Personally Speaking: When was the best time to be alive… I vote for the 1990s! – Richard Ault


Given the way the 2020s have started it’s hard to picture too many people looking back fondly on this particular time period.

The decade will get much better once we get through the coronavirus pandemic and we can all go outside again and meet friends and loved ones. Who knows, maybe it will usher in a golden age when we appreciate the important things and treat one another with kindness and respect.

But for now, while most of us are locked in our own homes, it’s nice to wallow in memories of happier times.

So while I’m feeling nostalgic for the days when you could go for a country walk without getting a shotgun pointed in your face, I’ve been wondering: When was the best time to be alive in the UK?

Labour MP Harold Wilson pictured alongside The Beatles, January, 1963

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the ‘Swinging Sixties’, when Britain was supposedly at the centre of a cultural explosion – with the best music, art, fashion and movies.

But I wasn’t around then. I first opened my eyes in the 1970s when I had some brilliant times playing with my friends and enjoying all the freedom kids had back then.

The 1980s were my ‘coming of age’ years, when I left school and, towards the end of the decade, got my first job, working holidays and weekends while I studied at college.

But I’m going to make the claim that the 1990s was the best decade, with the rise of Britpop and ‘Cool Britannia’.

For me, it was the first time I can remember hearing music that I genuinely loved being played in the nightclubs – and the first time a large number of bands emerged that I could truly identify with.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Kevin Mazur Archive 1/WireImage)

I loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins from the early part of the decade, when ‘Grunge’ swept across the Atlantic from America and hit clubs like Valentino’s and The Place, (at least on a Monday night), in Hanley, and The Cat in Nantwich.

But I enjoyed the rise of Britpop even more. The return of The Stone Roses, The Verve, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Radiohead, and The Bluetones. Elastica, Supergrass, The Longpigs, Suede, Sleeper and The Manic Street Preachers. The list goes on and on and on.

It was interesting too. The feud between Blur and Oasis, the Gallagher brothers’s constant fights and fall-outs. Jarvis Cocker storming Michael Jackson’s Christ-like performance at the Brits.

The music is what I remember most from that time, the gigs I went to and the CDs I bought and listened to obsessively.

Liam and Noel Gallagher at the height of their Oasis fame

I particularly remember seeing The Bluetones and Heavy Stereo (fronted by future Oasis guitarist Gem Archer) at The Wheatsheaf in Stoke. Or watching The Verve’s comeback gig in Manchester, seeing Radiohead and Oasis at Reading, and Pulp and Supergrass at the V Festival at Stafford.

But it wasn’t just the music. Fashions were pretty good. It wasn’t something I paid a lot of attention too, but the clothes I’m wearing in photographs aren’t particularly embarrassing to look back on. Not like the late 1980s when teenage me was very proud of his moccasins, chinos and blazer – ill-advisedly styled on Rick Astley’s Top Of The Pops appearances.

For TV, there was nowhere near as much choice as there is now, and much of it seems dated. But there were some great shows. Genuinely hilarious comedies like Father Ted, Black Adder, and Men Behaving Badly.  Brilliant cult shows imported from America like The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

The 90s were also an incredibly creative period for Hollywood, when lots of great films were released and could be rented at Blockbuster Video, including Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan and Goodfellas.

Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction

It was a time when the technology was just about right. It wasn’t so intrusive that virtually every thought is recorded and judged on social media, but you could still record movies and music and play on some pretty decent games consoles.

Everyone will have their own opinion on which decade was the best – and it will probably correspond with a time when you were young enough to appreciate the culture of the day, and old enough to have the freedom to enjoy it.

But in my opinion, because of the music, the good times and the general feel-good optimism of that particular period in Britain, the 90s take some beating.

Feel free to disagree.





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