In a damp tent smelling of rained-on village fjtes, Pop is making a last-gasp-of-summer attempt to get it on with Brit. This Radio 1 mini-fest has brought together a triptych of the UK’s major league sexifunsters, plus the dependable [a]Travis[/a] and [a]James[/a] and the rising Doves on Airwaves Pride Day. The capacity is 10,000 and nobody pays, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of lads scamming over the wall to join the mums’n’kids’n’queues for beer which inevitably runs out.
If Britpop was a coming together of our national love of underdoggery with cashable, complimentary tunes, then this is divorce: Brit versus Pop, chip shop versus power brunch. The loudest cheer from the pop pickers of the Grey Sky Nation (us) comes for [a]Travis[/a]’ ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ and the following two hours consists mostly of Anglo-artists splashing round in a puddle of confused Britishness.
Introduced by the grinding jocularity of Mark and Lard (straight outta GB music hall) All Saints jet in from the US to show off the purloined R&B smooch-harmonies of new tracks ‘Ready Willing And Able’ and ‘Distance’, cover ‘Walk This Way’ in slapstick hip-hop style, and reveal their raunchy bikeresque new look. TLC would never dress in sloppy jeans, or discuss their “dodgy dancing” (Shaz has a poorly ankle, we’re told) but the Saints seemingly want to keep in touch with their inner amateurism, as if they might otherwise offend the home crowd. When three lads climb up a tent pillar, halting the Saints‘ show, and refuse to come down despite a barrage of beer cans, it seems part of the night’s struggle. Pop wants to be beautiful. Brit likes to get ugly. For the ‘Lady Marmalade’ finale the camera zooms in on their frugging arses, a move to dignify hot-babeness, except that in their anti-glam rags these might as well be the behinds of Bolton builders.
Nobody wants to pitch it too far above girls-next-doorness, in case Auntie Doris is offended. Even Mel C, doing her new-found Henry Rollins Barbie act is in the British tradition. In a month she’ll be all things Spice again. Tonight is dressing up. She sounds authentic enough, The Cult gone Sheryl Crow, but it feels like rock vaudeville. On her knees, screaming into the riffathon of ‘Going Down’ she is an athlete of karaoke.
Then Supergrass arrive in a hail of feedback and a shower of eyebrows with their bubblegum take on Mudhoney. They play as if, at 23, it’s just occurred to them there might be more to life than smokin’ fags, going out and writing humping, pumping double entendres, charging up to the edge of something passionate and thoroughly un-British. For a second the tent quivers with scary perspective, then Zok Ball appears and reminds us we’re in the Musn’t Grumbleland of Brit, Pop’s got its curlers in and we shouldn’t expect anything more than a damp tent, Stars In Their Eyes, and chip shop Americana with plenty of salt of the earth. Auntie Doris and Auntie Beeb had a ball.