Britpop casualties: 'It felt like we crashed someone else's party'

Being at the heart of the indie scene in the 90s wasn't as much fun as it seemed on the pages of the NME. Members of Dodgy, the Bluetones, Menswe@r, Salad and Marion remember the dark days of Britpop – and what has happened since

Michael Hann: Britpop was a cultural abomination

Nigel Clark
Singer-bassist with Dodgy

Biggest single Good Enough (No 4, 1996)
Biggest album Free Peace Sweet (No 7, 1996)
Today Married with children, still with Dodgy

Dodgy - Good Enough on MUZU.TV.

We were the merry pranksters of Britpop. A punk, a rocker and a soul boy. I was the one who worked in a record store and used to put Crass records inside Duran Duran sleeves. In 1994 we were recording our second album at the same time, and in the same studio, that the Stone Roses were making theirs. That's where the [Ian Brown as] King Monkey thing comes from. The Guardian's Caroline Sullivan phoned us up and said: "I hear you've been in the studio with the Roses, have you got anything to say?" So we told her that he only answered to the name King Monkey, and that they'd been doing a version of [the Gap Band's] Oops Upside Your Head. Total fabrication.

Mathew [Priest, drums], Andy [Miller, guitar] and I moved down from Worcestershire in 1988. All the bands were shoegazey or "grebo" like Pop Will Eat Itself and the Wonder Stuff. And then came grunge, and we weren't into that. We wanted melody. It was a hark back to the 60s. Looking back it was a bit of a golden age. Glastonbury 1997 was the high point. We were third on the bill. People come up to me and say: "That was the greatest festival of my life!" You're somehow in people's lives without even realising it.

We weren't really a Britpop band. We just got caught up in it. We were a displaced American band, influenced by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Going on Top of the Pops with Good Enough was a highlight, but really my life carried on as usual. I was already 30 and had a three-bedroom semi in Stoke Newington, and a Jeep because I had kids. By 1998, the excitement had gone, so I moved back to Worcestershire. I taught music technology for a couple of years – I actually taught a Britpop course, although admittedly I was a bit biased towards Dodgy. Then I worked with troublesome kids and homeless people, teaching them songwriting. In 2007, Dodgy got back together – for creative reasons, not for the nostalgia. We put out a new album two years ago and we've just started another one.

These days, I live with my partner and two teenagers, Mathew teaches drums down in Dorset, and Andy lives in Hackney. We get together for Dodgy and act stupid.

Marijne van der Vlugt
Singer-keyboardist with Salad

Biggest single Motorbike to Heaven (No 42, 1995)
Biggest album Drink Me (No 16, 1995)
Today Lives in London with her six-year-old son. Does voiceovers, makes movie trailers

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Our music was quirky, odd. We got lumped in with Britpop but we were more like an early version of Kaiser Chiefs. People missed the point. It was difficult not being taken seriously. Drink Me got to No 16 in the album charts. We thought it was fantastic. People were recognising us, and we were having so much fun on the road travelling through Europe on our minibus, in our little cocoon. I thought: "This is the life." Then we got the confidence knocked out of us. Nobody can be prepared for the music industry. It was very catty and playgroundish. Blur asked us to support them on tour, and Justine Frischmann [of Elastica] wouldn't talk to me because she was the frontman's girlfriend. She confessed that she was a little bit nervous that he might fall in love with me! Later we became friends.

The media created competition between us and the so-called Female Fronted Indie Bands [Elastica, Sleeper, Echobelly et al]. We thought we were very different from them, in terms of chord changes and subject matter. Drink the Elixir, our best-known song, was about a man who drank a young woman's pee.

We carried on till 1998. We had a second album, Ice Cream, which we should have called Bridesmaid's Gimmicks after our song of that name. We didn't because our manager's wife didn't like it. We didn't know who we were any more. After we split, Paul Kennedy [guitar] gave up songwriting, but started again in 2007 – he's preparing to launch himself as Walter P Kennedy. Rob Wakeman [drums] works in web development. Pete Brown [bass] runs the entertainment site I formed a band called Cowboy Racer, but I stopped recently to spend more time with my son. I have a job making trailers for films. I also do voiceovers – I was the announcer on the nominations packages for the MTV Europe music awards in Amsterdam. They said they wanted a sexy female Hal-type robot – that was me!

It was great to be creative and get away with it. It was also quite an honour to have been part of Britpop since I am actually Dutch.

Mark Morriss
Singer-guitarist with the Bluetones

Biggest single Slight Return (No 2, 1996)
Biggest album Expecting To Fly (No 1, 1996)
Today Lives in Tunbridge Wells with his partner and two children, records solo albums

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We lived for a while with Dodgy, who were a big inspiration to us. Like them, we felt like a displaced West Coast band. That's why we called our debut album Expecting To Fly – it was a nod to Buffalo Springfield. We were a bit more transatlantic than the Fred Perry and Adidas brigade. We never asked to become part of the Britpop club – all that Cool Britannia shit: Noel Gallagher shaking hands with Tony Blair. I thought: "It's not meant to be cosy!"

Success happened so quickly. We were getting used to playing gigs of 250, so to go from that to playing to thousands was mindblowing. It felt awkward, like we crashed someone else's party. We didn't realise we'd be on that many front covers or TV programmes. A big hit single elevated us to a league where we didn't feel comfortable. It was like the Last Days of Sodom. We went from one party to another. We had tables at the Brits next to Prince and Sheryl Crow. We didn't have to go and score. We had people offering us drugs left, right and centre. Heroin didn't ever really enter our orbit, but we were five guys from Hounslow who wouldn't have got a second look down at the local disco. All of a sudden we were big news. You do that to a 24-year-old and there are going to be consequences.

By 2000, we seemed old hat. It's like Logan's Run – it's a young person's game. We had small children and we weren't making it work, so we called it a day in 2011. Our last gig was in Osaka, Japan. It was the best place to do it because it afforded us the opportunity to be together, without any friends or obligations. The crew left us alone and we had time to reflect. I'm making it sound like a trip to the vets! But we were actually kissing goodbye to our youth. It was heartbreaking. Then we got embezzled out of thousands of pounds when our manager did a moonlight flit. That was pretty bad. But it hasn't soured the memory of it all. We had a bloody good time.

I just released my second solo album. Adam [Devlin, guitar] plays guitar for new bands and he and his girlfriend do photography. Scott [Morriss, bass] is an animator – he just did the video for my next single. Eds [Chesters, drums] is a fully qualified osteopath. We still get royalties, even if it's not quite enough to crack open the cava. You can't live off one platinum album, even if I do think it's a bit of a lost classic.

Mark Morriss's A Flash Of Darkness is out now on Acid Jazz

Jaime Harding
Singer with Marion

Biggest single Sleep EP (No 17, 1996)
Biggest album This World and Body (No 10, 1996)
Today He's a solo artist living in Manchester

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We formed in 1993 and soon after, Joe Moss [the Smiths' manager] was managing us. I was living in Macclesfield – I used to pay Ian Curtis regular visits in the local cemetery. We were influenced by the Smiths, Joy Division and We were both being pitched by the NME as stars of 1994. We were all 17 to 18 and had lived safe suburban, sheltered lives, so it was great to be part of the Manchester scene and meet all the characters.

It took a year to get our songs together, buy some nice clothes and instruments and become the hip young people we wanted to be. We got record companies interested, and there was a bidding war. All the labels came up to see us, and we got absolutely legless.

We toured with Radiohead and Morrissey – touring with Morrissey remains one of the highlights of my life. He was so charming and funny. And Radiohead were amazing. Thom Yorke said Marion had emerged in the same way as Radiohead, without hype, by gigging hard. I felt honoured that they made that connection.

Sleep was used in a Citroën car advert. We ended up getting about £150,000. I spent my share on clothes, drink and drugs. It was an incredible time to be travelling the world. There was Marionmania in Japan. They even made Jaime dolls.

We worked so furiously creating [debut album] This World and Body, touring it worldwide for two years, that by the time we came back to work on [1998's] The Program we'd hit a brick wall, energy-wise. Joe helped massively by bringing in Johnny Marr [for production], and he breathed life into it. We wouldn't have done a second album without him. Then I started doing way too many drugs – the wrong drugs. I'd always used speed and cocaine but the heroin really took hold round the making of The Program. Johnny hated it because he'd dealt with that part of his life a long time ago. We were supposed to get Chrissie Hynde in for backing vocals but she'd had bandmates who'd died from drug use and she'd have been disgusted. Johnny and the band, and Joe, stuck by me for way longer than they should have. But by the time the record was finished, I was good for nothing.

I'm 39 now and I've been trying to recover ever since. I blew one of my heart valves from injecting heroin and crack in 2006, so I had to have open heart surgery and a metal valve placed in my heart. It was a year being in and out of hospital for six weeks at a time. The amount of medication I have to take now for my heart condition and my opiate addiction is quite a battle. I moved back to Manchester recently. I live alone with my cat, Bolanboogie. I've started playing guitar and Joe is managing me again. I'm getting stronger all the time. I'm not clean – it's going to take a good while longer. But I'll get there. I'm still cool as fuck, so I'm going to have a go.

I'm not physically in a position to get a job so I survive with the generosity of friends and by living frugally. I don't have expensive tastes any more. I love to read and watch movies. I've been doing Marion on and off since 2006. We recorded a live album at Manchester Academy in 2011. We did a tour in April 2012 and that was amazing – we sold out Islington Academy in London and that was an incredible show. But then Phil [Cunningham]'s New Order commitments took over. Johnny used to say of Marion that we had the respect of our peers. If we'd have held it together into the period of bands like Coldplay and Travis, I think we would have done commercially massively better.

Johnny Dean
Frontman with Menswe@r

Biggest single Being Brave (No 10, 1996)
Biggest album Nuisance (No 11, 1995)
Today Lives with his partner in Teddington and gigs as Menswe@r

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Stuart [Black, bass] and I used to get paralytic in Blow Up, the early Britpop club, and he'd try and get me to form a band. Originally it was me, him and Chris [Gentry, guitar]. Menswe@r's name was given to us by Steve Mackey of Pulp who we knew because we'd been in the video to Do You Remember the First Time?. I thought it was hilarious, and very knowing.

We were reacting to grunge. I'd started wearing suits, and then [Blur's] Modern Life is Rubbish happened. Young people in Britain were ready for something they could relate to. Britpop was a mixture of Merseybeat, glam, punk, even new romantic. To me it also included the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy, even Underworld – Born Slippy was a Britpop anthem.

Melody Maker put us on the cover very early on, which was the reason we became whipping boys. We did more interviews than write songs. It was too much. Everyone seemed to lose it. Record companies were throwing money around like crazy. We got 90 grand from London, and our publishing deal was half a million. There was a lot of heavy Class A action. It's probably no coincidence that the big Britpop movie was Trainspotting. We did have a No 11 album and three top 20 hits. All our singles got in the top 40 and we were on Top of the Pops quite regularly. Def Leppard said it was nice that there was another band on TOTP who rocked. Lionel Richie was really nice – he even asked for a copy of Being Brave, which was pretty surreal.

From the outside it all seemed like a jolly pastiche of 1966 London and everyone was doing the Lambeth Walk, but at the centre of it all it got quite dark. The behaviour was monstrous. I saw a lot of things that would make other people's hair curl. We were kids, with an average age of 19. We had no idea how the music business worked and it can be a nasty place.

I didn't want to know any more by 1998. For some reason, it was decided that our second album should be country rock. By then it was all causing us a lot of mental damage. It was doomed. After leaving the band, I became depressed, although I've had problems with depression since I was a kid. I did temping for a while and worked in offices, trying to pay the bills. I had a massive breakdown and was put on a psychiatric ward. I always suspected I might have a neurological condition, and eventually I was diagnosed with Asperger's and pervasive developmental disorder. Now I work a lot with the National Autistic Society.

I'm 42, and living a quiet life in Teddington. Last year I did a David Bowie tribute gig – it was my first time onstage for 15 years. And I've been gigging as Menswe@r. As long as the singer's singing, it doesn't really matter who's playing the instruments.

Chris and Simon [White, guitar] manage Bloc Party and Phoenix, Matt [Everitt] is on BBC Radio 6, he does the Music News, so they're all doing well. But I don't want anything to do with them. You should be careful who you form a band with and make sure you're on the same page. We weren't, and that caused problems.

Menswe@r divided opinion and we still do. You either loved us or absolutely hated us. But that's great. I didn't want to be Coldplay. Britpop was a party, one that Menswe@r gatecrashed. And although the hangover might have lasted 20 years, at least I was there.

Michael Hann: Britpop was a cultural abomination


Interviews by Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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