In August 1992 -at the height of grunge- neo-Mod outfit Studio ’68! - who included Q writer Paul Moody among their number - recorded their debut album Portobellohello. Everyone thought they were mad. Then along came Britpop...
It’s almost impossible to describe what the musical climate was like back in the early 1990s. Pre-internet, pre-Spotify, pre-Oasis, the music press called the shots, and back then Kurt Cobain was king. This meant that any young band – our average age was 22 - daring to talk up ancient relics like The Kinks, The Who or The Small Faces were seen, at best, as Luddites. And at worst, hopeless cranks.
Nirvana were the benchmark by which all groups were judged, which meant that unless you a) were from Seattle, b) dressed like a penniless hobo (straggly hair, plaid shirt, ripped jeans) and c) saw the world through a nihilist filter, your chances of gaining the interest of a major label A&R man were virtually non-existent. “Your music is totally out of date,” one 30-something label boss told us, before suggesting that we should "dirty up" our mod image and look "more like Blind Melon".
Aside from a few exceptions - notably Roger at The Falcon in Camden - London's gig promoters also saw 60s influenced bands as being as fashionable as rabies.
The result was that those few bands flying the flag for Mod/60s culture in 1991/2 - Five Thirty, The Stairs, Dodgy, The Honey Smugglers - were forced to share the same bills, usually midweek nights at The Falcon in Camden or Fridays at Rails in Euston or The White Horse in Hampstead. Looking back, it was probably the disappearance of The Stone Roses and the implosion of The Happy Mondays which led the music press to turn to grunge miserablism as rave culture gripped the nation. In March 1993 an NME cover even predicted the music of 2003 as being entirely ambient, with The Orb and Loop Guru held up as the nation’s cultural figureheads.
Now, of course, it’s obvious this was just the calm before the storm.
Most of Britpop’s key players were still absorbing the lessons learned from being part of the Madchester scene and planning how to put them into practice (as well as being a roadie for The Inspirals, Noel Gallagher borrowed heavily from the look, sound and attitude of Liverpool’s The Real People). As for the Studio ’68! we recorded our shamelessly Mod/Psych influenced debut album Portobellohello in August 1992 and didn’t even receive a chorus of indifference. Thanks to label hassles it never came out, leaving the master tapes to gather dust in Brighton police station for 20 years (long story), until 2012.
Personally, I like to think we were surfing a far off wave of the zeitgeist which, within two years, would become the Britpop tsunami. But maybe we were just unlucky. Either way, it’s proof that in rock’n’roll, timing is everything. Paul Moody
For more on this 'lost' album head to Detour-records.co.uk.