Today I gave the new Blur album, The Magic Whip, a third, fourth and fifth listen on Spotify (of course!) In the next few days I’ll add it to my iTunes collection, legally.
It really is a piece of work. Funky, soulful, squelchy, poignant, beautiful, funny. It’s brill. It’s been the catalyst for what follows…
Music takes us places. Back to our childhood and forwards to places not yet visited. Apparently The Magic Whip was recorded in 5 days whilst the band were in Tokyo. I’ve never been to Japan, but close my eyes after listening and I see neon lights, fast trains and tall, tall buildings.
Th 6th Form Common Room, 1996, baggy jeans, adidas samba, long(er) hair, and endless debates about whether Blur were better than Oasis, or Oasis better than Blur. The front pages of the Red Tops covered the release of their singles and the seemingly daily spats between Damon and the Gallaghers. It all seems irrelevant now doesn’t it? There really is nothing to debate. Oasis had two good albums, Blur are up to 7 or 8. And if The Magic Whip is anything to go by, there will be more! (I’m not counting the solo efforts of individual members of Blur which would increase this even further).
I always sat on the fence in these lesson-avoidance-tactic ‘arguments’. I honestly liked them both. I liked the power of Oasis and their “up yours” attitude to the industry, and I liked the humour, melody and fun that Blur peddled. My first major gig was Blur at the CIA and the heart-on-sleeve Cast No Shadow from the strings of Noel Gallagher was probably my song of that hot, work-filled summer. Why are summers from childhood always hot?
One thing was for sure when I was 17 – I was in a minority. Liking both was not the done thing. Most kids in our large group of indie-kids nailed their colours firmly to a mast and supported one or the other. Those that didn’t care for indie – the metalheads, the rap fans, the acid house bunch, the grungers – didn’t care about the debate. But we didn’t talk to them, or them to us. And none of us spoke to the rugby boys.
My 6th form was littered with tribes. Tribes dressed the same, spoke the same, listened to the same music, liked the same shows, had their own corners and corridors, hung out together, and very rarely did tribal paths cross. Sure, you may have had friends in other tribes, but those friendships existed in isolation – when you were the only two sixth formers on the bus home the tribes didn’t hold power. But, those same two sixth formers would barely speak in the hubbub of the Common Room. There was never any animosity between the tribes, just an antipathy towards each other’s tastes.
There was one stereo in the Common Room and, in the 90s, the indie-kids were the largest tribe and so we held sway over the playlist. The rule was simple – whoever gets to the stereo first puts the record on. Some of my tribe rarely left the Common Room and so I remember the endless sounds of Suede, Radiohead, Pulp, Menswear, Gene (loved Gene), Blur, Oasis, the Lightning Seeds, Cast – I could go On and On (Longpigs!) – throughout breaks, lunches and frees (apparently we were meant to be in the Library).
Sometimes, the Metalheads would get there first and we would have Metallica, or the Grungers, and it would be Pearl Jam or Nirvana.
Being here now
It’s been apparent to me for some time that this notion of the tribe is, at least in my school today, an old notion. And music plays a major role in my realisation.
The listening habits of my students are hugely eclectic. I love this about them. There is no one sound that the majority adopt and they give everything I play to them a chance. I teach mainly the oldest students in the school, and they are open-minded about listening to new stuff and do not judge and pigeon-hole each other based on different listening habits. This is exemplified by their reactions to the GCSE set works; friends openly prefer either the Buckley, or the Moby, or the Capercaillie, or the Davis, or the Chopin. There is no one universal, tribal reaction.
Sure there are groups and cliques in the corridors, but these seem to be based around, pause, genuine friendship. We have perhaps reached an age of individualism in our youth of today. Look for the first time, using untrained eyes, and it may seem to be homogenous. But kids today don’t all look the same, they don’t ape each other, they don’t listen to the same stuff within their social circle. They are who they want to be.
This gives me hope for the future, because being an individual and a young person takes bravery and strength of conviction. We’re going to need this in the next generation of voters, eco-warriors, musicians and thinkers.
I look around the school field every day and watch the next generation. They seem pretty cool to me. Cooler than I was.
My two good Oasis albums would of course be Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Oasis albums after these were bloated affairs, with one or two good tunes, but never complete works.
The 7 Blur albums would be Leisure, Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, Blur, Think Tank, 13, and now The Magic Whip. Some of their Live albums are great too, but I haven’t counted them because Oasis had some crackers also.
In case you’re interested and have never heard of Gene, check out their debut album Olympian. They were my unsung heroes of mid-90s Britpop.
I always liked Pearl Jam… but never would have admitted it out loud in the Common Room.