In Simon Reynolds’ splendidly comprehensive discussion of pop culture’s obsession with its own backstory Retromania, he states that “every generation as it ages will want to see its musical youth mythologised and memorialised.” Looking at the eras currently being eagerly painted with the nostalgia brush, one decides Reynolds can only be right. Particularly in the realm of indie, where the contemporary-to-vintage transition period is now so short, big hits need never bother leaving the alternative radio playlists anymore: Radio X and their ilk can continue to play Bloc Party, The Libertines, and Red Hot Chili Peppers – everyone’s favourite alternative rock landfill – onwards unto eternity. Vintage pop music is no longer limited to Hard-Rock-Café-o-rama; in the grand church of historical rock, you’re now just as likely to worship Alex Chilton, Ian Curtis, Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith or Shaun Ryder as you are the Eric Claptons, Stings and Led Zeppelins of this world.

Or are you? There exist a few supermassive black holes in the indie universe which exhibit such strong gravitational effects not even Ride can escape. To generalise wildly: if your band hailed from south of Nottingham and your heyday fell between 1989 and 1993, chances are your band are only cool to herds of uncool balding people (like me) and Steve Lamacq. I have become such a premium-strength bore on this topic that a few years ago I even wrote a novel about it, The Alternative Hero. In it, a colouring-book version of myself has a chance encounter with his all-time indie hero Lance Webster – an amalgam of about four non-fictional T-shirt-band heroes of mine – and befriends him to try and figure out why he and his band have been erased from the rock history books. A story of alcohol-fuelled bitterness ensues but, this being 2007/8 kinda time, Lance Webster himself is still wandering around suburban London, living off dwindling savings, occasionally being stopped for an autograph but generally becoming rather depressed and considering a move to the southern hemisphere. Oh, if only he had existed in 2016, there’s an 150% chance that he would be playing the Gigantic Indie All Dayer Vol 3 this Saturday night in Manchester.

Truly, this festival is an opportunity to relive some wonderfully unpretentious glory days. I may sound like I’m denigrating the experience when I say this, but anyone familiar with my knockabout blog will know I mean it with the warmest of sincerity: there is no one playing this bill who is in any danger of having an in-depth feature in Q Magazine or being given their own retrospective BBC Maida Vale gig, and gawd bless every single one of them for that. These bands represent the corners of indie that the travel guides don’t mention: the fleeting but uproariously passionate fads, the unpigeonholeable mashups, the tricky blighters, the enemies of the music press, the crazes that never quite caught fire. But each act had their glorious moment in the alternative rock sunshine, some moments more momentary or momentous than others. Their accomplishments, seeing as they almost universally emerged from damp British rehearsal rooms, were surprisingly lofty: Jesus Jones, for example, had a smacker of a US top-five single (Right Here, Right Now); The Wonder Stuff rocked Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage, headlined Reading and scored four top-ten UK hits, even including the dizzy heights of a number one; and the BMX Bandits once moved Kurt Cobain to utter, “if I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits”.

Each group possesses at least one song that gives me an instant rush of youthful memories: The House Of Love’s Shine On transports me back to the edge of the indie disco, wondering whether to risk chatting up the tie-dye-T-shirted beauty; The Frank and Walters’ After All was my university household’s anthem; the indie-funk of Cud’sPurple Love Balloon for some reason reminds me of heading to Kings Cross to prematurely acquire the latest issue of Melody Maker; Credit To The Nation’s Call It What You Want captures the time I realised the UK could do hip-hop too (not to mention those hilarious occasions when grungeheads on the dancefloor mistakenly thought it was gonna be Teen Spirit); and Bentley Rhythm Ace’s Bentley’s Gonna Sort You Out is when it hit me that there was life beyond Pop Will Eat Itself. All key moments for me, and now all brought scintillatingly back to life on a stage in Manchester this very weekend. There is only one problem. As a musician, the thing that keeps my enthusiasm going is playing fresh material. But at Gigantic 3 if one of the singers announces, “hey, who fancies hearing a new song?”, he or she might as well be saying “hey, who fancies going to the bar for a drink?” So – is this gonna be a issue?

“Not at all,” says The Darling Buds’ Matt Gray. “People will always want to hear their favourites, plus we’ve more than enough old songs to keep it fresh and interesting for us.” Well, that’s good, then. How about some of the spikier guys in town: The Wonder Stuff’s Miles Hunt, for example? He surely must get bored banging out A Wish Away and The Size of A Cow. “No. I can sit on my couch and amuse myself endlessly by playing new songs, and the band can set up and rehearse any time we like to work on our future jazz odyssey. For me the stage is about giving an audience something to enjoy.” Blimey. Interestingly, the only voice of slight doubt comes from self-confessed winners of “nicest band in indie pop” title five years running, The Frank and Walters. “If we just had to play the old stuff we’d crack up,” they sigh. Well, that’s a bit more like it.

It’s not all indie meat’n’potatoes at this alternative banquet. The aforementioned Credit To The Nation and Bentley Rhythm Ace, plus staples of the anarcho/crustie world Back To The Planet, all provide an invigorating bit of variety to the proceedings, blazing the trail for a distinctly 1990s brand of eclecto-post-punk and mashup dance that only fully found its feet in the 2000s. Back To The Planet, particularly, voiced political bugbears with a Crass-esque anti-establishment rage that seems sadly thin on the ground these days, at a time when we could certainly use it.

But the fury, generally speaking, has died down to the point where the backstage area will probably abound with musical mateyness. Again, I’d half-hoped that old rivalries would be reignited: “There’s that fucker who stole our entire booze rider at the Phoenix festival in ’95.” “Yeah, that’s him – he tripped me up on the way to the stage at the Reading After Dark club in 1988.” Sadly not. “I think we managed to stay friends with everyone,” say The Frank and Walters. “Inter-band feuding is a bit pathetic really when you think about it,” add The Darling Buds. “We love to meet and chat with anyone.” Aw, really? Miles from the Wonder Stuff – surely there’ll be a bitter enemy lurking behind a flightcase somewhere? “Unusually for me, no.” Drat!

And what of the performances themselves? Can we expect an enhanced musicianship, honed to virtuoso-perfection by years of noodling and chin-stroking? “No,” says the Buds’ Matt Gray. “We’re still not that technically gifted. We’re never going to be Steely Dan.” The Frank and Walters, similarly, show little enthusiasm for this improving-with-age business. “Sometimes not knowing what to do can take you to some weird and wonderful places.”

Speaking of weird and wonderful places, I find it slightly incongruous that, for a 90s festival that so assiduously avoids anything baggy, Gigantic 3 takes place in Manchester. But then, with bands coming from such far-flung locales as Wiltshire, Cork and Glasgow, Manchester is kind of in the middle. Oh, and just in case you’re missing any small amount of Mancunian influence, DJing afterwards is everyone’s favourite musical-courtcase victor, Mike Joyce from The Smiths. I myself can feel my hangover brewing even as we speak, born from a mixture of snakebite & black, leaping about the place to S*M*A*S*H in the afternoon, and a dodgy Wilmslow Road curry afterwards. Bring it on.

Gigantic Indie All Dayer Vol 3 takes place this Saturday, 28 May, in and around the Manchester Academy

 

CHECK OUT MY SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

We live, my friends, in dark times. Government cuts hit hard, while those in charge seem unable to portray themselves as anything other than pocket-lining toffs or painfully old-fashioned dullards. Her Majesty’s Opposition is presided over by a well-meaning scruff who seems perpetually at risk from being ice-picked by his jealous parliamentary colleagues. Industrial strikes abound, wars of various sorts rage away in the Middle East, nationalist parties gain popularity, and to top all the fun, a sparklingly intelligent Democratic US president is on the verge of being replaced by an over-coiffured, dangerous Republican thicko. Hey, wait a minute. Haven’t we been here before? About… ooh… 36 years ago?

…….

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Yesterday in the pub I made the mistake of idly flicking through a copy of the Sunday Times – a newspaper I don’t usually read unless I’m at my parents’ for the weekend – and soon found myself reading a column by Camilla Long. This article was a closing flourish to a colourful week for Ms Long, a week that has seen her shift from respected (one must assume) film critic to a kind of online H-bomb. The chief reason for this, as those who’ve had better things to do might be unaware of, is that she’s become rather worked up about how worked up everyone’s getting about the death of David Bowie. All this riveting action has taken place, I need hardly add, on Twitter.

“FUCK OFF. Man the fuck up and say something interesting,” was her opening gambit, followed by numerous other posts, few of which were any nicer. The inevitable torrent of bilious replies followed. Her Sunday Times article was less an explanation or apology for her actions, more the grinding of any emotional response to Bowie’s death into a muddy puddle. Within its 800 or so words, she dismissed allsocial media reactions to Bowie’s death as “fake” or “infantile”, bafflingly refusing to acknowledge the existence of any middle ground between a) people who agree with her, and z) people who have been sending her online abuse. Worse, she attempts to regulate people’s emotions by flatly stating that “there are so many more meaningful things to cry about”. It’s unclear what she’s aiming to achieve. Perhaps she’s hoping to become a new controversialist: a sort of Katie Hopkins with slightly better hair.

Anyway. The reason I’m mentioning this is that over the next five, ten, fifteen plus years, lots of rock stars are going to die. This is not a statement of murderous intent, it’s just a scientific and mathematic certainty. Some of them will be very famous and universally loved. Some more “niche”. But die they will. And not just rock stars: comedians, sportspeople, movie stars. All of these deaths will be accompanied by online reactions of some sort. To keep the number of spats like Camilla-Long-gate to a minimum, I think it might be worth remembering a few things. I’ll start with a really obvious one.

1. If you don’t want online abuse, don’t tell 50,000 Twitter followers to fuck off.Online abuse is reprehensible, in all its horrid colours. But there’s an element of “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” here. If reading people’s over-the-top reactions to something pains you, don’t look at it. If it’s hard to avoid it, deal with it some other way. Vent spleen at a friend. Text someone. But indiscriminately ranting at large numbers of people is going to solve nothing and improve no-one’s life, least of all your own.

2. To perpetually insist that social media is not the “real universe” is to deny that the world is changing. Just because something passionate is written online doesn’t mean the emotions that gave birth to it are “plastic” or “fake”. Many people feel something – whether it is sadness, mirth, anger, whatever – and their way of dealing with it is to write something online about it. That’s 2015. It doesn’t mean people are wasting their time, or that they are necessarily seeking to “feel famous for 15 seconds”. Naturally, there are swathes of online scribblings that are fake, or excessive, or with an ulterior motive. But that precisely mirrors what goes on in the non-virtual world, does it not?

3. Grief for famous people CAN be real grief. They created art that you loved, and now there won’t be any more of that art. They wrote words that touched you, and now they’re gone. They acted in your favourite films, they said things that made lonely people feel less lonely, they lived a life that inspired you, and now that life is over and you’re sad. THAT’S OKAY. One of the more perplexing bees in Camilla Long’s bonnet is her great issue with the statement “he [Bowie] was the soundtrack to my life”. You know what? He probably was. That’s how being a big music fan works. You discover them when you’re young and you listen to them throughout your life, and when you hear their music it reminds you of stuff you’ve done, people you’ve met, places you’ve been, and so on. This is why you’re sad, because the person who provided you with this channel to your inner memories and feelings has gone. And this, Ms Long, is irrespective of whether that artist is still making their best work, or indeed any work at all. I could say Nick Drake has been the soundtrack to my life, and there have been no new Nick Drake albums since 1972.

4. Showing your emotions is still good. It is a scientifically proven fact that letting your feelings show, whether through screaming or crying your eyes out, is good for you. Bottling them up is not. In response to a perfectly reasonable tweet which said, simply, “It is okay to cry”, Camilla Long wrote “Only once or twice in life. The rest of the times [sic], pull yourself together.” So… what? If I find myself crying at something, have I used one of my “cries” up? Have I only one left? I have absolutely no desire to return to a Britain where you can’t hug a friend or cry at a film without being called wet or, worse, a “pansy”. And who, exactly, decides what constitutes a “genuine” reason for crying? People cry at all sorts of things. Some when a parent or close friend dies. Some when they stub their toe on the bed. Others for practically no reason at all. No one has the right to tell you what you should and shouldn’t cry about. And to say that tears over a celebrity death are automatically “synthetic” is puerile. When Diana died, I remained largely unaffected all week until her brother gave his eulogy at the funeral, at which I was – to use Camilla Long’s most hated phrase – “in bits”. And do you know why? Because it made me realise how much I loved my sister. And having had a good cry, I felt – hey presto! – better. Neat, huh?

In any case, to return to point number one, what damage does it do to anyone else if someone is waxing lyrical in a slightly embarrassing manner? If they want to make a twerp of themselves, that’s their own affair. One of the good things about living in Britain today is that we largely have the right to do what the hell we want without having someone swearing at us. Most of the time, this works just fine: the UK can be a model of tolerance, but it’s been said that an equally attractive quality is indifference, i.e. no one cares what you think, wear, do, believe, eat, drink, buy, say or write, as long as you don’t harm anyone else in the process. I like this state of affairs. I also like moments when it seems that a large group of people are reading off the same page, just as they have been this last week with the almost universally warm response to the passing of one of music’s most invigorating and exploratory artists. In his own dignified and measured way, I think David Bowie would be pleased at this response; I really think he would.

 

Conversations can continue @timwthornton on Twitter.

In 1988, a school friend lent me Electric by The Cult, and my love of alternative, or indie, rock was born. With the assistance of my publication of choice, Melody Maker, my eyes were opened to an increasingly large list of often ridiculously-named bands. The movement’s zenith for me will always be the early 1990s; but time (i.e. the press) has not been kind to the memory of the indie music from this period. Sometimes, one is given the impression that the only indie prior to Britpop was composed and performed upon the instruments of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and The Smiths. Not so. Here, then, are 10 records to which I would draw your urgent attention, accompanied by a cheeky little Spotify playlist including all but one of the songs….

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