The early summer of 2016 having proved so traumatic in terms of politics, we’re seeking a little light relief, with a series of pieces celebrating some of the less remembered contributions to the 1990s Britpop boom. And we start with some selections from Paul Saffer.
Cud – ‘Rich and Strange’ (1992)
Britpop, like any cultural movement, had much to do with timing. In 1995, you could put a Union Flag on your guitar, even though, just three years earlier, you couldn’t drape yourself in one. In this context, Leeds’s Cud were the Martin Peters of Britpop: years ahead of their time. Singing in English accents, having a sense of humour, and with a lead singer in Carl Puttnam whose determinedly unfashionable look and quirky lyrics including …
Bibi Couldn’t See
What’s the matter with Bibi?
Bibi’s got her head screwed on,
But it seems she’s got it screwed on wrong,
Here she comes in her green aquascutum,
She’s a walking, talking social phenomenon.
… left them rather out of place in a world of grunge and shoegazing. Having, like Pulp at the time, been going for some years already on a life support system of John Peel championing, they had their best chance of success with the damned catchy ‘Rich and Strange’ during a spell on A&M records, leading to an NME cover and TV exposure.
It clambered to #24 in the charts, but it was not the right time for a band with a sense of humour not to be regarded as a joke and with A&M losing faith (the man that signed them having almost instantly moved on) Cud faded out early in 1995 just when they might have found wider appeal. It’s a pity, because ‘Rich and Strange’ deserves its place in the indie pantheon, with its insistent guitar riff and baritone chorus like a more focused Inspiral Carpets.
And if you’d rather see the song interrupted by Vic Reeves asking Cud about their National Insurance contributions in an unaired pilot for Popadoodledandy …
Denim – ‘Great Pub Rock Revivial’ (1996)
Also featured on Popadoodledandy were Denim, the successor band (and fabric) to Lawrence Hayward’s influential if uncommercial 1980s band Felt. Getting a slot on a TV programme that never went out just about sums up Denim’s luck – several times they threatened to make the pop breakthrough that Lawrence craved but was unlikely to achieve with the introspective Felt, only for fate to turn her face against them.
Most notably, in 1997, their single ‘Summer Smash’ was heavily championed by Radio 1 ahead of an early September release, only for a certain royal car crash to occur at the end of the previous month, making a song with ‘Smash’ in the title temporarily unreleasable, leading to all the copies being pulped and the band being dropped by EMI soon after. (Though I still maintain they were no more to blame than was the Duke of Edinburgh.)
Anyway, before that there had been a 1992 album Back in Denim where Lawrence superbly mined his 1970s childhood on songs like ‘The Osmonds’, as well as stating a personal pop manifesto with ‘I’m Against the Eighties’ and ‘Middle of the Road’. Also, it bankrupted their record label. A heroin addiction later, Lawrence returned in 1996 with Denim on Ice, an album of bitter complaints, 70s-style synthesisers, various stray Glitter Band members, and album opener ‘The Great Pub Rock Revival’.
It may or may not be a critique of Britpop’s penchant for nostalgia, as Lawrence speculates on the revival of pub rock (‘They’re wheeling Wreckless Eric out/And Nick Lowe’s promised to show’), or might just have been an excuse to write the line: ‘There’s a rumour going round that the Rumour are about to reform’. But he definitely gets extra marks for a rare use of ‘castigate’ in a pop lyric. Lawrence is still going as Go-Kart Mozart and his life was documented on film Lawrence of Belgravia.
Menswear – ‘Stardust’ (1995)
When two or more are gathered to castigate Britpop, Menswear (or Menswe@r, I’m comfortable with either) usually come top of the list. Perhaps it’s inevitable, since they were championed by the Melody Maker before they strictly speaking existed and were on Top of the Pops before they’d ever released a record. But, as it happens, that eventual record (the album Nuisance) was rather good.
In particular, this song ‘Stardust’, a seeming character assassination of Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, for some reason. Entirely derivative of the Rolling Stones, but that never did Primal Scream themselves any harm. Menswear disappeared as quickly as they arrived, though singer Johnny Dean is now touring a version.
Zuno Men – ‘Stay in With Me’ (1998)
Hard to sum this song up better than the YouTube blurb by band member Rhodri Marsden: ‘Mark Radcliffe single of the week on Radio 1 in 1999 [sic, it was 1998]. Almost signed a record deal on the back of it. The record company changed their minds at the last moment.’
A rather low-fi bit of indie about staying in with someone on 31 December 1999, it is as lyrically of its time as musically timeless and jaunty, with something of a funk-free Orange Juice sound. ‘Named after large brained aliens in a Japanese Sci-Fi TV Show‘, if you were wondering. Band founder Keith John Adams has kept going with a solo career in various guises.
Britpop part 2 (Kingmaker, Telstarr, Elcka, Echobelly)
Britpop part 3 (Sleeper, the Other Two, Helen Love, Kenickie)
Britpop part 4 (Catwalk, Engine Alley, Drugstore, Linoleum)
Britpop part 5 (Eggman, Edward Ball, McAlmont & Butler, Me Me Me)
Britpop part 6 (Anna, 2 Tribes, RPLA, World of Leather)