The Spice Girls were innocent, instinctive and inspirational when they first burst onto the music scene, says Aidan Smith, as he welcomes them back ahead of their upcoming UK tour.
It was a long, long time ago that the Spice Girls burst into our lives and invaded the personal space of a street beggar blanketed up against the cold, the one called Baby nicking his bunnet.
That, you might recall, was the opening scene in the video for their first mega-hit Wannabe where each of the girls took it in turn to tell us what they really, really wanted from pop and the world – all apart from Posh who wasn’t given a verse to sing but cavorted in the semi-background which immediately made her seem the most intriguing.
It was so long, long ago, in fact, that what my features editor of the time really, really wanted from me was a celebrity vox-pop asking leading men in Scottish life the burning question: “Which one do you fancy?”
I don’t blame the paper (it wasn’t this one) for responding in that way. The Spice Girls were formed in 1994 which also saw the launch of Loaded. The first lads’ mag looked at Page 3, saw something unbudgeable and sought to intellectualise it. Yes, we’d had a female Prime Minister by ’94 – the original Spice Girl, as Ginger called Maggie Thatcher – but men were back in charge of things and that was certainly true of pop.
I can’t remember who featured in the vox pop – a handful of the usual suspects from Caledonian showbiz, most likely – and don’t think I ever wrote about the Spice Girls again. That wasn’t a conscious act on my part, simply that they never ventured into recording prog-rock triple concept albums or won the Scottish Cup after a 114-year gap. But here they are back together and playing Murrayfield next summer by which time Ginger, the oldest, will be a few weeks away from her 47th birthday. Though they’ve rarely touched my world and never rocked it, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Spices. In a pop laboratory they were Frankensteined up by men. Men who probably didn’t have the objectification of women, the patronising of women or the glass-ceiling frustrations of women uppermost in their thoughts. They simply wanted a girl group who would have lots of chart smashes and make them loads of money.
READ MORE: Spice Girls announce UK tour for 2019
Who came up with the slogan Girl Power? That was brilliant, but while every manufactured combo before the Spices was asked questions of the order of “What’s your favourite colour?”, which after the emergence of Smash Hits became the irony-heavy “What’s your favourite colour?”, Ginger, Posh, Baby and the others got landed with the heavy stuff about feminism.
Last week, on the day the big reunion tour was in all the papers, there was also a report on the upcoming movie about the 1970 Miss World contest when Bob Hope was flour-bombed by Women’s Libbers. Among the protestors was Sally Alexander who recalled: “Our argument was, why do you have to be beautiful ... before you get noticed as a woman.” Now, Alexander would have had her answers ready to go, when quizzed about a sensational intervention choreographed from the Royal Albert Hall’s cheap seats by the birling of a football rattle. She was a 27-year-old mature history student. For her, heated debates on gender politics would have been easily accessible.
But I don’t suppose the Spices had much time to formulate and finesse their responses which is why they might have seemed to be caught on the hop. “I can’t burn me Wonderbra,” confessed Sporty. “I ’aven’t gor anything up top.” Posh had a go, admitting she used to think feminism was just crap clothes and hairy armpits. The group and their anthems were demonstrating that women could dress attractively, even sexily, “but that doesn’t mean you’re gonna be dominated by a man”.
Sporty tried again and produced the Spiciest response up until that point: “When you go and see a careers officer and you say ‘I want to be a spaceman’, instead of going ‘Go study astrophysics’ they say ‘Yeah, but what do you really want to do?’ That is so wrong!”
Innocent, instinctive, inspirational. And maybe that could also describe Ginger’s goosing of Prince Charles at the premiere of the Spice World film, considered one of defining moments in late 20th century pop-culture. Except: it didn’t happen. Ginger recently downgraded the pinch on the bottom to a pat. She was dismantling the group’s mythology but I liked the idea she might have been defying a (male) manager putting business before truth just because she really, really wanted to.
Of course pop is a business which tells many lies. The hardened cynic might have asked regarding the Spice Girls: “How can they bang on about friendship and how it never ends when they didn’t even know each other before being thrown together?” But they seem to have made a not bad job of becoming good mates, even though Scary and Posh would appear to have the trickiest relationship with the latter sitting out this tour.
Ginger Baker once pulled a gun on Cream bandmate Jack Bruce. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think Ginger Spice ever hid Baby’s signed copy of her favourite among Andrea Dworkin’s feminist treatises.
That cynic will add: “It’s easy to tell Jonathan Ross how much you love each other and can’t wait to be back on stage together when this will earn each of you £10 million.” Well, they’re still working a bit harder than other groups, and among those making comebacks, still having to answer weightier questions, like they were ever agitprop banshee sisters of victimhood with Dworkin on drums.
Just yesterday it was Brexit. “The most important thing,” said Ginger, “is let’s stop the divisiveness and come together.” Well, has Theresa May ever put that better? Good luck to the Spice Girls – the one I fancied and the other four.