Texture and Artefact

Texture and Artefact is my new project, combining personal monologues, field recordings, interviews with friends and family, clips from old cassettes, occasional drama and original music, all knitted together into narrative soundscapes.

The first season will run from January to September 2023, with one episode out each month. Episodes vary in length from 20 to 30 minutes, and are all tightly-edited, non-rambling and without adverts or other interruptions. Texture and Artefact is about sound and memory and should be listened to on headphones or a decent sound system in order to make sense.

Season Trailer – this 5-minute season trailer contains clips from seven of the episodes, and gives a good idea of the different kinds of things you’ll hear on the show.

Episode 1.1: Threw It In The Bin: Stories about growing up as a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD, in Worcester in the 1990s. This is the first episode because it’s effectively an origin story for the project.

Episode 1.2: A Life In A Day: Sounds from a day in the life of a commuter, Cambridge & London, 2021. This is the only episode from the season which is entirely a field-recording based soundscape.

Future episodes (titles – and actual episodes – may change)

Episode 1.3: Port Out: life in a callcentre, Brighton, 2005, Monday 13th March
Episode 1.4: Plum Flower: early childhood, transience and tragedy, Hubei, China, 1980s, Monday 10th April
Episode 1.5: Draw on My Back: love, death, mental health and memory, Prague, 2004, Monday 8th May
Episode 1.6: The Secret Life of Walter Errington, 1920s-1992, Monday 12th June
Episode 1.7: Rossiya Kupé: Russia 2007, Monday 10th July
Episode 1.8: $tolen Grand, Southampton, 1998, Monday 14th August
Episode 1.9: Requiem for John Wieja, 2010s, Monday 11th September

You can find Texture & Artefact at Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or by searching for “Texture and Artefact” wherever you get your podcasts.

If I know you from earlier in my life and you have an idea for an episode, please get in touch – I’m james at errington dot uk.

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Wet Markets

As desperate marketing emails remind me every day, we are living in difficult / unprecedented times, and if anything I suppose it is a surprise that there haven’t been more misunderstandings and spreading of conspiracy theories. But there are still things worth explaining, whether that has much of a difference to the outcome or not.

Coronavirus, we have heard, jumped species from possibly bats(?) at a place called a “wet market” in Wuhan, China, where wild animals are sold and slaughtered. These places have been shut down by the Chinese government, but they will open again, and something should be done. Here are a couple of people I like a great deal talking about this issue.

Here is George Monbiot in The Guardian


Here is Paul McCartney interviewed by Howard Stern


I have a lot of sympathy for these points of view, and for animal rights in general, but I have also spent a decade in China, and do not recognise the picture which is usually painted of these places.

The first “wet market” I went to was in the coastal city of Zhuhai, where I was living in 2006. It was near where the fishing boats came in from the Pearl River Estuary, and naturally, there was a good deal of seafood on sale. The floor was wet from the overflow from the fish tanks, and the lack of windows on the roof made the place look dingy, which combined with the smell of fresh fish and meat to make it a visceral sort of experience. An Australian couple went there with me once and described it as “absolutely disgusting” and “furral”. If you stayed downstairs, away from the meat, and held your nose perhaps, you would find an amazing assortment of fresh fruit. Lychee, longan, dragon fruit, guava, sugar cane, pomelo, durian; every week I would come back to try another, all would be fresh and delicious, nothing like the flavourless mulch I’d been used to in British supermarkets.

Because here’s the point – “wet markets” are just fresh food markets. Many do not even sell meat, and those which do generally reserve a corner for it, which is easily avoided. If you had the choice of going to a farmer’s market or going to a supermarket in which everything is even more homogenised and processed than it is in the west, which one would you choose? The wet market in Zhuhai was not a good example – through the next decade I must have been to 30 or 40 of these markets, none was spotlessly clean, but most were well-ventilated places, full of life and fresh produce. Here, to give an example, is the market around the corner from my apartment in Tongzhou, a suburb of Beijing.




You will note here the lack of any meat or fish, which was around the other side. I went there rarely, but we did buy both. Fish would be bought alive – how else could you make sure it was fresh? Meat, naturally, was already cut up in a butcher’s stall. A few markets I went to had live poultry in a stand-alone shop in the corner of the market, and these followed the same logic – in order to ensure you were getting fresh meat, you chose a bird and waited while it was slaughtered and plucked. If you don’t like the sound of that, well I didn’t either, and I steered clear of those corners, though I should also point out that if you have concerns about the welfare of these birds, they would be treated the same, or even much worse in the west.

So, some of these markets have no meat for sale, a minority have live poultry, only one I ever saw had any exotic meat – crocodile meat, ready-prepared, for sale at a market in Guangzhou – and I never saw live animals for sale apart from birds and fish. Yet all of these would be counted as the “wet markets” which have been closed down, and which are now, gradually, opening. I don’t think the wholesale closing of farmers markets, when the only other option is large chain supermarkets, is any way to improve the natural or human environment.

So, ok, we don’t close down the wet markets, just ban the selling of live animals, or of a list of exotic animals. Why would these Chinese people want to eat bat or pangolin anyway? The answer to this is that they don’t. The vast majority of Chinese people have never eaten exotic meats like this, much as you’ve probably never tried Rocky Mountain oysters, or casu marzu. The only reasons anyone has to eat these are (a) as a status symbol for rich assholes (we also have some rich assholes who fuck things up for everyone else in the west) and (b) because 40 years ago large parts of the country were undergoing starvation, and in desperate times anything can be food. For young Chinese people, who have been raised with such luxuries as pets, the motivation to eat exotic meats is non-existent, and as with millennials in the west, most are of too low a financial and social standing to even do such a thing anyway. Ask your average Chinese person under 40 years old what they think of eating these animals, and they will find it as bizarre and inexplicable as you do. The young woman eating a bat, incidentally, was filmed in Palau, which is 3320km away from Wuhan.

I’ve been having arguments with people on the internet about this for a month now. When I have been through all of the above, the argument finally gets down to this: there is massive animal cruelty taking place in China, and the Chinese people are the ones responsible for doing something about it. They should pressure their government to make a law banning the sale of exotic animals. Having been brought up in the UK, I can understand this point of view. As a nation we place a trust in the letter of the law which other people tend to reserve for gods or magic. If a new law is needed, well, we can get all sign a petition and send it to parliament. There is a trust in institutions, and a trust that the people in charge are fundamentally decent and are trying their best (attitudes I find infuriating, but which do indicate a high degree of trust in the system.)

In China, if you get together a petition and present it to the government, what happens? Quite likely nobody will see you again, and your cause will not be advanced an inch. But it isn’t just that. Imagine you have grown up within this system, during a prosperous era in which your family have risen from starvation to comfortable middle-class life. The idea to try to change things yourself doesn’t even enter your head. Why would it? The making of laws is the business of the government. The enforcement of laws is the business of the police. Your business is to get on with your own life and that of your family as best you can. If animals are treated badly, yes, that’s awful, but that reflex to write a strongly-worded letter to your MP has no reason to follow on from that, why would it?

This is what I want everyone to know about China, beyond anything about wet markets. People there are the same as other people around the world, they are all individuals, with their own ideas, their own dreams for their futures, but they are not in a democracy. There is no point in preaching to Chinese people about animal rights – the vast majority are as appalled by cruel treatment of animals as you are, but unlike you, they have no power to do anything about it.



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What are the Seven Wolves?

Here is a question which has been plaguing me for a little while.

In 2004 I was living in Prague, and sometimes went to a bar called Sedm Vlku or “Seven Wolves.” It was an odd name, but it made sense, as the address was Vlkova 7, or “7 Wolf St”


A few years later I moved to China, where I found a chain of clothing shops with branches everywhere I went. The brand was called Septwolves, or in Chinese 七匹狼, literally “seven wolves.”

unnamed (1)

The brand is so famous, it even has a wikipedia page. And apparently they also make cigarettes, for some reason.




Then, a few years ago, I moved to Cambridge, where I found a boutique called Seven Wolves, on Bridge Street.


Hold on, clothes, it must be a branch of the Chinese shop, no?

No. It is apparently an entirely different thing, not even run by a Chinese person.


So, a few questions.

1. What the actual fuck is going on?

2. Is there some kind of legend or saying about seven wolves which is inspiring all of these namings? Not as far as I can find, on any of the websites (Sedm Vlku seems to be gone now, but I think I know how that got its name) – Google and Wikipedia have nothing for me.

3. Or, perhaps the boutique was somehow inspired by the Chinese clothing brand, and the bar is a coincidence? Hm. Unlikely.

4. OR, and I think this is the most likely answer, I am living in a simulation, and much like the “BAD WOLF” motif in the first new series of Doctor Who, this is a clue which has been left to draw my attention to the fact. In which case, I think it’s a slightly uninspired and derivative clue, they could have at least made something original.


Please let me know what you think.

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In a Pickle

We are, like everyone else, isolating due to the coronavirus. V has started making pickles – lots of pickles


This is sauerkraut, with caraway seeds, juniper berries and bay leaves


This is Sichuan-style – cabbage, Chinese radish, swede, runner beans and beetroot.


This is kimchi


This is Dongbei-syle preserved Chinese leaf, it will be stewed with pork belly later.


This is Hubei-style pickle – Chinese radish with a paste made from garlic, chilli, apples and pears.


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Centuries of Sound


Things have been a bit quiet around here for a long time. It’s not that the site is dead ( I will still post here on occasion) but more that another project is a priority.

Centuries of Sound is an attempt to produce an audio mix for every year of recorded sound. Starting with 1860, a mix is posted every month until we catch up with the present day. The scope is moreorless everything, music of course, but also speech and other sounds, the only limit being that music and sounds used must be from that year. Mixes start under three minutes, and will get longer until they are two hours long (guessing this will be sometime in the 1930s). Rough “preview” mixes of contemporary years are also posted at the end of each year – 2016 is already up.

The main site is here and an in-depth ‘about’ page is here.

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I probably have to write something about the bizarre Princess Diana statue garden in Nansha

The news that William and Harry are planning to have a statue of their mother built in Kensington Palace gardens has reminded me of the entire garden full of Princess Di statues I happened upon in Nansha, a distant suburb of Guangzhou, China. I was living in Guangzhou at the time, my mother was visiting, and we seemed to have been everywhere else in the area, so we somehow ended up there. The statue garden is located in an odd sort of mainly ornamental theme park with a small selection of rides, a zoo which mainly consists of squirrels, and quite a lot of mainly ornamental exhibits whose purposes are unclear to foreigners such as myself.

This particular part of the garden had a display to explain who Diana was, and why she deserved to have an ornamental statue garden in Nansha


Here is the first statue, which I’m calling “Robot Princess Diana in a badly-fitting wig restrains a hypnotized child with her gigantic hands”


“Eighties powersuit Princess Di doesn’t care that her hands are broken, she’s going to play the Casio keyboard as best she can”


“Blind Princess Di wearing boxing gloves goes jogging in her sweatsuit, but gets predictably lost in the shrubbery”


“Afflicted with sudden giganticism, woman dressed as Princess Di on holiday makes one last fleeting request to help her escape from the cursed plinth”


“That is definitely not what her nose looked like”


“Princess Di enters a state of catatonic shock after having her hands suddenly lopped off”


“Princess Di comes to terms with having no hands and attends a fancy palace ball, but unfortunately a wizard has swapped her torso with that of a mangled barbie doll and she is unable to fully contain her emotions”


In summary then; not very good statues, would visit again.

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75 Tracks From 2015

Yeah, I know it’s a bit late, but here’s my regular overview of my favourite tracks from the last year, in a single easily-digestible post this time.

MP3 download (1-19)
MP3 download (20-41)
MP3 download (42-60)
MP3 download (61-75)
Spotify playlist (missing 11 tracks)
Youtube playlist (missing 1 track)

1 – Missy Elliott Ft. Pharrell Williams – WTF (Where They From)
2 – Daphne & Celeste – You & I Alone
3 – Julia Holter – Vasquez
4 – Machinedrum – SeeSea (DJ Rashad & Taso Remix)
5 – Floating Points – Silhouettes (I, II & III)
6 – Etherwood – For A Time I Was You
7 – Shura – 2shy
8 – Susanne Sundfor – Delirious
9 – Sleepy Tom Feat. Anna Lunoe – Pusher
10 – Kendrick Lamar – Alright
11 – Death Grips – Inanimate Sensation
12 – Kero Kero Bonito – Picture This
13 – Dawn Richard – Calypso
14 – Julia Holter – Feel You
15 – Joy – Ingen Hejd
16 – Liz – When I Rule The World
17 – Jamie XX – The Rest Is Noise
18 – Pinkshinyultrablast – Holy Forest
19 – Girl Band – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage
20 – Shamir – Call It Off
21 – Aminata – Love Injected
22 – Le1f – Koi
23 – Dua Lipa – Be The One
24 – Sophie – Vyzee
25 – Bjork – Stonemilker
26 – Camp Claude – Blow
27 – Jlin – Expand (Featuring Holly Herndon)
28 – Round – Glass
29 – Ka (Dr. Yen Lo) – Day 13
30 – Royalston – Give Me The Word (feat. Hannah Joy)
31 – Lula – ห่างไม่ไกล
32 – Bonnie Mckee – Bombastic
33 – DJ Paypal – Slim Trak
34 – LSB – About Tonight
35 – Carly Rae Jepsen – E·mo·tion
36 – 2814 – 遠くの愛好家
37 – DJ Spinn – Dubby (Feat. Dj Rashad & Danny Brown)
38 – Kaitlyn Airelia Smith – Bobbing Beams Of Light
39 – The Mountain Goats – Heel Turn 2
40 – 555 – The Hierophant
41 – Noisia & The Upbeats – Omnivore
42 – Janelle Monae And Wondaland Records – Hell You Talmbout
43 – Dr. Dre – Genocide (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius & Candice Pillay)
44 – DJ Rashad – CCP2 (Feat. DJ Spinn)
45 – Carla Morrison – Un Beso
46 – FFS – Police Encounters
47 – Lightning Bolt – Snow White (& The 7 Dwarves Fans)
48 – East India Youth – Carousel
49 – Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best
50 – Bomba Estereo – Mar (Lo Que Siento)
51 – Tkay Maidza – Switch Lanes (Feat. Paces)
52 – Rockwell – Itsok2behapp-e (Ft. Sam Binga & Hyroglifics)
53 – Pep & Rash – Rumors
54 – Laura Marling – Strange
55 – Thundercat – Them Changes
56 – Kero Kero Bonito – Chicken
57 – Jamie xx – Gosh
58 – Lim Kim – Awoo
59 – Blur – Thought I Was A Spaceman
60 – Ibeyi – River
61 – Mbongwana Star – Malukayi
62 – Ane Brun – Directions
63 – Natalia Lafourcade – Hasta La Raiz
64 – Algo – Sewer Run
65 – Ghostface Killah & Badbadnotgood – Ray Gun (Feat. Doom)
66 – Joanna Newsom – Anecdotes
67 – Skepta – Shutdown
68 – Dengue Fever – No Sudden Moves
69 – Zhu – Automatic (Featuring Alunageorge)
70 – Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Siran Fen
71 – Jazmine Sullivan – Stupid Girl
72 – f(x) – 4 Walls
73 – Memtrix & Spor – Super Trace
74 – Rangleklods – Lost U
75 – Ngaiire – Once

So, why did I make this?

For a few reasons – I need it for a project I’m working on, I like to participate in a few online music communities which have reader polls, a few people might be interested in listening to the tracks, but, if I’m being honest, mainly out of sheer force of habit.

Why no blurbs this year?

I have limited time for writing, and it’s better spent elsewhere

Why 75 tracks? Why not 100 or 50 or 20?

I edited a couple of thousand tracks down to “just the ones I love” – that’s what we have here.

Why are they ranked?

I planned not to rank them, but it proved easier to edit them this way – and I needed to submit ranked lists for a couple of polls.

No Blackstar?

Saving that for next year

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The Floor


For nearly two years we’ve been living in a small apartment in a suburb of Guangzhou. It’s a fairly typical Chinese flat, with a small kitchen, a smaller bathroom, two bedrooms and a lounge / dining area at the front. Something is always broken and it requires daily cleaning to avoid looking like a bomb site, though that may be more down to the kids than anything else.

There are lots of kids here. At times it feels like living in a day-care centre, which it is in a sense. We chose the flat because it was directly upstairs from the Montessori kindergarten, and on arrival found that of the five other flats on the floor, two had children who were attending the kindergarten, one of whom’s mother was a teacher there. Since then a few other children have moved in – the current count is six in four flats, none older than five years old. Every evening and all-day at the weekends they can be heard either playing out in the shared garden area or in one of the flats, which gives the place the feel of a community – a good thing on the whole, though I could do with a bit more privacy sometimes. Though we live in each-others pockets, only the children have names. I am “Leilei’s dad,” V is “Leilei’s mum” and nobody has thought to enquire any further.

The first family we met were at the far end of the block – a boisterous, physical, but emotional 5-year-old child called Shuaishuai lived there with his mother, a secretive, sad-looking middle-aged woman who apparently had another much older son in her hometown. Their house was one big, messy, undecorated bedroom for the boy, though he used the shared garden area as his personal playground too. Shuaishuai had little patience for M at first, as was to be expected for a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, but as M started to grow up a bit they would occasionally play together, and we were just getting to know the mother a little better when the father suddenly turned up and whisked them all away to Hunan with a couple of days warning.

Shuaishuai’s friend from before our time was the little girl in the flat at the other end of the floor, Yuanyuan. Initially our impression was that she was very bossy and had no patience whatsoever for M, but with Shuaishuai gone and M a little older, she became his friend, of a sort. Yuanyuan’s mother is a teacher at M’s kindergarten, and V has got into the habit of asking her for parenting advice when things are difficult. Yuanyuan has picked up on this too, to the extent that she now seems like a miniature version of her mother – serious, responsible, assertive. Once she heard us telling M that he had to come home and go to bed because a monster was coming (I’m sure some people will disapprove of this as much as she did.)  After a brief word with her mother, Yuanyuan marched into our house and informed V officially that “M has the right to know there is no monster, and you don’t have the right to threaten him.” Yuanyuan’s father is a mild, mousey man who rides a bike (very unusual in 2015 China) and works in admin at the hospital. In the UK this family would be the epitome of educated middle class, but it doesn’t work like that here.

Six months after we moved in, another family arrived next door – a couple with a child called Xiaobao, who is about a year younger than M. At first we thought we would be friends with this family. The father imports wine and watches football, and the mother is from V’s home province, so they seemed like a natural fit. We even went on a couple of trips together before we fully realised how unstable Xiaobao’s mother is. In the UK she would have been given psychiatric help a long time ago, but again, this is China, and instead she has self-medicated with an endless series of self-help articles. Her main outlet for craziness is, unfortunately, Xiaobao himself. A slightly dopey-looking child at the best of times, he’s otherwise fairly normal, or he would have been if it wasn’t for his upbringing. Xiaobao’s mother is convinced that her son is weak and a victim, and that she can bully him into confidence, so to this end she hovers round him all day long, watching and judging every movement and nervously hectoring him to be more confident and do things properly. When other children come to play with her son she briefly puts up with them, until inevitably someone gets in the way of Xiaobao or wants to play with his toy or touches him in any way, at which point the poor boy will begin crying and his mother will shout at the offending toddler for daring to touch her precious boy and then express her disappointment with her son for not standing up for himself and being a cry-baby. Young children being what they are, this is the constant state of affairs, and the upshot is that nobody plays with Xiaobao anymore. V has steered clear of Xiaobao’s mother since she screamed at her for putting a bike in her way, even though it wasn’t her bike and she clearly hadn’t put it there. Frankly she needs help, but where to even start?

The next family to move in were the first locals to live on the floor, a family with a little girl, about six months younger than M, called Xiaoyingying. When they arrived, V was 8 months pregnant, and Xiaoyingying’s mother was 7 months pregnant, so this instantly became something to bond over, and before we knew it we were going on trips together almost weekly, picking each-other’s kids up from kindergarten, and M always seemed to be in their house while Xiaoyingying was in ours. Guangdong people are a little like English people, in that they won’t be friendly or open to you at first, but once you’ve managed to get into their circle it’s like you’ve been friends for years. The only thing we have to remember is that they are quite cautious and conservative about most things, and like to follow traditional ideas if they can. This is a slight concern when it comes to Xiaoyingying, who is very confident about most things, but will defer to M because she can then watch TV or get snacks in our house. Seeing the two of them together is sometimes a bit like seeing an old Chinese couple, and that’s, I don’t know, a bit weird.

There is one other family we see often, though they actually live on the floor above. The two kids there, Qiubao and Niuniu, seem to be entirely unsupervised, and spend their days going up and down the stairwell playing with whatever children or toys they can find. Their parents will often leave them to do this while going out for an entire day, though they are only about six and three years old respectively. If this were the UK we would call this “neglect” and call social services, but this is China and such things don’t exist. Qiubao is the older brother; Niuniu is three or four and follows her big brother around most of the time, though he doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. Most parents on the floor have gone from initial sympathy for Qiubao to finding him annoying – his borrowing of things, his sometimes aggressive manner, the way he’s always around – and have made it clear he isn’t welcome in their houses. Niuniu on the other hand is a natural diplomat, endlessly ingratiating herself with everyone. Without her, Qiubao would have been banished from the floor a long time ago. His only ally, funnily enough, is V. She feels sorry for him, lets him come to the house and play with M and even spends time talking to him – but even she always ends up turfing him out eventually. At first we thought their parents were just messy and disorganised – they always seemed friendly when we talked to them. Recently, though, Qiubao borrowed Yuanyuan’s bike without asking, stored it in his flat and broke it. His parents then simply threw it away without saying anything to Yuanyuan’s family, who only found out about this when Niuniu told them. When Yuanyuan’s father went to their house to talk to them about this (and about the things Qiubao had broken in their house) they were initially sympathetic, but when they found out they would be expected to pay for the damage, they simply refused to answer the door to him. Qiubao’s family have by far the largest flat and all manner of expensive consumer goods on show, so it’s unlikely that this was due to a lack of funds. They just seem to be not very nice people.

On the whole, though, I like this place, and I like the people here. But we’re still leaving.

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Chinese Condom Brands

The thing you always have to remember about Chinglish is that we are not the intended audience. English is used generally as a signifier of cosmopolitan modernity, and the vast majority of the people who see an English word will not even take the time to register it, let alone try to work out what it means. These characters are there for decoration, and that is their only function.

So, bearing that in mind, here are the brands of condoms on sale at the pharmacy downstairs.


Let’s have a closer look at a few of the more interesting ones.


These are called “sixsex” – I assume this means there are six condoms in the packet, but the one on the left says 12, so now I don’t know what to think.


“Jissbon” – ah oui, le jiss, il est bon, mais ceux-ci ne l’arrêtera faire un bébé.


“Flimsy” – obviously this one is my favourite, and I can sort of imagine how they accidentally chose the worst possible name for a condom – i.e. that they mean it’s light and thin, and not that it’s easily breakable. But still, Flimsy. Flimsy brand condoms.

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Britpop Nuggets Part Three: Long Live The UK Music Scene

Britpop Nuggets 3

Spotify Playlist (missing Mantaray, Pullover, Perfume, Laxton’s Superb, Gyres, Shiner, Ruth, Teen Anthems)
Youtube Playlist (complete!)

1. The Divine Comedy – Something for the Weekend

The_Divine_Comedy-Neil_Hannon-1996A lot of groups around this time used Britpop as a springboard to expand their sound, make it more generous and expansive in scope. Sometimes this worked out well, as on ‘Something for the Weekend’, where Neil Hannon draws out The Divine Comedy’s baroque pop sound to make something truly universal. It’s a good summary of everything that Neil Hannon was doing right on Casanova – lust, sexual danger, literary jokes, joy and love. Sometimes I think the jokes are too much, but really there’s no need to feel embarrassed when they work so well. Later on, with his remake of ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count’ he would show how it could all be done in a much more unsuccessful fashion, but on the whole he seemed to get it right.

2. Longpigs – She Said

Longpigs11The other Sheffield band, Longpigs consisted of three scene veterans (including Richard Hawley, whose Treebound Story were the first group recorded at the legendary Fon studios, and who would later win more critical acclaim than almost everyone else on this CD) and younger singer Crispin Hunt. ‘She Said’ is something of a showcase for the band, the sound of four people trying to outdo each other with the most passionate musical tricks possible. It should be a mess, but it’s a complete joy, with a bizarre, possibly brilliant lyric and a magnificent pause. Unfortunately the group would soon be counted among the many who lost it trying to ‘crack America’, but it was nice while it lasted.

3. Mantaray – I Don’t Make Promises

mantaray2Britpop d-leaguers Mantaray managed to get hoovered up by a major label in the wake of 1995 and all that, had their next LP produced by Ed Buller, and, well, afraid that’s about as interesting as the story gets. ‘I Don’t Make Promises’ is standard enough Britpop fare, not bad, not amazing, but not different enough to stand out in 1997 either. The group apparently fizzled out soon after the LP flopped.

4. Pullover – Holiday

pulloverThis is one of my favourite things on this compilation – Sleeper crossed with ‘Kennedy’ by The Wedding Present, but much, much better than that sounds. Pullover released three singles on Fierce Panda, the others nothing like ‘Holiday’ – instead they sound like a before-the-event Life Without Buildings. I’d recommend ‘Oddball’ if you can find it, a b-side about not being attractive enough to be a popstar but getting on with it anyway.

‘Holiday’ kept getting radio play, but their other songs didn’t, so when they took advantage of the buzz and signed for Big Life in ’96 their first move was to re-record their signature song – and for once its charm survived the bigger, more expensive production. Unfortunately it was at this point that the label went broke, and Pullover appeared to go down with them. Nothing was heard until a few years back when they suddenly had a myspace page with promises of a tour and a new album, but nothing seemed to come of it. Now there are at least three other bands called Pullover on last.fm, all with more active fans than MY Pullover.

5. Perfume – Lover

e3852Leicester indie band Blab Happy were a bit late for C86, a bit too cheery for the early 90s indie scene, and broke up before Britpop even started. With a member switched, they reformed as Perfume, and achieved a little (really just a little) more success. ‘Lover’ was a favourite of Paul Weller, Jo Wiley and Steve Lamacq, and, like pretty much everything else championed on The Evening Session, was doomed to never really escape from the indie charts to either commercial or critical acclaim. Still, there is probably a place in the world for this perfectly charming bit of light indie-pop .

6. Pulp – Mile End

pulp-band2On June 17, 1995, Blur did their ‘Knebworth’ – a “homecoming” gig in Mile End stadium in London, with 27,000 people in the crowd and a million more listening on Radio 1. Jarvis Cocker had lived in the same area in the late 80s, finding it squalid and unwelcoming, and must have thought this celebration of the place naive and patronizing. Shortly after, Pulp recorded their ‘Mile End’, a song which sounds like a parody of Blur at their most jolly, and which describes the area in a tone so uncompromisingly grim that it seems a wonder that the area itself didn’t launch some sort of complaint. Britpop was now the scene that hates itself, and soon the anger would be redirected inwards- If you want to hear Pulp at their most self-doubting, check out ‘The Professional’.

7. Catatonia – You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For

catatoniaAs Camden burned itself out, bands from other parts of the UK started to get their chance. Catatonia only got together in 1995, but managed to firmly establish themselves in the next few years, despite never exactly sounding like they were at the cutting edge. Perhaps that was even to their advantage. From their first LP, ‘You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For’ has a great pregnancy scare lyric – “if it turns to blue, what are we gonna do?” and generally sounds almost shockingly sweet and nostalgic for 1996. Unfortunately within a year they’d be writing songs about road rage and the X-files, and, once again, I lost interest, but at least Cerys seems to be a natural fit for a media career.

8. Octopus – Saved

OctopusThe curse of Scottish Britpop strikes again. Octopus were an 8-piece (hence the name) group from Glasgow, London and Paris who by any rights should have been a success. They had an albumsworth of hit singles, they gave decent interviews, they were signed to Parlophone and apparently had the full financial support of their marketing department – But a combination of over-reach by said record label, critical disinterest in indie-pop and public exhaustion with new bands meant that Octopus slipped under the radar, despite having three top-50 (but not much higher) singles. A shame, as their variety and quality, even on b-sides, stands out even now. I had the feeling that it would’ve taken just one hit for them to achieve Space-levels of ubiquity, but it wasn’t to be.

9. The Candyskins – Get On

candyskinsThe Candyskins were an Oxford band, led by the two sons of Kenneth Cope (of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) fame), who had been around on the Oxford scene under one name or another since the early 80s. ‘Get On’ was a Mark Radcliffe favourite and an excellent 12” single, couped with an astonishing demo version of a song (“Car Crash”) they later completely ruined for the LP. They were disappointing when I saw them play at the Phoenix festival, though, and their subsequent career is therefore largely a mystery. It’s perfectly possible that I caught a bad show and there are more gems to find in their extensive discography, but who knows?

10. Rialto – Monday Morning 5.19

rialtoAnother exercise in relabeling, Rialto were the second incarnation of Kinky Machine, a group who could easily have slotted into the first CD of this set, as they were, by their own words “delving into British pop music for influences, from the Kinks and the Jam and Clash to the Beatles.” The grab-bag of influences drawn on by Britpop also included a certain amount of chamber pop, though not a great deal. Rialto’s new idea was to expand this to encompass Bond themes, all a little too rich for my taste, but showing at least that there were directions to go that had nothing to do with Oasis.

11. Laxton’s Superb – Sugar’s Gone

laxtons superbI only knew this group’s name, and their photo, and assumed they were from the Menswear-mod axis, but this sounds like they were more from the Oasis camp than the Blur one, so it’s no wonder they didn’t really fit in. All I can find out about Laxton’s Superb from the internet is that their album was never released, which seems par for the course by this point.

12. The Gyres – I’m Alright

the gyresThe Gyres seem to be the ultimate expression of the Britpop bubble bursting, and the final example of Scotland not being allowed to join in with all the fun. Signed to a large indie label, sent on tour with Cast, Oasis, Reef, Echobelly, Bon Jovi and David Bowie, advertised beyond all belief, all they managed to do was scrape the top 75 twice, then split up when their label went out of business. Judging by this documentary, made at their peak, they were a harmless bunch of kids having a great time playing at being rock stars, but of course that doesn’t mean they deserved success, especially when they weren’t bringing anything much new to the table.

13. Shiner – (We’ll Make You) Famous Honey

R-4271957-1360331531-1260.jpegA band I only heard about through a fanzine interview, Shiner seem to have released a couple of singles on an indie label before dropping completely off the face of the Earth (or at least the internet.) A shame as the four tracks I have by them are all terrific – all retro, but taking their inspiration from less obvious places, and having fun with it too. My only slight criticism is that singer Raaf is a bit too hoary blues-rock for my taste, but the songs more than make up for that. So, who knows why they never got any attention? It might have something to do with this, their debut single, being an attack on the current state of the music industry, singling out corrupt A&R types. A bold move in 1997.

14. Strangelove – Freak

strangeloveFrom the underrepresented Suede (and possibly Manics) mini-axis of Britpop, Strangelove were another group of veterans with a new lead singer. By turns poetic and nihilistic, Patrick Duff seemed like a rare creature – a potentially important artist with heaps of new ideas, some good, some bad, but all leagues away from the posturing and parody that Britpop had been reduced to. At first their problem was that they didn’t have any ‘hits’, but then they actually wrote some and still nobody really seemed to be interested. I remember seeing ‘Freak’ performed on the Jack Doherty show on Channel 5, and being positive that it would be a huge. How could it not be?

15. Blur – All Your Life

BlurMy favourite Blur track, and it’s stuck on a b-side. Could it ever have been a single, though? As much as I adore it, part of it makes me feel a little queasy. As a song about staring down into a personal void and getting vertigo, this seems like the ultimate distillation of Blur’s post-Britpop comedown, but as sellable chartbound concepts go, it’s not really viable. Hiding it away on a b-side does seem odd, all the same, and I wonder if Damon found it a bit too personal to have to promote. Strangely enough, it does sound like a pop song for the most part, but this is for me the first time that the Blur trick of pairing jolly music and sad lyrics really worked, capturing a kind of existential hysteria.

16. Earl Brutus – The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It

earl brutusThere is, of course, a world of music existing outside Britpop, and if one of the functions of music is to offer commentary on the world then kicking against Britpop is a natural stance for outsiders – and that’s as good a description of Earl Brutus as any. Whoever is responsible for their Wikipedia page wrote a neat summary of the group, which I can’t better:

“They were renowned for their chaotically raucous and visually entertaining live shows, which often featured unusual stage props, including messages and slogans that were displayed on revolving garage forecourt signs, written in neon lights or spelt out using funeral wreaths. Earl Brutus’s sound incorporated a diverse range of influences, including elements of early 1970s UK glam rock, the electronica of Kraftwerk, and the ramshackleness of the Fall. Their lyrics concentrated on the mundane side of modern British life while at the same time exploring its dark and seedy underbelly….. Live shows were augmented by the presence of Shinya Hayashida in the band, who was employed to stand on stage and headbang or shout random abuse at the audience.”

The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It seems to be a mockery of the 1997 zeitgeist, but who really knows what it’s about?

17. Ruth -Valentine’s Day

ruthRuth were a local band from Southampton who made it to the big time – if the big time means having music videos and making a couple of appearances on daytime TV. After having no success beyond appearing on a Shine compilation, they disbanded, with singer / songwriter Matt Hales going to to have moderate success as a songwriter.

This compilation was supposed to only include music I genuinely like. I don’t know if I’d go that far with ‘Valentine’s Day’, but nothing better illustrates how predictable a lot of these groups had become. It simply sounds like they’ve been forced to make music with a wacky, upbeat Britpop sound despite their wishes or personal taste, and have trotted out novelty lyrics which even Space would have found a bit too silly. Then the middle eight briefly saves it, shows what they would rather be doing, but it’s only a momentary reprieve. It’s not a bad piece of music, exactly, but it seems to be disposable, and not in a good way.

18. Teen Anthems – I Hate Oasis (And I Hate The Beatles)

teenanthemsIt’s a bit of a risk to put “I Hate Oasis (And I Hate The Beatles)” on a compilation of any sort, as it sounds like deliberate mockery of the songs preceding it – and on this compilation, that’s exactly what it is. For me, the true end of Britpop was marked by Mark & Lard’s brief promotion to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, where their odd humour fell flat and their outlandish features proved too confusing for the general public. It’s unclear why they made this their single of the week – either it was a provocation that contributed to their dismissal, or they already knew they were going and it was a “fuck you” to the zeitgeist. Either way, it’s extraordinary that it was played on Radio 1 at peak time at all, let alone five times. Even twenty years later the song is still making people furious, if Youtube comments are a reliable guide – so in 1997 it must have annoyed people a great deal. But these things simply needed to be said.

19. Helen Love – Long Live The UK Music Scene

Helen LoveTeen Anthems follow-up single ‘Welsh Bands Suck‘ was keen to specify that “apart from Helen Love they’re a load of shite” – a good thing too, as Helen Love seem to have been of a similar mind about the music being championed in 1997. Essentially a female version of The Ramones with junk shop keyboards, Helen Love’s nearest brush with fame was this hugely sarcastic attack on the current musical gatekeepers, which alternates between presenting them as dominant bullies and as impotent, moribund dinosaurs. My only disagreement here is that I think the Longpigs & Bluetones are perhaps not the worst offenders to be singled out, but on the whole, this is a complete joy.

20. David Devant & His Spirit Wife – Life on a Crescent

We’ve come to the end of the story now. Britpop had burned itself out after a few years, all ideas used up, all energy transformed into bankrupt imitation and drudgery, the leading lights already doing their best to distance themselves, a habit they would continue for the next twenty years. Britpop’s central magazine, Select, had become a bitter, humorless rag, featuring an endless string of articles about Oasis, OCS, The Verve and Paul Weller, and at turns ignoring and despising all of the genuinely good, original music that was around. The NME was, if anything, worse. TV and radio had long ago moved on. Those left behind were by definition the easily nostalgic, those who were scared of change or wary of difference – hardly a rich pool for creative expression.

David-Devant--His-Spirit-Ginger-179574Rather than leave on a down-note, though, let’s have a look at what could have been. If the opening premise of Britpop was to find a way to imbue music with a new kind of Englishness, then David Devant & His Spirit Wife were its ultimate expression, the way forward that should have been. They had one of the most entertaining live shows I’ve ever seen, and their records were brilliant from start to finish. The fact that they weren’t the hugest band in the world is hard for me to understand even now.

‘Life on a Crescent’ – a live recording for the Mark & Lard graveyard shift show – isn’t by any means typical DD&HSW, but as an evocation of suburban Englishness, it’s completely essential. Britpop might have failed, but in its minutiae, on its margins, we can find plenty that’s worth saving.

    Some further reading

Britpop: The Great Rock & Roll Swindle – a surprisingly candid and informative collection of interviews from Mojo.
Thread on Britpop at ILM

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