Musician (Saint Etienne), Journalist, Author, and all-round Pop Oracle

So, as Branchage hovers on the horizon in the form of an illuminated B and steam from the baited breathe of local culture vultures – Gallery caught up with one of the festivals’ guests, Bob Stanley of indie dance/synthpop band, Saint Etienne; who emerged from the early 90s within the rise of the Brit-Pop revolution. Bob has spanned the music and media arenas with his parallel careers in music and journalism…

Alongside the live score at the Gala screening, the second event on Bob’s Branchage, to do list will be the Pop Quiz – being nothing short of an Oracle when it comes to the genre of Pop, and the idea of a cheeky pint and a chat about music, there’s no doubt that this third of Saint Etienne is more than qualified as master of those ceremonies. Having recently published his book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, a chronological jaunt through the history of the Pop music phenomenon, Bob Stanley knows the ins and outs of Pop from its inception, to today…

Bob, how did Saint Etienne become involved with the film, ‘How we used to Live’? 

I was sitting in the pub one day with Paul Kelly (director) and we were chatting about the Terrence Davies film, ‘Of Time and the City’, a film about his life growing up in Liverpool, made up of archive footage and stuff he’d shot himself. Well, we ended up going home and watching it 3 times in a row, getting quite drunk and talking about the highs and lows of the film. At the end of it, we thought that someone had better do one of these about London, and so we did. Pete (Wiggs; of Saint Etienne), actually composed the soundtrack himself, I was finishing Yeah Yeah Yeah at the time. It’s like the first time we haven’t done something together actually… I think he’s done an amazing job – I’m very proud of him.

So, Yeah Yeah Yeah: the Story of Modern Pop – What was it like compiling such a detailed account of the Pop era from its very beginning, was it a labour of love?

You know, before I’d started writing anything, I had the chapters all worked out and planned. I worked on that for quite a long time, making sure I’d not missed anything out, asking friends to read through and double check. I wrote it chronologically, it was the easiest thing to do and I never really got to a time or a point where I got stuck. It took 6 years to write and I discovered plenty through the process. Starting at the beginning, it had to be 1952; the first charts, the first 7inch singles and the first NME. The hardest part came about when writing about two things I’d never paid much attention to, Country and Heavy Metal. The part that took the longest was the big artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Sex Pistols; people like that who have been written about millions of times – trying to think of something new to say about them, those chapters took a long time.

Any favourite episodes of research and writing? Did you come across anything that you’d loved or hated?

Well Glam for me was a very important period. It was the first time that I really became aware of things like Top of the Pops, and pop music in general – Glam came in like this giant explosion of colour… around the same time as colour TV actually. The stuff that really grabbed me was the stuff from the very beginning, the sort of pre rock n roll era, we’re talking 3 years before ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – it turned out that I knew next to nothing about this sort of time in pop. One artist I discovered a newfound fondness for, was Frankie Laine, someone you’d probably just associate with old cowboy songs – I could hear Johnny Cash and Nick Cave in those songs, seriously good stuff.

Who or what would you say sums up the genre in the past few years?

It would seem that ‘bubblegum’ pop kind of dissipated (with the likes of Britney et al) and nowadays there seems to be something of a pop revival…

Who are your favourites and which artists wouldn’t you tip your hat to?

I do miss the late 90s, early 00s bubblegum pop boom. The shift in Britain towards anonymous, middle class pop stars who wear grey t shirts and have the names of people you’ve forgotten you went to school with… that’s depressing. But 80% of pop at any given time is mediocre or poor (barring a few peak years like 1966 and 1981). We’re lucky to be alive in an age where Kanye, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are pop stars. They’re exceptional.

See Saint Etienne perform their live score to How We Used to Live, on opening night, Wednesday 24th September at The Opera House… and for all of you pop pundits, Bob Stanley’s Pop Quiz will be held at The Spiegeltent in its new home within Coronation Park, on Thursday 25th September.

For tickets and information about any of the Branchage events, go to www.branchagefestival.com