In an extract from her audio walking tour of Britpop-era Camden, Miranda Diboll introduces us to the Camden of the 1990s, and shows us three favourite hang-outs from the tour.
"They've cleaned up Camden — it's all franchises and chains these days. Chains as in chain stores, maybe a few of the metal variety hanging off the postcard punks that still stand on the bridge."
Who they are, she cannot tell me. Somebody has gone and swept all the shit away but there was a time when we all came here because of the shit, or 'the edge', as we used to call it. There were many of us — we came to consume, some of us were inspired and became creators and the rest of us consumed even more.
'She' is standing beside me right now, headphones on ears, phone in hand. We are standing outside Caffe 43 in Pratt Street, NW1. It's your run-of-the-mill backstreet caff round the back of Camden, an odd choice to begin the audio pilgrimage around Camden and Primrose Hill that is known as the Britpop Camden VoiceMap Tour.
Your guide for today and every other day is me. I created this tour because I wanted to tell the story of Camden in the 1990s. My story is from the perspective of a fan who was there and my dealings with some of the players on that scene.
The scene is set from 1994-1996, only two years, but a hell of a lot happened on these streets, in the pubs, in the clubs. The music press raved about it all and so came the pilgrims dressed in their Kappa and Adidas, hoping to catch a glimpse of Albarn, Cocker, a Gallagher (or both perhaps). Was there really so much animosity between Blur and Oasis? An alleged comment in the Good Mixer about Damon's clothes supposedly triggered it all but by the time it reached silly proportions with the North/South, Middle Class/Working Class boardroom brainstorm it seemed as far removed from Camden as you could possibly get.
The tour features four pubs, all good ones, so plenty of opportunities for a pit stop. I recommend coffee at Caffe 43 to get you moving, followed by a drink in each. And maybe a picnic on Primrose Hill… the view's so nice from up there.
Here are three of my highlights from the tour.
The Good Mixer, 30 Inverness Street
In the 90s this place was a mixing bowl for some of Britpop's most iconic characters. Take one small Irish bar, add some ego-ed up musicians, drop in some booze — and maybe some cocaine snorted in the toilets — and you have a recipe for some interesting anecdotes. And it's in the toilets where Blur and Oasis started their rivalry, so they say. When Noel Gallagher met the Blur guitarist Graham Coxon for the first time, Noel apparently said "Nice music, shit clothes".
And so it began.
Blow Up at The Laurel Tree (now Brewdog), 113 Bayham Street
One night, I was sure I saw Jarvis Cocker through a cloud of cigarette smoke. To be honest, by the time midnight rolled around that was all you could see. Melody Maker magazine said it was 'The club that changed the world'. This was in 95 and by then it felt like the world was trying to cram into the pub.
Dingwalls, Camden Market
In 1996, My Life Story were chasing a record deal with a major label. The music press loved them, they had a legion of adoring fans and it seemed they had supported absolutely every Britpop band going. I'd just started to teach myself HTML programming code at university. I had a website which was supposed to be about my final year degree project; instead I used it to make a site for My Life Story. OK, so I fancied Jake. But seeing as having a website in 1996 was still unusual, I think he saw me as a nerd rather than a potential girlfriend.
1995 had been a difficult year for the band, and, desperate for a deal with a major record label, he announced four final shows to be played at Dingwalls where it had all started for them. At the end of it all, if there was no deal, they'd be no more band.
Fortunately Parlophone were waiting in the wings.
To hear more Camden Britpop stories, download the VoiceMap app and the Britpop Camden tour ($2.99) here.