London Swings Again! – British music in the 1990s

Lately, inspired by Dominic Sandbrook’s books about the 1960s and 1970s and the onset of nostalgia that accompanies early middle age, I’ve been thinking about Britain in the 1990s with a view, possibly, to something at the end of it. Here’s a sample…

With its leaders incapable of leading anyone anywhere except the bedroom other magnetic poles in British society exerted their pull on national attention. One was popular music and the craze of ‘Britpop’

Britpop was a group of bands who found fame from about 1993, peaked in 1995, and were finished by 1997. Beyond the fact that they played guitars and were British these bands had very little in common. The fey tweeness of Cast or The Bluetones was a million miles from the raucous pub rock purveyed by Reef or Ocean Colour scene; the intelligence of Blur or Radiohead was far removed from the uncompromising stupidity of Oasis or Shed Seven. The same went for the fans. The make up wearing, vaguely goth types who listened to Suede or Pulp were the sort of people lager swilling Oasis fans in Ralph Lauren shirts and ice white Reebok Classics beat up.

A common factor was a cheap sort of pseudo-patriotism which would soon generate the horrible phrase ‘Cool Britannia’. Noel Gallagher of Oasis had a Union Jack patterned guitar and his brother Liam appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in March 1997 with then wife Patsy Kensit in a bed with Union Jack bedclothes. The headline swooned ‘London Swings Again!’ There was more to this than knowing postmodernism, a popular excuse in the 1990s for serving up old tat in a cloak of irony. Elastica’s Justine Frischmann said “it occurred to us that Nirvana were out there, and people were very interested in American music, and there should be some sort of manifesto for the return of Britishness” In April 1993 the cover of Select featured the usually intelligent Brett Anderson of Suede draped in a Union Jack atop the headline ‘Yanks Go Home’

1995 was the year. It was to Britpop what 1967 was to flower power or 1977 to punks. The success of Blur’s Parklife and Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe in 1994 had lit the fuse. In ’95 Britpop exploded into national prominence with the releases of Blur’s The Great Escape and Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? as well as a host of other albums by Britpop’s B list like Cast and Supergrass, both of whose albums produced infectious hit singles titled Alright. Also in the charts were Radiohead and The Verve, who would soon deliver Britpop’s funeral oration, and acts like Pulp and Paul Weller, both of whom had been struggling for attention until they were immolated in the Britpop backdraft. That summer teenage boys gathered round CD players to hear Noel and Liam Gallagher being rude to each other during a radio interview on a disc called Wibbling Rivalry. As bootlegs went it wasn’t exactly Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall.

The highpoint of the highpoint came on Monday August 14th 1995 when the Britpop behemoths of Blur and Oasis went head to head with singles released the same day, Country House and Roll With It. It was no surprise to see NME hyping this up as the biggest clash since Hitler took on Stalin but the event even made the 6 O’clock News, interest stoked by rude things Liam and Noel had said about the various members of Blur. In the event Blur took Number 1 and were declared the winners of the Battle of Britpop. By the end of the year that looked mad as (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, released in October, sold 347,000 copies in its first week (it was still selling 200,000 copies a week in early 1996) while The Great Escape was a bit of a dud. By the end of the decade the judgment of August looked sounder as Blur continued to release interesting music while Oasis didn’t.

There wasn’t very much new in floppy haired teenage boys swaying to guitar music as would have been obvious to anyone familiar with The Beatles. Indeed, the Britpop bands were as generous in acknowledging their influences as The Rolling Stones and Beatles had once been in acknowledging Chuck Berry. The people who teased me for liking The Beatles in my first year at secondary school went out and helped their Live at the BBC album top the charts in 1994 after Oasis said they liked them. Kids, who were supposed to rebel against their parents, were now raiding their record collections for 1960s bands like The Kinks, The Who, and The Small Faces. My Generation had been adopted by a new generation.

One thing Britpop did have was an unrivalled ability to celebrate itself. Events such as the launch party of Pulp’s Different Class held at Britpop HQ The Good Mixer in Camden passed into the memory even of people who weren’t there. You constantly heard that Camden was swarming with music stars but when I started going there in search of these stars in 1995 all I found were other suburban kids like me looking for the same stars. The 1990s was, like my dad said of the 1960s, “like a big party you could hear going on in the next street”

A lack of originality was hard wired into Britpop which was, in retrospect, an entirely reactionary phenomenon. Anyone looking for invention in British music would have gone to the dance scene. One of the richest musical legacies of the 1980s had been the fusion of indie music with elements of dance music imported from New York’s club scene. New Order, who emerged from indie band par excellence Joy Division, were a classic example. Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses carried it to its fullest on tracks like Step On and Fools Gold. Former punks Primal Scream’s dance infused 1991 album Screamadelica was one of the musical highlights of the decade.

The 1990s saw the fracturing of this. Dance music and indie went their separate ways and dance took the inventiveness with it. While Oasis churned out the music of Slade with the lyrics of the Electric Light Orchestra bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Faithless, were recording music genuinely unlike anything heard before. Borrowing much from a continental tradition of electronic music these bands made records that were as suitable for the dinner party as the ten hour bender.

Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys observed that music had always evolved with technology; Mozart had written for the new-fangled harpsichord, Elvis for the new-fangled guitar. In drum and bass technology facilitated one of the most bracing musical genres of the decade. The award of the Mercury Music Prize to Roni Size for his album New Forms in 1997 was a belated and, it felt, grudging admission of this.

But when looking back one must always be careful not to mistake what the noisiest commentators say people were doing or thinking for what people were actually doing or thinking. Most people weren’t listening to Bentley Rhythm Ace or Goldie. Manufactured pop bands like Take That and the Spice Girls outsold almost any given Britpop band. In the rivalry between Take That and East 17 the ‘boyband’ genre even had its own version of the Blur vs Oasis schism. In their favour, with records like Back For Good and Stay Another Day, these boybands had at least one good song in them which is more than could be said for later acts like the dreadful Westlife.

If these acts seemed old fashioned so did Britain’s musical tastes. The bestselling singles of the 1990s look like a list of bestselling singles from an earlier decade. In 1990 and 1995 the biggest selling singles were versions of Unchained Melody (by The Righteous Brothers and stars of popular TV show Soldier, Soldier Robson and Jerome respectively), a song written in the 1950s.  In 1994 it was a cover of Love is All Around a song first released in the 1960s and in 1998 it was a new song by Cher, a singer who had her first hit in the 1960s. In 1992, 1996, and 1997 the biggest selling singles were versions of songs first recorded in the 1970s.

It was the same story with albums. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was the decades biggest seller by some distance but the other top selling albums were greatest hits compilations by ABBA and Madonna and pap like Celine Dion, Simply Red, Robson & Jerome, and The Corrs.

Same as it ever was. Just as in the 1960s Sgt Pepper’s was outsold by the soundtrack for The Sound of Music and Mull of Kintyre sold more copies in the 1970s than Anarchy in the UK, the British record buyer remained a conservative creature.

Gil Scott-Heron

This T shirt will not give your mouth sex appeal

When I was at university ten years ago I often saw T shirts with a picture of Gil Scott-Heron, who died last Friday aged 62, and a slogan ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. Initially I had no idea what it meant so one day I said to a student I saw wearing one “Cool T shirt. Who’s the guy?”

“Er…not really sure” came the reply.

Indeed, that was generally the reply. I quickly realised that for every twenty people buying T shirts that featured a cool guy with shades, afro and beard saying ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, there was, perhaps, only one person who had actually listened to the record on which he said it.

Gil Scott-Heron was a one hit wonder like Hanson or Brian and Michael except more people have actually listened to ‘MMMBop’ and ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’ than have ever actually heard ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. You wouldn’t know this from the fawning coverage given by the media; The Guardian referred to Scott-Heron’s “prodigious output” despite mentioning only one song other than TRWNBT and in an interview on Channel 4 News Krishnan Guru Murthy and Jazzie B of Soul II Soul failed to mention any song apart from TRWNBT. Is this the sort of coverage Joe Dolce can look forward to?

TRWNBT isn’t a great song. Its a Lawrence Ferlighetti poem set to jazz music, exactly the sort of thing first done by, well, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And as even Scott-Heron admitted, it certainly wasn’t the progenitor of rap music. A Jew from northern Minnesota could lay greater claim to that title and he was, possibly, as inspired to write ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ by Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ as by Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’.

You don’t need a great record to generate a great slogan. Lot’s of people will have heard of ‘A Pessimist is Never Disappointed’ by theaudience and ‘There’s a Guy Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis’ by Kirsty MacColl without being able to hum them. But ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ isn’t even a good slogan. Consider the wall to wall coverage given by 24 hour news channels to the events in the Middle East lately, look at the blanket coverage of the recent tuition fee protests/riots, sometimes you feel as though there is nothing but the revolution on tele.

Whenever someone mentions Gil Scott-Heron they are really saying ‘I am cooler than you’. I listen to colliery band music so if they say it to me they are probably right. Perhaps those T shirt wearers simply join the Che Guevara T shirt wearers and Alanis Morisette in their blindness to irony, in this case of buying a T shirt bearing a slogan taken from a song about the dehumanizing evils of mass consumerism. And at least they have this going for them; Gil Scott-Heron was not the bastard Che Guevara was. But if I’m asked to explain why a guy with one unoriginal hit to his name a few decades ago gets such intensive media coverage I’d have to answer “Er…not really sure”

So Long Simple Kid

Ain’t nothin’ average about me man

Every now and then in the flotsam and jetsam of the internet you happen across a defunct webpage. It could belong to a vanished football club or, as in one case I know, it could be the MySpace page of someone who has passed away. Frozen, like a digital Pompeii, is the last moment someone logged on, whether they were preparing for a league match or a night out. Tethered to a server some God knows where these moments are out there waiting in the ether to offer a welcome to their rare visitors, waiting in vain for a continuation of existence.

So it will be for anyone who now visits simplekid.com. They will be greeted by “Simple Kid RIP” and informed

AS MANY OF YOU WILL HAVE GUESSED BY NOW, THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER MUSIC, TOURS, RELEASES ETC BY SIMPLE KID… DONE N DUSTED.

THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO JOINED IN OVER THE YEARS AND THANKS TO ALL THOSE WHO SENT EMAILS OF ENCOURAGEMENT ETC.

IT’S BEEN FUN…

NOW I’M OFF TO DO SOMETHING ELSE

THANKS

That may still be up there 100 years from now. My great grandchildren may come across it one day, one page among trillions, and wonder who this Simple Kid was.

Simple Kid was a musician. I came across him in early 2006 when I went to see Erasure at Shepherd’s Bush. I don’t usually pay much attention to support acts but I was in my seat early when a thin guy shambled out on stage in a cap with tousled hair poking out from under. He had a guitar slung over his shoulder and a harmonica clamped in a rack round his neck which he fiddled with incessantly. A cheap Bob Dylan, I thought.

Then he started playing. His first song was Truck On, a lovely, wistful number, driven by a gorgeous harmonica figure into a swelling chorus. I was hooked. He played alone, his musical accompaniment coming from a digital box. For himself he switched to banjo and a kids toy keyboard, each of his songs distinct and memorable. I saw him in the bar in the interval and drunkenly approached him to offer my appreciation which he took quite graciously.

Until then I’d thought music ended with OK Computer but here was something new. I got googling and found out he was an Irishman named Ciaran McFeely. He had released an album, SK1, back in 2003 which I quickly got hold of and fell in love with.

The lyrical portraits of The Average Man and the faded Camden trendies of Supertramps and Superstars had the sharpness of Ray Davies. For all the folksiness Simp wasn’t afraid of a beat, the opening track, Hello, drove along. Love’s an Enigma had some of the dreaminess of Screamadelica and Drugs borrowed the grand urban horn line of the soundtrack to a Dirty Harry movie. He was a musical magpie who everyone, unavoidably perhaps, compared to Beck.

And everyone who had heard SK1 appeared to have loved it. The Guardian gave it four stars out five. The Independent wondered if Simp was “this year’s (2003) Badly Drawn Boy”. Yet no one had heard of him. I felt like my dad must have, being one of 500 Brits to buy one of the first pressing of Bob Dylan’s debut album.

The next chance I had to see him was at the Royal Festival Hall in June 2006. He was supporting Joseph Arthur, a tedious American singer songwriter who was dating Juliette Lewis who sat not far from me. Described as the ‘indie Rolf Harris’, Arthur’s show culminated in 20 minutes of him playing white noise on an old tape recorder while he painted something which would have embarrassed a paint stained 4 year old.

I was there for Simp. He played more stuff from his forthcoming second album opening the set with Lil’ King Kong which neatly combined swagger and self-deprecation. The sublime Old Domestic Cat, played on that kid’s keyboard, was a hymn of love to the simple things in life; staying home reading, watching The Bill and pottering about with his feline friend for company. The show ended with possibly his finest song, the awesome Serotonin, which had acoustic guitar and lush strings working over a deep shuffle beat culminating in a wail of synthesizers which was on a loop in my head for about two weeks afterwards. Once again I saw him in the bar, once again I approached him drunkenly to offer my appreciation, and once again he took it graciously.

In October 2006 his second album, SK2, finally came out and I was invited to the album launch gig upstairs at the Sheepwalk pub in Leytonstone, home to the excellent ‘What’s Cookin’’ nights. I was disappointed that the album version of Old Domestic Cat was played on guitar not that endearing keyboard. That was compensated by the other songs including the punky Mommy n Daddy which mixed a bit of We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place with Found That Soul all recorded, as ever, on an old 8 track cassette recorder.

Again the album was liked by everyone who heard it. He got four out of five from The Guardian again which gushed “This is a wonderful album: musically, it’s ingenious, a bustling congregation of styles – glam, folk, crackling electronica – that continually take the listener by surprise. And lyrically, for all its downbeat malaise, it has a sincerity and candour that can’t fail to charm”. But again, it didn’t sell.

The last time I saw Simp was at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen shortly after. The big room at the back was packed with other Simp fans, maybe all of them, singing along, empathizing more than they wanted to with the lyrics of The TwentySomething. He finished with a song from SK1, The Average Man, set to Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

And then he went quiet. I checked the site regularly but nothing. As time went on my visits became less frequent and more forlorn until, two weeks ago, I saw it was all over.

So, future generations, that’s the story behind simplekid.com, like all those dead webpages, echoing like a beacon in space. But it echoes with the sound of some wonderful music.

This article originally appeared at Middlebrow Magazine

Dylan and The Symbolists

Bob Dylan is not many people’s idea of a vigilante but one day in 1970 the Voice of a Generation decided to dispense a bit of summary justice on the streets of New York.

“I’m on Elizabeth Street and someone jumps me, starts punching me” remembered Dylan’s prey, A.J. Weberman. “I turn around and it’s like – Dylan. I’m thinking, ‘Can you believe this? I’m getting the crap beat out of me by Bob Dylan!’ I said, ‘Hey, man, how you doin’?’ But he keeps knocking my head against the sidewalk. He’s little, but he’s strong. He works out” What had tipped Dylan over the edge?

Dylan’s early albums had been lyrically direct. His first was made up mostly of covers of old folk songs. He found a voice of his own on his second and third albums, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ in 1963 and 1964. These alternated between topical ‘protest’ songs and personal songs. For his topical songs, like ‘Talkin’ World War Three Blues’ or ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, the subject matter sprang from the days papers; for his personal songs, like ‘Girl of the North Country’ or ‘One Too Many Mornings’, the lyrics were clear, evocative images from real life.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me if her hair hangs long
That’s the way I remember her best

This began to change on Dylan’s fourth album, ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’, recorded in one boozy session in June 1964. Aside from a light hearted reference each to Fidel Castro and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, the politics were gone. In their place came a song like the beautiful ‘Chimes of Freedom’ which started with a simple thunderstorm before spiralling into poetry.

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorways, thunder went crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing

A song like ‘My Back Pages’ skipped any pretence at a lyrical realism, opening with the lines

Crimson flames tied through my ears rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps

What had garnished an intimate album like ‘Another Side’ was developed fully on the next three albums, Dylan’s famous electric trilogy; ‘Bringing it All Back Home’ (1965), ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965) and ‘Blonde on Blonde’ (1966).

Dylan unleashed seemingly nonsensical lyrics

The motorcycle black madonna two-wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver-studded phantom cause the gray flannel dwarf to scream
As he weeps to wicked birds of prey who pick up on his bread crumb sins
And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden

What on earth did this mean? The man who, just a couple of years before, had been articulating widely held fears and concerns about nuclear war and civil rights was now, seemingly, talking gibberish.

Some found this impossible to believe of their idol and convinced themselves that he was, in fact, speaking in some sort of code. At the lunatic end of the spectrum this prompted Weberman to root around in Dylan’s bin bags looking for clues to crack it, succeeding only in scaring Dylan’s wife and incurring his wrath, hence the beating.

But even supposedly serious people started to come out with their own interpretations. ‘Cultural critic’ Greil Marcus wrote a short yet tedious book called ‘Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes’ (1998) in which he wrote that the songs Dylan recorded at home while recovering from a motorcycle crash in 1967 were “palavers with a community of ghosts” and that “these ghosts were not abstractions. As native sons and daughters they were a community”. Quite. The truth is that Marcus probably spent longer writing about a song like ‘Apple Suckling Tree’ than Dylan spent writing it.

At the same time it’s difficult to believe that Dylan was filling his songs with inconsequential babble. Despite cranking out records at a fearsome rate (his seventh album was released just four years after his first) he took care over his songs, carefully crafting them. He agonised over the track listing of ‘Freewheelin’’ until the last minute. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ sat around for over a year before Dylan recorded and released it. When ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ didn’t work as a waltz Dylan rewrote it in 4/4 time.

If it wasn’t a secret code and it wasn’t nonsense, what was it? We know that around 1962 or 1963 a girlfriend introduced him to nineteenth century French poetry. He later went on to name check two of the poets, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, in song.

Verlaine and Rimbaud were part of the symbolist movement. In the same way that Dylan moved away from his lyrical directness the symbolists had sought to move away from the then dominant trends of realism and naturalism in the arts. These movements, the symbolists believed, had restricted communication by tying words to their literal meanings. Words and images had a value beyond the merely descriptive and, when placed in new often unfamiliar contexts, could communicate deeper meanings. As the critic Jean Moréas put it in the ‘Symbolist Manifesto’ in 1886.

“In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.”

Given this, it is possible to see Dylan’s songs from that period as works of symbolism. He was using words as the symbolists had; as tools to directly generate an emotional response, in some ways the songs were a prolonged attempt at Synaesthesia. Take the following from ‘Desolation Row’ as an example.

Einstein disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row

Dylan isn’t challenging the listener to identify who Einstein disguised as Robin Hood really is and neither is he engaging in stream of consciousness doggerel. The effect is too powerful for that, too deliberate. The effect is sadness. Stripped of the famous scientists, monks and drainpipes, this is simply a powerful image of a man past his prime, an image of decay. Don’t try and decode who he is, he could be anyone.

Take a line from ‘Visions of Johanna’; “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face”. Literally that doesn’t mean anything but the feeling it conjures up in the listener is crystal clear. It’s that sensation that shoots up your spine as you look at a lovers face and lose yourself in every detail, trying to find the particular magic, the ghost of electricity, that draws you to them.

The symbolism subsided after his motorcycle crash in 1966 and when he re-emerged with the album ‘John Wesley Harding’ in 1968 the electric surrealism was replaced with rootsy tales of frontier folk bathed in Biblical imagery. Not for the last time Bob Dylan revealed yet another side. “I’ve got my Bob Dylan mask on…I’m mask-erading” he had joked with an audience in 1964. It’s a thrilling masquerade which has continued to the present day.

This article originally appeared at Middlebrow Magazine

The great rock n’ roll swindle

Homes fit for Working Class Heroes

“We recognize that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget”

These were the words of Bono in the lead up to the Live 8 concerts in summer 2005. A cry for money to be sent to Africa to help alleviate the crushing poverty that wrecks the lives of so many on that continent.

But not, it seems, if Bono is going to be asked to stump up for it. Yesterday the news broke that Bonos band U2 have carried out a neat soft shoe shuffle and transferred part of their publishing business to Holland where they will pay less tax. For a man who prides himself on his sincerity, that seems a little odd. But pop music, a genre which defines itself to some extent on its raw, uninhibited emotion, is no stranger to such rank hypocrisy.

Back in 1971 former Beatle John Lennon sang the song ‘Imagine’ in which he asked us to “Imagine no possessions”. Lennon, famed for his ‘sincerity’, is sitting at a white grand piano in the drawing room of his mansion as he sings this. Imagine no possessions? You first John.

He wasn’t alone. In 1973 Pink Floyd released the album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ which went on to sell a staggering 25 million copies. The album included ‘Money’, a song satirizing the rich and selfish written by bass player Roger Waters, which included the line “I’m alright Jack keep your hands off of my stack”. The money that comes in from royalties on a song like ‘Money’ everytime it is played on radio or TV anywhere in the world, and every time a copy of the album or single is sold, must be enormous. But, back in the Britain of the 1970’s, taxes likewise were enormous with a top rate at the now unimaginable 98 pence in the pound. As a result, Roger Waters moved to France where taxes were lower and band mate Nick Mason says “It was greed that drove Pink Floyd into exile. We thought we could make a pile of cash if we lived outside the country, saved taxes and invested the money”. ‘Keep your hands off my stack’ indeed.

Pink Floyd went on to release the album ‘The Wall’ in 1979. This time the hit single was ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ which included the famous line “We dont need no education”. When the Floyd played at Live 8 it was impossible not to notice the contradiction between the band singing that sang that famous line and the pictures of African children bearing placards reading ‘Education is our right’. Who is right? Multi millionaire musician Roger Waters? Or the children of sub Saharan Africa?

The song also contains the ridiculous line “We don’t need no thought control”. Well ask yourself this, because it doesn’t appear to have crossed Waters’ mind; who’s thoughts are easier to control? Someone who has good grammar, can communicate, understand idealistic concepts and has a working knowledge of science and history? Or one of the uneducated Morlocks our Comprehensive ‘schools’ are currently cranking out?

The hypocrisy of these rock gods is alive and well in a younger generation. Jennifer Lopez makes millions as a singer, actress and now perfume maker yet will still insist that “Im still Jenny from the block”. Coldplay singer Chris Martin said last year that “Shareholders are the great evil of this modern world”. For a man whose music is so insipid it might come as no surprise that his politics are equally fatuous, but one might have expected a firmer grasp on economics from an alumni of one of Britain’s top public schools, Sherbourne, and University College in London. The expensively educated husband of movie start Gwyneth Paltrow, doesn’t seem to realize that the investment put into companies like his record label EMI by shareholders enables those companies to pay for the A&R men and women who discover bands like Coldplay.

Why is it that these super rich stars are so hell bent on trying to convince us that they are, in fact, barely educated and without a penny to their names? In the song ‘Working Class Hero’, John Lennon sings that ‘They’ “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV” (but not, it seems, with Beatles records) and “But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” (that we should all live in a mansion in Surrey) and finishes up by claiming that “If you want to be a hero well just follow me”. The inference is clear; Lennon is a working class hero and we should all be following his example.

But Lennon wasn’t a working class hero and he was being dishonest again. The cover of the Oasis single ‘Live Forever’ has a picture of a very nice suburban semi. It turns out this picture of the middle class idyll was taken in Liverpool. Furthermore, it is the house which John Lennon grew up in. Not quite the Dickensian slum which ‘Working Class Hero’ would have you believe.

The answer as to why they play down to the gallery like this could well just be a bid to appeal to what they think their audience wants to hear. If this is the case it is a pretty condescending view of the record buying public. Perhaps the reason can be found in the vanity of these ‘artists’? In the song ‘Common People’, Pulp famously sang about a girl who slums it with the Proles safe in the knowledge that she can go home to her wealthy parents. It is quite easy to imagine a similar thought process animating Roger Waters when he warns his audience of the evils of a good education, or John Lennon when he tells us that possessions are of no importance, before the pair of them board their helicopters and whiz back to their mansions.

In the Godfather, Michael Corleone says that “Discontent for money is just a trick of the rich to keep the poor without it”. Perhaps there is an element of this in the hypocritical posing about that rock stars do? Tell people that education is a crock, that material things are an actual negative and they will not want to pursue them. All at once, your hold on the Mansions, limos and private jets looks just that little more secure.