It might not seem like it sometimes, but there was more to ’90s indie than the Gallagher bros. Take The Longpigs for example, who tasted success with a couple of hits, though it was when everyone took their eye off the ball that Crispin Hunt produced his ‘99 chef d’oeuvre, ‘Mobile Home’. No one bought it but that didn’t make it any less brilliant.
Marion: In the mid-90s Macclesfield’s Marion made lots of new friends touring with Radiohead, and their album ‘This World and Body’ was a classic for sensitive bedroom-dwelling eyelinered types with an aversion to sunlight. ‘Sleep’ made a top 20 splash, then singer Jaime Harding was arrested selling stolen garden gnomes for crack and things went downhill from there on in.
Strangelove: Bristol’s Strangelove were led by the wonderfully peculiar Patrick Duff, and they somehow channelled the spirit of glam rock and the darkness of Joy Division at the same time. Brett Anderson attempted to sprinkle stardust unto them when he recorded backing vocals on their ‘Love and Other Demons’ album, but the rest of the world wasn’t quite ready and they dissolved in 1998.
My Life Story: Jack Shillingford apparently assembled his mini indie orchestra by stopping people on the London underground carrying musical instruments under their arms during the early 90s. The Marc Almond-inspired ‘12 Reasons Why I Love Her’ was the first of a string of minor hits in the mid-90s and was quietly tremendous to boot.
Babybird: Everyone remembers ‘You’re Gorgeous’, a sarcastic ode to the objectification of woman by sleazy photographers that would become the albatross around mainman Stephen Jones’ neck. Jones had wildly prolific periods right up to 2012 when Babybird quit, but nothing ever came close to that success. Top tip to wedding DJs: ‘You’re Gorgeous’ still fills a floor with dancing uncles.
Campag Velocet: Towards the end of the 90’s Pete Voss’ Portsmouth prowlers were unlikely NME cover stars, imbuing the menace of A Clockwork Orange had Alex’s droogs developed an unhealthy fetish for cycling gear. These figureheads of Skunk Rock divided opinion, confused indie rock fans, though ultimately they remained a niche concern peaking at no.75 in the charts with ‘Vito Satan’.
Electronic: Electronic was formed by two quintessential pillars of indie rock, but in the hubbub of all their other revered work of legend, it’s easy to forget all about what Sumner and Marr did together for a few years in the 90s. ‘Get The Message’ was understated yet still somehow astonishing, and ‘Getting Away With It’ had Neil Tennant on it! A supergroup worth remembering then…
These Animal Men: Brighton’s These Animal Men had it all; the swagger, the cool threads, the major label deal and the rock star behaviour. The only thing they didn’t really have was any hits. Arriving in a hailstorm of hype and riding the coattails of the New Wave of New Wave, they rattled on the top 75’s door a few times before staggering off to bed.
Terris: Newport’s much-hyped and woefully unsuccessful Terris are one of those bands whose activity straddles two millennia, though having formed in ‘98 and having broken up again in ‘02, that’s about as interesting as it gets for this lot. NME loved them but the people voted with their feet and went to see Craig David instead. Some you win, some you lose…
King Adora: King Adora were another band who emerged at the end of the millennium, proving to be the most exciting thing to come out of Birmingham since the pneumatic tyre, peaking shortly after the millenium with the glammy, booze-fuelled ‘Vibrate You’.
Mansun: Mansun were much-loved by a barmy few in the mid-90s, and back when record companies had more money than sense, they memorably chucked away £25,000 at Liverpool Street Station to promote single ‘Taxloss’. Imagine the boilersuits you could buy with that now. Their remaining rabid fans still hold out hope for reformation, but singer Paul Draper says ‘no’ about once every Tuesday.
Geneva: Nude Records boss Saul Galpern certainly struck lucky when he signed Suede, though his other notable signings from the mid-90s – Geneva – didn’t quite set the world alight in the same way. They did muster a few hits though, and those who heard angel-voiced East Kilbride-born singer Andrew Montgomery will not forget the experience in a hurry. Because it was lovely, that’s why.
Kingmaker: Early ’90s Hull trio Kingmaker were feted by the music press for a while, but soon seemed like the naffest thing in the world soon after their moment in the sun.
Wheatus: Good god, it’s Wheatus! They had a massive hit with ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ this lot, and if you don’t like it then you should be ashamed; I mean come on, how can you hate a song that mentions Iron Maiden in the chorus? They also did a pretty great version of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’, so you know, a little respect eh? Not too much though.
The Gin Blossoms: Named after the boozy condition rosacea (a reddening of the skin that sometimes becomes a bulbous red nose), this thirsty alternative rock band from Arizona had a massive radio hit with ‘Hey Jealousy’ in 1993. Unfortunately the writer of their winsome signature tune – guitarist Doug Hopkins – killed himself whilst being treated for alcoholism that same year.
Blind Melon: Blind Melon had a really, really, really big hit in 1993 called ‘No Rain’ which is particularly memorable thanks to the Bee Girl in the video. They had some other songs that were quite good that no one remembers on account of the fact those songs didn’t have videos featuring a Bee Girl.
Ultrasound: Ultrasound were a late 90s indie band from Yorkshire who had a singer who looked a bit like Johnny Vegas who went by the name of Tiny. After one album and a falling out they dissolved in 1999, but last year they came back with a magnificent album called ‘Play For Today’, a record you’ve almost certainly not checked out and one you would be foolish not to. Think on.
Salad: In the early 90s, Marianne Van Der Vlugt had a successful career as a VJ on MTV Europe, but was that enough for her? No it wasn’t. The Dutch former model clearly thought she could do better and so formed Salad with some other musicians. Their debut album ‘Drink Me’ made no.16 in the UK charts.
Gay Dad: Gay Dad were figures of both derision and suspicion in the late ‘90s, and most of it came from the fact founding member Cliff Jones used to write for Melody Maker and The Face. The poacher-turned-gamekeeper’s ‘To Earth With Love’ was fine, the fairly execrable ‘Joy!’ ended up on a car ad. And that was about that.
The Wildhearts: He might have been know as David Leslie Walls to his mum, but to the rest of us he is Ginger. Since their inception at the end of the 80s, The Wildhearts have split up and reformed again no less than five times – whenever they split up they somehow end up rocking together again.
Curve: Back in the dark ages (ie the early 90s), Toni Halliday of Curve probably got more attention for her pulchritude than for her considerable talent in the music press, but she was a hero and an inspiration to many and without her the likes of Garbage and The Kills would sound very different indeed. Put on, say, ‘Fait Accompli’, and you’ll see what we mean.
Regular Fries: Baggy rose again in the late-90s under what some in the music press were calling Skunk Rock – a genre derived from the supposed penchant of its purveyors to smoke a bit of skunk. The drug, not the animal. Regular Fries made a psychedelic melange of big beats and searing guitar wig outs, and captivated their groovy north London fanbase until their premature conclusion in 2001.
Rialto: Louis Eliot of Rialto was so posh he made George Osborne look like Ozzy Osbourne – his surname comes from the Port Eliot family of the famous Cornish literary festival. It caused much suspicion among record buyers (who were a really suspicious lot in the 90s). Rialto’s big hit ‘Untouchable’ was a thrilling indie romp which borrowed liberally from Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas.’
David Devant and his Spirit Wife: Named after a 19th century magician, this band were led by The Vessel, the supposed conduit of the titular Victorian Paul Daniels. The Vessel was prone to shaving carrots on his head when playing live, as you do. The band still play now and again; go show some love to these undervalued stalwarts.
Crash Test Dummies: Altogether now in an impossibly deep voice: “Once there was this kid who…” This peculiar Manitoban five-piece had a massive hit in the UK with ‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm’ in the early 90’s, thanks to some disproportionate patronage from Radio 1’s Simon Mayo. A kind of mania swept the land and the slightly haunting tune landed at No.2. The rest of their stuff? Mmmm. Hmmmm…
Ugly Kid Joe: It’s odd to think these dumbass Californian surfer rock dudes reached double platinum status in the early 90s thanks to their MTV-approved monster smash ‘Everything About You’. The song was sort of like a love song, but wherever you’d expect the word ‘love’, they changed it to ‘hate’. They then had another big hit with a Cat Stevens number before slipping into obscurity.
Scarfo: If you’ve ever looked at Jamie Hince and thought ‘Christ, he looks old, maybe he’s just had a hard life,’ the truth of the matter is he is actually quite old. Before the Kills he had an indie band called Scarfo and they did some quite nice tunes. Don’t feel sorry for him, he’s married to Kate Moss.
Porno for Pyros: Jane’s Addiction are a band that have split up and got back together again even more times than The Wildhearts, Madness and The Libertines all rolled into one. During one sabbatical, Perry Farrell even took seriously the prospect of having another band for a while, hence Porno for Pyros. Their best song was ‘Pets’, though everyone thinks it’s Jane’s Addiction anyway.
Idlewild: Idlewild were a fantastic Scottish indie band who saw shapes and had a brilliantly monikered singer called Roddy Woomble. At some point they got rid of their ace drunken bass player Bob, headed off in a new bland REM b-sides direction and everyone yawned and forgot about them. Apparently they’re back again, though Bob remains consigned to the dustbin of history. Shame.
My Drug Hell: My Drug Hell had their 15 minutes when secret indie obsessive Robbie Williams was snapped wearing their t-shirt, with the tabloids assuming he was commenting on his own life rather than just wearing the t-shirt of a band he was digging at the time.
Babylon Zoo: Jas Mann (not to be confused with Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman) must have exploded with joy when ‘Spaceman’ was chosen for the new Levis advert in 1995. The problem was, the bit chosen for the advert – the cool intro bit – was great, the song itself that proceeded afterwards was a bit of a drudge.
4 Non Blondes: It turns out Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes was a way better songwriter than she was a singer. Everyone surely remembers ‘What’s Up’. Since she broke the band up in ‘95, she’s worked with Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, Sugababes and most famously Christina Aguilera. She also recently married Darlene from Roseanne (actress Sara Gilbert)!
Belly: Tanya Donelly had made a name for herself in Throwing Muses and as a short-lived but founding member of The Breeders with Kim Deal, and then she struck gold again and had commercial success with Belly, despite taking the slang name for someone’s abdomen. Their biggest hit – ‘Gepetto’ – was about the famous wooden toymaker who is currently being investigated by Operation Yewtree.
Shed Seven Fronted by Rick Witter, I defy you not to put ‘A Maximum High’ on this very second, whack the volume up to 10 and not think ‘hmmm, Shed Seven were better than I thought’.
White Town: What a peculiar tale this was, and one that could only really have happened in the 90s because a) people still gave a hoot about the charts and b) Mark Radcliffe had power. In fact Radcliffe rinsed this unknown quantity on his radio show and ‘Your Woman’ ended up at no.1. Jyoti Prakash never really did trouble the charts again, though some of his other stuff was quite good too.
Sneaker Pimps: Sneaker Pimps founder Chris Corner could never quite bring the attention back to himself once singer Kelli Ali departed the band, and the signature song she sang – ‘6 Underground’ – simply refused to die! It did well on its release, and then was used in the movie version of The Saint, doing even better on its re-release. Chris later relocated to Berlin and formed IAMX.
Veruca Salt: Veruca Salt’s name actually comes from the ‘orrible spoilt kid in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then you think about what the words actually mean and vomit. Veruca Salt burst out of Chicago during the early 90’s and because they were noisy and featured girls they were lazily categorised as Riot Grrrl by many, though they weren’t. Not really.
Shack: Mick Head certainly had fans in the music press, but the admiration for his songwriting talents never really converted into record sales. He actually formed Shack with his brother in 1986, though much of the acclaim and the “lost genius” tag were bestowed in the late 90s. Shack even signed to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label alongside those other notorious non starters, Proud Mary.
Stone Temple Pilots: A poor man’s Pearl Jam was often levelled at Stone Temple Pilots in the 90s, though to be fair, their second album ‘Purple’ in 1994 saw them develop their own more psychedelic rock direction. Okay, so this multi-platinum selling band are hardly forgotten, but perhaps they’re a little unfairly derided, no?
The Auteurs: Luke Haines brought his acerbic songs to the Britpop party. An almost even bigger upset nearly occurred when the Auteurs narrowly missed out to Suede for the 1993 Mercury Prize. Haines says he’ll never reform the Auteurs, a pity given none of his records (except maybe Baader Meinhof) have come close to the diabolical brilliance of the band’s four underrated albums.
Skunk Anansie: Skunk Anansie were so big that they were given the Sunday night headline slot on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage in ‘99. Singer Skin was still pinching herself on the night, and to be honest, none of us could believe it either. Time travel may not really exist, but put ‘Hedonism’ on this second and I swear to Christ you’ll be transported back to the mid-90s in an instant.
Tiger: Princes Risborough’s finest sons and daughter emerged just as Britpop was dissipating and at the moment Embrace were being held up as indie’s new darlings for one boring second, Tiger weren’t; they were however getting on with the task of being dead good. ‘Race’ scraped the top 40 and they disappeared without trace soon after. Altogether now, “she’s in the corner, giving the orders.”
3 Colours Red: Although named after the Krzysztof Kieślowski arthouse film of the same name, there was nothing highfalutin about these hard drinking, hard rocking miscreants (they apparently stuck a pin in Time Out when choosing their name). Signed to Alan McGee’s Creation in the latter half of the 90s, the Chris McCormack-led bruisers cracked the top 20 of the UK album charts twice.
Earl Brutus: Probably less appreciated at the time than they are now, Earl Brutus created their own hoary motornik glam and wowed fans with their incendiary and often chaotic live shows. Singer Nick Sanderson played in late period Jesus and Mary Chain, and when he tragically died from lung cancer aged 47, the Reid brothers put their differences aside to play together at his funeral.
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci: If proof were needed there isn’t a God, then just look at the success of the Stereophonics and the fact Gorky’s stayed relatively below the radar. The Carmarthen warriors may not have worried the charts too much, but their five years together is now spoken about in reverent, hushed whispers having taken folk to somewhere spiky, interesting and delightful.
The Wannadies: Such a fatalistic band name, and how perfect for Romeo and Juliet – the play that took “dead romantic” literally. The Wannadies appeared on the soundtrack of the Baz Luhrmann version, and how we swooned at ‘The You and Me Song’. Such a glorious tune, and yet does anyone remember anything else they ever did? Do the band even remember?
Amen: Casey Kasem died recently, but whatever happened to his (almost) namesake Casey Chaos, who was everywhere in the late 90s looking like Robbie Williams dressed up as Frank N. Furter? Amen also featured Slayer’s former drummer Dave Lombardo for a while, and how could you not rock with Dave Lombardo in the band? Answer: Amen did rock. Amen to that.
Flowered Up: Though Flowered up seemed to germinate from the Madchester scene of the late 80’s/ early 90’s, they were actually from Camden Town. NME cover stars with much expected of them, they criminally only released one album – A Life With Brian – and split a few years later due to a lack of productivity. Sadly singer Liam Maher died of a heroin overdose in 2009.
The Servant: Formed partially from the remnants of underground artpop collective Minty (led by the late great Leigh Bowery), The Servant named themselves after a tremendously creepy Dirk Bogarde movie and featured the simian-obsessed Dan Black on vocals. Their debut 1999 EP – ‘Mathematics’ – is a lost classic, although not in France and Italy, where the group were rightfully cherished.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: Are Trail of Dead a 90’s band or an 00’s band? It all really depends where you picked up the trail, but the hairy Austin rockers and wanton destroyers of drumkits (sometimes two drum kits) actually formed in 1994. They’re still going and their ninth album – cleverly titled ‘IX’ – is out later this year.