The 90’s gave us many genres; Grunge, Nu-Metal, Britpop and the Pop-Punk scene. But flying under – although often infuriatingly close to -the radar was a loose collection of British rock bands, lumped together through locality rather than a shared sonic blueprint. Ladies and Gentlemen I present to the best of BritRock: the genre you didn’t know you knew.
First up: Earth vs The Wildhearts
If there is one band that embodies the BritRock scene more than any other it’s The Wildhearts. Formed by ex-Quireboys guitarist, Ginger, after he was kicked out of the band for the alleged crime of excessive drinking. They flirted with success, courted disaster and produced some of the finest music of the era, leaving a trail of what-ifs and what-could-have-beens in their wake.
The Quireboys had been touted by many as the next big thing but in truth they were a ‘hair’ band born just as grunge killed off their genre. Ginger, however, was no dinosaur clinging to an era that had already passed. His new band was a manic blend of punk rock (before Green Day and Offspring made it fashionable again), Metallic riffs and pure songwriting nous honed from Ginger’s love of the Beatles and Cheap Trick.
Always a highly combustible outfit, The Wildhearts had already been through numerous line up changes by the time they released their debut album Earth Vs, but it seemed Ginger had hit on the right blend with his co-founder CJ on guitar, Danny McCormack on bass and Stidi on drums. (It wouldn’t last. By the release of second album P.H.U.Q both Stidi and CJ would be out on their ear.)
Originally released in 1993, then re-released in 1994 with minor hit Caffeine Bomb added, it was well received by the rock press, being named as one of the albums of the year by Kerrang! magazine and regularly featured in subsequent ‘best of’ lists in rock magazines. It was, arguably, BritRock’s finest achievement. The blend of disparate influences typifying the bricolage of the era but brought together in the most cohesive, catchy and deceptively complex collection of songs of the genre. That it remains just beneath the radar of the mainstream press only serves to enhance its claim as the defining album of the Britrock era. In its wake followed a slew of similar bands and albums, many – such as Honeycrack and Whatever – featured ex-members of the band, thanks to Ginger’s revolving door policy of hiring and firing. Others, like 3 Colours Red and The Darkness, benefitted from the bands patronage in the early stages of their careers before achieving their own commercial success later.
The question has to be asked, why didn’t the Wildhearts fulfill their extraordinary potential? And we shouldn’t underestimate the potential they had, songs like TV Tan, Miles Away Girl and Love You ‘Til I Don’t showed a knack for catchy pop-punk; Greetings From Shitsville and Suckerpunch had a harder edge to appeal to the hardcore rock fans and Everlone and Loveshit showed a sophistication and musical ability which was ahead of many of their peers. But sadly their nuance was lost on their record label, EastWest who saw them as a singles band only. Ginger had other ideas and planned for the follow up to be a double album. EastWest refused and allowed the band to release the songs that didn’t make the cut on the fan-club only Fishing For Luckies mini album, only to then try and take them back when Fishing For Luckies garnered rave reviews.
Unfortunately the Wildhearts soap opera overtook the musical output, the band’s relationship with EastWest was irrevocably damaged, the drugs had stopped being purely recreational and they were changing guitarists more often than Spinal Tap changed drummers. CJ was in, then out; Devin Townsend was drafted in for live shows; Senseless Things’ frontman, Mark Keds lasted all of one single. The Wildhearts were destined to be BritRock’s headline casualties…
…And yet, somehow they made it through, despite doing pretty much everything they could to destroy themselves they continued to release albums, propelled by Ginger’s relentless creativity, right up until 2009’s Chutzpah. Recent tours playing their early albums in full have been successful and well received. And Ginger, having reached the brink of giving up the music business for good, gave it one last throw of the dice by using crowdfunding website PledgeMusic to fund an elaborate triple album project. The project reached its target within hours of going live, crashed Pledge’s servers and ended up making well over 500% of its initial goal. It revitalised his career and in the following years he released album after album of incredible variety and exceptional quality all lapped up by a loyal and adoring fan base. Ginger, so often his own worst enemy, had done one thing right, he’d never forgotten his fans, always trying to offer them more than just an album, including them in the process, letting them into his world, and in doing so has become something that no one could’ve predicted: he became a pioneer for music in the Internet age and finally garnered the respect his music always deserved.