Supergrass: Mod Squad
It’s a glorious summer day in Oxford, city of dreaming spires in the heart of England. Three young tykes laugh and joke with each other as they saunter down a narrow, cobbled street. Not long ago they were high school students; now they are local heroes, and people smile or nod in their direction as they cut off along a walkway that leads to Christ Church Meadow on the banks of the Thames. Sitting on the grass in the shade of a huge, spreading chestnut tree, they roll up and count their blessings.
Apart from the weather, Supergrass are the hottest thing in England this summer. The group’s hit single, “Alright,” with its barroom piano fills cutting across an infectious, stomping beat, has captured perfectly a holiday mood of mellow exuberance spreading across the land. “We are young, we run green, keep our teeth nice and clean/See our friends, see the sights, feel all right.”
Spawned by the success of that single, Supergrass’ debut album, I Should Coco, which entered the British charts in May, has soared to Number One. The title is a cockney expression that means “I should think so,” and the album is a snappy collection of instantly appealing numbers that combine the tightly scripted songwriting skill of the young Elvis Costello with the brash adrenaline rush of the early Who, particularly in 21-year-old drummer Danny Goffey’s ferocious assaults on his kit. The record has earned Supergrass the mixed blessing of a Next Big Thing tag from the British music press. “Nothing can touch them,” foamed the NME. “These freaks shall inherit the earth.”
“I don’t make a point of asking people why they like our album,” says 19-year-old singer and guitarist Gaz Coombes. “But they usually say it’s because it made them feel happy.”
Coombes, with his defiantly unfashionable mutton-chop sideburns, and Goffey, with his naughty choirboy looks, are a pair of carefree spirits, their attitude light-years away from the jaded cynicism affected by so many young bands today. They banter in a quiet, giggly way like the scamps in “Alright”: “Got some cash, bought some wheels/Took it out ‘cross the fields/Lost control, hit a wall, but we’re all right.”
Although Supergrass (the name, by the way, apparently means absolutely nothing) were not convened until February 1993, the origins of the group go back to when Coombes and Goffey put together a four-piece, the Jennifers, while they were students at Wheatley Park Comprehensive School, in Oxford. Mickey Quinn, Supergrass’ 25-year-old bass player, had also been a pupil there several years earlier.
The lyrics of Supergrass’ American debut single, “Caught by the Fuzz” (released in the U.K. in October ’94), refer to a Wheatley Park-era incident when the then 15-year-old Coombes was busted for dope possession and hauled off to the police station. He got off with a caution but didn’t escape the embarrassment of having his mother collect him from his cell (“Here comes my mum/Well, she knows what I done”).
The Jennifers released one single, “I Just Got Back Today,” on Nude Records, the London Suede’s label, before falling to pieces. But Coombes soon met Quinn when they were working in a local branch of the Harvester restaurant chain, and Supergrass was born. The more settled Quinn, who has a partner and children to look out for, is a steadying influence within the band. While Coombes and Goffey are quick to drift off on flights of fancy, it is Quinn who keeps his mind on the business at hand.
Supergrass won a deal with Parlophone Records thanks to a six-track demo that included early, rough versions of “Caught by the Fuzz” and “Mansize Rooster,” which would become their second U.K. hit. “On the strength of that, [the label] wanted to sell us as some sort of New Wave of New Wave act,” Quinn says, referring to the ill-fated “new punk” movement that threw up such also-rans as S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men. “But fortunately we had enough personality and depth of songwriting to get over that.”
Indeed, far from being part of the herd, Supergrass have come to epitomize the spirit of the moment in a way that few groups are lucky enough to do. In the wake of successes by Blur, Elastica, the Boo Radleys and Teenage Fanclub, Brit pop is going through a period when optimism and youthful joie de vivre are at a premium. And if the kids just wanna have fun, Supergrass is the band to give it to them.
At Supergrass’ biggest gig yet, the U.K.’s Glastonbury festival, in June, they took to the stage wearing Stone Roses face masks and talking in fake Manchester accents (the Roses had canceled their headline appearance, much to everyone’s annoyance). “We made it in the end,” yelled Goffey from behind his John Squire mask, to much merriment among the fans. It was a typically endearing stunt, and although the sound system left much to be desired, the ensuing performance put a huge smile on the collective face of the festival crowd.
And the sun was shining, of course.
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