Britpop: the great rock'n'roll swindle (part 2)

But all this was just in the tiny crappy world of Britain. It didn't get anywhere abroad. It was shot to bits before it even left the trench, as regards France and America.

There we were in our little paisley scarves and cords and tweed jackets, and we were running at these greasy denim and leather rockers in the States, with these massive loud guitars. I play a massive loud guitar. I was trying so hard to be the noisiest bugger on the stage but when there's three massive loud guitars, you can't really beat them. And we were being too clever. Britpop was a bit too clever.

Rick Witter: We found ourselves going everywhere. It was always funny going abroad. We'd be doing E's and shit, and gooning from hotel balconies at all these foreign people, on their way to work first thing in the morning. It was always funny, because they don't get the humour. You'd find yourself in the back end of Holland, or getting barred from Oslo for smashing up the dressing room. We played in this club, the So What? Club. The name of the venue said it all - like, a 'Why on earth are you playing here?' sort of reaction. No respect, so we gave no respect back. The last thing we were told was, "Don't come back to Oslo."

Richard Hawley: One time we flew back from Germany on Dee's birthday to do 'Top Of The Pops'. We'd just finished a German tour, and we were all so drunk, off our faces all the way back on the flight, and white-knuckling it. I got a massive paranoia comedown. We managed to stay awake, then we got to 'Top Of The Pops', but all the drugs ran out, so we all started falling asleep one by one. I just remember Dee doing make-up. He'd got this serviette on him to stop the powder getting on his clothes, and he was asleep, while they put the make-up on. When they filmed the rehearsals, he was asleep at his kit with this serviette round his neck.

Our management's answer to every problem was: put them on tour. We toured relentlessly. We thought it was just what you do. We'd bump into other bands and they'd go, "F***ing hell, are you still on tour?" We suddenly figured out we were on tour more than anyone else. I just kept asking myself, "Why? What are we trying to prove?" In the end I just didn't believe in it.

Justin Welch: We toured America five times in a year. The touring stopped when we finished the Big Day Out in Australia. I arrived home at five in the morning. It was snowing, and I'd still got my shorts on. Justine and Donna had decided to stay out there for another month. We'd had enough of seeing each other. We didn't see each other for another year.

Pearl Lowe: At the end of the day, your label just wants you to earn them loads of money, and they don't give a f*** how your health is, or how your emotional state is. I had a daughter as well, who I'd had when I was 18, and at that time was only three or four. I lived with my mum and she brought her up with me. I felt such terrible guilt leaving her all the time. I'd come back off tour and I'd be absolutely exhausted and I remember thinking, "Can I actually handle this?"

Chris Gentry: It was all excess, and it was encouraged by management and record companies. When we were making the 'Stardust' video, they thought it would be a really great idea to get us off our heads, but they ended up having to call an ambulance for our guitarist halfway through, 'cos he'd snorted half a gram of coke, and then took three pills at once. He ended up in mental hospital for two weeks. Nobody really looked after us, or our careers. It was basically, "Here's the money, off you go." Nobody ever said to us, "Look, what are you doing?"

Liam Gallagher: We were recording 'Morning Glory' in about a week. We and our kid had a bit of a scuffle, and I came out with a broken arm, broken leg and a shotgun on me shoulder, and me Mam goes, "What f***ing kind of music are you making down there?" Then it was all out. I can't remember much of it. We were never here anyway, we were in f***ing America when it was all going off for us. We were trying to turn on a load of f***ing idiots in America.

Damon Albarn: 'The Great Escape' was a hard time. Because the whole 'Parklife' thing had gone wrong. I couldn't f***ing walk down the street without someone shouting "Oasis". I couldn't go into a shop. I used to walk down the street and, literally, people would open their windows and turn up Oasis. I'm not exaggerating. It was a nightmare, but it taught me a lot. It made me realise that, emotionally, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Noel Gallagher: We had no problem with Blur right up to the point that they started pissing about moving singles back and forward, and then they started booking gigs in the same towns as us when we went on tour, and they had this big stupid projection of Number 1, and they were going to project it onto our gig - they were playing in a pub across the road and we were playing in some f***ing gym or summat. So we phoned their management and said, "Look, we're going to pull this gig because if one of your fans gets his head smashed in with a bottle by one of our fans, then, you know..." They started this ball rolling, so we pulled the gig and of course, they didn't pull their gig. They played that night and he was basically gloating at the fact.

Graham Coxon: Why was there a showdown between 'Country House' and 'Roll With It'? I didn't even know why. I still only hear rumours. A lot of it was about these weird personal grudges between Damon and Noel. It wasn't just bloody music. It wasn't just bloody north and south. And it wasn't just ITN. If it was just that, then they were just insanely ambitious people. I'm sure there was personal stuff going on. Shagging each other's bird? I dunno. I suppose when two very proud males really hate each other, it's usually something to do with male pride, which maybe comes down to girls. I have heard rumours around that kind of thing, but nothing definite. They always treated me with respect, and were always nice. That confused me even more.

I guess I wanted us to win it, but I had no idea why. You did get imbued with the mindless ambitiousness that Damon had, but I didn't know what it was proving, or where it was getting us. It wasn't like a victory at all. Not with that song. It started out as such a clever little tune and ended up as some pizzazzy, cabaret, f***ing horrible monster. It was so hook-ridden, it made you shit yourself.

Phill Savidge: I started doing things just to amuse myself. You know, like Reggie Perrin's Grot shops, like, "Maybe I could actually have a bit of a laugh with this." I'll give you an example: I was never a fan of Kula Shaker. But I could see that a lot of journalists would be a fan of Kula Shaker, and I wanted to see how far I could run with it. I got their music and thought, "Well, I'm not personally gonna represent this because I think it's sick, but maybe the office can handle it, and maybe no-one will see through the mire." The only time I ever saw them live, I was 500 yards away at T In The Park, walking past with my hands over my ears, going, "I shall never see them."

Pearl Lowe: I broke up 'Powder' because I was pregnant with Alfie, my son with Danny [Goffey, Supergrass drummer, her partner]. Danny and I still went to a lot of gigs. In the NME, they used to have a Pearl-and-Danny-watch in the gossips. I was "Pearl Spam, without the pram". They weren't too nice. They said I was going to have my baby in the toilets of the Dublin Castle, which I cried about.

Phill Savidge: The Michael Jackson incident at the Brit Awards changed everything for Jarvis. That was his brush with big, proper, fame. After that, everyone just went, "That's the guy who put his arse in front of Michael Jackson", which must've been horrible for him. He'd been in the band for 15 years - "Is that what I'm going to be remembered for? I'm just cheapening myself." So he recoiled a bit, and went into this dark space. That's what 'This Is Hardcore' came out of. Though they weren't anywhere near as famous as him, the rest of the band went to the dark space with him.

Jarvis Cocker: The cover of GQ? It was horrible, that. I really wasn't very well at that time. They did a billboard of it as well and I remember thinking, "There's nothing going on behind the eyes." It's a kind of vacant, nobody-at-home kind of look basically. That was probably the point at which I realised I had to sort myself out.

Noel Gallagher: After 'Morning Glory' came out and 'Wonderwall' took off, it felt that everything was leading up to something that was going to define not only the size of the band but what British pop music was about at that time, so it all felt like it was leading to Knebworth.

Knebworth House is Batman's house in the Batman films. After the first gig, we stayed overnight in the caravans behind the stage, so you can imagine what time we all got to bed. I went up the next day for a bath. I was in one of the bathrooms upstairs, filled the bath up with water and got in. I was there with me soap and there was a knock on the door and in comes Bob, a proper f***ing butler. He had a tray with a bottle of champagne and one glass. He put it down and he said, "Awfully sorry to disturb you, sir, but here's your champagne." I was like, f***ing, "So this is how they live..."

I've got a picture which has got to be 10 foot wide of what Jill Furmanovsky took from the back of the stage, and it's while the Prodigy are playing. Right in the distance you can just see this little green head and if you look closely it's Keith [Flint] who's gone right out into the crowd singing 'Firestarter' or summat. I think the crowd started in one county and finished in another. It was frighteningly huge.

Jarvis Cocker: I got the fear, because I got what I wanted, what I'd been after for the majority of my life, and then the actual reality of it was rubbish. It was awful, definitely the worst period of me life, without question. I was just a mess. Taking drugs didn't help. That never helps in a situation. You don't often hear people say, "Oh, since he's been taking them drugs, he's such a nice person! He's really come out of his shell, he's really nice, he's blossomed!"

Phill Savidge: Bands' friends change. There were certain people around Suede and Elastica - those people got into different drugs. If those people are your friends, then you get into different drugs. Obviously, some people within the Britpop movement took heroin. I remember speaking to a certain person from a band, "Have you got any charlie?" And he said, "No. We have got something but you wouldn't be interested in it." That's the secrecy of heroin. Certain cliques formed, because heroin is one step further for a lot of people. So a clique came around heroin. A lot of people were smoking it, and still thought, "We're only smoking it, we don't really do heroin, do we?" Which isn't strictly true.

Justin Welch: Habit-forming? It did get messy, yes. In between records there was nothing going on whatsoever. It can only happen when there's money there, if you know what I mean, and we all seemed to have a good wedge of it. You get lazy. The hunger goes. Donna was still in the band, and we spent a year trying to write the second album before we even went into the studio again. Then you'd go to the studio and no-one would turn up. One day Donna would come in with her songs, one day it would be Justine with hers, some days neither of them, and nothing would ever get done.

Chris Gentry: Yeah, the stories about goings-on round at Donna's house. Group-sex heroin orgies? Hmmm, yeah, it was pretty mad. We had loads of money, and we were young. We had large bank accounts and nothing to do. Well, we had things to do, but not real things - just play guitar for 20 minutes and look pretty. I wrote a lot on the first album, and pretty much didn't write anything on the second album, just because I wasn't even picking up a guitar at that point. Other things seemed more important, like partying and hanging out, and having a laugh.

Jarvis Cocker: I decided that I was a brain-dead mess, so I went away to New York at the end of 1996. Which was a really sensible thing to do, you know, when you're really f***ed up - go away on your own to a country where you don't really know anybody. I wasn't thinking straight so I ended up going off me head in this hotel room and all weird things kept happening. One thing was that suddenly I got a phone call. Nobody was supposed to know I was there and I got a phone call - "It's Imogen from New Labour, can we count on your support?" I put the phone down on her, so I never got formally invited to Number 10.

Damon Albarn: At the time it just felt normal to be introduced to the leader of the Opposition. It shows you how f***ed up it had become. They invited me around just before the election, appearing quite casual, but then saying, "If you're as successful as your are now come the election, then we can do some business together." I was really troubled after meeting him. 'Parklife' was a really angry record. It was saying that this country has got some really shit things about it, and it turned into the launchpad for New Labour, New Everything.

Alex James: We'd gone from being a 'you'll get dropped, you've lost the plot' notion to government-level mainstream. The government were hijacking classic British songwriting values and imagery, and using it to get elected. We'd moved on by then, anyway. We were listening to the Pixies.

Noel Gallagher: The end of '96, that's when the money came in - like, the big f***-off money. We took our foot off the gas a little bit but we only did what everyone else would've done in our position. We'd worked our bollocks off for five years. We'd basically been on the road or in the studio or been interviewed or photographed or analysed - and then all of a sudden you've got X millions in your bank account. I mean, I'm sorry, but f*** being in the band for a game of tennis. I'm f***ing living, you know?

I went away and cobbled together an album in two weeks in Mustique - the rich people's playground, apparently - and I spent the rest of the year f***ing drinking and buying cars I can't drive, buying houses I couldn't live in, buying the most ridiculous clothes... That's when the drug habit started kicking in, wearing big f***ing sunglasses growing your hair long pretending you were f***ing Ziggy Stardust.

So 'Be Here Now' is the sound of a bunch of guys on coke in the studio not giving a f***. There's no bass on it at all. I don't know what happened to that, it all 'ccrrrrrrrrrr' and all the songs are really long and all the lyrics are shit, and for every millisecond Liam is not saying a word, there's a f***ing guitarist in there in a Wayne's World stylee, you know, f***ing going mental.

Pearl Lowe: They dropped the rest of my band, but I still had a deal with Universal, which was then Polygram. I tried to get out, and they went, "No way, you owe us a hundred grand! And that's you personally!" I used to ring up and go, "Hell-o, it's Pearl. I need some money please. I need to buy a mike", and they'd go, "OK darling," and they'd just send over cheques. It was absolutely mental. But then I was really stung because they were like, "Oi, you're not f***ing getting out of here that easily..."

Chris Gentry: After the first album, we said, "We want to have a writing time in a writing studio." The record company paid for three months in this country residence, and we just sat there for three months taking coke. The only song we came up with was called 'Horses', which was about Kenny Jones' horses - the drummer out of The Who and The Small Faces' polo horses. When our manager played it to the record company, it wasn't the best meeting they'd ever had.

We were doing the second album for years, trying to make a country rock album in Wales, then we split up. We couldn't stand being in a room anymore. Loads of my friends were f***ed up. I had a friend die, a friend who had a bad car crash - all f***in' not nice. It ended up being horrible.

Graham Coxon: Alex could always say things that were devastating. He would say his name was Alex Frombler, and that started to really depress me. Then another time we were going to go on-stage at the Budokan and he told me how much money we were going to be earning in the next two hours. Those things kind of ate away at me. Because if you know you're going to earn a certain amount of money no matter what you do in the next two hours, you don't have to try too hard. We always did, we always made sure we tried very hard, but there was a point at which I was becoming intolerable to the other group members, because touring was becoming intolerable to me. I was angry and disappointed. It was getting very near a point where the band was going to collapse.

We were good friends at the start, but for survival purposes, we had to become the limited company. We were partners instead. There was no time for friendship. Friendship needs a lot of space and time, and really you have to put that aside if you're in a situation like we were. We weren't communicating very well, so I wrote Damon a letter, saying, "This is all bloody horrible, I'm sick of these buggers at record companies, I'm sick of touring, I wanna make some music that will scare them." Then we went on to make 'Blur' which I think is Blur's best record.

Louise Wener: Once the bigger bands lurched into crisis, which they did, then all the smaller bands... You know, when Bagpuss goes to sleep, everyone else goes to sleep and that's when it finished for everybody that came in their wake. People talk about the '70s being the 'Me Generation'. Towards the end, that's what the '90s became as well. It celebrated itself, it loved itself too much. That's what cocaine does to you, it makes you believe that you're much more significant than you really are. That you're so important to the cultural genesis of a country.

Phill Savidge: I don't think drugs destroyed Britpop. It was just the public had had enough of it. It ended so abruptly, because in the market place, everyone realised at the same time, "Well, actually, all this new stuff is crap." The aftermath was that a lot of record companies who were really stupid ran over the cliff like a load of lemmings, saying, "Sign the next Britpop band," not noticing that the audience had moved on. I don't think they saw beyond their noses, or front covers. The press were still all over it, but we knew that front covers don't necessarily sell records. Why didn't they?

Justin Welch: Because the first record was such a success, you tried to compete with it. We got into different recording techniques. In the end we went back to the old ways, and threw a load of stuff together, stripped it all down. I have CDs of another 20 or 25 tracks - and tons of mixes of them - which never saw the light of day. I'm not pointing the finger, but a lot of it could've been done a lot quicker, we could've put the record out, and we could've still been together today. I speak to all the other members except for Justine. I don't think she can be bothered with any of us.

Graham Coxon: The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was empty. I felt like I had a bit of a gun to my head the whole time. Now I exist without the gun, it's a bit strange. I don't know what to do with my emancipation, except write insane, weird kinds of songs. But I'm very glad to be out. I think I like my life a lot better, because I know that I'm doing the right thing, and that every day I can pretty much stand by what I'm doing and not feel in any way ashamed of it.

Noel Gallagher: It was a really bad time for music, Menswear and Sleeper and 20 other bands that have long since gone... These things come along every time there's a few bands that are starting to make a name for themselves who wear vaguely similar clothes. It was vaguely guitar-based, and Britpop became the soundbite. It was just one nifty sentence to sum up a lot of shit music, to be honest.
by scummy | 2008-01-20 18:00 | interview


by scummy


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