Twenty years ago, I was a radio disc jockey with radio shows that played alternative-rock music. I also had a weekly show that played only music by British alternative singers. Over the years, I developed my top five best British alternative-rock singers list, which I used to change monthly depending on what new music was being released.
Twenty years later, though, that list is now the same. I love alternative rock music but my list of favorite British alternative rock singers is what I consider the best there is.
5. Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock is also on my list of top alternative rock music bands because of his partnership with the Egyptians. But Hitchcock is primarily a solo man, with most of his 25-plus records released as solo albums. He writes songs that sound quite depressing on first listen but, when you actually listen to the words, he’s making fun of death, food and relationship, which he says are the mainstays of every life (he has a fixation with lobsters too!).
I saw him live once in Cincinnati (met him backstage too, as I was hosting the concert), and loved his performance as, not only does he play guitar and sing, but he also narrates funny stories connected to all his songs.
Hitchcock is also known as a somewhat actor and a writer, as he writes and illustrates short stories. I have kept Robyn Hitchcock on my list of Top Five Best British Alternative Rock Singers for over twenty five years. Every album he releases, he develops his music even more and is even more fascinated with death as he himself climbs in years.
Look for him on film in Rachel Getting Married and if you want to hear classic Robyn Hitchcock, listen to ‘My Wife and My Dead Wife’. Funny and smart.
4. Beth Orton – Beginning as an alternative rock singer, Beth Orton became one of my top five when I learned she’d lived in Thailand for a period of time (I moved to Thailand after this, and never left – not because of Orton though!) – and when I read about her protests against war, and her anti-corporation stance, I liked her even more.
‘She Cries Your Name’ was one of her first big hits, and she’s also well known as one of the artists who toured with Lilith Fair. In recent years though, she’s moved away from her alternative roots to more of a folk sound, which, I must admit I still love.
3. Peter Murphy – Starting out as the lead singer of Bauhaus, Peter Murphy went solo pretty quickly. He’s released more than 10 albums and EPs, but his best one is ‘Should The World Fall Apart’ with the title song and ‘The Light Streams Out of Me’ quintessential Murphy. Peter Murphy’s music was primarily goth when he began but, in recent years, he’s gone more electronic and pop with his more recent music very Middle Eastern in its undertones (he became a Muslim almost 20 years ago).
It’s Murphy’s voice, though, that captures you and pulls you in, no matter what style of music he’s creating. It’s deep, almost mono-tone but with a hypnotic quality that seduces and mesmerizes.
2. PJ Harvey – Another British alternative rock singer, PJ Harvey has been adopted by the feminist movement as a ‘feminist singer’. In reality, she’s not. Many interviews with PJ Harvey have mentioned she doesn’t ever give feminism a thought, just gets on with her life and expects to be treated like everyone else – man or woman.
One of her most famous songs, ‘Down by the Water’ about giving birth to a child and then drowning the child is a similar theme to many, where depression often seems to be holding the work together but, again, Harvey says that’s not true.
In earlier years, I loved that she used to perform wearing a costume complete with white face paint and Japanese style clothing but, lately, she’s become quite normal (normal for Harvey, that is) with even her most recent album being mainly low-key piano ballads. She’ll always be one of my Top Five Best Alternative Rock Singers though, not only for her music but also for her persona.
1. Kate Bush – I remember seeing Kate Bush on Top of the Pops in England, when I was 15 years old. Bush, at the age of 18, hit the big time with her first solo ‘Wuthering Heights’ and, at that time, was a pop sensation (not only for her music but also for her interpretive dance, which was amazing).
‘The Kick Inside’, her debut album leapt onto the British charts and Bush was soon everywhere. Other albums followed and, in Europe, Kate Bush was a pop phenomenon. In America, however, Kate Bush never became a pop icon and stayed only on the alternative rock music scene.
Bush’s style of music is actually hard to pin down. She’s alternative rock, she’s pop, she does ballads, and she’s even written jazz, folk and ska songs. But, there’s one thing about Kate Bush, she’s never boring and, even 30 years later, her debut music holds up today as well as it did when it was first released in 1978.
In later years, she’s been involved in collaborations with people like Peter Gabriel, (‘Don’t Give Up’ is phenomenal), Prince and Big Country but hasn’t released an album since 2003.
One thing about Kate Bush though, she’s always a surprise. So, even at the age of 50, there’ll still be more on its way. That’s for sure.
There are many more British alternative rock music singers, many of which I love. But these will always be my top five favorites.