C87 kid Will Potter rewinds and reviews Nige Tassell’s Indie Odyssey
More than 35 years ago, the NME invited a grab bag of 22 bands to submit tracks for a cheap-and-cheerful cassette compilation, a coupon offer for regular readers. The wags at the Musical Express called it C86, a follow-up to 1981’s, er, C81. The line-up (The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Wolfhounds, The Bodines, Mighty Mighty, The Shop Assistants, Close Lobsters and such) epitomised the period’s independent music scene and C86 soon lent its name to the melodic, sometimes wistful, sometimes awkward, indie-pop of the era.
Inspired by a re-listen, journalist and sports writer Nige Tassell decided to go on a quest to track down the bands behind C86. As such, the book bears comparison to Dave Simpson’s 2008 book The Fallen, that attempted to track down every member of The Fall. Nige’s resulting interviews with the ‘C86 Kids’ provide a snapshot of a time before TikTok, pre-internet, a fanzine-friendly period when word of mouth, John Peel and the inkies (NME, Sounds and Melody Maker) were the only ways to gain a following. Nige has done his research and provides a vivid picture of the era that broke the bands.
1986 is a period I have much fondness for. I was a student in Leeds at the time. CUD were bedding down. We’d enrol in the class of C87; we didn’t get our own cassette*. We watched, filmed, supported, played pool with, stole beer from, and clubbed with several of the bands from this classic tape, and followed a similar path of Enterprise Allowance Scheme support, Dale Griffin-produced Peel sessions and bankrupt indie labels.
For some bands C86 was a tag better shed but for most it was a career boost. It was a small step to greater things for Primal Scream, Fuzzbox, Half Man Half Biscuit, for example. For others it was a peak. Some here have continued to trade as the original band or joined others. Some are part-time while making ends meet with respectable day jobs. Others were less fortunate. Not every artist is still with us.
Having been post-CUD for a decade before we reformed, and never a full-time indie-popper since, I am much intrigued as to what band members do once the record deals wither and tours end, musical differences intrude and bills land on the doormat. I am genuinely impressed by musicians stepping out of the limelight to knuckle down to the nine to five. The Soup Dragons’ bass player Sushil sums up his motivation: “I wanted to be normal!”
Nige seeks out not just the singers but the tambourine players and saxophonists (well, just the one saxophonist) and provides balanced portraits. These are amiable chats over a cuppa rather than shared crates of beer backstage. The interviewees are honest about both success and disappointments. Considering the subject, much of the talk is of the end of a bright career. The post-band trajectory of Sean Dickson is particularly eye-opening.
For such a well-remembered compilation, it seems many of the bands rue offering a B-side or sub-par recording. Yet, the low-fi quality is part of the tape’s charm. The opener, Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl was a B-side and is a perfectly crafted sub-two-minute tune, a template for The Stone Roses. The 22 songs evoke an innocent era, eager, edgy newcomers making the best racket that fifty quid in an eight-track studio can manage. The compilation is joyous as is Nige’s 35-years-later postscript.
My only criticism of the Indie Odyssey is that Nige includes so much detail of his detective work that you, dear readers, could follow his tracks and hound elusive band members. Please don’t. Just delve into Nige’s research, dig out your scuffed cassettes, gel up your quiff if you still have one, don your Oxfam overcoat or that baggy cardigan you wore to watch the Pastels, and gyrate to the original jangle.
* Though Cherry Red imagined a sequel, C87, in 2016 and put us on it.
Whatever Happened To The C86 Kids?: An Indie Odyssey by Nige Tassell is published on 18 August by Nine Eight Books and can be pre-ordered from the usual suspects.
In a timely fashion, CUD are playing with C86 alumni Mighty Mighty at the Castle and Falcon, Birmingham on December 3. Tickets here.