Britpop's fundamental guitar players

By Sergio Ariza

If we had to draw a robot portrait of a ‘Britpop' guitarist it would end up looking something like a mix between a mod and a football hooligan, have a Gibson ES-335 or a 355 painted with the Union Jack around its neck, be playing some power chords taken from the notebook of some legendary British band like the Kinks, the Small Faces or the Jam - while the band’s singer would sing an irresistible chorus about how wonderful it is to be young and go out partying as if there were no tomorrow. Britpop gave us few 'guitar heroes' but it was one of the last big movements of guitar rock that reached the general public. Their philosophy was simple, they were the arrogant and hedonistic; the reverse of the depressive American grunge, they worshipped something so vain and, at the same time, vital like being young and having the desire to party. They didn't want to change the world, or denounce its injustices, they just wanted to have a good time...  

John Squire
(November 24, 1962)

If there is a band that can be considered the clear precursor of the movement it would have to be the Stone Roses, and if we had to think about a guitarist in whom all the members of Britpop looked to, it would be John Squire. His brilliant melodies, his tinkling arpeggios, his riffs and his hypnotic solos were the sounds upon which all the heavyweights of the movement looked to, from Blur to Oasis. The band's brilliant first album is Britpop’s Rosetta Stone; the place to look first to understand it. Their second album, which took five years to be released, came out in 1994, and saw Squire and the band move away from 60's pop to enter the classic 70's rock sound, with Led Zeppelin as its main reference. Squire parked his Gretsch Country Gentleman and 60's Stratocaster and got the perfect guitar to get that unique sound, in riffs with slide such as on Love Spreads; namely a Les Paul Sunburst of 59. After the band split it still gave him time to form the Seahorses and leave a classic 'Britpop' song: Love Is The Law. After a meeting of the Stone Roses a few years ago it seems that Squire is going to retire definitively and on March 4th he let go of most of his amplifiers, including the Fender Twin Reverb with which he recorded the first album of the Stone Roses. He was, along with Johnny Marr, the mirror into which the other members of this list looked and the most important British guitarist of the 80s and early 90s.

Main Guitars: Grestch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, Custom Fender Jaguar, Fender Stratocaster de 1960, Gibson Les Paul de 1959  



Richard Hawley
(17 January 1967)

Hawley would end up achieving fame at the beginning of the 21st century as a modern 'crooner' a là Roy Orbison and with albums like Cole's Corner, but his first steps were as the guitarist of the Britpop band the Longpigs, along with those he recorded their debut album, The Sun Is Often Out in 1996. His style in the band has been described, by himself, as "a mix between Syd Barrett and Hubert Sumlin". After leaving the group he joined one of the most important Britpop bands, Pulp, led by his friend Jarvis Cocker. He toured with them and he collaborated on their latest album, We Love Life, playing the 'lap steel' on songs such as Weeds and Sunrise.

Main Guitars: Fender Telecaster, Gretsch Country Gent  



Noel Gallagher
(29 May 1967)

The most famous 'Britpop' guitarist and the brain behind Oasis knows very well that he is not as good as guitarists like Squire, Marr or Paul Weller. Noel knows perfectly well that if he has gone down in history he has done so by writing anthems of the stature of Wonderwall, Live Forever and Don't Look Back In Anger and not for his brilliance on the six strings. Of course his style perfectly matches his compositions, simple, direct and melodic. There's nothing that stands out especially, but when you're singing a chorus like Some Might Say or Cigarettes & Alcohol it doesn't matter at all. Oasis was the band that best exemplified Britpop and had the best songs, they ascended as fast as champagne spray, and had a slow decay with their last albums. Gallagher may not be a guitar virtuoso but most of the world's most valued guitarists would change their technique for the possibility of writing songs as big as those who appeared on the first two Oasis albums. They all bear his signature.
Main Guitars: Gibson Les Paul, Gibson ES-335, Epiphone Sheraton, Epiphone Riviera, Fender Telecaster  



James Dean Bradfield
(21 February 1969)

The Welsh Manic Street Preachers have always been out their on their own; they started as a punk group heavily influenced by the Clash, but their lead singer and guitarist, James Dean Bradfield, wore a Gibson Les Paul because he loved Slash from Guns N' Roses. That was punk. After the mysterious disappearance of their rhythm guitarist and lead lyricist, Richey Edwards, they decided to turn their sound upside down again and get closer to a Britpop that was at its peak when Everything Must Go appeared in 1996. His arpeggios for A Design For Life resulted in one of the movement's official anthems.

Main Guitars: Gibson Les Paul  



Graham Coxon
(12 March 1969)

Graham Coxon made his flaws a virtue and gave Blur a characteristic sound through his guitar. Along with an enormous number of Boss pedals he always looked for his own, original and experimental style that served to compensate for his lack of technical skill, which made Blur a group with a totally distinctive sound, with Coxon in a role similar to that of The Edge in U2. If on their first albums they were viewed as totally British, with the Kinks in mind, from their fourth album on Coxon began to more and more draw on influences from American alternative music, of groups like Pavement and Sebadoh; making Blur one of the few groups of the movement that knew how to age with class and without repeating itself until the point of parody.

Main Guitars: Fender Telecaster  



Steve Cradock
(22 August 1969)

Steve Cradock
is one of the best guitarists in the genre, something that is proven not only by his albums with his band Ocean Colour Scene, but also in his role as a guitarist in Paul Weller's band (he has played on all of Weller’s solo albums). But his high point came with Ocean Colour Scene's second album, Moseley Shoals, either with The Riverboat Song's distinctive riff or the mining of the Beatles' psychedelic period with The Day We Caught The Train.

Main Guitars: Gibson Les Paul Custom, Gibson SG Standard, Gibson ES-335  



Bernard Butler
(1 May 1970)

Of course, if someone were to be chosen as the 'guitar hero' of the movement, this would have to be Bernard Butler of Suede. It was his band that appeared on the cover of Melody Maker without even having released a single song, and it was the success of their first singles and their first album which represented the start of Britpop. If Brett Anderson, the singer, acted as an androgynous Bowie, Butler reserved for himself the role of Mick Ronson with some wild riffs and some intense, raw solos. But, in spite of opening the door to success for the whole of Britpop, Suede always went against the tide and while Oasis, Blur and Pulp took over the reins of the movement, Suede surprised with a second album, Dog Man Star, which was dark and melancholic. It was the sound of a band separating, with the guitarist facing down the other members and recording his parts separately, with Butler’s guitar playing some of the best parts on the album. Before finishing the record however he was sacked, with Suede continuing on its his way and Butler his; but the intensity of those first two albums was never repeated.

Main Instruments: Gibson ES-355, Gibson Les Paul, Vox AC30, Boss DS-2 Turbo distortion  



Nick McCabe
(14 July 1971)

Nick McCabe
was never a guitarist looking for the main focus; since The Verve's first album he was into textures, sound and groove. It was a sound based on echo and reverb that led to lysergic spaces in which the band immersed themselves live. With their second album, A Northern Soul, more defined songs began to arrive, retaining the power of McCabe's guitar, while Urban Hymns was the epilogue to Britpop. It was the album that gave them fame and the ‘most Richard Ashcroft and least McCabe’, but the guitarist would leave his mark, such as his country slide part for The Drugs Don't Work, his wah in Weeping Willow, or creating with his Les Paul an atmospheric wall of noise that would be the fundamental element of songs like the psychedelic Neon Wilderness, the intense The Rolling People or the 'Zeppelian' Come On.

Main Instruments: Gibson ES-335, Gibson Les Paul, 1979 Fender Stratocaster, Watkins Copicat  



Gaz Coombes
(8 March 1976)

The dictionary says that effervescence is "agitation, ardor, heat of tempers". Well, if there was an album in the 90s that could be described as 'effervescent' it is none other than the debut of the British trio Supergrass, I Should Coco. Fresh out of adolescence, Gaz Coombes released an album that celebrates the pleasure of being young, having fun and the wonderful feeling of having your whole life ahead of you in songs such as Alright, Caught by the fuzz and Mansize Rooster. His guitar style is but an extension of all this, as can be seen in the solos of the aforementioned Alright or Pumping On Your Stereo.

Main Guitars: Gibson ES-335, Burns Dream, Fender Telecaster Deluxe, Fender Telecaster Plus, Gibson SG  



Richard Oakes
(1 October 1976)

We had left Suede going their separate ways to Bernard Butler in 1994, - and no one gave a damn about their future, including a Noel Gallagher who spoke of Suede without Butler as 'Morrisuede', - but that same year a 17-year-old boy sent them a tape to apply for the position. While the singer, Brett Anderson, was listening to the tape, Suede’s drummer approached him and said that the new demos sounded very good. That was all it took for Anderson to ask Oakes to join the band and prove that they weren’t yet done. With Oakes as his new songwriting partner, Anderson would deliver some of the best songs of his career, such as Trash and The Beautiful Ones on the hit Coming Up; the luminous side of Dog Man Star showed that Suede, with Oakes on board, had a long career ahead of them.

Main Guitars: Fender Jaguar, Gibson ES-355