"I've been abused, I've been confused and I've kissed Margaret Thatcher's shoes/ I've been high and I've been low and I don't know where to go."
One on level The Godfathers were both twenty years too late and ten years too early. In the mid Eighties they seemed far too conservative and backward looking in the face of the wave of American guitar bands already beginning to make serious inroads into the British indie charts (Sonic Youth, Swans, Husker Du) and too spiky and straight for the whimsy of C86 or the brief and unlovely resurgence of ironic biker rock under the name of Grebo, (GBOA, Zodiac Mindwarp, PWEI, Crazyhead etc). Ten years later, the particular British anti-hippy lineage they asserted: in music the Stones, The Who, The Faces, Dr Feelgood, The Pistols, in film: Get Carter, Villain, Performance, John Barry soundtracks, sartorially: snappy Italian suits and Kray Twin’s cuffinks, would all seem to have made them natural co-conspirators with much of Britpop and Britfilm.
But here again the Godfathers simply wouldn’t have fit in. Britpop’s largely simpleminded celebration of Britishness, it’s mockneyism, its lack of questions or conflict wouldn’t have suited the Godfathers at all. It’s hard to imagine any Britpop band releasing an album called “Birth, School, Work, Death” or selling T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Thatcher with a Hitler moustache. What the Godfathers have is anger and conflict, a chippy, working class pride that is crucially shot through with all those contradictory desires, for escape and belonging, defensiveness and derision.
“Every day’s a thrill when you’re living like me. Don’t read Baudelaire’s poetry. And I don’t need no PHD. ‘Cos I’m ten times smarter than you’ll ever be.”
The Godfathers are the face of the boys smart enough to make it big in the new-money world of the Eighties, who want power, wealth and women but can’t bear to sell out or turn their back on their roots, who want to learn but hate the pretensions of the educated: who want not to betray or abandon their sympathies but who are also stifled by them. The perennial conflicts of the working class boy or girl made good wondering where they belong, who they are now.
Love and hate, desire and rejection, are deeply intermingled in the Godfathers, the pull of tradition both real and imagined and an attempt to hang on to it the face of change. Self-assertion vies with admissions of failure. The Godfathers were clearly neither Thatcherites nor Labourites, suspicious of everything. Individualistic, but not in that way, filled with class solidarity, but not in that way, either.
The single from their first and best album, “Hit by Hit” produced by Vic Maille of Ace Of Spades infamy, “I Want Everything” tells the story succinctly enough as Coyne’s demands point up the sheer emptiness of his existence, pivoting between assertive claims for ego gratification “instant coffee, instant sex. I want pleasure, I want fame, I want everything that goes with acclaim” and the acknowledgement of greater social and personal needs “someone to love, someone to talk to, something to do, something to look forward to.”
The song titles and the lyrics, the tense, despairing cockyness, the vulnerable underside, the razor sharp, unreconstructed R and B and the reference points all imply a kind of poignant, proto-Britpop, one which resists its easy homilies to having-it-large and the uncomplicated singalongs. A Britpop uncomfortable with its times, that sounds so much more interesting in 2011 than any (bar Pulp) of the Britpoppers do, and more interesting perhaps than many of the more radical bands with whom they were contemporaries and whom they, doubtless, thoroughly despised.