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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August, 2005, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Looking back at the birth of Britpop
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the chart battle between Blur and Oasis at the height of Britpop. In the first of a series of features, we look at how Britpop was born.

Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain
Early Britpop bands were reacting against Nirvana's success
In early 1992, one band dominated the global alternative rock scene.

Nirvana had suddenly become the voice of a restless generation thanks to their seminal, seething album Nevermind and single Smells Like Teen Spirit, which were released the previous year.

Grunge was cool, Seattle was the rock capital and other US bands like Pearl Jam, Metallica and Guns N' Roses were also enjoying mammoth success.

In the UK, the "Madchester" scene of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays had burned brightly for a while but soon fizzled out.

In its wake came little more than the underwhelming, unambitious "shoegazing" phase.

'Kill grunge'

With this backdrop, Blur - who had their first hit in 1991 amid the Madchester-inspired "baggy" craze - set off on their second US tour.

The 44-city trek was a depressing experience.

Bands who were not grunge were all but dismissed and Blur came to despise the disinterest and uniformity they encountered.

Select magazine's April 1993 issue
Select's April 1993 issue is seen by many as the start of Britpop
But the trip provoked a strong reaction.

It inspired the band, they said, to begin a mission to "get rid of grunge", "declare war on America" and make music that was identifiably English.

Other new British bands had similar, if less fervent, ideas.

Suede, whose debut single The Drowners came out while Blur were on that tour, also celebrated their origins while railing against US influence.

Justine Frischmann had been in Suede and in a relationship with singer Brett Anderson - but left both to form her own group, Elastica, and get together with Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

And Pulp, who were getting noticed for wry songs about everyday life, had moved into the same London orbit as Blur, Suede and Elastica.

Reared on acts like David Bowie, The Jam, The Specials and The Smiths, these bands now set about reasserting their roots.

The troubles and influences of US bands seemed very distant, according to John Harris, author of The Last Party and presenter of BBC Four's The Britpop Story.

It reminded people both of their own lives and also of the music that had soundtracked those lives
John Harris
Writer and broadcaster
"When someone came round the corner singing about dingy suburban England, losing your money on fruit machines and greasy spoon cafes, I thought 'aha, yes, I understand'," he says.

"It reminded people both of their own lives and also of the music that had soundtracked those lives 10 or 12 years before."

In 1993, Suede's debut album went to number one, Blur signalled their new start with Modern Life Is Rubbish and now-defunct magazine Select published a famous issue celebrating the new British bands.

I was always a Blur girl, still convinced I'll marry Alex James one day!
Vickie Cherington, Cambridge

"They seemed to start talking about people's lives in this country as they were lived and the things people were familiar with," Andrew Harrison, editor at the time, remembers.

"It just seemed to be a lot more powerful and potent.

"And it also went with a much more interesting look. Who wants to shamble round in a third-hand lumberjack shirt when you can be wearing the great Fred Perry?"

It all plugged into British heritage and culture at a very creative time for the country, he adds - with Britart, films and designers also on a high.

Also in 1993, a clear-out of DJs began at BBC Radio 1, then the nation's most popular radio station, replacing ageing, middle-of-the-road hosts and playlists with younger blood.

"It's no coincidence that Britpop happened a year later," John Harris says. "I don't think Britpop could have happened without that."

Blur singer Damon Albarn (left) with Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker
Blur and Pulp were among Britpop's most distinctive voices
And there was an atmosphere of change in wider society as it became clear that the era of Conservative rule was coming to an end.

When a young, vibrant rock fan called Tony Blair took over as Labour leader in 1994, the sense of possibility and expectation grew.

Kurt Cobain's suicide in April 1994 finally finished off grunge as another British band was rapidly emerging - but not from the same southern art school origins as the likes of Blur and Suede.

Oasis merely wanted to pick up where the Stone Roses left off and be as big as The Beatles.

"Oasis were a no-nonsense rock 'n' roll band who wanted to roll around on a bed of 50 notes," Mr Harris says.


Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher
Political and musical developments went together for a time
As Oasis enjoyed hits with rousing anthems Live Forever and Cigarettes and Alcohol, Blur hit new heights with Girls and Boys and Parklife, social commentary dressed as pop hits.

That set the scene for their chart showdown the following summer - and for a new crop of acts like Supergrass, Menswear, Sleeper and Dodgy to take the stage.

Some of those bands were inspired by the confidence and success of the Britpop pioneers, while others merely happened to come along at the same time.

But they all became part of Britpop and helped the UK's alternative rock regain its voice - for a while.

  • BBC Four's Britpop Night, including The Britpop Story with John Harris, is on Tuesday from 2030 BST.


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