Friday, May 21, 2010

world of twee

I notice that on its weekly new album reviews page, last Friday's Independent awarded a solid, if unspectacular, three stars out of five to the new offering by a band called Stornoway. Probably fair enough: from what I know they're solid, if unspectacular, purveyors of generally inoffensive tunes. Reviewer Andy Gill's parting shot though is that "they can't rock and roll for toffee". The general tone of what he says seems to suggest that he'd like to add "...and you kind of wish they did, frankly".

But Andy, there have been many, many bands who in their time have been totally unable to rock and roll. And as far as I'm concerned I'm not sure we would have wanted it any other way.

Besides all the glitzy New Romanticism and power pop around at the time, in the early 1980s a number of bands were quietly making names for themselves in a kind of off-shoot of the indie canon which was being established during these years. These were bands who had none of the testosterone-fuelled swagger and posturing of the leather clad metal rockers of the early seventies, none of the phlegmy vitriol of the punk rock explosion. Yes, they had guitars but none of the meaty riffs which had been rife in the previous decade. They played chords in the form of rhythmically percussive syncopations or delicately jangly arpeggios, sometimes in a gentle, almost Latin style.

These were bands usually made up of whey-faced (often Scottish) young men--occasionally women--wearing long tweedy coats with collars turned up against the wind and the rain. Regulation hairstyle (both sexes): long at the top--often quiffed--and short at the sides.

As if to celebrate the general wilful rejection of machismo, fans of this music, typically self-deprecating, proudly labelled it "twee".

And some of it was pretty good...
More recent decades have continued to produce their share of "tweeness" and hoorah for that. Here are some of the bands who held out against the Mancy swagger of those brash Oasis louts during the Britpop era:
...and here are some from the last ten years or so. These days they're sometimes Norwegian, like the Kings of Convenience. Occasionally, like the Postmarks, they're (whisper it) American.
I've just finished reading "Falling and Laughing" (see also above) by Grace Maxwell. It's the fantastically uplifting account of her partner Edwyn Collins's recent return to music-making and a life of at least partial normality after suffering two massive strokes in 2005. It seems that in their early days Orange Juice used to revel in the Twee philosophy:

They used to say they were 'anti-rock'. In the early days, Glasgow audiences used to chant 'Poofs! Poofs! Poofs!' at them. They liked that just fine. There was a campness in their delivery, deliberately affected to annoy the manly men of rock.

Take it away Edwyn...

(Spotified--more or less--here, if you're wondering...)


Cocktails said...

Was it always called twee though? I'd never heard this expression till relatively recently (through the 'zine Twee as F***' and ads for various clubnights) and I find it kind of... annoying, like an overload in knowing irony.

And I've added your fine playlist to my Spotify account. It's nice to have all those top tunes in the one place. I'm still enjoying your best of 2009 playlist too by the way.

Hoops Hooley said...

I have to admit to not really being 100% as to when the twee moniker originally appeared. I do remember looking at the site probably a good ten years ago and (scraping round frantically here for evidence to back up my argument!) the site does claim to date all the way back to 1994. (Did we really have the internet in the early nineties?? Maybe it was just in the form of a mailing list at that point.)

Glad my playlists meet with your approval. I'd be pleased to get any further recommendations at any point!

Wanderer said...

I think I first remember 'twee' being used to describe Belle and Seb and associated scene - so probably around 1997ish. So the claim to date back to 1994 isn't too improbable I reckon.

Hoops Hooley said... yes probably doesn't go as far back as the eighties then.