Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall by Luke Haines

I picked up this autobiographic tome on a recommendation, without any particular interest in the music scene in the title, or having knowingly listened to a single note by Haines’s group The Auteurs. I finished it sharing his disdain for his contemporary musicians and quoting sections of the book to anyone unlucky enough to get in my way. I even listened to a couple of his songs as well...

Haines starts his story in a band called The Servants whose career fizzled out in the beginning of the 90s. He’s been in the group a few years and likes a drink, although he’s nearly put off the sauce for good after a particularly bad experience on red wine one day:

On a dreary Tuesday autumn afternoon I line up three bottles of red wine. Three bullets, each with my name on. Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded. I down the bottles in just over two hours. I could probably do more but I’m wearier that usual. I pass out on the couch. I dream about red. Swathes of crimson red. I am Isadora Duncan, in a red car, on a red road, with a red sky, and a red scarf caught in a red wheel tightening around my neck. My long skinny dancer’s neck. I’m thrown out of a feverish sleep by the need to vomit. Blood. Throwing up fucking blood. I am by nature a hypochondriac, but to have an irrational fear of death turn into the actual possibility of dying is quite something. Without too much prompting I see a scornful doctor. A severe eastern European lady of retirement age prods at my sides and back. Tuts and shakes her head. Dispassionately she tells me what I already know. That I most probably have serious liver damage. (Tests conform this.) All self inflicted. Give up drinking and smoking. Or die.

Faced with sobriety, Haines gets some solid songwriting under his belt and starts a new band which eventually becomes The Auteurs. The diagnosis of liver damage proves to be wildly inaccurate, allowing him to go back onto the booze, while The Auteurs start to pick up some interest from the music business, and end up lumped together with various chippy Britpop bands. After a couple of successful(ish) years, Haines recalls their nomination for the 1993 Mercury Music prize. He starts the show as he means to go on:

I am already drunk by the time I arrive at Grosvenor House, which is a good start as it is my intention to get colossally drunk this evening.

Just as well that Suede win instead... The evening, already going badly, gets steadily worse. Haines and his friends are

...led upstairs to a private suite in the Grosvenor. It’s the usual bullshit. Cocaine, champagne. More cocaine, more champagne. I fall into a table of glasses generously filled with Perrier Jouët. I have achieved optimum inebriation and am acting like a peasant. Alice is trying to coax me out of the suite. Even Vinall, in his advanced state, knows I am falling apart. The lance corporal makes one final obsequious remark and l let fly. Haymaker. Unlucky sunshine. I am too drunk to connect. Instead my fist goes through a glass panel about three feet wide of my intended target.

Despite the boozy self destruction, the bouts of rage and megalomania and the drug taking, The Auteurs manage three respectable albums before things go totally pear shaped. Haines, like Mark E. Smith, is an unrepentant tippler, and also much prefers alcohol to other substances:

Alcohol became my drug of choice. I’m a good drunk – one of the best you’ll ever be lucky enough to meet. Uncle Lou [Reed] also knew about the booze when he wrote ‘The Power of Positive Drinking’. Booze is my muse. During the mid-90s the Britpop horde devoured the class As like hungry peasants at the eat-as-much-as-you-can meal deal. Really, some of the most unlikely sorts got Dequinceyed up to the gills. Proof, if ever it were needed, that heroin does not always unleash the dark creative beast.

Still, all good things come to an end, and the Auteurs finally disintegrate into an ugly mess of missed tour dates and recriminations. Still, there’s a fine body of work that’s aged a lot better than most of the tosh that was playing during the mid-90s, and by the end of the book, Haines is making music again, (although nothing that he can persuade anyone to buy...) this time with a man who wants to reintroduce absinthe to the UK:

...the potent wormwood spirit that helped turn the French army myopic during the First World War...

I’m rather looking forward to the threatened second volume of memoirs.


  1. Have you read Haines's food blog? Not only funny but the he seems to know what he's doing surprisingly:

  2. Thanks for the link. You’re quite right, he does appear to know his way around the kitchen as well as he does the drinks cabinet. And anyone who cooks while listening to Hawkwind is all right in my book...