Book Review: Don’t Look Back in Anger

‘The Rise and Fall of Cool Britannia, Told by Those who Were There..’

While I’ve spent hours pouring over various elements of britpop pop culture, from podcasts to films to, of course, the music itself, I’ve never come across anything that captures all the disparate elements that made up 90s culture, Cool Britannia as it was known, as successfully as Daniel Rachel’s Don’t Look Back in Anger… this feels like a book written just for me.

Rachel’s oral history of Cool Britannia takes in fashion, music, football, politics and cinema to become a kind of bible for what was an electrifying moment in UK history. Boasting contributions from two former prime ministers (John Major and Tony Blair), various Britpop legends (Jarvis, Noel, Damon and Brett are all present and correct) and luminaries across all sections of British pop culture, Don’t Look Back in Anger is as comprehensive a retelling of the Cool Britannia era as there has ever been. As with Meet Me in the Bathroom – Lizzie Goodman’s excellent oral history of the NYC music scene at the turn of the century – Don’t Look Back in Anger genuinely feels like the inside story from the real key players of the time period.

Despite having spent large swathes of my life embedded in the 90s, whether as a child actually living through it, or as an adult hunkering down in the warm embrace of nostalgia, there was still plenty of stuff here that was new to me. While there is some raking up of old coals, there is also plenty here that feels revelatory, and enough time has passed that familiar anecdotes feel refreshed with the benefit of passing years providing extra context.

As someone whose entire childhood is signposted by key events within British pop culture (Definitely Maybe, Different Class, Parklife, TFI Friday, Eurotrash, Euro ’96, France ’98 etc etc), I found Don’t Look Back in Anger to be a thrilling and visceral journey to a past, my own past, that I thought perhaps gone forever. I wasn’t in Oasis of course and I’m definitely not Chris Evans, but I was breathing the same air as them when Princess Diana died or when Gareth Southgate saw his penalty saved by Andreas Köpke and by viewing those cataclysmic events through the eyes of those that witnessed them, I was able to access long forgotten memories that I will endeavour to cherish and nurture for time immemorial.

Quite simply an essential work for anyone that came of age in the 90s. A colossal book.