“You are pure, you are snow,
We are the useless sluts that they mould,
Rock n’ roll is our epiphany,
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair.”
Little Baby Nothing, Manic Street Preachers
Myself and Mr Potter occasionally get misty-eyed at work after talking with furrowed brows about how we are struggling to pay bills, and hark back to our youth, how we had the greatest job in the world and how life was so easy because our heads were full of magic, we had a decent amount of money to burn and we could do as we pleased. The only three things we spent our wages on were music, clothes and going out. We bought different clothes, listened to different music and went to different clubs, but Mike and I both acknowledge now that those were the glory days. Nothing has touched them since.
Ms McCartney has written her requiem to the glorious days of our late teens. And, in much the same way that Mr Taylor and his wife have given their separate takes on the same story, I’m now going give my take on the glorious year that was 1999.
She’s right. She knows she’s right because she was there. It was all about the music, all about the looks and all about the invincibilty. It was a time when independent shops still flourished on high streets, David Beckham was known for playing football and Johnny Vaughan was seen as the future of television. The 18 year-old Allen Miles? I wouldn’t like to meet him. He’s got an appalling attitude, treats women like shite and for some reason people call him Ally. He looks like a girl and doesn’t seem to get hangovers. He’s frightened of nothing and thinks he’s going to rule the world. What a dick. No, I wouldn’t like to meet him, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to be him.
Unlike Lyndsay, I never rebelled at school. Although I was a gobby little sod I was quite bookish and nerdy and should have been a prime target for the tracksuit-clad, cider-drinking bullies of my year but I was a decent football player so I was sort-of in with their crowd at the same time. You can’t show the merest trace of flamboyance if you’re friends with those sort of people. The summer we left school would be remembered for the shambolic parties at Woody’s where women never turned up and the never-ending afternoons during which Martyn and I would come up with the name of this website. I spent most of my time listening to Oasis and The Stone Roses, brilliant bands but neither with any real image to get excited about, and my other two most played albums were Stanley Road by Paul Weller, and Everything Must Go by The Manic Street Preachers, which I loved, but didn’t know much about. The Manics were in the press a lot that summer, due to having had their first number one single, and a one night an BBC Up Close documentary about them was due to air. I’d watched the previous week’s episode about Creation Records and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I flicked over to channel 2 and my life was completely changed.
Having been used to seeing this band in kagouls and slack jeans, to see them in blouses and feathers and military gear and spray paint was jaw-dropping. I bought the rest of their back catalogue within a week; my perception of what music could be had completely changed. Music now had to have a bit of glamour, a band had to be more than just a band. Out went the Ocean Colour Scene, Weller and The Verve. In came The Clash, The Smiths, Placebo and Suede. I got my job at Castle Hill, which provided me with £50 a week and I was also running a racket at college selling pirated Playstation games so I had plenty of money to spend on CDs and clothes. I remember going to the Wyke Christmas Party at the age of 17, me in my Manics T-Shirt that I’d bought when I’d seen them the previous week, watching all the orange Jennifer Aniston wannabes boogying to Another Level and the Spice Girls, thinking, “I don’t want to be here, these aren’t my people.” Who were my people?
Unlike Ms McCartney, I never wanted a gang. I would quite happily be the outsider who everyone sees as a little bit strange and intense and not someone to talk to on a casual basis. I wasn’t one to desperately try and get in with the cool crowd who sat on the sofas in the common room at college when I could hang about in some far flung corner of the science wing with one or two of my grubby football mates instead. I’m not very good at making friends to this day, mainly because I’m a terrible inverted snob. But as it turned out, there were a few more terrible inverted snobs out there. At Spiders, and at Room.
My surrogate sister Sam Hopper had somehow seen some sort of potential in me, and wanted to drag me away from my grubby chav roots. And she had nagged and cajoled and, by the end, downright abused me into coming out with her crowd and I first went to Spiders in probably April 1999, I was 17 years old. I was wearing my Manics t-shirt, and a pair of jeans. I went down there with legendary Hull piss-artist Andrew “Beast” Hawkins, who is now a possibly-insane recluse and hasn’t been seen since 2008. I saw Sam and her crowd in the entrance and the first song I heard there was Kevin Carter. A vodka and coke was 55p. I wasn’t expected to drink lager and belch manfully. I’d be at home here.
At first I’d go maybe once every three weeks. I enjoyed it but was pretty much hanging on for invites from other people. Also I’d taken to spending the odd Saturday night going on massive rambles around Hull with a charismatic and erudite gentleman I’d met at my new job who now calls himself Xavier Dwyer. He turned up on my doorstep one night, having only been introduced about a week earlier, and simply said “Fancy going for a walk?” These walks would become known as The Tours and are among the happiest times of my life. We would have utterly pointless debates such as “Which band were better The Who or The Clash?” or “Is Pablo Honey underrated?” He would furnish me with exotic items such as Radiohead bootlegs and a grainy video import of the then-still banned Clockwork Orange. We talked of one day forming our own band and taking over the world. We had a party at my house where we both smashed the guitars that we could barely play. We went to V99 to see the Manics, Suede and Placebo; I wore a Mecca shirt with the sleeves ripped off because I wanted to be Joe Strummer, Xavier wore a black balaclava because he wanted to be James Dean Bradfield. Glorious, ridiculous, unequivocally romantic memories.
As that monumental summer turned to autumn, I was going to Spiders every Saturday, and by this time I’d met Ms McCartney, Ms Spavin-Haigh, Arthur and unbeknownst to me then, the lanky ginger guy who would be my best man ten years later, Dr Dave Salmond. So this, along with my long-time birding and boozing partner Woody, was now my crowd. How unspeakably beautiful we looked! A year previously I had been a tracky-bottom-wearing grubboid who spent his weekends watching repeats of The Thin Blue Line on UK Gold, now I smeared my eyes in kohl, donned my shiny blue satin shirt and copped off with so many girls it was a disgrace. I had a playlist that by tradition I absolutely had to play before I left my bedroom at seven o’clock every Saturday night.
This Charming Man – The Smiths
Animal Nitrate – Suede
Going Underground – The Jam
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me – U2
So Dead – Manic Street Preachers
White Riot, White Man In Hammersmith Palais, London’s Burning, I Fought The Law – The Clash
I never ever had a hangover, but I realise in hindsight that was because I didn’t drink very much. I could go out with thirty quid and come back with plenty of change. It wasn’t about the drinking, it was about the euphoria of being part of something, looking fantastic and feeling, as Lyndsay has already said, completely invincible. Fearless. We were in thrall to Richey and Brett and Brian Molko, and we all tried to impress each other by quoting Camus and Sartre, even though we wouldn’t read them for another five years. I would shamelessly plagarize any gimmick from whichever androgynous tortured genius I favoured that week; Brett’s single braid in his fringe from the Stay Together video, Johnny Marr’s polka-dot shirt, Nicky Wire’s white jeans… When a new lost photo from this era emerges myself and Mr Salmond more often than not find ourselves wincing at the pair of ponces that stood in our eighteen year old shoes. It was a different age though, and at the time we thought we were the cat’s pyjamas. And we were.
That December was the last month of it. I remember one day me and Xavier were both off work and we walked all the way into town from his house down Arram Grove to go record shopping. It was snowing and the grates down Beverly Road were spewing steam into the frozen air, a proper winter’s day. I bought a load of Suede vinyl and Manics memorabilia from Disc Discovery down Spring Bank and arranged to go to Room on the night. I walked round to Woody’s house with a Suede song called The Chemistry Between Us in my head, and I knew as I walked that these were the glory days. This was the peak of youth and these were the days that I would remember in years to come when I was old and bitter and sat typing at one in the morning. More than any other song, that one encapsulated what it was like to be young and pretty with a head full of colliding stars, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but as 1999 became 2000, something was lost. After we got back from Cardiff the make-up and glitter went in the bin, and the gang mentality seemed to dissipate. We still went every Saturday but something had changed, like it was an obligation rather than for fun. The silks and satins would be replaced by Mecca jeans and Converse work shirts; I somehow acquired my first long-term girlfriend, and twenty disastrous months later I would find the Manics and Suede replaced by Nick Cave and Scott Walker, alone in a flat I couldn’t afford, an eviction notice nailed to my door, having drunk myself half to death as I waited for the next angel to come and rescue me.
Lyndsay writes of how important it is for any young people to feel they belong to something. I never wanted that. My memories of that period are defined by the feeling that I didn’t want to belong to anything. I wouldn’t join any club that would have me, as Groucho Marx once said. But for those eight or nine months in 1999, I genuinely believe that on a level of sheer euphoria it was as good as my life ever got. The three chaps I have spoken of in this piece; Dave, Xavier and Woody, remain, fourteen years later, my three best friends, and occasionally, we speak of those times as we down our warm pints of mild in a “food pub” or a “cafe bar” and sneer disapprovingly as we watch the trendy teenagers of the day sleep walk their way down the streets as they play with their smart phones and listen to their mp3 players. Me and Woody, in particular, often kid ourselves that it isn’t we who have got old, rather it is the clubs that have gone downhill. (“Now, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) All four of us will have contretemps about how we dressed, whether we looked silly or looked cool, and whether it is ok to listen to Generation Terrorists when you’re thirty-one. One thing we always agree on though, and we’ve both used this word already; we were utterly invincible.
Allen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx