Sunday, 5 January 2014

Amelia Fletcher OBE

Amelia Fletcher was appointed OBE in the 2014 New Year Honours list for services to Competition and Consumer Economics. Amelia’s work in hobby bands like Talulah Gosh and Heavenly didn’t contribute to this recognition, yet it seems strange, almost counterintuitive, that a figurehead of indiepop – an underground music scene based on egalitarian principles – should accept the Officer of the British Empire.

We have to, though, separate quite clearly Amelia’s hobby (indiepop) and her professional status (former chief economist at the Office for Fair Trading). Honorifics are handed out to senior civil servants almost by rote; no-one in indiepop will ever get one for charitable services to musical endeavour.

Much as I enjoy the anti-rock indiepop of Talulah Gosh’s I Can't Get No Satisfaction (Thank God), it obviously made no impact on The Rolling Stones. It’s a great little pop song. No more, no less.

When full-time rock stars Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were offered knighthoods, only the former accepted. The Stones are so establishment that it was only mildly ironic that Jagger became Sir Mick.

What these honours do to people whose main activity is in the counter-culture is assimilate them into the establishment. Had John Lydon accepted the MBE he was offered some years ago, then that would really have been the final nail in the Sex Pistols’ pantomime coffin.

When the Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah rejected the OBE he said: "I get angry when I hear the word 'empire'; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.”

However, there are different immigrant experiences. Amelia’s Jewish paternal grandparents left Poland for East London in the 1930s. As Amelia has made no public response to her acceptance of the OBE, I’ll suggest that her family’s experience of the empire, and Britain’s acceptance of her family in pre-WW2 Europe, might have persuaded her that her family would be proud of this assimilation.

Many years ago, Amelia told me about a particularly vituperative attack of Talulah Gosh in the NME by music journalist Steven Wells that called for them to be put in Nazi concentration camps. Amelia wrote Wells a 5-page letter explaining why, especially given her family background, his analogies were particularly undignified and disingenuous.

Wells, known for writing in capital letters rather than being even in the suburbs of intellectualism, replied with a short note to the effect that ‘we’ll never agree’.

I expect you’re reading this because you’re an indiepop fan to some degree. Indiepop is a much broader church than its detractors would admit. One of its major protagonists has an OBE for unrelated activities. As a republican, I’ve tried to understand why Amelia would accept this honour.

For fun, and because the more interesting debate to be had is indiepop's middle-class bias, I’ll leave the last word to Dan Treacy:


  1. That's a good analysis Ben!

  2. Thanks, Rich and thanks, too, for the latest issue of your fanzine. Any eavesdroppers who want to read Last Train To Eastleigh - a printed fanzine full of joy and enthusiasm - should contact Rich at

  3. At a crucial juncture in the history of 20th century pop music (the ascendance of hiphop and dance music as progressive music), the NME remained relevant because of Steven Wells' (r.i.p.) critical contributions. His criticism of the "alternative scene" remained withering to the end of his days:

    "A(n) honest expose of the "alternative" music scene would presumably draw attention to indie's unexamined white, middle-class privilege, its stagnant monoculturalism (especially when compared to manufactured pop), its super-diluted ideological veneer, and its never-admitted insitutionalised sexism and racism."

    Thanks for your thoughtful post to begin 2014, Ben, which again raises important questions about the nature of indiepop as cultural and political expression. Can indiepop be the inheritor of the expansive and progressive culture and politics of punk rock or is it destined to be a musical force for conservatism and monoculturalism?

    At minimum, these are questions which will inform my musical selecting in 2014.

    1. Sociologist Dick Hebdige said “subcultures represent ‘noise’ (as opposed to sound)”. What Talulah Gosh and others in indiepop's first wave did was make the noise that rubbed against the dominant indie culture.

      In The Lost Women of Rock Music, Helen Reddington points out that punk had an element of militarism, first of expanding its territory and then maintaining it, and its lieutenants take "on role of expressing anger for all young people”. As the most bellicose representative of the traditional punk noise, Wells typified that militarism. I appreciate that he had fans, not just for his comedic writing style but for upholding punk values, however hackneyed.

      I think indiepop as a genre (I'm not going to define indiepop, but I know it when I hear it) is in a bit of a slump. If I were looking for the new vanguard of 'expansive and progressive culture and politics' in the British underground, then I'd start with Dog Legs and Bloomer.