Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Britpop changed my life. Sort of, says Anonymous

“Do you fancy writing a review of a Britpop album for the blog? @magpiemoth asked one evening. I pondered and said if I had time I’d write something down but never got round to it. Then we ended up in a local pub for an after work drink that turned into several soundtracked by an ‘Indie DJ’ and conversation turned back to Britpop, indie, alternative music and me writing something.

The conversation we had led me to thinking more widely about music of the Britpop era and where it fell in terms of my life story. I was lucky musically in that my dad was obsessed with music in all forms and the lullabies of my early years were mainly courtesy of the Rolling Stones. 

An early start

My first record player was a Christmas present for my 3rd birthday – I couldn’t yet read but could lower a stylus safely so the A sides were marked with a cross to foster independent use. My first gig was Altered Images at the Manchester Apollo when I was four and for the next 10 years I was lucky enough to be taken to see everyone from Squeeze to Madonna to Fleetwood Mac (seminal moment – Stevie Nicks remains a hero of mine). 

However I was a fairly introverted child, insecure in my appearance and social skills (like so many teenage girls) and as music became more about boybands, pop and commercial dance music I wasn’t sure where I fitted in. I found other things that started to point me in the right direction - step up The Housemartins and Suzanne Vega. 

Talk about the passion

Then I discovered the band who provided my introduction into a lifelong love of indie/alternative tunes. The first time I heard REM suddenly I got ‘it’. I found lyrics that talked about things more meaningful and esoteric than anything I heard in the charts and it opened up a whole new world. I was introduced by a friend to indie and rock clubs that played music I was otherwise unaware of and into a social setting where being shy, not having Kylie as a style icon and being able to dance all night or sit in the corner if I chose to was normal and not weird. 

So how does this link to Britpop you ask? Well despite my new social whirl and increasingly large record collection I still felt a little like an outsider in the wider world. This was the mid 90s when wearing stripy tights, cut-off denims and band t-shirts got you some funny looks even in Manchester. Being an increasingly confident, assertive girl with opinions was also still not really socially acceptable. 

Affleck's Palace (Manchester's premier provider of stripy tights and band T-shirts, by T R Wolf under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

From sixth form to the stage

And then Britpop and a wider awareness of alternative music arrived and brought with it a whole host of women whose presence on Top of the Pops and mainstream media empowered me and my friends. Women like PJ Harvey who sang songs we could relate to, who led her own band, who dressed for herself. Elastica and their mini-anthems led by a woman so cool she had caused the likes of Brett and Damon to write songs of (un)requited love. Kenickie, whose wandering onto a stage straight from school made it look possible for any of us to pick up a guitar, front a band and play Reading. 

As I look back I’m not sure how conscious we were of this happening but in retrospect I am aware of a new sense of confidence I had in myself as a whole person. Women and girls found a music scene that was moving toward acknowledging we had a voice that was worth listening to. 

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t always work that way, you only need to read Caitlin Moran’s books to see the attitude many areas of the music press still had to women at the time but it was a damn good start. 

So, despite my in-built dislike of the term Britpop and the media’s obsession with the role of Oasis in it (don’t get me started – it’s a rage only paralleled by sporks) Britpop did, sort of, change my life. And I will forever be grateful.

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