhere else probably. A celebration of being totally and utterly munted out of your mind. No other song is a better soundtrack to the club and drug culture that swept across the UK in the nineties. It is indeed the perfect theme song for the Britpop film, Trainspotting.
See Menswe@r live this Summer at the Victorious Festival on the 24th August, and check out their new single “Crash ‘14” which is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify: