RIP for the NME

After 66 years, the New Musical Express, the NME, is dead. Well, the print edition is finally dead but it will continue as a pretty awful online site that uses the name to maintain some level of brand recognition for something that to be honest should have been dragged round the back of the bins and shot in the early years of the 21st century. Though they did make Conor McNicholas editor and that kind of had the same effect.

Although McNicolas’s run as editor was to be as nice as possible, fucking awful as the paper descended into something that Heat readers would have found not to be intellectually challenging, he was fortunate to be around during what is now really a bright time for music with new American bands complementing European bands but the standard of writing in the NME by 2002 was teeth-grindingly poor. By 2005 it was unreadable and I stopped buying it after 20 years or so.

In 1985 I was 18 and was dabbling in buying the weekly music papers with a Sounds here and a Melody Maker there, but NME kept winning out over the other two because on the whole, it was better written & anyhow, I couldn’t be arsed with Heavy Metal which seemed to be the focus of the other papers. Plus the NME was openly political at a time when that was the only thing to be.

So began a habit that stretched two centuries as the NME helped develop my musical tastes as it alerted me of stuff I’d never otherwise have heard about. Which for folk born in the internet era must be a thing to try to grasp that knowledge of new music was so hard to come by as in those days it was the NME, John Peel, the odd local radio show, The Tube and whatever scraps leaked on TV.

In short, the NME was the Bible for many of us as it helped shape youth movements small and large for decades.

Everyone has a Golden Age of the paper, and for me, it’s the late 80’s spilling up to the Britpop years. Music, culture and politics all collided with the end of the 80’s giving us HIp Hop and Acid House, which gave us a well needed shot in the arm and pushed Indie music into doing wonderful, glorious things.

For a few years everything the NME showcased was turning to gold.

And in the early 90’s, the period tedious Britpop documentaries skim over as not being very interesting, the NME helped point out the fact it was an interesting time as multiple genres, and acts from anywhere could make it.

During all this time the one constant was the writing of Steven Wells who would regularly outshine colleagues who later went on to have very large mainstream success, but Wells would remain to show how a paper like NME needed someone like him who’d call something, or someone, exactly what he thought. However the paper was changing as it started jumping on the bandwagon of what came to be known as Britpop.

I cared little for the Blur versus Oasis fiasco of 1995. As it seemed false, as indeed it was a construct of record companies and the NME itself to essentially make money. Once that was over, Britpop died and a diverse vibrant UK music scene had been made dull in the NME’s image as it tried to remain relevant as it approached the 21st century and the looming threat of this new thingy called the ”internet”.

But I was reading the paper more so out of habit. Sure, sometimes it hit gold  but the sense was that the 21st century brought it decline as articles would be 300 or so words attached to big pictures.

Then around 2005, after that year’s Glastonbury, I bought the review issue. Read it. Put it in a box and I’ve never bought an issue since. Sure, I’ve read it be it on a train, or in a pub or club as a copy someone had left behind but five minutes reading at best. Back in the 80’s I’d take an hour, sometimes two or three if it was a Christmas double issue, to wade through it.

And now in 2018 it dies as a print publication. The website is dreadful, and there’s dozens of great sites that cover new music, but this all said there’s something terribly sad about the NME finally ending. If it’d been done right it could have still been here to lead new generations, but it becomes history and memories and that I suppose is all we have left in the end.

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Don’t look back in anger:Oasis at Kenbworth and the end of Britpop

On the 10th and 11th of August 1996, Oasis played two enormous gigs at Knebworth which was the defining moment of the Britpop era if you believe how the mythology of those gigs are being painted today 20 years on. Well, they did define the era just not in the way many would like to admit. Firstly it’s best to explain a few things before dealing with what Knebworth actually means.

Britpop has a modern day media narrative. That is prior to 1993 the British music scene was in severe decline after the heyday of the late 1980’s rave culture which lead to a vastly diverse Indie scene which died before Britpop kickstarted British music again with acts like Suede, Blur and Oasis. This isn’t true, in fact rave culture transformed the British music scene from top to bottom and that included a diverse British music scene that wasn’t trapped in the past of referencing 1960’s acts like The Kinks or The Who which some later Britpop acts did. A more culturally diverse mix of bands hit the scene which split into multiple sub-genres such as the infamous New Wave of New Wave but that’s lost as the media tries to paint the picture of the British music scene as dominated purely by American music saved by Suede, Blur and Oasis.

The documentary Live Forever managed to capture some of that, but the thing is now in 2016 the Knebworth gigs are now being seen as something amazing and triumphant, yet even Noel Gallagher voiced that these gigs made him suffer in that there was nothing bigger for them to do but it really meant the end of Oasis as any form of a band trying to be creative as they turned into their own tribute act.

1996 was an odd year, there was no Glastonbury that year as it was a fallow year, so the Knebworth gigs were the biggest of the year, and on top of that the creative spurt of Britpop was burning out when bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Northern Uproar, and err, Gay Dad, would come out with tediously bland, generic guitar music which did hark back to the 1960’s, but were the musical equivalents of a frozen pizza; you might enjoy it for a bit while you’re eating it, but afterwards you feel a bit sick and realise it wasn’t as good as a home-made pizza.

Then there’s the fact the gig was pretty poor. Sure, if you’re an Oasis fan this was your pinnacle but having seen Oasis in their early days they were electric. This was a bad cover version of what they’d been only a few years earlier.

Knebworth was the end of Britpop. A few odd creative spurts happened afterwards mainly thanks to The Verve’s Urban Hymns album, but Knebworth saw what was an alternative music scene being absorbed into the mainstream not to mention it cemented the festival as something anyone could do rather than being the preserve of a counter-culture. Indeed, that’s year’s Reading Festival remains one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to but as a festival then you could see in retrospect how Britpop rather than create a forward thinking/looking movement ended up with a load of bands chasing the Big Gig with the money which comes with such success. The logical outcome of Knebworth was Coldplay, a band built upon big anthems which play to a big field full of people but musically is as risky as your favourite underpants. Pop music became increasingly dull to the point where today third generation guitar bands retread music that’s been retrod so often as bands no longer (on the whole) tried to be different, but instead tried to capture what Oasis had for those days in August 1996.

So when looking back at these gigs remember the main thing it did was to neutralise the British Indie scene, give us a coked out Liam Gallagher who can no longer sing, and Coldplay. It helped give us fucking Coldplay…

There’s horror in my head: A short appreciation of Curve

The early 1990’s were a rare time for music in the UK. The Madchester scene was fading out. Grunge was just coming over from the US. The Rave scene was mutating, and manufactured pop from the likes of Stock, Aitken and Waterman dominated the charts.

In among all this were Curve, a two piece made of Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday, though you’ll be hard found to find much promotional material for the band that doesn’t purely focus on Halliday as she was the vision of many a young boy’s eye..

For me I first encountered the Curve sound through the song Fait Accompli, a song that still sounds amazingly fresh decades later. In fact one of the few performances I remember at Glastonbury in 1992 is Curve’s performance of this song….

The album Doppelganger was full of tracks of this Gothic version of the British Indie sound of the time, with the single Horror Head also standing out.

Doppelganger for me is one of the best albums of the 90’s as well as being one of the most underrated these days, In fact whenever some dreary TV or media article discussing Britpop turns up on BBC4, Channel 4 or one of the broadsheets, those years prior to Britpop exploding in 1994 are skimmed over. Problem with that is the variety of British music at the time was ignored and a band like Curve doesn’t fit into the media of today’s narrative of the 90’s so they’ve been somewhat lost.

Their next album Cuckoo saw them going harder and more industrial, which was fine but it never grabbed me in the way their earlier material did. That said, it was still bloody good.

They’re still going on but their heyday is a thing of glory and joy. They should occupy a larger spot in British music history than they do and I hope in my own wee way I’ve helped do so…….

Live Bed Show: A short tale of the Reading Festival 2002

In 2002 Pulp were in an odd place. The stratospheric success of 1994/5 had passed to the extent where their latest album at the time, We Love Life, barely made a ripple in sales or make that much on an impact at the time critically. Personally, I love the album because of it’s melancholic tone though it’s tempered with a curious optimism but creatively it seemed like an end, and it was. This was certainly the case as Britpop was truly dead even though Pulp were never like bands like Gene or Kula Shaker who leaped into the scene to cash in on a genre, but Pulp were dragged into the sucking whirlpool of the mid 1990’s British music scene and for a few exhilarating years so were people like me who went along for the ride.

By 2002 though music was moving on. American music from the likes of the White Stripes was starting to dominate, and Pulp were fading to the extent that at the Reading Festival that year they were bumped from a headlining slot from that year’s Hip Young Things, The Strokes. In retrospect it was just the usual cycle of music as one phase moves out, another comes in.

Pulp played their set and few guessed that this would be their last ever festival set (until the band reformed a decade later) as most of us were having a fantastic time but that Pulp set is something of beauty. Sadly little of it exists online but what does tells a story. Common People especially has something lugubrious about it, and although those of us in the audience were loving it, there’s a feeling that Jarvis and the band are going through the motions here. A few months later they released a Greatest Hits, and proceeded to vanish into the ether with all the band members doing their own things.

Enough wittering though, have a shufty of it for yourselves…

Down by the Water-A short tale of Glastonbury 1995

Glastonbury 1995 is still one of my favourite festivals I’ve ever been to not to mention it’s a probable defining moment in my life. As I’ve written before, it’s simply a time when everything seemed to come together perfectly, and musically 1995 was a watershed in the UK. This was the year of Britpop though not the horrible consumerist version that came after that first wave of diverse British acts such as Teenage Fanclub, Radiohead, Blur, Oasis and PJ Harvey. After June 95 every chancer in the music scene thought they could rip off a few Kinks songs and hey presto, they’d be in the charts.

But 95 was still diverse. It was still fresh and one of the act that stood head and shoulders above many of the others was PJ Harvey. Harvey simply tore apart every single perception of a female artist in the early 90’s. She also was a fantastic performer, something I was aware of from the first time I saw her play at Nottingham Poly in 1993 to the Saturday afternoon of the Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury in 1995.

From the minute I realised Harvey was playing the Saturday she was one of the acts I could not miss. Standing in the packed crowd near the front of the stage it was clear I wasn’t the only one, and as myself and my mate Joe tried to open a bottle of wine, there was a clear level of anticipation before she came out. When she did appear in a skintight pink catsuit the sound of people’s jaws dropping was audible above the first chord of the guitar of her band.

To this day it’s one of the best festival sets I’ve ever seen, and her performance of Down by the Water is one of the best performances of a song I’ve seen. Here it is in all it’s pink catsuit glory….

It was the night before Glastonbury Festival……

It’s the night before Glastonbury Festival and not a soul did make a peep. In fact they’re making a huge great fucking noise right now as towns and cities across the UK empty to head to the annual festival of wonderfullness. 20 years ago I was about to go to the 25th anniversary of the festival and in my mind still one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended.

So with people either on the way to the car park or getting ready for an early start in the morning, here’s a wee treat from 1995 when instead of the BBC, Channel 4 televised the festival in this case for the second year. Here’s Mark Radclliffe, Mark Lamarr, Mark Riley and err, Jo Whiley from 1995 doing a load of stuff and some rather fantastic bands in footage I’ve probably not seen in two decades. This is the year of Britpop, Pulp, Oasis, and PJ Harvey in that catsuit (I can even spot myself looking open mouthed at one point in the footage) and Portishead. This is the first year of the dance tent, and a festival on the cusp of transforming from something belonging to the counter-culture and crossing over into the mainstream. This is probably the last of the ‘real’ Glastonbury Festival’s before the mainstream descended.

It’s simply brilliant stuff…..

Have a good festival and enjoy…

Bernard Butler’s People Move On is 17 years old.

In 1998 Britpop was on it’s last legs as people moved onto other things. People bought Kula Shaker albums. Things were pretty poor, but one album came out that for me is the last great burst of what Britpop was at it’s best when it created great forward looking music with a tinge of what influenced it, rather than tired retreads of what Noel Gallagher heard in his mam’s record collection.

That album is Bernard Butler’s People Move On. It didn’t do especially well on it’s release though I remember it being quite critically praised, mainly for it’s Nick Drake/Phil Spector influences. The big single, Stay, grazed the UK top ten as did the album but didn’t hang around as long as it should have.

Butler by this point had left Suede (and I’ve mentioned before my love for Suede) due to ‘creative differences’, which led to a splendid collaboration with David McAlmont, but this album came as  something that at the time I adored and still do. So when pottering around this morning I realised this album is 17 years old it doesn’t make me feel depressingly old, it makes me feel sad that such a fantastic album is nearly lost in the history of music, which is sad as you can hear a lot of acts that seem like they’ve listened to this album and drawn from it. None though have that talent for melody, tune and song Butler has.

Anyhow, here’s the album in it’s Youtube version. Enjoy.