Monday, April 28, 2014

Britpop week: James Kennedy on Parklife

For the twentieth anniversary of Britpop, a series of guest posts looking back at the innovators, the opportunists, the individualists who got caught up in a moment, and how they look the other side of the millennium.

James Kennedy writes in and about the West Midlands, and incredibly well to boot - he blogs at and you can find him on Twitter at @jameskcentral

He's also been kind enough to write a few reflections on Britpop, of which this Parklife review is the first this week.

I remember the first time I heard Blur. I had been awoken in the night by a rather nasty bout of pleurisy, and in my vomiting haze I remember hearing the strains of ‘Girls and Boys’ coming through my bedside radio. 

I didn’t have much affinity with what was to become Britpop then – I’d missed out on the Madchester and Grebo scenes for reasons a bit too long-winded for 800 words – and instead was busying myself with a rabid love of all things REM and the US alternative that wasn’t grunge, the Euro-Pop and Dance revival (thanks to the beautiful MTV Europe) exciting dance music from the Prodigy, Atari ST and Nintendo. 

This track, this ‘Girls and Boys’ – was a goodie. Yet I remember seeing the video, and the singer was possibly a bit too cool for me in his Adidas and trendy hair, and the way he mouthed ‘love’, all fat tongue and doe-eyes, turned me off them a bit. 

The album passed me by on it’s release in that April (come on, Music for the Jilted Generation was out in July!) and the pleurisy song with the fat-tongued singer passed me by. 

An avid viewer of MTV Europe and The Box on cable, it was in August when the ‘Parklife’ video started getting heavy rotation. This was better – the synaesthesia I got when I listened to my old favourite Ian Dury was there – sepia tones, bygone eras. Back to school and my REM buddy lent me an unmarked cassette tape with the album, also called  Parklife. “What’s this you’ve got ‘ere” one of the kids in the classroom said “Blur’s album!” we said. He suddenly became incredibly irate, grabbed the tape off us and hurled it at the floor. “SHIT” was the reply, and as I knew this kid did like his music and wasn’t just being an arsehole, this intrigued me. 

I got the tape home – “SHIT” still ringing in my ears. The first track was ‘Girls and Boys’ which I knew, and the second track “Tracy Jacks” was good if not a little irritating. I was a bit stumped by ‘End of a Century’ for some reason, and ‘Parklife’ and ‘Bank Holiday’ were rambunctious fun. Again, I was overly-ambivalent about ‘Badhead’ and stumped by the point of ‘The Debt Collector’ and ‘Far Out’. I can’t remember what I thought about the rest of it, although, it didn’t really make that much of in impression. Back to swooning over Michael Stipe and Kim Deal then. 

We were all however listening to the Evening Session by November, and I remember that I’d taken an interest in the fact that you could still buy 7” singles, which were particularly good currency within the indie/alternative market. I again heard ‘End of a Century’ played on the show, and despite initial groans, gave it a chance, and it was a real winner, particular the instrumental sections by the awesomely named Kick Horns. 

I was slowly amassing a new vinyl collection to go with my gumpf collected from the 80s, and was already spending pocket money on records – the preceding month had seen me proudly brandishing 12” pressings of Green Day’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ (on green vinyl!) and Shane MacGowan’s filthy rock n’roll classic ‘That Woman’s Got Me Drinking’ from the Virgin Megastore on Corporation Street. 

So, armed with pocket money, I used a shopping trip to Merry Hill to buy this new Blur single with it’s fantastic sleeve – it’s bedfellow was Pearl Jam’s ‘Spin the Black Circle’ for some reason other than that I liked it at the time. 

It was probably a few months later (a look through my photos revealed that my Christmas presents revolved around Veruca Salt, Liz Phair and of course, REM and the Breeders) that I listened to Parklife again. The local library had an excellent collection of CDs (and I was in love with the sad-eyed librarian with cropped hair who worked on the Saturdays) and Parklife was my first port of call – still with a “16” sticker on the front. 

What really got my attention was the fantastic Stylorouge cover, back sleeve and inlay – giving the whole package a vital, eye-catching look and appeal. The CD finally made sense – I still had problems with the likes of ‘Clover over Dover’ mind you, but the filler tracks really worked, and sent me on real explorations – ‘The Debt Collector’, ‘Far Out’ and the closer ‘Lot 105’ were essential tracks rather than throwaways, influencing my choices of listening in years to come, and one of the standouts was the superb ‘This is a Low’, a stunning psychedelic swoon of a song. 

Select Magazine thoughtfully gave the poster away as part of a stunning collection – and there it was, the greyhounds above my top shelf, for the while, replacing Stipe and Deal as my poster-children of the day. 

Britpop had come to King’s Norton.

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