Dole-queue blues that gave Britpop its soul

David Lister
Wednesday 18 February 1998 00:02
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Britpop certainly began as Dolepop. Many of the songs that have epitomised the most creative period in rock music for over 20 years were written or worked on by musicians out of work and usually claiming benefit.

Oasis, Pulp and the Verve, three of the biggest-selling bands, whose albums and singles have won both critical and popular acclaim, created songs that were to become anthems before they landed a proper job. Jarvis Cocker, lead singer and songwriter with Pulp, only signed off in 1993, even though he had been gigging and recording for some years.

Liam Gallagher of Oasis was on social security for years before hitting the big time, as were other members of the band. Liam went to a Restart interview and told the DSS official he wanted to be a rock star. When the official told him that was not possible, he said he would settle for a lumber jack instead, before terminating the conversation. His songwriter brother Noel was in work. But his songs, which appeared on Oasis's first album Definitely Maybe were worked on and rehearsed while the rest of the band were on the dole.

The Verve's songwriter and frontman Richard Ashcroft spent two years, 1995 and 1996, drifting and writing songs. Those songs were later to appear on their Brit Award-winning album Urban Hymns. And two of them, "The Drugs Don't Work" and "Bitter Sweet Symphony" were huge hits as singles. "Richard needed that exodus period," a spokesman for the band said yesterday. "He was able to concentrate on writing the songs."

Portishead, the former Brit Award winners, actually met up on a back- to-work scheme. Chumbawumba - John Prescott's least favourite band and now also Brit Award winners - also wrote songs while on the dole. Pete Vukovitz, lead singer of Three Colours Red, signed to Alan McGee's Creation label, who was on the dole for five years, says of the Government's new scheme: "It's going to make it impossible to live, let alone be in a band. I guess I was lucky."

Five years on the dole is far from being a record. Mark Ashton, lead singer of the band Addict, which signed to the record company V2 last year for pounds 100,000, was on the dole for eight years. He said recently: "It was vital for me - for us - to have that facility so we could put 100 per cent into our music." Most art forms, of course, have a close association with benefit. Actors often suffer periods of unemployment just before striking stardom and have protested about plans to tighten up on them being allowed to claim benefits while "resting".

But rock has its own DSS hall of fame. Mick Hucknall, the lead singer of Simply Red, is another superstar and New Labour supporter who collected dole money while learning his craft. But if proof were needed that some of the biggest names in music start on the dole, it is that one of the biggest selling bands of the Eighties named themselves in homage to a piece of paper they knew well - the unemployment benefit claim form, UB40.

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