Bits of Britpop: Part 4

This was originally intended as a summer series, but the summer’s extended into September and we’re still getting submissions, so here are some more gems from the Britpop years of the 1990s, selected this time by Alwyn Turner.

Catwalk – ‘Damascus’ (1991)

In the early 1990s, the best music journalist in Britain was Chris Roberts. Catwalk was his band, and this was their debut single. Now, having a journalist in a group isn’t always a good idea (Blast Furnace & the Heatwaves, Pet Shop Boys), but this was a nugget of pure delight released at a time when British pop was in a slump. Slinky electro rhythms and rock guitars on a standard 12-bar chord sequence, together with breathy stylized vocals and witty lyrics (‘I’ve been jaywalking on the Road to Damascus’) – this was tremendous stuff. If Sigue Sigue Sputnik had been as sexy and sophisticated as they thought they were, they might have dreamed of sounding like this.

As far as I’m aware, they released only one further single (‘Ballerina Country’ in 1992), before Chris Roberts went on to found the short-lived but utterly splendid Ikon magazine.

Engine Alley – ‘Switch’ (1993)

Engine Alley released their debut album, A Sonic Holiday (1992), on U2’s own record label. Despite which, they were a lovely band, full of effortless pop songs that harked back to the lighter side of 1970s glam – an impression heightened by the sort of melodic violin-lines that would have warmed the cockles of a Cockney Rebel heart.

Since they came from Ireland, they weren’t technically Britpop, but in 1993 they relocated to London from Dublin, so I figure that they count. They recorded some new songs, produced by the great Pat Collier, and released a revised version of that first album, now re-titled Engine Alley. And the lead-off track was this song, ‘Switch’, the most obvious hit single.

It wasn’t a hit, as it happens, but it should have been. The band got plenty of promotion, and they should have been revered alongside the likes of My Life Story and the Divine Comedy. Except that they were better than that.

Drugstore – ‘Solitary Party Groover’ (1995)

Drugstore, a trio fronted by singer and bassist Isabel Monteiro, got a fair bit of promotion as well, playing support on some big-name tours in the mid-1990s. They even scraped into the lower reaches of the charts with some later singles. Not this one, though.

Sounding a bit like Belly covering the Jesus and Mary Chain, this was released on their own Honey label, through Go! Discs. Around the same time, they played at Glastonbury, footage of which is available on YouTube.

Linoleum – ‘On a Tuesday’ (1997)

When Linoleum started getting some attention on the London gig circuit, the consensus seemed to be that we didn’t need another Elastica, with their choppy new-wave guitars and bored sounding female vocals. But we did. Partly because it’s such a fantastic sound that there’s always room for one more – particularly given how inactive Elastica were for most of their existence – and partly because Linoleum had some terrific songs and their own identity. They were a great live band as well.

I’m not sure if this is their best track. The follow-up single ‘Marquis’ (1997) was very strong, if more overtly Elastica-esque, and the wonderfully titled ‘Dangerous Shoes’ – from their debut album Dissent (‘I would go out tonight, can’t be bothered to stumble around in my dangerous shoes’) – was a big fan favourite. But this one came with a video, so it just gets the edge here.

also available:

Britpop part 1 (Cud, Denim, Menswear, Zuno Men)
Britpop part 2 (Kingmaker, Telstarr, Elcka, Echobelly)
Britpop part 3 (Sleeper, the Other Two, Helen Love, Kenickie)
Britpop part 5 (Eggman, Edward Ball, McAlmont & Butler, Me Me Me)
Britpop part 6 (Anna, 2 Tribes, RPLA, World of Leather)

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