London’s So Nice Back In Your Seamless Rhymes

Damon Albarn in the promo video for For Tomorrow by Blur.

In a strange way, May 1993 – when Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur was released – feels closer to now than March 2017, when I originally wrote this piece, does. Not chronologically, but ideologically, as so much has changed in barely twenty four months that it’s easier to look back and find more resonance with a time when your biggest concern was whether your current favourite band would get in the top forty and be allowed to continue making records than with whatever in the name of sanity those braying buffoons who can’t see past lining their own pockets and making sure that they’ll still have support when it comes to a general election that they’re more than likely going to lose their seat at are up to right now. I’m writing this very early in the morning on the day of publication, and am genuinely concerned that this introduction will be out of date by lunchtime. That’s how ridiculous everything has got.

Those same twenty four months have seen both sides continually insist on trying to blame the exact wrong people again and again, and one of the more bewildering casualities of this scattershot thumping at thin air in pursuit of nothing in particular has been poor old Blur. No, really. A small army of ‘provocative’ writers putting hit counts before common sense (don’t challenge me on that please, I know exactly how it works) have been positively itching to get at their keyboards and thud out very long and very boring thinkpieces with their entire head blaming the entirety of Brexit on Britpop, as if Clover Over Dover was Nigel Farage’s walk-on music, Sonya from Echobelly was forever fuming to Select about them foreigners coming over here fronting our Anglo-Asian anti-fascist bands, and Chris from Menswe@r was using cursory attempts at rewriting Aztec Camera riffs down the Good Mixer as a covert cover for a secret plan to get our sovereignty back. Settling old scores or parading just how much ‘cooler’ their musical tastes were and are than, cuh, yours? Who knows. All we can be certain about is that none of them actually sodding believe it.

That said, there is something else that I can be certain about – that this argument bears absolutely no relation to what I felt, saw, or even sensed in the throes of a short-lived but headline-dominating scene that was all about a brief flash of positivity and fun. Yes, even when idiots who didn’t actually care about the music started hitting each other over what record might get to number one, and when Noel Gallagher and Geri Halliwell made in retrospect misguided if well-intentioned attempts at pissing around with a certain flag (which I will admit bothered me a bit at the time). Nobody was planning any fascist uprising or even economic independence – they just felt like wearing old-fashioned trainers and listening to The Kinks for a bit. It’s something that I touched on in my book about Creation Records Higher Than The Sun, and in this interview I did with Creation Records to promote it, and more recently I eventually snapped and wrote this righteously furious piece reclaiming Modern Life Is Rubbish from these ridiculous accusations, which eventually was read by over forty three thousand like-minded individuals (I still can’t believe that myself) and got a personal thumbs up from members of Blur. Now that’s The Will Of The People if ever I saw it. Mind you, even I couldn’t have put it as well as Andy Lewis, the DJ who more or less instigated Britpop, who after being provoked too far by one ‘thinkpiece’ too many, posted this argument-ending rebuttal to Twitter:

“To blame Britpop for Farage et al is a trope that’s been around for a good few years and it’s just bloody lazy. The people driving what became Britpop (of which I suppose I was one) were not nostalgic nationalists but rather record collectors with an enthusiasm for music that hadn’t been fashionable for a while and a passion for sharing it. The diversity of what you’d expect to hear in a club like Blow Up baffled some but thrilled many. It wasn’t all old, it wasn’t all British; as much as anything else, it was a massive laugh. A room full of people throwing themselves around to a daft 1967 organ instrumental might not have been at the cutting edge of club culture but my goodness me it was a thrilling thing to behold if, like me, you’d been carrying a torch for a record you’d found in a charity shop five years earlier. The only thing people were wallowing in at Blow Up was a cocktail of spilled drinks and sweat. Yes, we played The Self-Preservation Society and Victoria by The Kinks. We also played Comet Gain, Huggy Bear, Beck, Can, Sparks, Edwyn Collins, Jimmy Smith, Saint Etienne, Pulp, Roy Budd, Third Bass, Sandie Shaw, Tony Middleton, The Undertones, Cud, The Creation, Jon Lucien, Tony Galla, Bobby Sheen, The Colorblind James Experience, The James Taylor Quartet, David Axelrod, Sabres Of Paradise, The Shamen, Etta James, Mr Bloe, Mike Proctor, The Boo Radleys, Dana Gillespie, The Incredible Bongo Band, Rocker’s Revenge, Roy Harper… oh I could go on. Anyway, it wasn’t Union Jack bunting and Brexit wasn’t our fucking fault, OK? I hated racism, nationalism, bigotry of any kind in fact, as did pretty much everyone who turned out to see Blur”.

At this point, of course, I should remember that we’re actually here to have some fun, so here’s something lightweight and trivial that I wrote on my phone on a rail replacement coach after For Tomorrow and For Tomorrow (Visit To Primrose Hill Extended) came up next to each other on shuffle and I had a sort of hang on a minute moment. If nothing else it captures how and what I felt as a blazer-sporting neo-Mod who suddenly found that one of the bands he liked were thinking along very similar lines, and has precisely fuck all to do with any dribbling nonsense in the headlines today. Above all else, it’s about some really good music. Art over bonehead politics every time, frankly.

Incidentally I later reworked this with even more number crunching adding even more weight to my argument, along with a lengthy new introduction relating my own experiences with haring around on city centre buses in Adidas Gazelles and scouring the NME for any mention of what we didn’t actually know was called ‘Britpop’ yet, and you can find that version in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

It’s very difficult to describe from this distance just how exciting For Tomorrow by Blur was back in 1993. It was, though, and like them, hate them, or erroneously write them off as cockernee knees-up chas and dave chimney sweep music and nothing else besides, the fact remains that during a genuinely threadbare and uninspiring stretch for homegrown pop music, it came thundering along like, as the head of their record label put it, “a knight in shining armour”. While For Tomorrow stalled outside the top twenty, for better or for worse it set the tone and the template for the much bigger events that lay ahead. You would have to be a currently serving leader of a political party to dispute or dismiss that, frankly.

To be entirely honest, I was already excited enough about the return of Blur as it was. I’d been a fan since their first single She’s So High/I Know (nobody ever remembers I Know), and had seen them live three times by the time that Leisure came out. Although I cannot claim that this is how I would have put it at the time, looking back it’s clear that – much like a certain Andrew Collins writing in the NME – I had sensed something in their uneven recorded output, particularly in the b-sides, that hinted at a far greater potential when many of the other bands I liked at the time merely left fans hoping that they would scrape together enough half-decent material to make up a worthwhile album. I also – to some derision – stuck with them when the tide of opinion briefly turned against them, and was so keen to get hold of the largely ignored Popscene – still my favourite single of all time, incidentally – that I persuaded my distinctly unimpressed father to pick up a copy on his way back from work on the day of release.

Although they largely managed to hide the turbulent making of Modern Life Is Rubbish from their fans at the time, it was still obvious that Blur had been suspiciously quiet for a long while, and anticipation was steadily building; not least when Mark Goodier announced on Radio 1 very early in 1993 that he had heard some advance tapes of the new material and ‘couldn’t wait’ to play it on the radio. When he did finally give the first public airing anywhere to For Tomorrow, I recorded it off the radio and played it so much that I actually damaged the tape. A couple of weeks later I bought the single – on several formats, as this was the height of ‘Part 1 of a 2CD set’ marketing madness and I wanted as many new songs as I could get – and then a couple of weeks after that the album. It would probably prove scientifically impossible to even vaguely estimate how often I heard For Tomorrow during that month alone; and even then not only in the same form as I’d taped it off the radio.

Dave Rowntree and Alex James in the promo video for For Tomorrow by Blur.

Hidden away on Part 1 of the 2CD set was the ‘Visit To Primrose Hill Extended’ version of For Tomorrow, more or less identical to the shorter radio-friendly version except for a minute-long section towards the end where the band and the brass section go off on a stroll around the chorus chord changes. This is more than just a looped section yanked from elsewhere in the track, and is an entirely new diversion that fits perfectly with the musical mood and the theme of the lyrics; in some ways it also echoes the hurtling-across-London antics of the promo video, despite not actually accompanying them. However, I have long had a theory that this was actually supposed to be the version used for Modern Life Is Rubbish, but was swapped with the more familiar edit at a late stage for not especially clear reasons. And if you’ll keep your hands on the rails and try not to be sick again, I’m about to share that theory with you.

First of all, there’s the small matter that the version of For Tomorrow that did end up on Modern Life Is Rubbish is exactly identical to the one clearly labelled on the single itself as the ‘Single Version’. There is absolutely no variance between the two whatsoever, and they have exactly the same mix, exactly the same length, and exactly the same lyrics. This is, it has to be said, something of an anomaly in Blur’s otherwise famously meticulously documented sleeve credits, with the only comparable incident being when some formats of M.O.R. erroneously claimed to feature the ‘Road Version’ when they didn’t. There could easily have been another more obscure reason for this misleading description finding its way onto the finished article, but the suggestion that it originally needed differentiating from the album version in some way is plausible to say the least.

Then there’s the conspicuously high profile that the extended version has enjoyed since then. More often than not, extended and alternate versions of familiar songs are – usually entirely reasonably – destined to become the forgotten and dispensable corners of an artist’s discography, sidelined once they have fulfilled their intended purpose, and generally left off 2CD Deluxe Editions for ‘space reasons’. The ‘Visit To Primrose Hill Extended’ version of For Tomorrow, however, has been distinguished by so much disproportionate prominence that you could almost suspect someone somewhere was attempting to reclaim it as the official version. Not only did it find its way onto the 2CD reissue of Modern Life Is Rubbish, it’s also been the one that they’ve reached for whenever an official compilation or retrospective was in the offing, notably on The Best Of Blur and Midlife, and was specifically used on the long-lost dawn-of-the-Web ‘Blurradio’ project. It has also pretty much always been this version that has been played live, even when they haven’t actually had a brass section with them. Meanwhile, in notable contrast, the ‘Acoustic’ version of For Tomorrow that also showed up on one of the single formats didn’t even find its way onto Blur 21.

You do also have to ponder on why it would have existed in the first place if it hadn’t been intended for a wider audience at some point. Blur rarely did ‘long’ versions of tracks for their singles, and out of their not inconsiderable discography you could only really point to the actual proper bona fide old-skool Extended Versions of I Know, There’s No Other Way and Bang, which date from a time when ‘Indie-Dance’ was still a viable commercial prospect; full-length remixes of There’s No Other Way and Girls And Boys done primarily for promotional purposes; a number of ‘guest producer’ reworkings fitting in with the musical ethos circa Blur and 13, few of which actually found their way onto singles; and last and by all means least the ‘Live It! Remix’ of Entertain Me, which was accidentally released as a b-side to The Universal instead of being mounted on a flaming anvil and fired into a bin. On top of this, owing to several failed attempts at recording a second album, Blur at that point were already groaning under the weight of decent potential b-sides – ten spread across the various Modern Life Is Rubbish-era singles alone, and a further half dozen or so shelved completely – so there was no particular need to go creating Extended Versions, especially for a song that was hardly going to be ‘crossing over’ with dance music DJs. More speculatively, the longer version prominently features top session brass ensemble The Kick Horns – who can’t have come cheap, especially at a time when the album budget was rapidly running out – along with a couple of otherwise unused guitar lines from Graham Coxon, which doesn’t exactly fit in with his usual waste not want not approach.

Graham Coxon in the promo video for For Tomorrow by Blur.

So, if it was originally intended for the album, why in the name of all that is rational and logical didn’t it end up on there? Well, one quite possible explanation for that is simply a lack of space. As the surplus of serviceable b-sides might suggest, there was no shortage of songs being considered for Modern Life Is Rubbish itself; at least twenty were serious contenders at various points, and Graham has described the process of trying to cram in everything they wanted on there as ‘horrible’. Everyone involved seems to have had a different opinion, and right up until the last minute the band were trying to get certain songs (notably Turn It Up and Miss America) removed and certain others (notably When The Cows Come Home and Young And Lovely) added, ultimately to no avail. Already a lengthy track even in its ‘Single Version’, For Tomorrow came into the equation very late in proceedings, and even then there was to be a further complication; when the complete album was presented to them, Blur’s American label demanded an additional track to appeal to a more ‘grunge’-orientated listenership, and the result – bizarrely – was Chemical World. For both artistic and commercial reasons, there was never any question of leaving this equally brevity-deficient new song off the album, so is it possible that the shorter For Tomorrow was substituted to free up as much space as possible to accommodate it? It’s also worth considering that For Tomorrow might not always have been the opening track of Modern Life Is Rubbish, and the longer instrumental section might well have made more sense elsewhere in the tracklisting.

All of this might well seem like a great deal of thought and effort devoted to something that’s not even one of Blur’s great what ifs, let alone one of pop music’s great what ifs, but even so it’s a lot more entertaining than splitting hairs over something you’re not actually that interested in. And who knows, would the entire course of the nineties – not just in chart music – have run differently if a longer version of For Tomorrow had appeared on Modern Life Is Rubbish? Probably not, but it’s worth thinking about. Possibly. If you want to know why Colours and Pleasant Education were missing from Blur 21, though, then I’m afraid I’m fresh out of ideas.

Moder n Life Is Rubbish logo in promo video for For Tomorrow by Blur.

You can find a feature on Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur, and why it’s inspiring and has nothing to do with Brexit, here. If you enjoy what I write, I’d please also ask that you take a moment to remember Jo Cox, and donate to Hope Not Hate.

You can find an extended version of this feature, with more analysis of even more versions of For Tomorrow and a more upbeat introduction about what it felt like to witness the dawn of Britpop if you were never that sold on Pearl Jam and The Red House Painters, in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.

 

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