The Unlikeliest Lads

Any Way You Look Single CoverAny Way You Look Northern Uproar Heavenly Records Released: May 1997 Highest UK Chart Position: #36 Available on: Tomorrow, Today & Yesterday

You, at the back. Yes, you. Stop laughing. This song is brilliant.

After the success of Blur, Oasis, and Pulp in 1994, the record labels scrambled to sign up all the guitar bands in the country, hoping to find the next stars of the scene. By 1995, the charts and radio were full of these bands, bands which would have been lucky to get a hit on the independent charts a few years back. Northern Uproar were one of these; four Manchester teenagers that looked as if they had your eye on your car stereo rather than a band with a long Top 40 career in front of them . After an initially-positive response in the music press, they were vilified, and were portrayed as a symbol of all that was wrong with Britpop. It didn't help that their singles and first album were mediocre and highly derivative, borrowing all the bad parts of Oasis and none of the good. After a few hit singles and a fairly successful first album, they disappeared in 1996, and nobody noticed.

In May 1997, without much fanfare, they released Any Way You Look, the first single from the James Dean Bradfield–produced second album, Tomorrow, Today & Yesterday. And it's fabulous.

While the rest of Britpop's vanguard were off recording six minute epics, Northern Uproar came back with a pop song that just crept over the three minute barrier. It wastes no time in getting started: clipped horns announcing the beginning, and then right into the song. From out of nowhere, a tight guitar starts up, stolen straight from the Funk Brothers themselves. It's almost as if the group spent the latter half of 1996 in Detroit, jacking up Motown grooves and leaving behind the battered remains up on blocks; a Motor City - Moss Side cultural exchange. Leon Maya, the singer, begins a moment after the backing track, and if you were familiar with Northern Uproar's previous work, the difference is astonishing. He still sounds unmistakably Mancunian, but there's a confidence behind his voice that just wasn't there on the previous records. The lyrics are in the Sally Cinnamon/Just My Imagination mould; unrequited love writ large. Nothing spectacular, but the lyrics only exist to feed into the chorus, which, with its stomping horns and soaring vocal, is again lifted from Motown.

But it's at 2 minutes 19 seconds that the song unleashes its final surprise, where it leaps over the line from being good, and becomes a classic. For the final minute, the song just repeats "I've never been this lonely" over and over again, the singer overlapping himself, and the rest of the band supplying Beach Boys-style harmonies. All this from a band that a year ago you wouldn't have trusted to sing Roll With It on a karaoke machine. The love song disappears; it's now about the band itself. Hacked to pieces by the press, the laughing stock of Britpop, this is a heartfelt plea for them to be taken seriously, that this is their last chance for success. The ending is a little obvious, as the backing track and horns stop one after the other, leaving the final few repetitions of "I've never been this lonely" to stand by themselves, but it works very well. And once it's over, you want to return back to the beginning to make sure you didn't imagine it, checking the sleeve just to make sure the shop didn't give you the wrong CD by mistake. But it's not; the four chancers from Manchester have finally come of age.

Any Way You Look failed to make much of an impression on the Top 40, the second album flopped, and their final two singles failed to chart.

Leon Maya is now a hairdresser.

I Miss Links

Get yourself a human torso!

FREE GIF! GIF IS FREE! ITS LONG SENTENCE IS FINALLY UP!

It's looking good for the hippies…

Sssh! Don't tell Bonnie!

currently playing: DJ Premier — In Deep Concentration

If you say something enough times...

I believe the phrase is "put up or shut up, Cheney"…

currently playing: James — She's A Star

CLOUDS OF DOOOM!

It doesn’t look good for Glastonbury, does it?

Only Love Can Break Your Heart In Two Places

Hobart Paving Single CoverHobart Paving / Who Do You Think You Are? Saint Etienne Heavenly Records Released: May 1993 Highest Chart Position: #23 Available on: Smash The System Some of the groups in Select Magazine’s Britpop-defining March 1993 issue, like Pulp and Blur, went on to become the biggest bands in Britain. Saint Etienne, also featured, lurked behind in the shadows, never quite managing to find their place at the top of the charts. Too much in love with pop for the indie crowd, and too arch and knowing for a music-buying general public that turned its back on intellectual pop back in the 1980s. Saint Etienne’s world is one where girls in Mary Quant dresses, scarves and white-rimmed sunglasses drive out into the country in their Ford Capris, ready for a rave in the middle of Hertfordshire. A world where the modern concrete architecture of the 1960s looks the way it does in dreams, instead of the dismal concrete reality of The Tricorn. A world of Paris, of London, of beaches under the pavement, of architecture, of being dropped by your record label for taking the money for a promo video and making a full-length film with it instead. It’s not our world, but it could have been, if only we’d tried harder.

Hobart Paving is a deceptive song. It sounds simple on the first listen; Sarah Cracknell singing over what seems like a sparse backing track, the lyrics regretful and contemplative. But there's more going on. The backing tracks starts off with just a piano, with new instruments gradually coming in, building the backing up layer by layer until, at the end, the song is accompanied by a pocket electronic orchestra of drums, strings, and horns. Is Sarah talking about Elvis Presley's tears, or Elvis Costello's? There's a big difference between the two. It feels like the end of a 1960s kitchen-sink drama film, where the young and successful star returns to her humble beginnings, but finds that she's no longer welcome. She leaves, never to return home again.

Who Do You Think You Are?, the other side of this double-A single, is one of those times where the band were almost too clever for their own good. It’s a cover of a song by Candlewick Green, winners of several Opportunity Knocks programmes (Opportunity Knocks was a long-running (1956-78) British TV talent show; this song comes from the 1970s). This could have just been an ironic exercise of kitsch, but the band drag the track into the 1990s, stopping off in the 1980s to borrow some acid house, mixing together cool and uncool parts of British culture to create something new, exciting, and danceable.

Oooh! Can I Live Here?

currently playing: The Streets — Dry your Eyes

1996. Knebworth, Britain. "This is History! This is History!"

Liam Gallagher was always a bit of an idiot.

But! This is History. Or rather, this is Hobart Paving — a gentle look back at the Britpop years. It's something of a received opinion these days that Britpop was a mad delusion that we all suffered under for a few years, and now we can look back and laugh at our awful taste. Like similar opinions about the 1980s and 1970s, this is a short-sighted dismissal of an era; sure there was plenty of rubbish about, but there was also greatness. And this site is an attempt to document that, especially some of the bands and songs that either have been forgotten, or never managed to make it big in the first place.

My definition of Britpop is rather broad, even compassing some bands that aren't British, but I hope you'll find my choices interesting. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on singles, but there'll probably be a few albums covered along the way, as well as concerts, magazines, radio, and other gubbins that seem appropriate. I probably won't be putting MP3s up, but if a song is out-of-print and difficult to obtain, I might put a copy online. Otherwise, each entry will have links and suggestions for where you can get the song.

And having got all that out of the way, let’s begin…

"Get To Bed!"

After two weeks of listening to Mark Radcliffe's new Radio 2 show, I've come to a rather unsettling conclusion:

I miss the Radio 1 playlist.

Don't get me wrong; I love turning on the radio to hear The Mighty Wah!'s "Sinful", New Order's "True Faith", and many more, but I miss the variety. I want to hear these songs mixed with Richard X/Rachel Steven's "Some Girls" and OutKast. Not Norah Jones (I'm placing my belief in the idea that although Mark doesn't have a playlist as such, there's still a few songs that they suggest he should play each week. I refuse to accept that he plays Jones and Sheryl Crow out of his own free will). I would also like the moon on a stick, if that's possible.

Strangely, I don't miss Lard all that much. There seems to be a guest in the studio every night, so Mark still has somebody with him to banter with and discuss wheeliebin arrangements. Thursday's show with Noddy Holder was very funny, and I look forward to them paring up again next fortnight, but it did highlight one problem with the show: it's too short. As it only runs for an hour and a half, by the time it gets going, it's midnight, and time to hand over to Janice Long. Longer hours, please!

A reserved thumbs-up, then. And here's the song I promised yesterday, which I heard earlier this week on Radcliffe's show. It's a little odd, but rather pleasant. Have a listen:

Stina NordenstamLittle Star

(he also played a French cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that I will put up when I manage to track down the group's details)

currently playing: Phoenix — If It's Not With You

Friday Vacant

Spam is annoying, but I do get a nostalgic glow when I receive a spam email from the Kenickie Yahoo/eGroups mailing list. As you can imagine, we don't have too much to talk about anymore, so the only time I'm reminded of its existence is when somebody sends a message advertising time machines/Russian mail order brides/the possibility of a closed universe. I suppose I should unsubscribe, but it's very low-traffic, and there's always the possibility that it'll spark back into its toast-talking ways one day…

I do have a song for the weekend, but I'll be putting it up tomorrow along with some comments about the new Mark Radcliffe show. I would do it tonight, but I'm feeling a little run-down tonight. Back tomorrow!

currently playing: Kate Bush — Running Up That Hill

Back To Normal…Almost

Well, you should be able to get the MP3s again. Fedora Core 2 is a throwback to Linux installations of yore; I haven't had to recorrect Master Boot Records and tell the system how many heads the hard drive has for a long time…

currently playing: New Order — World In Motion