What's the story? Mourning Tories!
Forget Luvvies for Labour, now it's Britpoppers for Blair. Ten years after Red Wedge, Nicholas Barber analyses the latest obsession of pop's aristocracy Barber
Sunday 03 November 1996
This was bad news for the Conservative Party. According to the script, the awards were a celebration of the most lucrative, encouraging year in British pop for decades. Here was a booming industry, teeming with confidence and ideas, and exporting product by the tankerload. How infuriating that the one time its prime exponents said anything coherent was when they handed all the credit to the Opposition.
The Tories hurried to turn the situation around. In July, Virginia Bottomley invited Alan McGee to her office for tea. He politely but firmly refused - except that he wasn't very polite. "With her record of closing hospitals down," said The Man Who Discovered Oasis, "I am concerned that fraternising with her may result in the closure of my record company." He hasn't been invited back.
In March, John Redwood's fumbled attempt to get his hands on pop's feelgood factor was even more excruciating. He wrote a gloriously inept article in the Guardian, a confused, confusing sermon proclaiming that he knew nothing about Britpop, that Pulp were up there with the Beatles, that the Barron Knights were better than both, that Handel was better yet, and that the lyrics of the Lightning Seeds ("open the window and jump into the blue") could well be cryptic Tory propaganda. "I remember reading it and thinking, `Bloody hell, he can't do that'," laughs Ian Broudie, leader of the Lightning Seeds. "But fortunately it was so preposterous that I didn't really mind. It was obvious that some advisor had given him the lyrics. I'm sure he'd never listened to us himself. He seems like a right pillock, anyway."
Ironically, the Lightning Seeds have not been safe from either party. At the Labour conference, Tony Blair purloined the refrain of "Three Lions" - "Football's coming home" - and cunningly substituted "Labour" for "football". In just three words he had appropriated not only the success story of Britpop but England's decent showing in Euro 96, too. "It was a bit cheap," says Broudie, "but I loved hearing Trevor McDonald reading our lyrics on the news." And who will get Broudie's vote? "I shudder when people in pop get involved in politics. I lean towards Labour, but I think politicians are a horrific bunch across the board, whether it be Clare Short, Tony Blair, John Major or John Redwood. I wouldn't want to be in a room with any of them."
Even without the Lightning Seeds' blessing, Labour are winning the battle for bands. Noel Gallagher is the cover star of the latest New Labour magazine, in which he is quoted as saying that Tony Blair's conference speech "brought tears to my eyes". Alan McGee has presented Tony Blair with one of Oasis's platinum discs. Blur have joined their arch-enemies to help the cause. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy have both offered to pen a party song. A crowd of rock musicians and comedians have put together an album and a series of concerts in aid of Rock the Vote, the campaign to persuade young people to put their cross in a box on election day. Rock the Vote is, its organisers stress, a non-partisan enterprise, but you'd be hard pushed to find a right-winger among the participants. Goodbye Luvvies for Labour. Hello, Britpop for Blair.
While the rock fraternity never fights shy of single issues - freeing Nelson Mandela, say - it hasn't fought so hard for an individual party since Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and their comrades formed Red Wedge a decade ago. There are any number of possible reasons why pop and politics are on speaking terms again. First, the bands concerned have risen with the aid of the indie music press, which dismisses any group that does not adhere to their proudly politically correct tenets. Second, the bands will stop at nothing in their admiration (and imitation) of the Beatles, the working-class heroes who had their photograph taken with Harold Wilson. Third, Tony Blair is a youthful leader with an interest in rock'n'roll that rings a lot more true than John Redwood's. At Oxford, the long-haired Blair sang in Ugly Rumours, a group which had Mark Ellen, founder of Q magazine, on bass. It was Ellen who first introduced Blair to Noel Gallagher, at the 1994 Q Awards in the Park Lane hotel. Blair's smile was customarily wide as the pair shook hands enthusiastically, but on this occasion Gallagher's was wider. One minute earlier (reports Ian Robertson in his recent book, Oasis: What's the Story?), he had helped himself to a generous serving of cocaine in the toilets.
Martin Rossiter, the lead singer of Gene, and a paid-up member of both Labour and Rock the Vote, suspects that his colleagues' support for Labour is down to their age-group. He is 26, so he was nine when the Tories came to power. Like every pop star of his gen-eration, he can't remember life pre-Thatcher, and is "a little fed up ... I've always hated the Francis Rossi school of thought that pop and politics shouldn't mix. Why on earth not? People have said, `You ought to watch what you're saying because it'll harm your career'. I have to say, `Bugger my career, this is my one chance not to be cynical, and I'm grabbing it with both hands'."
Rossiter is not sure whether a pop star's political alignment can sway that of his fans, but he believes that musicians have helped to make party politics "part of pub conversation again". Likewise, Victoria Moore, at Arts for Labour, plays down the notion that a Gallagher endorsement will swing the youth vote: "It's very nice for a party to be associated with talent and success, but we've never really taken the view that it would change people's vote."
Maybe not. But Oasis have turned the Marks & Spencer anorak into a fashion item, and persuaded 125,000 people to stand in the rain, singing: "I know a girl called Elsa / She's into Alka Seltzer." Their influence shouldn't be underestimated. !
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