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SUPERGRASS and THE BLUETONES may have little in common apart from a love of top tunes and sharing the same live bill, but as the country's brightest young hopes they also share responsibility for continuing the reclamation of British pop by British bands started last year by the likes of Elastica and Oasis. JOHN ROBINSON joins the tour party.

The pop group is crouched around the table next to the pinball machine talking wildly, passionately and articulately about the things that are happening to them.

There are pauses while they light cigarettes, think about what their favourite records are or take quick slugs of orange juice, but these pauses are not long at all. Then they are off again, getting faster, faster and faster all the time.

Quickly characters begin to emerge from the fog of cigarette smoke and hastily-formed opinion. To the left there is the singer, dressed in a thick woollen jerkin, face caught somewhere between a pair of enormous side-whiskers and a mop of unwashed hair. He talks about how he never imagined, when he started, he could become a pop star who would get stopped in the street and hassled for an autograph. WHat he though about first, he says, was how he wanted to get in the studio and concentrate on making the music, on making six excellent albums and on being as far as he could, like The Beatles. His name is Gaz and he talks with a slightly comic bewilderment about what is happening to him.

Two weeks ago Supergrass are wining and dining at NME's Brat awards. Their faces are being beamed from video screens announcing the nominees for Best New Band and their first single 'Caught By The Fuzz' is rattling around a room filled with the current indie aristocracy.

The aristocrats are impressed. They like the way that this band are blessed with a self-evident class, style and hypertense enthusiasm. They like the way the band can mingle with them as though they've been here for years, not just six or seven months. But what they don't know yet is the scale of all this. About how SUpergrass will release a single called 'Mansize Rooster' that will cause the knowledgable to splutter 'Madness! Madness!' yet still provide a wildly irresponsible three and a half minutes. About how they will pick up another excellent group and tour the country converting The Kids to their cause. The man with the side-whiskers, you see, has plans.

To his left is the drummer, impeccable draped in skinny jeans, desert boots and a mod-poppers mohair jacket. Whenever a question is raised he doesn't like the sound of, he drops his jaw and says: "What do you want to know that for?" before remembering that this is what is going to be happening to him from now on and carrying on talking. Whenever another band member says something he finds unnatural, he starts laughing and points at them with a look that says "Eh? What's he on about?" before carrying on laughing. His name is Danny, and he has a dangerously rare quality. He is as cool as he thinks he is.

To his left is the guitarist: slightly older, slightly plumper, and slightly more comfortable with what is happening to him. Two years ago he was washing dishes. Four years ago, he was in a psychedelic reggae band, so he thinks he's had quite a lucky escape here. Every two weeks or so he goes back to see his mum and plays her his latest demo. He has to keep bringing them round, he says, because she's already whistling the old ones. His name is Mickey, Mickey Quinn.

This is Supergrass, who write songs with real tunes and real stories behind them, songs with tunes that anyone's mum could whistle and that have the most exuberance about them of any since The Undertones. Whoa re among the best five groups in this country, and who are coming to Your Town very soon. But they won't hear you, because they're too busy describing themselves.

"One good thing about Mickey," says Danny, "is that he tells me he loves me quite a lot."

Mickey shrugs. "It's my job."

"Gaz is reall good at handling difficult situations," advises Danny. "But he's a bit of a mummy's boy."

Gaz takes this on the chin. And Danny?

"Well, Danny," suggests Mickey wisely, "is probably the most irresponsible person I've ever met in my life."

Danny is riled by this.

"Hang on a minute! hand on! I'm the only one here who's got a car, has passed his test and can drive."

"Yes," replies Mickey, "but you're also the only one who forgot to buy any tax for it."

A MOMENTARY halt is called and we are allowed an opportunity to take full stock of our surroundings. We are in a pub two minutes away from the microscopically small and gruesomely subterranean Bath Moles club. Over the poop table are The Bluetones, who we shall later meet and smuggle away for a cup of tea, and who are the support group on this tour, the last that Supergrass will play in small venues.

The other Supergrass, Danny's brother, occasional keyboard player Bobbsie, is absorbed in pinball next to the table.

Meanwhile, our conversation has come full circle to being a pop star: how unreal it is to spend your life in interviews or posing for photo sessions, and how bizarre it is running into personal mod icons at prestigious awards ceremonies.

"I really liked it after the Brat Awards," enthuses Danny, cool momentarily shaken. "At the party afterwards I was going around with Phil Daniels. He was over on our table a bit, talking about some football team he plays for. We were talking to him about how he should have shagged Leslie Ash when they were making Quadrophenia, how he didn't get anywhere, and how gutted he was about it."

The key issue here seems to be How To Keep Your Cool When The World Is Going Demonstrably Bonkers Around You. Supergrass seem to have three discernible ways of doing this. They a) play pinball, b) don't bother with any aspect of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, and drive home after every gig on the southern leg of their tour, and c) are faintly bemused about all the attention they've received. The first, they know, is not the stuff of which gripping conversations are made. The second is cheaper, and that's about it. And the third? Here, they will talk. Again.

"The most bizarre thing is definitely the autographs," confides Gaz. "It's when you sign it and they 'Will you write 'Supergrass' next to it, so people believe me at school?' I mean, is that really such a big deal? They seem to think it is."

Mickey thinks it's scary. Danny doesn't agree.

"Scary? It's not scary at all! There's just times when you're fucked off with it and you just go 'No! Go away! I just want to go to the toilet!"

Mickey is persistent. "It is a bit worrying, though, when you get some massive Glaswegian coming up to you going 'SIGN MY ARM!', isn't it?"

"It's all a rock star thing," decides Gaz. "We're not like that with girls. We don't go 'Alright then darlin'? Do you want a kiss afterwards?' It's a sad and weird game, and we don't react to it like that."

Spleens vented, the role of the pop star addressed, the matey cool of the band established, it's time to see it in action. It's time, reluctantly, to go underground.

HERE WE find The Bluetones, a group hounded by record company cheque books, and are faced with two small problems. The dressing room, a fetid, mouldy bunker filled with the unpleasent smell of indie armpit, is too crowded for an efficient conversation and to find a better venue will necessitate confronting the age-old difficulty of how to smuggle a talented English beat group into a small provincial hotel at half-past one in the morning.

Action is decoded upon and we bunk past the hard-looking nightwatchman into the lift.

Once stowed in the room, The Bluetones drink, smoke and begin their appraisal of the tour so far. They don't think, it emerges, that they should play for too long: they know they are the support group and think it is better to leave the crowd hungry than to overdo it.

They thrive on the fact that kids who are making every show on the tour a sell-out are getting to see - in themselves and Supergrass - two brilliant but radically different bands. They know that they don't fit into any New Mod genre and suspect that there must be secret meetings in Camden where style plots are secretly hatched. They know about how keenly they are being sought and how it is much more sensible to confine themselves to releasing just a mail order-only single at the moment. They know they enjoy being out of London and, of course, they know they miss the cat.

"I do miss the cat," says singer Mark Morriss. "I get very maternal about Neville. It's like he's my child sometimes, when he comes and sleeps next to me. Do you remember that story we got told in school about King Solomon? How his wife smothered their baby by accident? I get paranoid like that about Neville: but there'd be no King Solomon to sort that one out, would there?"

There follows a general murmur of consent, one of the most reassuring things about The Bluetones. they are quietly confident of their excellence, quality and style, they maintain they are "polite young men" and have a real ease about their group identity. You can hear it in their conversations, you can see that this is why they made no other preperations for the tour other than to buy some new clothes, but most importantly it's all in the songs. 'Bluetonic'? 'Are You Blue Or Are You Blind'? A way of life is being defined here.

Mark explains: "The Bluetone thing is that there's no-one in the world more important than you: look after your own thing, and don't tread on other people's toes. And don't tread on my toes, either."

BACK AT the gig, toes are being trodden on. Pints are being spilled. Mark Morriss is swaying gently as The Bluetones play 'Carnt Be Trusted'. In front of him are 400 people locked in enforced intimacy: noses are squashed into shoulders and a visit to the toilet is a long day's journey into a possible fight. the key words here are 'asphyxia' and 'immense enjoyment'. Normally, Bath Moles is an intimate venue. Tonight, it's a veal crate with a bar.

And in among the crowd as Supergrass squeeze onto the stage, a few examples of a totally new group of people begin to emerge. that bloke over there in the Oasis T-shirt? Nooooo...he isn't one of them. That girl with the pierced eyebrow? Mmmm...could be.

The people we're looking for are difficult to find. We're not just looking for odd people. We're not even looking for peculiar people. We're looking for genuinely different people. We're looking for The Strange Ones.

It started, reckons Gaz Supergrass, with what he thought was going to be quite a throwaway song; the B-side of 'Caught By The Fuzz', a stupidly brilliant riot of ridiculous mod and heavy blues guitar. But then they started thinking about it. They went into the studio and started meddling with the tapes of 'The Strange Ones'. They played it backwards, worked out the chords, wrote a song over the top, and called it 'I'd Like To Know'. So now we have two songs about these people. Who are they?

There is some disagreement. Supergrass decide to discuss it. And, naturally, they discuss it fast.

Mickey has given this some thought. He begins by narrowing down who they are not.

"There's a few people who are just really out there. There's a lot of people around Oxford who are real spliffheads and that, who go and lie down in Port Meadow, but I'm not really sure about them. I'm not really sure that they're individuals: they're part of a much larger thing."

Gaz considers that, "they're just mad people," but it's Danny who knows he's really met one.

"They're the sort of people who don't fit in anywhere, who don't link up with everyday life at all. I was thinking more along the lines of Cosmic Bob..."

A word of exlanation. Visit Oxford, walk past the Oxfam bookshop and hang around for a few minutes outside the SPiritualist Store. You'll be able to see him there: a slightly red-faced gentleman with glasses and a beard.

At first, it looks like he's just sitting down, but as soon as someone walks past, he jumps up, pulls out two cloth juggling balls from his pocket and makes to juggle them one-handed. People generally walk past quickly. It could be because he isn't very good. It could be they're in a hurry. But more likely, it's because he's wearing a mysteriously charred wizard's hat and has mad starey eyes.

Supergrass like him. They like the way he bought Gaz a drink once. But mainly, it's the mad puzzle of it all.

"There's got to be some place where these people gather together and have all these meetings," enthuses Gaz. "They've just got to have their own little community, because whatever they do, they can't do it here."

Danny is decisive. "No man, they really do have a place. It's just that we can't go there!"

And with that they finish their drinks and drive to London to continue their quest.

THE TIME is moving faster and faster again: it is now 15 hours since Supergrass were discussing strangeness and they are now sitting, twitching slightly, in its very centre, in its very centre. This is a place where to vast well-oiled gentlemen are employed to wheel around a podium carrying two tongue-ted television presenters. Where formation dancers are called upon to gyrate wildly to whatever they are ordered to. Where a befuddled ex-student is prying into the intimate sexual lives of unwitting contestants, and where Supergrass are to perform 'Mansize Rooster' a "twisted little pop song" that they don't like much any more, because they've got loads better.

We are at The Woed and Supergrass are lined up with the smooch group Jade, the grunge group Live, and a young 'Hopeful' called Gavin who is here to lick an old man's foot.

There are plenty of distractions here. A plummy floor manager approaches and apologises for all the delays.

"Basically, if you could just hang around for a while, we're going to rehearse this event again. Thanks for bearing with us."

"No mate, that's fine," says Danny, as the floor manager walks away, "F---ing c---!"

There's the sex quiz to watch which, the band noticed, is co-hosted by Generaion Game icon Isla St Clair (They've got eyes and ears then - Eds)...

...After the show, the band can momentarily relax knowing that more of the world now knows about Gaz, the one with the sideburns, Danny, the rakish drummer, and Mickey, the slightly older, slightly plumper one who looks even more content than the rest.

Isn't that right, TV's Dani Behr?

"I thought they were really brilliant," she says. "Supergrass are going to do us proud."

And who's your favourite Dani?

"The lead singer. He's got beautiful eyes."

And Cosmic Bob? The last time the NME saw him he was standing in a pub, his shoes and socks bravely cast off, seemingly in he middle of clipping an imaginary hedge. Very Strange.

Extracted from NME, 18th February 1995.