wheels fall off

I’m not the kind of northerner who breaks out in Peter Kay sketches when conversation dries up at parties.

“So….erm…well, I see you’ve got a pretty hefty hatchback out front. That for the big shop, eh? BIG SHOP!! Isn’t Bombay Mix fancy?  They don’t do gravy down south you know!!”

I do look pastwards so often there’s a crick in my neck and most of the contemporary points of reference  can be traced back to the current comedy listings of Radio 4 Extra. I deny any childhood memory of watching All Clued Up whilst eating artic roll.

(Which I absolutely did. With my gran. In a house with a chain for the Warden)

As such I’m always happy to remember all those things which the past gave me – the Grandstand theme tune, what SOHCAHTOA stands for and the inability to shake off the anger at having a winning McDonalds/Trivial Pursuit scratchcard posted into an empty shop by bigger, harder, punchier lads…Er..yes, well as such I’m always happy but the problem with looking back is discovering how things never quite look as good as a cynical old grump.

When ITV recently repeated dozens of 80s and 90s cult children’s television faves some looked far fresher than most. It’s not abnormal, it’s to be expected. Cream always rises, be that music, films or even cheesy TV “guilty secrets”.

Of course some of those faded classics have done so because it’s deserved. Not to break out into end of the pier comedian again but, Wagon Wheels, eh? Weren’t they just awful? All mushy, two-tone slabs of processed mush, not quite biscuit, not quite pumice stone. Disco crisps, too, while I’m here. Oh come on, Disco crisps could hardly pass digestion – it was like swallowing a 50p coin drenched in caster sugar.

This is not hindsight; this is growing up. This is accepting that there are time capsules planted in the brain during childhood which are worth jettisoning, like accepting your father plodding to the back of the garden to say goodbye to Fido. What remains is that which would always have been considered as top quality – such as the vast majority of Belinda Carlisle’s back catalogue, say. Or Spangles.

Finding a joyous, trouble free paradise in the past is colouring memories with contemporary prejudice, and whilst it’s natural for people to do that when reminiscing, it’s unhealthy to base arguments on those invented truths. I know what my father used to say about his youth in the 1950s and 1960s – he was born just after the Second World War – and it’s not always pleasant.

And thus I make my way to Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (as they no longer want to be called). The basic core UKIP thinking is, “the past is another country”, based on the conceit that the UK is no longer the UK whilst the past almost certainly is. Farage talks about his ultimate aim being the return of the UK as a democratic country, just as it used to be, with all those unelected, unaccountable censors of the theatre and that. The UK of the wayback machine seen by Farage is one which is unimaginable to us now, even if you’re prone to calling the Coalition some kind of time-machine to the 1950s. We enjoy far more wealth, generally, better health, broadly, greater diversity and broader, deeper job opportunities than at any time in the recent past, and you don’t have to go far away from my dad’s memories of Wigan in the 1960s to have that proven.

But Farage doesn’t want to go back to the 1960s, or the 1970s, or at least not specifically. The UKIP aim is for Britain to be pulled into a nethertime, a space between reality and nostalgia, where the UK “ruled itself”. There’s not been much of that for generations, and until the 1960s and the great liberalisation of abortion law, sexual equality legislation and lowering of the voting age, most of the “independent” United Kingdom was an insular Edwardian island complacent and dismissive.

We’ve always been Atlantic rather than European in attitude – especially post-1945 – which comes out in 21st century Britain in our language, our television programme formats, and so on. We jump to the American cough, especially when invading Middle East countries on false prospectuses. Our scoffing at the French or the Germans copies the American sneering of Canada and Mexico, and for the most part our denial over European economic strength and liberal attitudes mirrors how the USA tends not to respect their cousins over its northern border. But in being anti-European in addition to anti-future, as UKIP seem to be, they’re swapping one paranoid fear for one uncertain reality. I’d rather not be the unofficial 51st state of the USA, thanks all the same, but UKIP clearly prefers this island of ours to be an Atlantic annexe than a European player, so far enoughski on that, Nige, replacing one uneasy alliance with another one.

I would say “this is me being unfair on old Nigel Farage, bless”, and after all he has ruled out ever getting into a Coalition with David Cameron. But that’s the point, I guess; delusion. That’s all UKIP end up talking about – delusion. They’re deluded if they think they’ll ever get an MP, or even a Council of their own, or even any kind of thanks for pulling us out of a Union with our closest neighbours. That Farage thinks he is to have any say at the next election is as laughable as the memory of one-half of my family choosing to sit around the television set, of our own accord, to watch “Telly Addicts”.


Back when NME used to leave newspaper print on your fingers, and “Melody Maker” wasn’t the name of an iPhone app, Britain rocked to the sound of one of the last genuine musical movements.

Jealous of being locked out of the older scene – where a single £15 pill would last all weekend – the kids of the 90s picked up their guitars and generated years of a very British music revolution. Call it ‘Britpop’ or ‘indie’, it was the coming together of northern lads borrowing from Merseybeat and southerners taking on the Mod sound, in a gear-shift in cultural attitudes and behaviour. It wasn’t without its low points (ahem, cough, Kula Shaker, aichooo), nor did it end when it should have done (go away, Silver Sun), but don’t we all want to compartmentalise our youth into little packages? Course we do.

And here’s the thing: most retrospectives will stuff their pages chocka with the Union Flag plus Gallagher combo, plastering the memories with posters of blokes and their outgrown fringes. Despite the best efforts of many female-fronted and all female-bands (from Sneaker Pimps through to Lush), the majority male bias to the scene remains the more profitable to recall.

This is a shame, not least because any broadbrush overview ignores the very specific reasons why Britpop was unlike any other modern musical moment. (Why are all contemporary females in pop soloists, whilst men make up the groups? Wasn’t always ever thus…)

Louise Wener’s Sleeper (as they were always called, especially in Select), did not use femininity as a leitmotiv, though female twists to the narrative did appear throughout their time bothering in the charts. It was Wener, to be fair, who sold the band for what they were. Her voice – with the fragile break of Tracy Thorn about it – and indie-chic look (dividing schoolboys between her and fellow pop Louise Nerding from Eternal) were vital pieces in the Sleeper jigsaw. Yes, they had more radio-friendly melodies than many of the other girl-led bands (Elastica, for example, tended to stay away from mainstream radio stations), but that is by no means a crime. Heck, it got Garbage through two albums before the scene finally ended its final come down.

Sleeper stand up today to much critical scrutiny. This is uncommon – Lush turned out too many middling fillers for my liking, and Echobelly had a firework-like career (though check out “Djinn”, if you can, cracking late-late-late-career single). Sleeper have a constituency and maturity which belies the mainstream, readily available nature of their output.

There’s plenty of songs I could highlight, but I’ll go for the couple to which I return the most. “Inbetweener” – the name living on in cult Channel 4 sitcom-land, though not the same meaning – and “She’s a Good Girl”. I hope the unitiated enjoy.