To Britpop: six Britpups
Britpop arrived on a wave, and kept rolling.
Sunday 14 July 1996
The visions you might have seen in a crystal ball 18 months ago would have fogged over by about now. The people who will be the Next Big Things at the start of 1997 weren't even being mentioned when the term Britpop was coined - in some cases, because they didn't exist. Here are six of them. Four have yet to release their first album. One band have yet to release their first single - though they have released four albums, sort of. All will be explained below.
These tips are not supposed to amount to a definitive list of today's/tomorrow's/this evening's faces. We have kept away from bands like the Divine Comedy and Super Furry Animals, who have each just released the proverbial "highly acclaimed" album, and we have tried to give some idea of the diversity that comprises the class of '96-'97. And "class" is the operative word.
Tears of joy in the Mercury Records A&R department: with the planet in the grip of Morissette-mania, the company has signed Britain's very own Alanis - and there are two of them. Shell and Karen are sisters, "chatty Essex girls", who've got the harmonies, the attitude, the hooks, looks and lyrics. And they've got the Morissette analogy.
"We're cool with that because we think she's amazing," admits Karen. Their first single "I Am, I Feel" is just about to be a hit. Their first album, Alisha Rules the World, is due out in September, and is produced by Dave Stewart. They've already started on its follow-up.
The record company describes Alisha Rules the World thus: "A Pandora's Box of barbed-wire candy twists." Karen describes the album thus: "Some of it is really sickly sweet, and there's some really tough stuff as well. 'I Won't Miss You' is a right-up-your-jacksy sort of thing."
Alisha's Attic's tip for the top: Mundy. "And that's not just because our manager manages him as well. He does a Neil Young, rocky type of thing."
A Liverpool indie band who don't sound like the Beatles. Wasn't it tempting to try a bit of moptop pop last year, when it was so lucrative for everyone else? "Nah, not at all," says guitarist Jamie Murphy. "The Beatles are one of me favourite bands, but what's the point of trying to sound like them? We were a three-piece rock'n'roll band trying to rip off Cyprus Hill."
They ended up sounding more like the Specials, and they now have a fourth member who spices up the ska with a babel of samples. Just as important are the subversive lyrics, tales from the crypt which Space sum up as "boy meets girl and then boy poisons the water supply and kills everyone".
After the hit singles "Neighbourhood" and "Female of the Species" (Gut), Space have an album out in August, produced by Black Grape's Steve Lironi. Will they then be a part of the Northern indie scene? "Nah," says Murphy. "We know all the jingly-jangly guitar bands, but most of them don't like us. They think I'm an arrogant twat."
Space's tip for the top: the Strange. "They're dead weird, and they live next door to me."
Baby Bird have already released four albums - and have yet to release a single. The albums, released in limited editions of 1,000, are the work of Steven Jones - no relation to the Sex Pistols guitarist. A Sheffield performance artist, Jones (right) recorded hundreds of songs on his own four-track machine, with the help of a cheap drum box, cheaper organ and a manic imagination that can take on any genre and leave it dazed and confused.
Baby Bird have grown up into a fully fledged five-piece ("definitely not session musicians") who will hatch their first general-release single on 29 July. Jones is wary of the mainstream: "But we have a good underground history. We can take a step back from chart music. We've got a lot of cards in our hand, to use an awful phrase."
Baby Bird's tip for the top: the Trembling Blue Stars. "They're really, really nice. I like beautiful, very simple tunes, not people who faff around with guitar solos."
Once you've collaborated with Massive Attack future solo stardom is guaranteed. The next beneficiary of this phenomenon is Nicolette. She sang and co-wrote two tracks on 1994's Protection, after catching the Massive men's attention with her debut album in 1992. Her forthcoming Let No One Live Rent Free In Your Head (Mercury) will catch the attention of the rest of the country.
It's trip-hop, jungle, and - oh, I don't know - dreamy futuristic techno- jazz, written by the 32-year-old Nigerian-Scot, and sung in the creepy tones of a small child possessed by the devil. She has been likened to Billie Holiday, and is often dubbed the new Tricky/ Bjork/Goldie/that sort of person. "It's inevitable that I'm going to be compared to somebody," she says. "But whatever attention I get is my due. I've been working for a long time."
So she's ready for stardom? "I think I've always been a star. I always felt special. I felt that I had a lot of light. I think everyone has, they just have to find it."
Nicolette's tip for the top: Roni Size.
John Disco, Sci-Fi Steven and Manda Rin are aged somewhere between 17 and 21, depending on which source you believe, and they act as if they're 10 years younger. They could be into their forties before they shake off the subtitle: Only Unsigned Band To Appear on Top of the Pops.
The anti-Oasis, Bis choose fizzing, riot grrrl-ish disco-punk over Classic Rock any day. There's not much chance of boosting the two guitars/keyboard/drum machine line-up with an orchestra, then? "We're not going to change," says Manda. "We've got our sound now, and it works."
The Glasgwegian trio are so crusadingly indie that they support Ayr United and have just turned down the big companies' pieces of silver and signed to Wiiija Records. Are major labels intrinsically a bad thing? "No. Indie, major: they're all the same. They all want to push you around."
Bis's tip for the top: Kenickie, who are even younger than Bis.
They said it couldn't be done! But it could! Mansun are the first band successfully to cross Oasis and Blur. Add to that Elastica's sharp corners, the funky psychedelic side of the Stone Roses, the sleazoid dance energy of Black Grape, and a Suede vocal inflexion here and there, in between the nasal sneeeaars. I can't find any Pulp or Supergrass, but otherwise you've got the best of class of '93-'95 Britpop all rolled into one.
Parlophone's Mansun started as a five-piece from Chester, but kept losing personnel in rock'n'roll escapades that involved throwing pineapples at each other. And then there were three. Are they set on self-destruction? "We attract a vortex of chaos around us," mumbles mainman Paul Draper, "but inside the eye of the storm we're all pretty quiet. People think we're working-class hoodlums, but I'm a typical art-school drop-out."
Why do Draper's songs glory in such names as "Take It Easy Chicken", "Egg Shaped Fred" and "Ski Jump Nose"? "I always start with the title, so it has to be something that makes me laugh. But I'd like to write a song with George Michael, and I don't think he'd want to do a song with a name like that."
Mansun's tip for the top: Gluebound. "They're really sensational, a bit like REM."
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