Pretty Green

My Britpop – Annie Lees

shed seven band shotIt’s May 1994, a Monday morning if I recall. I am doing the weekly trawl of new releases through the shelves of Woolworths. It’s a dire time, musically. Pop and dance music had taken the charts by the scruff of the neck at the back end of the 80’s and maintained a tight grip. And by pop and dance I don’t mean the credible stuff that was acceptable to me back then, stuff like 808 State, Orbital and The Utah Saints, they all took a back seat to pop bands and the dirge of Euro pop that was sweeping the nation.
As an impressionable 14 year old, myself and friends alike were disillusioned. We had our dalliances with Take That, we went to an East 17 concert, we all bought that Gabrielle record but the love of that music started and ended with just that. It was a fleeting romance with an era that just didn’t gel with us.

That Monday was one that will always stick in my mind. I looked further and further down the chart, I’m looking outside the Top 40 and feeling that sinking feeling that I got every week as it dawned on me that there wasn’t one record here that inspired me to put my hand in my pocket. Not one. The chart was full of the same banal chart fodder that I was seeing every single week. Singles graced with faces of scantily clad men in soft focus, or badly dressed rappers and dance outfits; they were all one and the same to me.

And then I saw it, like a beacon screaming ‘buy me!’. Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. The single cover glaring at me, the face of a man pained, frustrated, illustrating my internal monologue to a tee. Illustrating the state of the music industry to a tee.

I hadn’t heard this song, I didn’t need to, I just knew I needed to buy it. In an instant, that purchase changed the course of the next 5 years. It wasn’t Britpop but it opened the door for a whole new world of music.

Whatever it was I needed to buy that day was consequently forgotten as I embarked on the 15 minute walk home, my steps escalating to a brisk walk, clutching my red and white bag close in the vein hope that the contents would be everything I had hoped they would be. Pleasantries were cast aside as I walked through the front door and dashed upstairs to my room, which at this point was a blank canvas, bare walls baring only small marks where my brief romance with pop had been torn down months prior, primed and ready for the next stage of my life to adorn the vast magnolia box.

The first few seconds of that record, without sounding over the top, were like an epiphany. I am 33 now and to this very day whenever I hear that haunting opening riff I am immediately catapulted back to that day in my room. This was it. This was what I had been waiting for. This was my life.

I had been bought up on guitar music, my parents were very into their prog rock and metal, the sounds of Santana, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Yes were staples in my house. The Beatles were the only band we were allowed in the car and as a result, formed a huge part of my childhood. But I was 14 and this was retrospective, it was the 60’s and 70’s. I loved it as it was what bonded us as a family, but it wasn’t now. I couldn’t live it. Where was my 60’s and 70’s?
Now was dull, now was predictable and grey. For 20 years the music industry had been so monotonous that I had never known a ‘scene’ like my parents had been a part of, where music was everything, but I was about to….

THANK GOD FOR RADIO 1

You can’t say this today, but 20 years ago, 2 people took what was blossoming in my life and nurtured it.
After my musical awakening I couldn’t wait to tell my friends. To see everyone embracing what I had heard and fell in love with as much as I did, I knew something big was about to happen. Then we discovered Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq. This pair were the musical equivalent of Jesus in the mid 90’s. Every week night at 7pm I would disappear upstairs and that was me for 2 hours. Everyone knew not to disturb me. Tape nestled in the cassette deck, record button and pause button pressed and ready for release when I heard any musical tit bit that the pair would offer.
I would just sit. Sit and listen. Stationary and with open ears taking in every single name of every band, every song, every record label and release date.
For myself and my friends, everything took a back seat from then on, school was something we just did in the daytime that enabled us all to get together to discuss music. To compare who graced our textbooks that day and to read the gig announcements in the NME.
They started throwing around names like Oasis, Shed Seven, Elastica, Suede and Blur. The sound they were making just gripped me. Echoing vague similarities to punk in some instances, but generally a sound that was new to me, and so exciting.
The NME and Melody Maker were, all of a sudden, front to back pictures of hot, angry looking men with floppy hair and beautiful women who just looked effortlessly cool. I frantically wrote down any names on a list that I would go and shove under ‘record shop Tony’s’ nose the next day. I had boycotted Woolworths at this point in favour of the far more respectable record shop. Something which my children will never be a part of sadly, but for us, there would have been no Britpop without the indie. This man was like Father Christmas, we asked and he would provide.
At this point Oasis were on every music publication going. These 2 scruffy brothers looking generally pissed off with the world, were everywhere. They proclaimed to be the best band in the country, they claimed they would be bigger than Jesus, and at that point I don’t think anyone in the country had any reason to doubt them. I ordered Supersonic, a continuous loop of Manc drawl and whiney guitars were all that I needed at that point. Supersonic was the single but the B-Sides just blew me away, if Soundgarden had opened my mind to modern rock music, this band honed in on the very specifics of music that really got me. From the lyrics down to the shoes he wore. It wasn’t long after Oasis I discovered Shed Seven. The music press had an absolute field day with them, the tenuous band wars that ensued were completely unfounded but catapulted Shed Seven into the limelight at a time when we were desperate for more bands like this. As a debut, Definitely Maybe is up there with the best, but for me, so is Change Giver. Visually bands at the time were pretty much cut from the same mould, Oasis set the bar for indie rock music, but the Sheds, they were something different. Take the hair away, the clothes, and here was a band that no-one really compared to for me in the 90’s.

For the 6 months that followed my CD collection grew and grew to what I now call my music wall. Every single CD in that collection holds a memory, a story and can trigger an emotion. No more so than my first 4 albums, Definitely Maybe, Change Giver, Modern Life Is Rubbish and Carnival Of Light. In the days before multi disc changers, it was a massive headache every night deciding which of these 4 to play……I still have the same dilemma sometimes.

GIGS

I look back on the time all this started and it is crazy. My boyfriend at the time had an older sister, she was at college, only a few years older but a hell of a lot cooler than all of us. Age wasn’t a boundary though, she was right there with us in the heart of the birth of Britpop. She came home one day telling us she’d got tickets to see the Manic Street Preachers. I liked the Manics, they baffled me a little. I remember being intrigued at the melancholy, questioning what it was that had prompted such a narcissistic approach to song writing.
She told me they were playing at the Roadmender, a funny old building in town resembling nothing more than an ugly concrete bunker. It looked hostile and dirty but little did I know that this would be my second home for the next 2 years.
There were only a few tickets left so we spent the next day at school clock watching. The minutes felt like days until we got home. When she told us she’d managed to get us tickets it was like birthday and Christmas in one. This was my first gig, Manic Street Preachers, Northampton Roadmender, June 23rd 1994. Buying that single had changed the course of my life musically, but this gig was about to change my life completely.

The Roadmender was as dank inside as it was out. It was dark, it didn’t smell particularly nice and it was claustrophobic. You couldn’t move for people, people like me. 500 people my age who all looked the same, dressed the same. They’d say “Hello” in passing regardless of the fact that they didn’t know who you were. This dark, intimidating concrete eye sore was where I wanted to be. Everything made sense here. Dub War supported the Manics, a band whose name I was familiar with but not so much musically. They were loud, so loud. My delicate teenage ears had been used to loud volumes on my Hi-Fi at home but nothing at this level. When they left the stage my ears were ringing but I couldn’t leave my spot at the front in anticipation. When the Manics stepped foot onto the stage I roared, the man next to me roared, the whole place erupted. I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol that night, despite it being offered. I didn’t need it. Who needed alcohol when we had this?
As the crowd bounced and sang in unison, the stifling heat got the better of me, I had to take myself away just to catch my breath and get some air. I made my way to the ladies, meandering through the crowds down to the side of the stage where I caught a glimpse of Richie Edwards. I stopped in my tracks in awe of the man who was currently the face of my GCSE Geography folder, but stayed rooted as I saw his arms, hacked and bloodied with the immortal words that are so commonplace amongst fans now. It somehow made the whole experience of that night a reality. Not a fantastical phase as we had with Take That or any of the other musical fads we partook in as kids, I was actually looking at real life. Little did I know that 7 months later, Richie Edwards would disappear and this would be one of his last gigs with the band.

Leaving Northampton and heading home that night in the back of my boyfriends Dads car, the chat between us was excitable as we anticipated our next gig. When I got home that night I went straight upstairs and put pen to paper. Everything I couldn’t get out in that brief car journey home I scribed on a tatty piece of paper and filed away with the dream that one day, I would do this for a living.

The months that passed were the formative years of my life. Securing my career choices, planting the seed in me for music which just grew and grew.

This grotty hovel in Northampton was a weekly pilgrimage for myself and friends. Lucky enough to see bands such as Oasis, Shed Seven, Terrorvision, Radiohead, Sleeper, Gene, Super Furry Animals and The Bluetones amongst others, performing intimately on this tiny stage. It felt like they were performing for us. And as time went on, the bands got bigger, as did the venues, as did our love for the music. Each gig documented and eventually, printed in the local paper. It wasn’t the Melody Maker but it was my words, me spreading my love of music to the one or two people who chose to read it. If it made just one person go out and buy that album, or go and see that band, I was happy.

Years passed and we grew up, we knuckled down for exams, we left school and our life paths took us all off in different directions. The Britpop scene was fizzling out. The NME wasn’t running articles that I wanted to read, bands disbanded and Nu Metal took over.
It’s been 19 years this year since that concert and my love for the music is as strong now as it was back then. I buy new music but none of it has the longevity of Definitely Maybe. None of it gives me goosebumps like Carnival of Light and I dare say in 20 years from now, I wont be listening to it with the frequency that I still listen to Change Giver.

Long live Britpop.

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