If 1990 was the year of Madchester, 1991 was the year of shoegaze. In 12 short months the scene was created and killed off by the UK music press.
As the year started NME gave their tips for the top 20 bands to break through, the list is actually very different to what you’d expect. There’s a lot of second-generation baggy bands that failed to crossover, there’s some early Britpop bands and there’s a hell of a lot of bands who got a record deal only to split within a year or two. As you’ll see the NME was also desperate to make a scene out of Liverpool just like they did with Manchester.
Here’s what the NME said: “Among last year’s top-notch, you-read-it-here first on features were The Charlatans, EMF, Ride and World of Twist. Plus there was Teenage Fanclub, Northside, The High, Blur, Five Thirty. Chapterhouse, Swervedriver and Paris Angels.”
“Now here’s the next top 20 predictions for the forthcoming year. We had an enormous list of but after much arguing, postulation and, erm, editing, here’s the list of current faves…”
What the NME said: “A mindbending web of totally seductive, hazy dance tunes influenced by Manfred Mann, Chairman Of The Board, Young MCs, Kraftwerk and The Small Faces.”
What actually happened? They signed to major label MCA and released one album before being dropped. They returned in 1993 with a Shaun Ryder collaboration followed by two more albums. A compilation was released in 2002. Dancer Little Anthony sadly died in 2019. Stella Grundy still makes music and the bands back catalogue recently appeared on streaming sites.
What the NME said: “From Newcastle, incorporate sexy female vocals, rapping and a DJ spinmaster to give them a unique quality which hijacks them from the realms of mediocre pop tunes and Pixie parallels—and thrusts them up there with the dance revolution.”
What happened next? They signed to local label kitchenware and released several EPs followed by an album in 1993. The band reformed briefly in 2011.
What the NME said: “Recently desrcibed by some genius as sounding like Mega City 4 being played backwards.”
What happened next? The band released two albums before splitting in 1992. The band had already been going since 1987 and released one album before the NME tipped them.
Ashley and Jackson
What the NME said: “No more irksome, bobbing Euro clones, just a shattering blast of Philly-based soul, a deep and manly voice, some help from ACR and two female dancers.”
What happened next? They signed to Big Life where they released 3 singles and an album. Denise Johnson went on to join Primal Scream for several years, Denise sadly died in July 2020. Guitarist Steve Cobby from the band still makes electronic music under his own name.
Manic Street Preachers
What the NME said: “If you’re young enough to have missed out on punk or are prepared to put aside prejudice, they will be the most important rock band since The Pistols. Nothing baggy, nothing contrived, just white-hot energy and scorching intelligence.”
What happened next? In a desperate attempt for attention those pantomine punks proclaimed Slowdive were worse than Hitler and wished Michael Stipe wished dies of Aids. The press merely gave them lots of attention about it, where was cancel culture when you needed it back then? In 1995 their guitarist went missing and they became a mainstream pub-rock/Britpop band similar to The Stereophonics and Ocean Colour Scene after being championed by Oasis.
What the NME said: “Their combination of sullen guitar melody and unnerving vocals gives them a left-field edge that stands defiant against the impending flood of Designer Rebellion Bands.”
What happened next? They released their debut album is 1992 followed by two more EPs before splitting. The band reunited very briefly for a hometown gig in 2015.
The NME said: “The Midwich Cuckoos are from Manchester… Wait! Come back! They’re not baggy, nor are they moody and hunched. They just play smashing tunes live, and have a vocalist who can really sing, a strong bank of sound, and influences so diverse spotting them is a new sport.”
What happened next? The band signed to Imaginery Records and changed their name to The Cuckoos. They released three EPs between ’91 and ’92 before splitting.
What the NME said: “Moose are the calm in the Camden Lurch storm, beguiling, discerning sorts with a mesmeric blend of catastrophic indie (non)sensibilities and dozy effects frenzies which should reap dividends with their soon-come debut EP.”
What happened next? The term shoegaze was coined during a review of one of their gigs in 1991. The band released three amazing EPs on Hut before their debut album XYZ. The band continued for the rest of the 90s and released their last album in 2000. Moose recently appeared in the band Piroshka with Miki from Lush.
Dr Phibes & the House of Wax Equations
What the NME said: “A Liverpool trio who will blow your mind and force you into submission. They draw from Hendrix and spit out a sound so manic it’s positively dangerous.”
What actually happened? The band released two LPs and several EPS between 1991 and 1993. The band split in 1995 and in 1997 singer and guitarist Lawrence was jailed for life for murdering his own mother.
Soul Family Sensation
What the NME said: “With a shaggy, baggy, sloppy male vocalist and a sexy, raunchy, powerful female singer, Soul Family Sensation take the indie/dance crossover to greener pastures. A four-piece, they believe in playing their instruments in an attempt to break free from Techno PA sampler stealers.”
What happened next? Probably most well known round here for playing the 1991 Slough Festival. They released their debut album in 1991 via One Little Indian followed by one more single in 1992. The guitarist was later in Republica.
What the NME said: “Three-piece hailing from Bradford, whose demo had a great left-field Cure/Furniture atmosphere to it.”
What happened next? They signed to Chrysalis where they released three EPs during the 1991. Their debut album was never released.
Ocean Colour Scene
What the NME said: “Having turned down an Andy Weatherall remix, OCS put themselves ahead of the baggy bunch by being obstinate and unique. Sexy and sullen, they’ll prove once and for all that the culture that spawned them was not a flash in the pan but a major landmark by putting out the only LP that matters this year.”
What happened next? They signed to Fontana, their debut album flopped so they were dropped. They then became Paul Weller’s backing band, got another record deal, made the most annoying TV theme tune ever and became the indie equivalent of Westlife. Now liked in large numbers by people who want Oasis to get back together.
What the NME said: “A dashing young northern foursome fronted by a cool Elvis lookalike without the fat, the leather trousers or the Brylcreemed hair. Their music is rocky, lively, and stylish. They fall into the Rolling Stones School, with sexy, audible and melodic vocals and their charismatic frontman may well turn out to be the face of ’91.”
What happened next? The band released an EP in early 1991 and despite playing further gigs called it a day. The band reunited in 2018 for a one-off gig.
What the NME said: “Popsters from Liverpool, they caused a stir locally when they signed to Island Records on the strength of a few demos. This year should see them breaking nationally with their slick, massively seductive songs (which almost stole the show when they toured with The La’s). Set to be a classic singles band, their first 45 is ready for release in February.”
What happened next? The band released various singles and an album via Island over the next year. Only one independently released single followed in 1993. The bands drummer Alan Wills went on to set up the Deltasonic record label championing local bands such as The Coral and The Zutons to huge national success, sadly he was killed in a cycling accident in 2014. Bandmate Joe Fearon was head of A&R at Deltasonic.
What the NME said: “Slowdive combine haunting male/female vocals with soothing melodies and distorted guitars. They’re diminutive wonder kids, with a sound so mature and professional on vinyl you begin to wonder if they perhaps cheated. Not a chance this band have things well sorted.”
What happened next? The band were press darlings until their debut album released in the autumn failed to deliver the goods. They were then treated appallingly by the press as shown by the Manics previously. Two more albums followed before they split in 1995. Their reputation grew online over the next two decades and they reunited for a hugely successful tour in 2014. A fourth album released in 2017 dented the US Billboard Top 50.
The Real People
What the NME said: “Set to lead the Mersey musical attack in 1991. ‘Window Pane’, the debut single, only hinted at what they’re capable of, but the Bootle boys should really get into their stride with the New Year follow up ‘Let Me In’.”
What happened next? The band released their debut album on Columbia without success. A few years later Oasis recorded some demos in their studio before becoming huge, the band were also championed by Noel Gallagher and thus had limited success off the back of this attention. They are still going and their last album was released in 2016.
Thousand Yard Stare
What the NME said: “A youthful five-piece currently clambering over the smalltown barriers of Slough with a smartly-dressed, hard-to categorise 45, ‘Weatherwatching (on their own Stifled Aardvark label).”
What happened next? The band released two successful indie singles in 1991 and signed to Polydor. A top 40 single and album followed in 1992 only for the music press to move on. The band released an unfinished second album in 1993 and split. Reunited in 2o15 and have released an album and two EPs since.
What the NME said: “mix of upfront, sturdy guitar songs combined with a determined style of keyboard-inspired, jerky dance rhythms.”
What happened next? The band signed to Beggars Banquet. They released two albums over the next two years along with various line-up changes but finally split late 1993.
What did happen in 1991?
Shoegaze went big, Ride made the top 20 and appeared on Top of The Pops whilst Moose, Chapterhouse and Slowdive appeared on TV as part of the Yamaha Band Explosion.
Nirvana released that album with the baby on the front which we all liked at first but by the end of the year were absolutely sick of as it was overplayed everywhere.
Rave went overground as UK dance acts gatecrashed the top of the pop charts. The Prodigy, Altern 8, Orbital, Future Sound of London and 808 State all had big tunes.
Creation Records released era-defining albums with Loveless from My Bloody Valentine and Screamadelica by Primal Scream. Other notable releases by the label were Raise by Swervedriver, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Just For A Day by Slowdive.
Future Britpop bands were emerging. Blur had their first top 10 hit, Suede played at the Camden Falcon whilst Oasis could be seen at the Manchester Boardwalk.
Bryan Adams went to number 1 for 16 weeks with a song from a film about Robin Hood.
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