Some of you may have seen this piece on the monthly mailout of a well respected UK pop culture website last month. We have had the full permission of the original writer to reprint it, largely because the original writer was us (apart from the bits TJ Worthington added, and his pop culture thoughts are all over the Net place so he barely needs more credit. Hello, TJ) Please, we're signing nothing. And yes, we did write it before Mocking Music's excellent two part chronicle of the same, with mp3s that still work. No call for that Half Man Half Biscuit judgement, though.
Nowadays, of course, an 'indie' band is a guitar outfit who have heard the Smiths and Television, whose lead singer sports a fringe and will be immediately dropped by their major label if by the second week of album release they've failed to go double platinum or clock up 3,000 Myspace 'friends'. The sort of situation, in fact, that makes the discerning fan want to look back at simpler days of mail order cassette compilations, badges on backpacks and the idea you'd made it big if Janice Long played you.
Twenty years ago this week the NME made available via mail order a cassette known as C86. This was the follow-up to C81, released five years earlier to celebrate indie Mecca the Rough Trade shop's fifth birthday and featuring a scope wide enough to encompass Scritti Politti, John Cooper Clarke, the Beat, Ian Dury and Aztec Camera. We may cover it one day. It was however C86 that made its way from title to scene, defining in cliche a certain kind of band - jangly guitars, bowl haircuts, a set of influences majoring on the Velvets, the Byrds, Syd Barrett, the Fall and the earlier Sound Of Young Scotland scene. Bob Stanley, a man whose opinions we implicity trust and who is reportedly planning an anniversary series of gigs, claims it invented the whole concept of 'indie', making him just about the only person there at the beginning who now doesn't pretend they hated it all along. Was it a principled stand against the slick production values of the mid-80s Radio 1 mainstream by means of refreshing punk's come one come all door policy or just overgrown students ignoring hip hop, misunderstanding their influences and deliberately set on underachievement? That's a socio-political argument for someone else, we're here to celebrate an odd but sizeable detour in UK alternative music, as well as ensuring mailbag bit gets filled thoroughly - completists should note Talulah Gosh, the June Brides and the back catalogue of Sarah records all came later. Now excuse us, we're off to get 500 7"s pressed up and dropped off at Rough Trade for Cartel distribution.
PRIMAL SCREAM - Velocity Girl
Fey vocals and guitars that sound a bit like Roger McGuinn's. Thus was a template for a genre set out in 81 seconds, as the Stone Roses supposedly realised while writing Made Of Stone. Still ahead: Andrew Wetherall, Luton Airport not being rock'n'roll, Rolling Stones cribbing, dark glasses, military-industrial conspiracy theorising. Bobby Gillespie's hair remains floppy, to an extent. Better than Country Girl, obviously.
THE MIGHTY LEMON DROPS - Happy Head
Fondly remembered Wulfrunians not a million miles yet from Echo & The Bunnymen territory and gained US college radio support a few years afterwards. It turns out they were once on a label called Watchdog Video And Records, which sounds like the indie aesthetic of being run out of small local shops taken to its natural conclusion.
THE SOUP DRAGONS - Pleasantly Surprised
The same Soup Dragons who would later decide during baggy that what a Stones B-side really needed was a pro-am ragga toasting break ("these are the words me hear from my grandaddy!") were then on the way to something called The Bellshill Sound (members: the Soup Dragons) with a soaring Buzzcocks takeoff that pre-empts Ash.
THE WOLFHOUNDS - Feeling So Strange Again
A band that devote a large part of their own website to claiming they were never C86 and it was all nebulous nonsense anyway, which given they were willing to put forward upbeat Merseybeat-influenced jangle strongly suggests they doth protest too much. Influenced by the Pixies two years before they formed, were you?
THE BODINES - Therese
Glossop's contribution to rock were much touted around mid-1987, largely on the back of this Smiths/Bunnymen/Teardrop Explodes crossover, and were supposed to be Creation Records' breakout act until Alan McGee seemingly forgot about them. We'd mention how Therese now reminds us of Kitchens Of Distinction, but this bit's already lost enough readers.
MIGHTY MIGHTY - Law
Dance music! Well, funk bass and guitar that could pass for an Afrobeat offcut if in the background, which is as near as anyone was going to get on this side of the NME office's Hip Hop Wars. In fact they might as well have been Orange Juice, the vocals in particular, although one site is keen to stress their "current phenomenal success in Japan". Yeah, we've all heard that one before.
STUMP - Buffalo
"Big bottom swing!" Just to prove it wasn't all as the template would have it, and it'd be difficult to fit Ireland's Stump into any sort of template, although 'Captain Beefheart recorded in a centrifuge with a man shouting nonsense over the top' nearly covers it. EMF's keyboard player duly told Smash Hits he was a fan. Charlton Heston was yet to put his vest on.
BOGSHED - Run To The Temple
Now shorthand for old school indie wilfil underachievement recorded for 50p, although being called Bogshed and hailing from Hebden Bridge will hardly help them shrug that off any time soon. In fact they sound not unlike early Fall on the cheap and were indie chart regulars for most of their three years together. Shambling, essentially.
A WITNESS - Sharpened Sticks
One of quite a few bands on the compilation who recorded for Ron Johnson Records. There's indie, and then there's giving your label a self-definingly wanton name like that. More northerners with Beefheart records, just as they later found their feet inventive guitarist Rick Aitken was killed in a climbing accident. Album I Am John's Pancreas has just come back out to small scale hosannahs. Tip for new bands: don't call a single I Love You Mr Disposable Razors.
THE PASTELS - Breaking Lines
There are Peel listeners of a certain age who believe Stephen Pastel to be one of British pop's leftfield geniuses. Everyone else thinks he's too twee, knowingly naive and can't sing properly, but never mind. Now officially 'an influence' they're still going, and signed to newly affluent Domino Records to boot.
THE AGE OF CHANCE - From Now On, This Will Be Your God
Groovy, doomy post-goth with more than a hint of the Jesus & Mary Chain, in all their guises at once, possibly recorded in a tunnel from Leeds types most notable for a) their Festive 50 number two cover of Prince's Kiss, which Andrew Collins will still play given half a chance, b) their attempt to make cycling gear a fashion statement
THE SHOP ASSISTANTS - It's Up To You
Side B kicks off in a much more delicate vein with the Pastels cohorts written up at the time as Jim and William Reid's fellow travellers, what with being Scottish too and that, but here sounding as if they'd heard the pejorative term 'twee-pop', as well as the Velvet Underground and were determined to make it stick.
CLOSE LOBSTERS - Firestation Towers
Hang on, who calls a band Close Lobsters and expects a long and fulfilling pop career? More Scots, this was their first released song, not to put too much pressure on their shoulders straight away, prior to a small impact the following year. Almost setting the gold standard for shambling, they still managed a decent US college following.
MIAOW - Sport Most Royal
Shuffling, melodic jangle pop with hat tipped in the Smiths' general direction, one of the few tracks that listeners might want to attempt a drunken sway to. Singer Cath Caroll, who was not at all suspiciously writing for the NME as a sideline at the time, went on to a solo career that was critically acclaimed while draining Factory Records' resources heavily.
HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT - I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)
Yes, in context this does look like a huge anomaly, not least as while most of the sound's never changed that much, just got smarter, they were producing funnier, more musically adept songs even then, the Bath-promoting break notwithstanding. Still producing high quality produce pretty much annually, still being tainted by association as 'that band who sing about hating people off the telly'.
THE SERVANTS - Transparent
David Westlake wanted to be one of the great poetic song crafters of the 80s but times meant it was bound never to come off despite the almost prettiness of this offering, followed by his splitting the band for a stalling solo career one EP later. D'oh. Bassist Phil King was later in Lush, while curmudgeonly future Auteur Luke Haines was in a later incarnation.
THE MACKENZIES - Big Jim (There's No Pubs In Heaven)
Back to Ron Johnson's mates, this one a right mess, starting with random, possibly untuned guitars and shouting, then turning into A Certain Ratio, then attempting both at the same time with the success rate that suggests. We've been unable to find anything else about them, so presumably after this it was goodbye Mr Mackenzies. Oh, suit yourselves.
BIG FLAME - New Way (Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology)
Mmm. And the band name was actually typographically bIG*fLAME and the singer had a mohican, in which he wasn't alone even on this set but it's still unbecoming for 1986. More Johnsonists, this could charitably be described as a complete mess, full of atonal, freeform guitars and shouting. It was claimed that two of them were in Wham!'s original backing band. Right.
WE'VE GOT A FUZZBOX AND WE'RE GOING TO USE IT - Console Me
Well before Pink Sunshine, matching jackets, the hiring of truckloads of balloons for videos and the shortening of the name, they were scrappy post-feminists who boasted about not being able to play properly yet sounding not unlike Elastica. Most of their pre-pop videos, with hair maintenance bills higher than cost, are on YouTube, if you're at all interested. Which you are.
MCCARTHY - Celestial City
The political wing, although their views, as stridently expressed as their guitars were soaring elsewhere (best known song: Should The Bible Be Banned?), are lost in hazy production and stridency here which doesn't help place their highly regarded position in the mid to late 80s scene very well, and there's not much crossover to guitarist Tim Gane's future band Stereolab.
THE SHRUBS - Bullfighter's Bones
Another really bad band name and another band valuing dissonance over the melodic cliche, heavily indebted to the Fall, only with an even more guttural Mark E Smith. It's by this point that we have to say that maybe that entry list for C86 has proved unkind to many here, as while most of them showed up their influences free from soul or dance elements they weren't necessarily of a piece that genre definitions might suggest. Whither that jangle now, though?
THE WEDDING PRESENT - This Boy Can Wait
Ah, here it is. We saw them live last year and can report they're still fiery and loud, and David Gedge still possesses the hair of a much younger man. The guitars attempt to overtake the rhythm section for pace, Gedge bemoans his lot in love, the works. In the twenty years since they've often been more subtle but with the same core standards, which might finally constitute some sort of actual C86 legacy.