For two years in the mid-1990s, we’d never had it so good. Cool music, great telly, a non-dreary PM. Here’s the story (morning glory)…
FHM, September 2005
The year 1993 will be remembered not for the Maastricht Treaty or Suede’s fey-pop anthems, but a seven-foot piece of pink rubber which looked like a king-size dildo infected with yellow scabies. Blobby, blobby, blobby. Oh how we hooted as this big, bow-tied blancmange made squelchy fart noises! How our ribs were tickled when the fat fool fell over! But Mr Bastarding Blobby wasn’t the only awful thing about John Major’s grey backyard in the early 1990s: no - we were blighted by the rancid disease of crustie-dom. If you need reminding of their feral, didgeridoo-playing ways, crusties (prime specimen: The Levellers) were foul vegan skunks who made it acceptable to smell like dishcloths and whined like children whenever a stoat had its testicles crushed by a tractor. At the same time, Bruno Brookes’ Top 40 was clogged up with Haddaway, Meatloaf and Annie-fucking-Lennox. People were so culturally-comatose they were wetting themselves over Magic Eye posters, the WWF and Chippendales. And all the sexiest girls mooched around with frightful frizzy perms, which made them look like Rudi Voller in a spindryer. To paraphrase 2 Unlimited’s seminal hit No Limits, “no no, no no no no, no no no no, no no...”
Things really were that bad. But they were about to change, with a bang…
On 8 April 1994 Kurt Cobain blasted his head off with a Remington 20-gauge shotgun (if he’d been living in Britain, he probably would have done it sooner). Symbolically, it was the end of grunge - and Kurt’s timing was spot on. Just two weeks later, Oasis stomped into the singles charts with Supersonic, while mockney modboys Blur unleashed their album Parklife.
Featuring Cockneysparrer knees-ups, rinky-dink pianos and Phil Daniels barking about pigeons, Parklife was the antithesis of all that Cobain stood for - and its place near the top of the charts assured pin-up status for Damon Albarn and his bandmates.
If Blur were trendy, Oasis were cool - swaggering in straight off a Burnage building site. And in Liam Gallagher, they possessed a frontman who was Lennon, Hendrix and Vicious all rolled into one parka-clad bundle of gobby chaos.
“I just wanted to be in a band and I wanted to tour the fucking world and I wanted to shag all the fucking birds and that was the end of it,” he remembers. “I wanted to drink and get fucking pissed and off my tits and as high as I could possibly get. And be paid for it.”
With fantastic speed (and probably Charlie as well), a revolution was underway. The kind of groups ignored by the charts were now having top 10 smasheroonies and doing Saturday morning kids’ TV. Car stereos were belting out Britpop choons like Common People, Alright and Wake Up Boo, causing beery singalongs all summer long.
People started to dress better, too. Out went the plaid shirts and greasy hair. In came Fred Perrys, Fila tracksuit tops and shiny new Adidas Gazelles. The UK economy picked up, international footballers like Klinnsman and Gullit flocked to play in our new Premiership and cor’ blimey, guv’nor, you could even win £10 million on the National Lottery jackpot if you were lucky enough.
The capital of this global youthquake was soon identified as the fetid London borough of Camden, previously famed for its scabby tramps and botulism-inducing kebab shops - a crazy sityooaysheeeunnn indeed. It became even crazier during the week beginning Monday 14 August 1995. Blur and Oasis decided to release their singles head-to-head against each other on the same day.
In one corner you had Blur with their Benny Hill-gone-barmy oompah loompah Country House. In the other, Oasis with the fiery Roll With It. It was North vs. South, Working vs Middle Class, Man City vs. Chelsea, lads vs. ponces. The tabloids were reporting about mentalist Blur-loving women microwaving their husbands’ Oasis CDs, while you couldn’t move around your local Our Price without bumping into vox-popping journos demanding to know whose side you were on.
Oasis lost this chart battle (Roll With It clocked up 220,000 sales compared with Country House’s 270,000). But they were never going to take defeat quietly.
First, Liam declared he’d like to shag Damon’s girlfriend, Justine Frischmann from Elastica. Then, Noel said he wished Damon and Alex James would die of Aids.
“I loved the way they treated their success," says Louise Wener, Bambi-eyed Sleeper chanteuse (and 37th Sexiest Woman in the World, FHM, 1996). "It was, 'I'm going to be a rock'n' roll star, I'm going to ride around in a Rolls-Royce…they were the chavs of Britpop."
London had a proper scene once again. Parties were ten-a-penny. Everyone was up for it, madferrit and cocaine replaced Es as the drug of choice. For £50 you could snort the finest nose niggle in the land, share it with your fellow geezers and gabble excitedly about how great everything was. As Noel said, it was as natural as having a cup of tea.
ON THE UP
Clubbing had also reached its peak with the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy and Goldie making some truly brilliant music. “The whole scene was like Studio 54 in the 1970s,” remembers the junglist now. “We had to keys to everywhere and everything was free. I could hoot for England.”
It wasn’t just the music or the drugs that were getting better. Even the women were beginning to look better. The perms were ditched and they seemed bustier too. It was all thanks to the Wonderbra and there was no shortage of pin-ups: Joanne Guest, Patsy Kensit, even Lara Croft. Britpop also boasted its own fit femmes in Louise Wener, Justine Frischmann and Catatonia’s Cerys Matthews. Hello boys indeed.
And then there were the Spice Girls. In 2005, Geri might be a withered old spinster and Posh is a daft footballer’s wife, but in the beginning they were fabulous: five man-eating girls from nowhere with genius pop tunes. They did things like pissed in plant pots in posh hotels and called Elton a “raving Queen”. Posh looked like an Angelina Jolie-in-waiting, while the sight of Geri in her Union Jack dress was many a teenage boy’s wet dream. Even Mel C looked passable. “If we’re grabbing people’s attentions by being topless in the papers, then great!” tootled Geri.
Britpop was a party that everybody was invited to. Shy? Speccy? Having trouble with the ladies? Then all you needed to do is take a butchers at Jarvis Cocker, a man who became one of Britain’s biggest heartthrobs, despite looking like a giant spoon. After wafting his bum at Michael “I’m a bit like Jesus, me” Jackson during the 1996 Brits, he became an Austin Powers-like lothario, shagging his way from Sheffield to Stockholm like a sordid, sex-hungry stick insect. “In many ways Pulp were even bigger cunts than Oasis,” reminisces Alex James. “They were in our birds’ knickers: devious little fuckers.”
Your dad told you it was just like the 1960s all over again - but surely nothing could bring back the buzz generated by England’s World Cup winning team of 1966. Could it?
Euro ’96 (staged on our soil!) was a chance to put right 30 years of hurt. England might have failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, but just as Blur and Oasis were seen as successors to the Beatles and Stones, then El Tel’s Euro ’96 England team were seen as possible heirs to Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore.
That June, England was invaded by legions of foreigners, who witnessed the Britpop feelgood factor in full swing, as well as England playing their best football, since, ooh, 1966. We smashed the Scots! Demolished the Dutch! Drew with the Swiss!
Of course, we inevitably lost to Germany in the semi-finals (thanks for missing that spotkick, Gareth Southgate). But after we’d paddled about in Trafalgar Square, we got over it.
By now, Britain was the epicentre of global youth culture - and it wasn’t just in music that we were excelling.
Take television. The anarchic TFI Friday, hosted by Chris Evans (or “Old Ginger Bollocks” as Liam called him) defined the Britpop small screen experience with its nodding woodpeckers, pub games and ugly blokes telling models: “I’m sorry love, you’re just not my type”. In fact, the UK was awash with cracking TV shows, whether it was the Fast Show, Father Ted or I’m Alan Partridge.
Trainspotting was the film, ahem, hit of the era: a bleak account of a Scottish skag-pile populated with dead babies, Dale Winton and Jock junkies diving headfirst into shit-infested toilets. Art had its own Britpop, the main practitioner of which was Damien Hirst, who probably couldn’t draw at all, but instead pickled farm animals.
Cool Britannia was well and truly alive. And it certainly filtered down to everybody who trudged down to their smelly local junior school on 1 May 1997 to mark an ‘X’ underneath Tony Blair’s name. Later that night, Labour landslided to victory with a 179-seat majority in the General Election. His MPs might have celebrated by dancing to D-Ream, but Blair was Britain’s youngest-ever Prime Minister! He invited Noel Gallagher round for tea! He ushered 120 “babes” into Parliament! And he played a Fender guitar! Woo-hoo!
Nice one. Top. Sorted. Etcetera. But by the end of 1997, the Britpop buzz was beginning to blanch. Clueless chancers like Ocean Colour Scene, Kula Shaker and Shed Seven were filling up the charts with their Slipper Rock. Guitar music was getting more serious (Verve, Radiohead) and Blur turned their backs on jellied eels in favour of fucking off to Iceland to record puffins mating. Meanwhile Liam was now beginning to resemble Sesame Street’s Grover and Oasis had ruined their much-anticipated Be Here Now by spending most of their studio time powdering their noses.
The tide of popular opinion was turning against Tony Blair too, and by the time Princess Di popped her clogs that September, good times seemed to be out and schmaltzy sentimentality in. Mr Blobby was back in the guise of Robbie Williams (Angels was a song tailor-made for the Di-blubbing masses) while Titanic, Teletubbies and Travis were stalking the land like herpes. And Euro ’96 seemed as distant as the Battle of Hastings, when just before the 1998 World Cup, Beckham was snapped wearing a sarong.
But fast forward to the arse-end of 2005. Substitute Supergrass, Elastica and Pulp for the Kaiser Chiefs, Doherty and the Darkness. Swap Euro ’96 for England’s Ashes victory and London beating Paris to get the 2012 Olympics. And cast an eye over last August’s singles chart. The Gallaghers and Gorillaz both at Number One, exactly one decade on from that epochal chart battle.
You’ve never had it so good. Well, not since 1995 anyway.