The Week in Radio: BBC has paid tribute to Britpop but Cool Britannia is all a bit of a blur

 

"We'd heard it all before, done better," groaned the former music journalist James Delingpole to Radio 2's Jeremy Vine, referring to Blur and Oasis' respective love of The Kinks and The Beatles. The listeners were more generous. Dan in Cornwall admitted to shedding a tear at Suede's "Animal Nitrate" while David in London praised Britpop's celebration of the regional. Everyone seemed to agree that Northern Uproar were an abomination.

Never ones to miss a cultural phenomenon two decades after it has finished, Radio 4's Today paid tribute to this peculiar movement that "went hand-in-hand with optimism" and in which "the UK celebrated itself for a while". All of which sounds very un-British and would go some way in explaining the disapproval with which many critics talk about it now.

The journalist and broadcaster Steve Lamacq, a man who must hold some sort of record for being at every gig that ever happened in the Nineties, identified the common thread between these bands who were far from the exotic pop stars of yore. "Britpop was made by bands who were part of the audience, and they talked about the things that audiences were interested in," he noted. They were us but they were up there on stage.

In Radio 2's Britpop: a Very British Pop, Stuart Maconie looked at how class, regionalism and politics helped to shape Nineties guitar music. Maconie's singular way with words (Oasis was "gutsy rock'n'roll for the everyman") took this documentary beyond the usual cringeworthy touchstones of partying at Number 10 and the Blur vs Oasis item on the News at Ten and into more reflective territory.

He had also assembled an impressive cast of those at the centre of it, from Noel Gallagher, the journalist John Harris and Creation records boss Alan McGee to The Auteurs frontman and professional misanthrope Luke Haines.

Haines and Gallagher were at opposite ends of the spectrum but you sensed they'd have had a right laugh together in different circumstances. Describing his fabled trip to Downing Street for to meet the newly elected Prime Minister, Gallagher recalled "I'd only signed off the dole four years earlier and I arrived in a Rolls-Royce. I was laughing all the way there, thinking, 'What a trip!'"

Getting misty-eyed about a period in music that was itself all about nostalgia is a curious thing. And yet as Miranda Sawyer recalled the early-Nineties music scene in 6 Music's How Britpop Changed the Media, when Blur released Modern Life Is Rubbish and when Elastica were playing their first gigs under an alias, I found myself hankering for a time when guitar music sounded smart and fresh.

Sawyer's thesis – and it was a good one – wasn't just that Britpop altered the musical landscape but that it changed the face of the media too. Britpop grew too big for specialist music papers such as NME and Melody Maker, and spilled over into broadsheet newspapers and tabloids, publications that had virtually ignored popular culture in the past.

With the help of Elastica's Justine Frischmann, Sawyer also drew a clear line between the press falling at the feet of this new generation of stars and the grim pursuit of celebrities today. Britpop, it seemed, was merely a glimpse of horrors to come.

Twitter.com/FionaSturges

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