The Forgotten Bands of Baggy
Manchester in the '90's
New Fast Automatic Real People
By Pádraic GrantBaggy. Deeply unfashionable right now, and unable even to boast a reasonably-sized base of more or less ironic fans, was a dominant force in British music throughout the '90's, melding rock and dance on a scale never seen before. Needlessly scorned by elitist music fans, Baggy's legacy has suffered from critical snobbery, and more adventurous musical explorers will discover a wealth of great sounds hidden away in the archives. The big bands, which we'll begin with, have the highest percentage of anthems, hymns and hits but there's gold in them thar lesser known bands too, and we'll take a pickaxe to their ore later on.
What Is Baggy?
First of all, let's agree a definition: Baggy is named for the loose-fitting clothes - in particular, the bell-bottomed jeans and oversized sweatshirts - worn by the bands and the fans, in a throwback to the styles worn by the hippies and the '70's rock crowd. This distinct style of clothing, the mix of '60's psychedelia with '70's cool, mirrored the bands' fusion of '60's music with '70's funk, all in an acid house context. Baggy became defined as a style in which funk/hip hop bass and drum rhythms were combined with jangly indie guitars.
A lot of the bands owed their roots and style to the acid house scene, with many eminent DJ's remixing the new artists for a dance context. At its best however, it became something much more than a simple dance/rock fusion; groups such as The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, and The Inspiral Carpets had a dance element in their music, but weren't connected with the acid house scene. Rather, they took their influence from '60's rock bands, and in the case of the Inspiral Carpets, from the Nuggets compilation series of forgotten 1960's garage rock bands. The Stone Roses, the most commercially acclaimed band of the style (their debut album The Stone Roses is regularly included in all-time best album lists), created pure 90s pop music from a mess of '60's influences, bringing in an understated but growing funk influence that culminated in the groundbreaking What The World Is Waiting For/Fools Gold double A-side single. "What The World Is Waiting For" was a workmanlike pop song, with a strong funk drumming pattern, but it was as nothing when compared to "Fools Gold." The song that broke them into the big time on both sides of the indie/dance fence leaned in on a magnificent funky riff, wah-wah guitars (played by John Squire), and monumental showcasing of the rhythm section - a telepathic team comprising Reni on drums and Mani on bass, they were Baggy's answer to reggae's Sly & Robbie partnership. Adding atmosphere to all this, swooped the unforgettable vocals of Ian Brown, crooning lyrics of subtle menace delivered with plenty of reverb and echo.
While The Roses tended to be either menacing, arrogant or joyously hopeful, The Charlatans, meanwhile, were much more grounded in the lighter side of pop, with their trademark Hammond organ sound sparring for attention with Tim Burgess (vocals, harmonica, melodica). Tim's vocal style had the same cynical, nasal but essentially just normal regional attributes that were associated with Ian Brown, and the Charlatans looked to the same funk/rock/dance influences for inspiration. Comparisons, though odious, were unavoidable; both melded funk with the wah-wah guitar, with The Charlatans' best known outing "The Only One I Know" almost indistinguishable from The Roses' work to the untrained eye.
In the UK and Europe, the Baggy scene is also known as Madchester music and, though I feel this term to be too region-specific, the swapping of Man-chester to Mad-chester however conveys some of the scene's easy-going, cheeky and MDMA-driven atmosphere, in particular when applied to the least-professional, snot-nosed gang of the lot - The Happy Mondays.
Champions of the acid-house/Balearic/rock music crossover, The Mondays, with maverick lyrical genius Shaun Ryder at the helm and a mob of family, friends and dubious hangers-on as crew, sailed into the public consciousness in 1988 with Bummed. Produced by legendary Manchester genius Martin Hannett, a pioneer in the use of electronics in music, the original album cruised to glory on the strength of the remixes that followed. Although three songs from the album (the others were "Mad Cyril" and "Lazyitis") would later be remixed, the most significant was "Wrote For Luck (Think About The Future Mix)" by superstar house DJ Paul Oakenfold. This mix showed a heavy influence from acid house music, and paved the way for Oakenfold to mix the band's 1990 release, the seminal Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches. Overall, the Mondays were one of the most prominent bands of the era, critically and commercially. Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches is now regarded as one of the finest albums ever made and hits the 'Best Of...' charts whenever they deal with the '90's.
The Happy Mondays' successful fusion of house and indie music paved the way for a slew of lower-quality Baggy bands to follow, and this perhaps explains why Madchester's descendents are regarded in such low terms. The avalanche of one-hit wonders dragged down critical perception of the genre, and in turn sales. This negative portrayal of the genre contributed in part to the commercial failure of the Happy Mondays' final album, Yes...Please! (though in fairness, the descent into individual drug hell of various band members contributed far more) and soon hard-working new arrivals including James, The Farm, Candy Flip, Flowered Up and Northside were regarded as novelty bands or bandwagon-jumpers; Northside in particular were viewed as a cynical Baggy-themed cash-in courtesy of Factory Records. At the time they were at least tolerated, and even enjoyed, nowadays they are viewed as a joke.
How Is Baggy Seen Today?
While Baggy's time in the spotlight ended too soon and without much dignity, it has still influenced many bands that are active nowadays. The Britpop scene of the mid-'90's was heavily indebted to. Oasis had a heavy Stone Roses sound in their music, while Blur had been a Baggy band originally.
Kasabian, one of today's most-lauded bands, carry a heavy pack of Baggy too - invoking the spirit of The Stone Roses, and The Happy Mondays right back as far as their debut. In recent years we have also seen the reform of The Happy Mondays, and the creation of a festival dedicated, with misty-eyed affection, to Baggy itself, called "Get Loaded In The Park." There has yet to be a full-on revival of Baggy though, and it is still regarded with disdain by much of the music press (which conveniently forgets how it had originally championed it).
Lesser-Known Highlights of Baggy
It is up to us, though, as fans of music, to uphold and remember the greatness of all good music no matter what label it wears. There is a gold mine of genuinely great but forgotten music, waiting for the popularity and appreciation it so rightly deserves. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Baggy.
Advanced Baggy For Devotees and Explorers
If you're interested in the wilder edges and less-travelled corners of the music then the following bands will repay the effort spent in tracking them down:
* New Fast Automatic Daffodils
Notable for their dark melodies and sometimes cynical lyrics, the band's debut Pigeonhole, released in 1990, is an under-appreciated gem. Characterised by a mix of moody, Joy Division-inspired music, and vocals crossed with sheer danceable funk, it's equal parts groove and icy melodies. The band went on to release two more albums, but ultimately disbanded in 1994.
* World of Twist
World of Twist were a band who defied stylistic categorisation. Formed as early as 1985, the band didn't finally gel until 1989. They were seen as part of the Baggy music due to their blend of indie music with other dance styles, but the band was quite different from the rest of the crowd, fielding influences as diverse as The Velvet Underground and Northern Soul music. World Of Twist's early promise was shown with a 4-track demo, and a pair of singles: The Storm/She's A Rainbow, and Sons of the Stage. The first included a cover of The Rolling Stones' song "She's A Rainbow," which, as well as showcasing a slant toward psychedelia, was one of the last singles to be produced by Martin Hannett. The second just fell shy of the Top 40 Charts, and is seen as a classic of Baggy to this day. Quality Street showcased the band's early promise but hid it beneath a muddy production criticised by fans and reviewers alike. This is their only official album, although an album's worth of demos were recorded before the band broke up in the summer of 1992. WoT influenced the Britpop movement heavily, with bands such as Pulp taking great influence from them.
* The Real People
Two brothers, Tony and Chris Griffiths formed the Real People in 1988. The band emerged from Baggy, but their focus was on '60's Merseybeat music with a more understated funk influence on the rhythm section. Although the band lacked real commercial success, releasing only two albums, with The Real People in 1991 and What's On The Outside in 1996, they were extremely influential to their peers, and had a huge impact on the budding '90's Britpop movement. Thus, the band can be seen as a link between the dance-influenced Baggy genre, and the guitar-based Britpop movement, with a foot in each camp.
It can be seen, then, that one of the most important styles the musical world has seen in recent years, is regarded as something of a joke because of a multitude of low-quality bands. These novelty bands created negativity towards the genre that has still not disappeared. Mention Baggy music, and you open yourself to a host of jokes about a universally-lambasted style of music that many would prefer to forget. Though desperately uncool and dismissed as a genre by many, Baggy's best lies way past the jokes and novelty act. Why forget the Mondays? Why forget The Charlatans? Why forget the Inspiral Carpets? Why forget those less remembered bands, who made the early-90s one of the most exciting times to be a fan of music? Why forget a genre of great music? Rather than poking fun, we should celebrate the accomplishments of those bands who made such great music, and perhaps, finally rescue 'Baggy' returning it to it's original role as a catch-all description of a fun-loving, influential, important positive style of interesting and creative music?
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