Monday, September 23, 2013

Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall by Luke Haines (William Heinemann Ltd 2009)

Colonel Klutz

December 1993. End-of-year round-ups in the music press. American bands still holding up – all polls feature Nirvana, Lemonheads, Belly and the Juliana Hatfield Three. Tindersticks by the Tindersticks is album of the year in Melody Maker. New Wave is at number 19. In the NME Writers' Top Fifty Albums of the Year Bjork's Debut is number one, and New Wave comes in at 18. In Select magazine New Wave is voted the seventh-best album of the year. And the best album of 1993 as voted for by the writers of Select: Giant Steps by the Boo Radleys. Suede lurk around the top three of most critics' polls, and Mr Blobby gets the Christmas number one in the singles chart.

The singer – who could now pass for an East End villain – has me pinned against the wall. After our, ahem, early-evening opening slot there had been an ominous knock on the dressing-room door.

'Can I have a word – outside?' says the singer, gesturing grimly towards me. Drunk and stoned post-gig, I follow obediently. I know what's coming. I orchestrated it so I'm looking forward to it. Quick as a flash the headline act pulls off some nifty pugilistic footwork and squares up to me. Jesus, what a knucklehead. I hadn't imagined his reaction to my onstage comments would be quite as physical. True, last night, with righteous anger and adrenalin raging through my veins I had been spoiling for a fight, but now I just wanted to be sacked – minus pasting.

'How much of a fucking prick are you gonna look when I kick the shit out of you onstage?' the singer asks unreasonably. It's a good question, and one that I assume is rhetorical. I drift off into a vision of myself being chased around the stage by a man in a gorilla suit, the gorilla's clumsy paws finally managing to grab me by the scruff of the neck before drop-kicking me high into the air to the whooping delight of the audience. Oh man, that would be entertainment.

'Well, answer me, you fucking cunt.' Not rhetorical then. I snap out of my reverie and slump back against the wall. I'm back in the playground about to take a hiding from a dim bully. There's nothing to do but let the scene play out. Shouldn't take long.

. . .

On paper it was unpromising. In real life it looked even worse. The Auteurs are booked to support Matt Johnson's band The The on a UK tour. All of this organised months in advance, before the recent setbacks, when life was a breeze and I would skip over lawns of freshly mown grass without a care in my head, laughing and doffing my hat to a cartoon bluebird as I bent down to pick a buttercup.

Tour with The The? Sure, if it keeps everyone happy and it sells some more records, why not? My levity lasts for about a day and a half. Reality dawns. The truth is, I don't care too much for Matt Johnson. He's some guy who sold a ton of records in the 80s, and now he's got some new dreck he's trying to flog. Coincidentally, some of the work on the new Auteurs album has been done at a recording studio owned by one Matt Johnson. The studio walls are covered in terrible paintings: some recognisable originals of The The album sleeves, others perhaps specially commissioned. The theme of the paintings seems to be ghastly men and ghastly women giving in to all manner of bodily functions with grim abandon. Oh, and imminent nuclear destruction. A clear indication of Johnson's faultless yet simplistic world view. Human race: awful. Never mind, will probably be extinguished in some sort of self-inflicted Armageddon. Told you so. The bastards deserved it. As I said, sold a lot of records in the 80s.

On no account attempt to tour the UK in December. Your limbs will become brittle with cold as you trundle up and down the country in a freezing tour bus and no one will come to your gigs as they are attending Christmas parties. Christmas parties in your hotel. Oh yes, the late-night bars of the Holiday Inn, Ibis and Radisson hotels – the après-gig drinking stations of the lower- to mid-level rock band. Every nook and cranny of these corporate flophouses taken over by drunken reps and violent drones from the frightening world of real honest work. Civvy Street – pissed up, embittered, trying to get over another empty year and on your fucking case.

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