Last week I wrote about taking an autumn walk in Normandy, and shortly afterwards I came across this column on walking. Writing in the Telegraph, former Blur bassist Alex James ponders the pleasures of walking–seemingly a whimsical luxury in our zippy 21st century lives. He puts it rather well:
There is no better way of seeing the world, or yourself, than walking. Nothing really ever happened then and nothing really happens now. Once we saw a stoat. Sometimes there is a dead thing. Walking is a feeling more than what happens.
I seem to have been walking a serendipitous path myself this week. No sooner had I read that article, than I found myself at a launch party in East London curated by none other than Alex James.
The evening was filled with excellent music and cheese, James having re-invented himself as a gentleman farmer and cheese-maker. One of his cheeses is marvellously named after New Order’s Blue Monday, and his book about this unusual career transition, All Cheeses Great and Small, comes out next year.
There is a French connection here and we’ll get to it in a moment.
With Alex James popping up all over the place, I pondered how little I know about Britpop. I was away from the UK at university and working in New York during the early Britpop years. Social Distortion, Liz Phair, Pavement and Nirvana were the alt rockers du jour. Had I missed one of the most important cultural moments of my youth?
A colleague, who has always struck me as more PPE than pop, surprised me with his enthusiastic recommendation of James’s account of the Britpop years, Bit of a Blur.
So I picked up Bit of a Blur, and discovered that James is quite a fan of France. He studied French at Goldsmiths (where he was a student alongside his mate, artist Damien Hirst). Years later, in an effort to sober up and find some focus, he learned to fly, and developed a fondness for Le Touquet, which I’ve written about here. He regularly flew himself from Elstree to Le Touquet, which took about 40 minutes in his Beechcraft Bonanza. Here he explains what he likes about Le Touquet.
Coasting in at France, Le Touquet, Paris Plage, is the second town on the right. In days gone by it was the exclusive playground of the rich and famous. More recently they huddle together at the southern end of France on its grisly private beaches and within its gated communities. It’s all the same people you see in New York and London down there. Northern France, and particularly Le Touquet, are a well-kept secret. The expansive beaches are deserted and the whole place has a natural glamour…..There are chocolate shops, a casino, and silly things to rent and do. There are restaurants galore and hotels from the grand to the grounded. After a while, I began to like the cheap hotels. They have the most character. Luxury looks the same in Le Touquet as it does in Leeds. You lose all sense of luxury if you never step outside of it. We all need a bit of rough with our smooth.
I couldn’t agree more with his assessment of the south, and of the relative charms of Northern France.
Now here’s what I’ve been wondering. What are the French pop music movements I have missed? I remember listening a lot to Air’s Moon Safari in the late ’90s. Has France had its own version of Britpop?