Reflecting on the glory of Nineties Britpop
Pete Wiggs

Ramble, rant or reminisce, this is an artist’s opportunity to pen their own Clash article.

This issue, while his bandmate Bob Stanley provides sleeve notes for the recent ‘Common People’ indie compilation, Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs reflects on the glory of Nineties Britpop.

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The term Britpop has a fairly unpleasant ring to it, like chick lit or soccer. Acid house, punk, even baggy captures the imagination more - they sound more like movements. I expect nobody involved would actually call themselves a Britpop band (unless desperate) but the name does its job; we know who the main players were.

Saint Etienne have pretty much escaped the era’s peak years) but here we are on the ‘Common People’ compilation.

This spreads the net wider to include other acts not usually associated with the scene and it’s an honour to share the bill with the likes of Kenickie, Denim, Earl Brutus and Gay Dad (not so sure about Kula Shaker and Baby Bird though). Blur and Oasis are conspicuous in their absence but pretty much everyone else makes an appearance on this fifty-four song set.

My memories are foggy at the best of times, sometimes mere snapshots. I don’t know how drug-sodden legends like Keith Richards can recall details of events that happened nearly fifty years ago - I’d have trouble describing the plot of the film I saw last night.

The early part of any scene is usually the best, before the drug and cash fuelled pomposity takes sway. Before the majors throw all they’ve got at the wannabes and novelty acts - scared they might let another Seymour slip through their grasp.

Sometime in 1992 I got a call from a friend who said, ‘You must see Pulp, you’ll be blown away.’ Pulp? Hadn’t they been going for donkeys? Baggy had fizzled out, shoegazing and grunge were starting to dominate - I wanted to be blown away. So, off I shot to the Camden Arts Centre. I had previously turned down a chance to see The Stone Roses before they took off, because I thought the name was crap (still do).

I wasn’t going to miss out this time. Walking through the door, I was instantly taken aback. Everybody screamed ‘POP!!! ART!!!’ Not literally of course, but here was a crowd, dressed to the nines, flying in the face of fashion. A little more aloof, perhaps, than the E crowd I was used to rubbing shoulders with, but far less sweaty. And when the band took to the stage I knew it was going to be one of those epochal gigs. They may have been honing their formula for several years, but there was nothing old about Pulp, nothing grey, nothing dull. In Jarvis Cocker there was intelligence, wit and passion. Something was brewing.

Pop had become a dirty word and one of Saint Etienne’s aims was to reclaim it, stop people being ashamed of it. We sensed some kinship in Pulp and asked them to support us on our 1993 UK tour. It was a rollercoaster ride .We knew Pulp would go on to do great things but weren’t quite prepared for the stratospheric heights of fame toward which they were about to be propelled. As I’m sure they weren’t either.

In 1993, Alan McGee gave us a cassette of Oasis (another dodgy name, but I wasn’t going to let that fool me again). Here was something powerful, raw, with classic British pop written all over it. Not an obvious match for Saint Etienne, but something was in the air again. We asked them to support us at gigs in Glasgow and Wolverhampton later that year. The Glaswegians weren’t prepared for the sonic onslaught that forced them to cower in the rear six feet of the venue - Oasis was definitely not for them. But in Wolverhampton we came on stage knowing that the audience had already given their most effusive cheers. Backstage, Oasis had the swagger of a band who knew they were destined for the big time. Off they too went into the stratosphere while we maintained our steady orbit.

Music trends have a cyclical nature and at the tail end of Britpop we were left gasping for something American. Timbaland was creating a whole new sound, The Flaming Lips were on the up.

Britpop at best was a reigniting of ideas formed in pop’s past. And there are some classic songs that will stand the test of time. I’m sure there are bands who are inspired by Britpop bands (perhaps not a perfect model; I mean, I love 2Tone but 2Tone revivalist bands? Nineties American ska?). Yet, to many Britpop’s role was as a portal to the wider world of the music that inspired these groups. The Kinks, The Beatles, Wire, David Bowie, The Smiths etc. And you can’t knock that.’’


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