I took the plunge yesterday back into the early 1990s by buying a ticket for a gig featuring Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Cud, The Frank and Walters, DJ'd by Steve Lamacq, the presiding genius of 90s Indie: he had enthusiasm, DMs with 501s and his own record label, Deceptive. It's like a time capsule of Indie before Britpop killed off everything that was loveable about the music scene.
I should confess that I had that very haircut for most of the 90s - when it wasn't a lot longer. Straight and jet-black. I was thin too, and squeezed myself into narrow black jeans, stripy hippy shirts and an old biker's jacket with Senseless Things painted on the back… Oh dear, this could turn into a very self-pitying blog post. Now I'm porky, receding and bitter. Such is life.
That was Ned's. Here's a great Cud track: 'Rich and Strange':
and some The Frank and Walters. I do love also-rans, especially ones who didn't get the breaks their music deserved. Can you imagine music TV letting these chaps within a million miles of a camera these days?
I remember distinctly when Britpop hit. It was summer 1993 and I was a waiter in a horrible family pub. The establishment possessed one cassette tape of muzak. One it were two decent songs, and if you timed it right, you could be clearing tables or wiping up vomit in the area with speakers every 80 minutes or so. It was like finding an oasis in a desert of bland, repetitive, dumb musical sand. Ironically, one of those songs was by Oasis, 'Cigarettes and Alcohol'; the other was Blur's 'Popscene'. I was smitten, at least for a while. However disappointing both bands quickly became, I'll be forever grateful for those moments of respite they gave me in the Wacky Warehouse. They were so direct, alive, snarling and vital compared to the rest of the stuff in the air. I bought 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' on cassette tape. It came in a mock fag packet. Class.
I should probably explain that I was from a pop-deprived family. My mum owns the sheet music for some Beatles songs. My dad had a U2 tape because he was at school with their manager, and a Dubliners tape. The rest of the time, we listened to appalling Irish radio, religious music and mainstream classical stuff. School was little better. One friend had REM's Automatic For The People, to which I was addicted. Another did me a tape of some minimalist classical stuff, a genre to which I still cleave, and one guy liked See See Rider. I also knew some Metallica from friends back at home. And that was it. My ears were opened by installing a massive 1950s cabinet stereo and secretly listening to John Peel at night, but I didn't actually possess any music because I couldn't record any and didn't get pocket money to purchase any.
So actually my musical education started with Britpop and NME, which became my bible at university, until the not-very-gentle scorn of the record shop staff turned me on to the Welsh-language stuff then appearing (SFA, Gorky's - lovely, lovely songs linked to there - and so on) and to the delights of indie label obsession and the proto-history of Britpop. One day I was buying Menswear 7" singles, the next I was raving about 4AD, Sarah Records, Fierce Panda, Ankst and Tystion. Eventually I realised that Britpop was a nasty capitalist tool which was all about replacing a genuine subculture with marketing, and became an Indie Archaeologist.
So I wasn't a Ned's Atomic Dustbin fan 'back in the day', nor a Cud fan, nor a Frank and Walters fan. I found my way there by swimming upstream, just as everybody else was raving about Parklife or 'What's the Story, Morning Glory?'. The gig will be odd: I won't be nostalgic but I will be appreciative of a musical movement which preferred integrity (and terrible band names) to ambition.