Nostalgia can be dangerous.
Not only can it blind you to the problems of today, the inherent concept of ‘the good old days’ being some kind of lost paradise can lead people into areas where they deny historical realities.
So, with a recent slew of books proclaiming the 1990’s to be the last true decade of freedom and, in the case of Faster Than a Cannonball, their hefty lengths may encourage some that this is true. It’s important to have your critical filters on.
Using 1995 as a grounding point, former GQ editor Dylan Jones uses each chapter to explore a facet of Cool Britannia such as Britpop, the Young British Artists, New Labour, Loaded magazine, the Premier League, Kate Moss and The Beatles, as well as making a link with the deaths of Kurt Cobain (April 1994) and John Smith (May 1994), both of which heralded the beginning of both Britpop and New Labour respectively and, seemingly, helped Britain shake off its recent past and party like it was 1965/1999.
It's a very seductive narrative. After all, it was the end of history. Even Peter Mandelson was writing articles with titles like ‘Can Britain Escape its Past?’ It seems unbelievable now but, at the time, people really did think they could. Of course, later events would prove that wrong. However, what permeates throughout each account is a sense of sheer giddiness, of euphoria. As if those telling their tales are struggling to reconcile their experiences with how lucky they were at experiencing such times in their youth. Undoubtedly, there is a certain amount of mythologising going on but, for the most parts, the accounts of debauchery in even the smallest Islington boozer are entertaining reading.
For me, the most illuminating segment was the one dealing with the Young British Artists. Because the shine wore off then very quickly, I had always been predisposed to write them off as conceptual chancers (I mean, take a look at Emin’s 'My Bed' or Hirst’s 'Away From the Flock'), but Jones gives them their place in terms of how they emerged from a staid milieu, how they hustled their way to notoriety and how they reinvigorated the country’s taste for art.
While I’m still not convinced about their work. Andrew Eldritch once said that:
David Bowie was telling me recently how great Damien Hirst is, and how Damien was very excited when told about the minotaur myth. I was shocked that Damien didn't already know it…how can Hirst be such a great artist if he lacks a basic knowledge of history/myth/symbolism…
I was struck by this quote from Blur bassist Alex James:
Someone like Damien now, going to art college would be working up 30 grand’s worth of debt. There was so much creativity at the time because there was a financial safety net and… rent was so cheap in London. There was time and space for people to fuck about, and fucking about is where it all starts really.
Based on that thought, would such a movement in London be possible today? The answer would be no.
Naturally, it’s not a perfect book. Some of it could have been trimmed (such as the endless references to cocaine at the Groucho Club) and, for a book that celebrates a particular moment in British history, it’s telling that there are only three references to Northern Ireland and not one to do with the IRA ceasefire of 1994. So, it seems that Northern Ireland, as far as the average London socialite is concerned, is not as British as Finchley.
For what it is, it’s an entertaining run through a period of time that has become as mythologised as Swinging London in the 60’s (with Liam Gallagher and Kate Moss instead of Terence Stamp and Twiggy). Elements will certainly make you pause for thought, but don’t expect to walk away nostalgic for the 90’s.
Oh and, according to Piers Morgan, “Probably the best night of the nineties was the opening of Planet Hollywood in Soho in 1993.” The thing you learn, eh?
Dylan Jones, 2022, Faster Than a Cannonball: 1995 and All That. White Rabbit Books. ISBN-13: 978-1474624572
🕮 Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist and author of A Vortex Of Securocrats.
This looks like an entertaining read. I messed up posing a comment on last week's article, mentioning a documentary called Live Forever which has an interesting take on the death of Brit Pop, placing it firmly at the door of Robbie Williams, and Pop Idol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ4xW4UNjnQReplyDelete
I'm tempted towards cynicism about the 90s nostalgia, but as you've noted, the optimism and euphoria was definitely in the air. It was, at least, a great time to be a teenager, not least because of the absence of social media pressures.
I spent half my teenage years in prison and still have good memories!!!Delete
the main problem with Britpop is that the musical landscape and industry were very different from the 60's.Back then, record companies were more loyal to bands and gave them the chance to experiment. By the 90's, the industry was being run by number crunchers who thought they would make endless amounts thanks to CD sales. As well as this, with the exception of Oasis, all of the big bands came from indie backgrounds and weren't cut out for the pop game (The Boo Radleys are a prime example of this). Hence why further releases would see dwindling sales.
It's odd looking at footage from that period because everything seems so optimistic. Maybe if I'd grown up in England at this time, I'd share this feeling.
Good memories of one's formative years are one thing. But when they coalesce with the national mood, it can make you feel unstoppable.
I find the nostalgia for the Brit Pop years a tad galling. Fake Tony and Blue Labour, snorting charlie at over priced poseur clubs. The early 90s were the much superior, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in '89. The run of albums from The Stone Roses debut, CT's Heaven or Las Vegas, Ride's Nowhere, MBV's Loveless, and of course Screamadelica is a run that Brit Pop would never come near. Also, Kelly's opened in Portrush in Sept '91 which was a game changer, quality White Doves and techno! Where are the books on early '90s nostalgia? I'd read one of themReplyDelete
In terms of books, I'd recommend 'My Magpie Eyes are Hungry for the Prize' by David Cavanagh. Ostensibly a history of Creation Records (which put out two of the excellent albums you've listed), it does look at acid house as well as the making of those albums. Some of the stories about 'Loveless' will drive you up the wall.
Did you ever go to the nights David Holmes did in the Art College?
I checked out the book on Amazon and it looks like an excellent read. I loved Creation's output at that time. They released 3 of the albums on my list, I think, and also during those years HoL's Butterfly album and St Etienne's Fox Base Alpha, which I still listen to. Creation and Factory were knocking it out of the park.
I went to Sugar Sweet @the Art College a few times and Tokyo Joe's, but I hated the door policy. Several times I didn't get in, specifically the night Orbital played. Other times some of us got in and some didn't. I much prefered the vibe at Kelly's.
You're correct, I'd forgotten to include Screamadelica in that list.
Would you consider writing a piece for the Quill about Kelly's and the differences between Sugar Sweet and Tokyo Joe's. I've heard them spoken about, but very little in terms of writing. That part of Belfast history is just as important as punk.
Sure, but not at the mo. I've a lot on in the next few months, though it might be interesting to revisit those times and write something.