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British Culture British Customs and British Traditions
With dictionary look up. Double click on any word for its definition.
This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!
We've come a long way since The Beatles!
Music is an essential part of Western culture. The need and appreciation for music is evident in the everyday lives of people, it is heard in movies, on television and all forms of audio media, including online. The majority of people also choose to listen to music for pleasure so it is not surprising, considering the amount of music we can choose from, that music can be an instrument of social influence and change. Music is a powerful form of communication. It can be personal, political, opportunistic, and can be self-expressive with therapeutic effects due to the release of emotion.
Pop music is an important part of British culture, not just as an expression of 'Britishness' or 'Englishness', but as an indicator of the multi-cultural nature of Britain today. The Beatles first arrived on the Liverpool music scene in the early 60's creating a huge controversial craze among their fans known as Beatle Mania, but there are many different kinds of music (musical genres) that have helped shape British youth culture and here are just a few:-
Alternative Rock (See Indie)
Bhangra originated as a dance from the farms in the Punjab region of India. Historically the dance was performed to traditional Indian music to celebrate a harvest, or a big village event, like a wedding. But for the past couple of decades Bhangra has also been a music sensation in the UK where it is a fusion of traditional Indian music and modern music styles.
Britpop is a form of Alternative Rock with a definite "British" sensibility and attitude. Melody and catchy "hook"-driven choruses are essential to the Britpop sound. Within these limitations, the music these artists make is quite diverse: groups such as Blur and Radiohead are more experimental, sometimes bordering on art-rock, while others, such as Oasis and Black Grape, deliver a hard-rocking wall of sound. In any form, Britpop has maintained a unique slant on rock and roll from the late '80s forward.
Garage music originated in the USA in the 1970s. The name 'garage' came about because it was all about young bands playing their own kind of music in their garages.
Glam Rock (aka Glitter Rock)
Glam rock was a peculiarly British phenomenon, a style of rock music popularised in the 1970s, which approached music with a get dressed up and be freaky attitude, distinguished by the wild costumes and otherworldly stage acts of the performers rather than any particular aspect of their music. The emphasis was on superficiality and an antethesis to the music of Genesis and Pink Floyd whose music was often referred to by critics as art rock.
The gloom and doom of Goth is best exemplified by the style's flagship group, Bauhaus. Goth Rock grew out of the downbeat music of Post-Punk artists, such as Joy Division and Killing Joke. The song lyrics deal with morbid subject matter and the sound textures are often dark, atonal, and disjointed. Goth music became the sonic backdrop for a subculture of "bat-cavers" who favored pancake white face makeup and black clothing and hair dye.
Grunge is also popularly referred to as the Seattle Sound and the most famous Grunge group is probably Nirvana the tragic American band of the 1980s. Although it became hugely popular in the UK with its fusion of punk, thrash metal and alternative rock, its popularity was short-lived. When Kurt Cobain (of Nirvana) committed suicide in April of 1994, grunge music effectively began its decline. Interestingly, Cobain had often been photographed wearing t-shirts stating that "Grunge is Dead".
Hip Hop originated in New York in the late 1970s. The MCing, DJing youth culture of hip hop encompasses not just the music, but fashion, break-dancing (b-boying) and grafitti art. MCing otherwise known as rapping is the vocal expression of lyrics in sync to the rhythm beneath it.
Indie (also called alternative rock , alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative) is a genre of rock music that emerged in the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s. It isn't so much a sound as a concept. Taken from the word independent it began as a revolt against MOR (middle of the road) pop, manufactured bands and the major record labels. The idea is to set up your own recording and distribution label free of long term contracts. For example of my favourite bands Coldplay, started as an Indie band.
Madchester is a substyle of Britpop defined by a percolating sixteenth-note dance groove and chunky guitars. Noted Madchester bands are The Charlatans U.K., Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and Jesus Jones.
I can't write a page on British Pop Culture without metioning 'The Mods and The Rockers'. In the Sixties the music scene was said to be split along a North / South divide, the Northerners preferring rock music and wearing leather. In London it was rhythm and blues, blue beat and ska. The Londoners danced and wore smart clothes and were known as modernists or Mods. The Mod image was the wearing of shrink to fit Levi's, Fred Perry tennis shirts and the Parka.
Emanating from London and the South East the Mods were complete followers of the latest fashion except musically, whilst the Beatles were enjoying immense popularity and success among Britain's mainstream society in the early 1960's, the first-wave of Mods pursued a different sound. They adopted modern jazz, which was a style of music originated in Black America,however as jazz grew in popularity, Mods began listening to Blues, Soul, Rhythm & Blues, and then moved on to Jamaican Bluebeat and Ska to stay ahead of the mainstream, bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things, The Kinks, The Cyril Davis All-Stars, The Downliners, and The Small Faces became all the rage.
A Mod was a product of working class British youth of the mid-sixties. They portrayed an image of being stuck up, emulating the middle classes, snobbish and phoney. The Mod boys dressed in suits, neat narrow trousers, and pointed shoes. The girls displayed a boyish image. They darkened their eyes and wore their hair short to fit a unisex type of culture and the real status symbol was to have a Lambretta GT 200 or a Vespa GS 160. These were the scooters that they rode as part of their badge that connected them to being a Mod. The most popular and revolutionary band who could be labeled as Mods themselves were the High Numbers, later renamed The Who. Their biggest enemy? The Rockers.
Northern Soul is a genre from the 1960s, although the term originated in the 1970s. Beginning in the North of England the sound was based on MoTown. The culture of Northern Soul is all about spirit, loyalty, commitment - and in some cases, even obsession!
The term pop has been used since the early 20th century to refer to popular music in general, but from the mid-1950s it began to be used for a distinct genre, aimed at a youth market, often characterized as a softer alternative to rock and roll. From 1967, it was increasingly used in opposition to the term rock music, to describe a form that was more commercial, ephemeral and accessible. In contrast rock music was seen as focusing on extended works, particularly albums, was often associated with particular sub-cultures, placed an emphasis on artistic values and "authenticity", stressed live performance and instrumental or vocal virtuosity and was often seen as encapsulating progressive developments rather than simply reflecting existing trends.
Nevertheless, much pop and rock music has been very similar in sound, instrumentation and even lyrical content. The terms "pop-rock" and "power pop" have been used to describe more commercially successful music that uses elements from, or the form of, rock music.
Sometimes known as Prog Rock (or even pretentiously Prog), started in England in the late 1960s, its popularity grew in the 70s and it's still popular today, especially in the UK and Europe. It is a style of rock music associated with attempts to combine rock with jazz, classical, and folk music influences along with other forms of music.
The noun punk these days usually refers to followers of 'punk' culture and music. Punk Rock was started as a deliberate reaction against the mass commercialism of music. It began in New York in the early 1970's, then unknown artists like Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground, and the Dolls of New York(changed later to New York Dolls) and Television started to do their own thing with aggressive lyrics, confrontational performances and anger against consumerism. Malcolm McLaren having failed to hit the big time in America came to the UK and teamed up with his friend Bernie Rhodes. In London they met and managed The Sex Pistols. Their anarchistic view of the world made them instaneous celebrities. With spiked hair, tattered clothes, and safety pins as jewelry, they frequented talk shows and publicly badmouthed fellow artists, bands, and musicians. They spoke harshly of the British class system and the subjugation of the working class. They made news for concert violence, spitting at and fighting with fans. John Lydon - formerly Johnny Rotten - became the figurehead for a disillusioned generation, The Sex Pistols proved that you did not need to be able to play an instrument to be in a band - you just had to have something to say inspiring groups like The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division and The Stranglers.
Rock / Rock and Roll
The foundations of rock music are in rock and roll, which originated in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and quickly spread to much of the rest of the world.
Its immediate origins lay in a melding of various black musical genres of the time, including rhythm and blues and gospel music, with country and western. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues music (then termed "race music") for a multi-racial audience, and is credited with first using the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the music.
Rockers generally came from "up north" and saw Mods as weedy, effeminate snobs because they had good jobs and dressed smartly. Mods saw Rockers as dirty and thick idiots as the stereotype of manual workers from rural areas. To the outsider Mods looked like nice but arrogant young chaps, whereas Rockers looked as if they were going to make trouble. Rockers enjoyed Rock and Roll, and their style consisted of jeans, boots and leather jackets. The Rockers were a British version of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. They wore black leather and studs, had anti-authoritarian beliefs, and projected an easy rider nomadic romanticism. The Rockers lived for the present, with a scruffy, masculine, ‘bad boy' image.
Rockers were essentially from the working class and despised any fashion. They each had the same hairstyle, shaggy with a bit of slick to it. Riding motorcycles was of the upmost importance, so they kept away from drugs and alcohol. The motorcycles were also modified or "souped up" in order to be in top racing form. Every Rocker had a ‘Triumph' or a ‘Norton', a brand of motorcycle.
Their favoured music? Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Animals and The Trogs. Even the Beatles, who started their life as a leather clad rock band The Quarrymen, made long hair fashionable.
Their biggest enemy? The Mods.
Ska comes from Jamaica. It became very popular there and then travelled across to the United Kingdom when people migrated for economic reasons from the West Indies during the 1950s and 60s. Ska music fuses elements of traditional Jamaican mento and calypso music with a rhythm and blues sound. It was welcomed by the British public for its infectious fun, and quickly became a chart topper. Today Ska is still going but seems to be returning to its roots as more and more bands play full blown traditional ska.
Soca orginated in Trinidad. It is a sort of fusion between Calypso and soul music. It is a lively, energetic mixture of rhythm, movement and the sort of lyrics that get the listeners into a carnival mood.
Derived from the word technology, the industrial, hard sound of techno, heavy, raw, repetitive beats, yet again the DJ is king. Associated with the rave parties held in warehouses or the middle of a field all add to the 'Techno' culture of rebelliousness.
Garage is another genre of music that reflects a style as well as a sound, designer labels abound such as Red or Dead. Influenced by Soul, Drum and Bass and House Music it combines rhythm, funk and energy into an easy to dance to mix. In UK Garage the DJ is king.
Learning English through Pop Music
Listening to pop music can be a good way to improve your English and study new vocabulary, (not always good grammar though). You could buy some albums of British pop music and study the words of the songs (but note than most CDs bought in the UK do not include the words to the songs).
Be careful in choosing who to follow, choose bands who favour lyrical content over repetitive beats or loud music. If you already have a favourite rock group, you can visit their website, join their fan club or post messages onto their message board. If not see below:-
|The Animals||Formed way back in 1963, the Animals harked from Newcastle in North-East England.|
|Arctic Monkeys||Ignore them at your peril! Best lyrics since - ever!|
|Ash||Irish, Belfast band Ash first got together in 1989 as the band Vietnam. They changed their name in 1992, and the rest as they say is history.|
Lyrics from the good old days - do a bit of karaoke.
|Belle and Sebastian||
No, they are not French. They are Scottish!
|Blur||Originally called Seymour, the group was formed in London in 1989. Luckily they changed their name to Blur (otherwise I may not have featured them). By the mid-'90s they had emerged as the most popular band in the U.K., establishing themselves as heir to the English guitar pop tradition, they were hailed as the leaders of Britpop.|
|Buzzcocks||Formed in Manchester, England, in 1975, the Buzzcocks were one of the most influential bands to emerge in the initial wave of punk rock. They broke up in 1981 and as is the way in most things reformed in 1989!|
|Cinerama||See the Wedding Present.|
|Eric Clapton||One of the greatest guitarists of all time, and still going strong. This site contains a biography, discography and my favourite lyrics.|
|The Clash||One of my all-time favourites - public schoolboy punk rockers! This site has lyrics and sound samples.|
|Coldplay||Coldplay have been compared to many different bands, however once you've listened to their work you'll realise they have a sound all their own.|
|The Cranberries||Out of Limerick, Ireland, in 1989, a group called the Cranberries appeared on the scene and went on to sell over 33 million albums across the planet. For all Cranberries fans, the official Cranberries site is a must.|
|The Cure||The Cure are a hugely successful English rock band. They are one of the leading pioneers of the British alternative rock scene of the 1980s. A combination of lead singer Robert Smith's iconic wild hair, pale complexion, smudged lipstick, and the frequently gloomy and introspective lyrics have led to the band being primarily classified as goth rock.|
|The Darkness||Just when you thought you would have to put your platform shoes away Glam Rock is back! Another London formed band, although Justin Hawkins and his brother Dan come from Lowestoft. They are actually quite a hit in the US now and as long as they stay away from religion and politics they should stay that way.|
Formed in 1958 they hail from the West country, and probably have the silliest name in British pop history.
|Dido||Lovely singer/songwriter Dido Armstrong. She was born in London on Christmas day in 1971, and what a lovely present for British Pop Music she has proved to be. Really slow web site though!|
|Echo and the Bunnymen||One of my own favourite bands of all time Echo and the Bunnymen made its live debut at the Liverpool club Eric's at the end of 1978. They had a handful of British hits in the early '80s, while attracting a cult following in the United States.|
Editors are a British indie rock band from Birmingham. The band members are Tom Smith (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Chris Urbanowicz (lead guitar and synth), Russell Leetch (bass guitar and live backing vocals) and Ed Lay (drums, percussion and live backing vocals).
Editors have so far released two platinum studio albums, selling over 2 million copies between them worldwide. Their debut album The Back Room was released in 2005. It contained hits such as "Munich" and "Blood" and the following year received a Mercury Prize nomination. Their follow-up album An End Has A Start went to number 1 in the UK Album Chart in June 2007 and earned the band a Brit Awards nomination for best British Band. It also spawned another Top 10 hit single with the release of "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors".
Elbow is a Mercury Prize winning alternative rock band. They formed in Bury, Greater Manchester, in 1990. Over their 18 year career they have released four studio albums, four EPs and they've had ten top fifty singles in the UK.
The band is named after a line in the BBC TV mini-series The Singing Detective; where a character (Philip Marlow) says that the word "elbow" is the most sensuous word in the English language, not for its definition, but for how it feels to say it.
|Fat Boy Slim||
The master of Big Beat and he had one of the best selling albums of 1999.
It all started in Glasgow in 2001 and in April 2004 they became my favourite 'listen to in the car' band. Thumping good music! Makes you proud to be British.
|David Gray||With a voice to die for David Gray created a quiet revolution in 1999 with his massive album, White Ladder.|
|Elton John||Singer, songwriter, pianist - is there no end to his talent?|
Joy Division were an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Originally named Warsaw, they were Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitarist), Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals) and Stephen Morris (drums and percussion). Their single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was the band's highest charting release.
In May 1980, on the eve of the band's first American tour, Ian Curtis, overwhelmed with depression, committed suicide. After his death the remaining members reformed as New Order.
|Manic Street Preachers||Affectionately known as "The Manics" they are probably the only band to emerge from their hometown of Blackwood in Wales. Fashioning themselves on the Clash and the Sex Pistols.|
|Morrissey||Morrissey was born Steven Patrick Morrissey in 1959. Another Mancunian with a musical bent his music career started with the Smiths but since then Morrissey's soul-searching lyrics, powerful persona and general news worthiness have made him a pop figure whose articulacy was unmatched by any of his contemporaries.|
|Muse||Muse are a popular Brit Award winning English rock band. Their style is a blend of indie rock, heavy metal and progressive rock. The band is famed for its energetic live performances (they've won numerous Best Live act awards) and frontman Matthew Bellamy's eccentric interests in global conspiracy, extraterrestrial life, theology and the apocalypse.|
|New Order||Mancunian group New Order virtually invented Techno. Born from the ashes of the pioneering postpunk group Joy Division they brought musical sophistication to dance clubs and propulsive rhythms to alternative radio for more than two decades.|
|The NME||Britain's most notorious music magazine - updated daily|
|Oasis||Oasis go hand in hand (well not literally) with Blur and Suede as the top of the Britpop classics.|
|Queen||The eponymous glam rock group.|
|Radiohead||Fave band of the 90's for me and probably the most interesting web site here! Confused? You will be! (Well at least I think it's the band's web site!)|
|Cliff Richard||Now of course Sir Cliff Richard.|
|The Rolling Stones||What can I say? The Stones official web site.|
|The Sex Pistols||They rocked the British music scene and heralded the era of punk.|
|The Smiths||The Smiths was arguably the most important and critically acclaimed UK band of the post punk era in the 1980s. By the late summer of 1987, they had disbanded, leaving lead singer Morrissey to pursue a solo career.|
|Sting||Lyrics, biographies etc.|
|Suede||Britpop band Suede have sold more than three million CDs. Started in 1989 they have consistently delivered great music. Their site includes downloads, a discography and the lyrics to some of their best known songs.|
|The Wedding Present||Affectionately known as the Weddoes this band is one of the all time greats that no one has ever heard of.|
|The Wolfhounds||The Wolfhounds were a post punk band of the 80s. Based in East London they excerted a huge influence on many British bands. They were one of the most exilarating live bands you could ever see.|
Check out the song of the month on the English magazine.
For a range of genres, mainstream and alternative music listen to English radio for at least an hour every day.