‘Cool Britannia’. What does the phrase mean to you? Britpop? Union Jacks? Ladette culture? The Young British Artists? Oasis musician Noel Gallagher shaking hands with the young Prime Minister Tony Blair? This book, named after the Oasis song, is an oral history of 1990s Britain which examines different perspectives on what ‘Cool Britannia’ was. The narrative is in the format of quotations from interviews with the high-profile people involved in the music, art, literature, journalism and politics of the era, such as Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn, Tracey Emin, John Major, Tony Blair, Meera Syal, Noel Gallagher, Mel C, Steve Lamacq, Jo Whiley, Alastair Campbell, David Baddiel, Irvine Welsh and Nick Hornby. I thought the book was very well put together. It traces the development of a revitalised British culture throughout the decade. It’s also interesting to see conflicting views from the various contributors. Some sections were more fascinating to me than others. For example, I skimmed over the bits about football, the name-dropping accounts of drug-fuelled celebrity parties and the bits that were purely about New Labour.
This book doesn’t present a definitive answer to what ‘Cool Britannia’ was and whether it was a good thing. It’s a look back (ideally, not in anger!) at a cultural phenomenon which is now sufficiently far away to be part of history. It was an enjoyable read and I can imagine that it will appeal to anyone who remembers the 90s or is interested in the arts of that decade.
My proof copy did not have the illustrations, which is a pity because some of the contributors talked about particular photos and it would have been useful to have those to hand.
Thank you to the publisher Orion for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on September 5th.