(and I’m talkin’ about my g-g-g-generation)
It’s 1989 and I’m sitting in my bedroom, pleased as punch that I’ve managed to de-press ‘pause‘ on the tape deck of my music centre at the exact moment The Wedding Present launch into their final song in yet another brilliant Peel Session. It’s a rattlin’, clatterin’ version of Altered Images’ perennial classic Happy Birthday (hear it here), and during a breakdown in the middle section David Gedge gleefully shouts, “Status Quo, 25 years in the biz-ness!” and the band “Yay!” back at him with hardly disguised irony. Old farts still churning out the same 3 chord nonsense to the same set of hairier, older fans. Roll over lay down grandad and let the young team through.
It’s 2011 and I’m sitting at my computer, pleased as punch that I’ve managed to get this blog somewhat back on track after a couple of months of having more important stuff to do. I’m researching some things for possible inclusion when I stumble upon the fact that 25 years ago this month (July 1986), the New Musical Express released C86, the now seminal cassette that featured a compilation of tracks by 22 staunchly independent bands du jour. Released being the key word here – despite 3 weekly music papers, no-one felt the need to give anything away for free. C86 could only be bought by mail order, whic thousands of alternative music fans did. Although I didn’t. I paid 50p for mine at a record fair in Kilmarnock a few years later. I still have the tape somewhere and after a bit of poking around I turn it up.
And whadayaknow? Track 1, side1? It’s only Primal Scream, still going strong after all these years. Last track, side 2? Why, it’s only little David Gedge with his Wedding Present, also still going strong after all these years – Yay! Twenty five years in the biz-ness indeed. Aye, so Primal Scream have seamlessly tripped their way through just about every sub-genre known to even the most trainspottery of musicologists, but there is still a band called Primal Scream who release records today, much like the Primal Scream who recorded Velocity Girl all those years ago (did the Stone Roses really rip it off for Made Of Stone? You decide). And The Wedding Present nowadays is a very different proposition to the band of George Best and all that jazz. Indeed, with the exception of the boy Gedge, the current line-up look like they’d have been playing pin the tail on the donkey at a jelly and ice-cream birthday party around the time C86 was made, but nonetheless The Wedding Present are still going strong. They even recently toured the Bizarro album again. What was that about old farts still churning out the same 3 chord nonsense to the same set of hairier, older fans? I love them, though. But you knew that already.
Most of the bands on C86 didn’t last a quarter of a century. Half Man Half Biscuit are still around – Yay! and Stephen Pastel can often be spotted still sporting the same dufflecoat, no matter the weather, in whatever part of Glasgow is deemed to be hippest that week. Thankfully the others could spot a shelf life when they saw one – in perhaps the same way that Spitfire and Shed 7 would be considered ‘important’ to musical heritage a decade later (ie, not at all important), Stump and Bogshed were maybe just about alright for the times and didn’t hang around too long afterwards. C86 became a lazy adjective for Steve Lamacq to use when describing under-achieving bands with bowl cuts, beads and a Byrdsian bent to their guitars. Which is more than a bit unfair, as to these ears, C86 had no actual defining sound. D’you know that smell you get when you walk past a group of 18/19 year old boys, all done up in their smart/casual gear and off to the local nitespot? A heady mix of Diesel, Dior and Davidoff that smells nothing like the sum of its parts? C86 is a bit like that. Aye, there’s floppy fringes and feyness ahoy, but there’s also experimentalism, big beats and the sort of music that was impossible to pigeonhole in 1986. The aesthetic of C86 was very much “we do this for ourselves and if anyone else likes it it’s a bonus“.
It was a movement, perhaps the twee-est, tamest of all youth movements, that was more about acne than anarchy, eczema than ecstasy, but it was a generation’s calling card, played out in the wastelands betwixt and between punk and house music, filling the void until the next proper movement arrived. We could do with that now. A proper musical movement to tease us, please us, invigorate and inspire. Or maybe we have. Is it Mumford & Sons & assorted pals pseudo folkest posho raggle taggle? Is it the skinny-jeaned and pointy-boots brigade from East London? Is it ‘mon the Biffy? I dunno. Maybe I’m one of the old farts. Actually, I know I am. Roll over lay down and all that, the young team are coming through….
In the meantime, dig out yer pipe and slippers, settle down in the rocking chair and crank up the old music centre. Here‘s C86 in all it’s itchy ‘n scratchy, low-fi, badly produced glory:
- Primal Scream – “Velocity Girl”
- The Mighty Lemon Drops – “Happy Head”
- The Soup Dragons – “Pleasantly Surprised”
- The Wolfhounds – “Feeling So Strange Again”
- The Bodines – “Therese”
- Mighty Mighty – “Law”
- Stump – “Buffalo”
- Bogshed – “Run to the Temple”
- A Witness – “Sharpened Sticks”
- The Pastels – “Breaking Lines”
- Age of Chance – “From Now On, This Will Be Your God”
- The Shop Assistants – “It’s Up to You”
- Close Lobsters – “Firestation Towers”
- Miaow – “Sport Most Royal”
- Half Man Half Biscuit – “I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)”
- The Servants – “Transparent”
- The Mackenzies – “Big Jim (There’s no pubs in Heaven)”
- Big Flame – “New Way (Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology)”
- Fuzzbox – “Console Me”
- McCarthy – “Celestial City”
- The Shrubs – “Bullfighter’s Bones”
- The Wedding Present – “This Boy Can Wait”
Musical karma chameleons Primal Scream have been through more changes than a (insert your own metaphor here).
Here‘s their stompin’ version of the Small Faces’ Understanding, featuring yer actual PP Arnold on vocals. And here‘s the Weatherall remix of Uptown, all 9 and a half minutes of struttin’ 70s dub disco and Chicago house – Hey, there’s about 3 movements right there in the one record! Beat that, kids.
There was a good article here in The Quietus from a few months ago about the genesis of C86. Worth 5 minute of anyone’s time.