Menswear tonight. Another in a string of short-lived bands. This one from the Brit-pop era. The beginnings of the band were a feature in a Select article about a supposed London mod revival led by Graham Coxon (of Blur). Two individuals closely associated with the burgeoning Britpop scene, Chris Gentry and Johnny Dean, made references to a “top new unsigned band” (Menswear), an act which did not yet exist. They later appeared on the cover of Melody Maker before they had released any material. Their dress sense was Mod (tight fitting suits etc.) whilst their music was influenced by both Blur’s second album Modern Life Is Rubbish and Elastica. Gentry and Dean had a single song – called “Daydreamer” – but soon recruited friend Simon White, who contributed “I’ll Manage Somehow” to add to the setlist necessary for their upcoming debut gig at a Britpop-oriented club on Regent Street called Smashing. The music press reviewed their performance enthusiastically, with the NME comparing them to a “Tarantino film… totally derivative but totally brilliant”, increasing the record labels’ interest.
After a frantic race between record companies, they signed to London Records for £90,000 and a lucrative 18.5% gross revenues after just their fifth gig. Shortly afterwards, they signed a £500,000 publishing deal despite having just seven songs in their repertoire – working out at around £70,000 per song.
They appeared on Top of the Pops a week before their first single had even been released. Their first single was “I’ll Manage Somehow”. Their second single “Daydreamer” peaked at number 14 in the UK Singles Chart but saw the band accused of plagiarizing Wire, with Allmusic describing the track as sounding “more like Wire than Elastica, only funnier, even if it may be unintentional”.
The band released their debut album Nuisance in 1995, described by Allmusic as “the perfect product from a band that is better known for being seen than being heard”. Menswear played at the Glastonbury Festival in June 1995 at the peak of Britpop’s popularity. A further three singles were released from the Nuisance album, the last “Being Brave” (released in early 1996) gave the band their first and only top ten hit.
Another single, “We Love You”, was released in the summer of 1996, it stalled at number 22 in UK charts and marked a change in the band’s musical direction.
In 1997 they parted company with Laurel after delivering their country-rock-tinged second album Hay Tiempo!. The record was released in Japan in 1998 but did not get a release anywhere else in the world. They played their last live show at London’s Camden Palace the same year. Hints at causes towards the breakup have been mentioned recently in Johnny Dean’s blog.
In case you missed them the first time around, or didn’t even know about Menswear in the first place, this John Peel session from July 1995 should give a good representation of what they were all about.
Click on “play” and have at it.