C86 Expanded facebook page
C86 was a key release in the mid eighties documenting the fervent UK underground. It has always been thought that it didn’t quite tell the full story which was a complex and thrilling rush of music that would have been near impossible to capture but it’s now taken the chance to make the mini amends needed with an update that will tell the full story of the period.
Finally it looks like the definitive C86 will be released with nearly all the bands that made up the underground scene in the mid eighties in the UK included on a key release. The legendary C86 is to be expanded into a double CD and released on Cherry Red in spring 2014 with extensive notes and a book from NME writer at the time and key player and compiler with the original C86 release, Neil Taylor, who is interviewed here for LTW.
Q: A 2CD expanded edition of C86 is due for release in late spring 2014. The original NME tape came out in 1986. Why is now the right time to be bringing it back into official circulation?
Well it has certainly withstood the test of time, and although its history has sometimes been bumpy, the music associated with the era is more popular now, and there is more interest in it than at any time. And quite rightly so. Cherry Red, who are reissuing C86, put out the excellent Scared To Get Happy boxset last summer, which was one story of indie pop in the 1980s, and it has been quite a runaway success. From the reaction to that, it became clear that many people wanted to see an official release of C86. On a more personal level, I always felt that by seeing the tape reintroduced, I would be able to correct some of the misinterpretations that have sprung up about motivations surrounding the release of the original tape. It was never, for instance, intended to be an attempt to create a scene. Indeed the original advert in the NME was almost wishful in mentioning that it hoped (fingers crossed) that the tape would be one of the more successful tapes of theyear. It certainly didn’t see it as something with legs. And in fact, it sold slowly in the first month, but then quickly picked up, and then just kept selling and selling. Maybe that was because a lot of people around at the time and into that kind of indie music must have known that by 1986, certainly by the time the tape came out in May, whatever it was that it documented was over. It might have been better called C85! It was an incredibly naïve time in many ways, although we were fiercely political and deeply anti-Thatcher. It was impossible not to feel that way, especially after what happened to the miners during the miners’ strike of 1984/5. There was a much greater demarcation as well between the mainstream music industry and the independents. The majors couldn’t care less at the time about indie – after post punk, they signed what they thought were the cream of the bands and almost without exception the bands had been a failure. It was hardly surprising since the first thing the majors did was smooth out the musical nodules and bumps that probably had made that music interesting in the first place.
Then this year Sam Knees excellent book A Scene Betweencame out, collecting together indie photos throughout the 1980s. Looking at some of the shots was like watching the BFI films that Mitchell & Kenyon found from the start of last century: the images portrayed were a lost world. And in those photos people seemed to be having such fun. Again, it is a myth that the music and the people at the time were miserable. It was the biggest blast ever. Maybe I blame The Smith, or maybe I blame those journalists who find the period hard to tag and end up labelling it the ‘era of bad music’.
Q: Bob Stanley curated CD86 in 2006, to mark the 20thanniversary of C86. What’s different about the CD your proposing?
Ha! I thought CD86 was great and I liked the idea that they also had a celebratory outing at the ICA (C86 had been launched with a week of concerts at the ICA). They mixed it up a bit – Roddy Frame (whose Aztec Camera had been on C81) was on the bill, a little oddly, though did make a wonderful quip when he said that as a musician you could tell you were getting old when you started to lie about which NME cassette you had been on. No denying time had passed – another minor thing that caught my eye was the slogan they used: ‘Still Doing It For Fun’. I’m sure it was based on the Creation LP ‘Doing It For The Kids’, but many, of course,weren’t kids any more. John Reed, who orchestrated the Scared To Get Happy box set, and who is orchestrating C86, set some pretty stiff guidelines primarily to do with ensuring that each selection on the C86 CD is a credible selection. There is to be no wholesale revisionism (which is why you find a band like The Stone Roses on the bonus disc. They had material out at the time but their hour of greatness came a little later). It can only be bands whose tapes might have ‘landed on my desk around the time’ and feasibly made the cut. I’m sticking to this, although since I was a freelancer at the NME in 1986 I didn’t strictly speaking have a desk, so I am using that as an excuse to allow myself one or two minor deviations in terms of chronology and content. He needn’t worry – I’ve recently been researching the period an there aren’t too many lost bands whose genius was hidden under a bushel.
CD86 was flattering, but really it was homage. It stripped out all the noisier bands – stuff that might have been on a label like Ron Johnson or Vinyl Drip – and added much more of the more poppy stuff. Which was fine if you took the line, as many did and do, that C86 represents some sort of birth of indie pop. The plan is to release C86 as it originally was – clearances permitting – and I would like to add in a few more of those more manic bands on the bonus disc. One of the bands I regret us not putting on the tape, for instance, isPigbros. They had some fantastic sounds: I used to love ‘Perfect Cockney Hard On’!
Q: There has been a fair amount of debate about who should and shouldn’t have been on the tape. Do you think you got it right at the time?
C86 was a joint effort – from the three people listed as compiling it (myself and Roy Carr and Adrian Thrills) through to the bands, record labels and promoters who supported and chipped in to it. No, of course it wasn’t right! It was intended to document a moment, though – just the moment – and it did a pretty good job of doing that. Sometimes a band would be thinking, well we don’t want to give them our A side, we’ll just give them the b side and keep the best track for ourselves. In some cases, this was a mistake since the exposure they were all looking for proved ultimatelyeasier to get through the tape than through the few thousand record sales many clocked up. There were a lot of bands, as well, who were only at the demo stage of their career. But there were plenty of excellent bands and tracks represented. Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl, for instance, is a virtual blueprint for a sound that was still a few years away. In retrospect, I wish the tape had represented the genesis of the C86 moment – I regret not having Yeah, Yeah Noh! on the tape, and we should have added in The Membranes, forced The June Brides to have appeared on it, and one or two other bands.
The running order and track listing for the bonus disc is far from settled, but hopefully there could be as many as 25 tracks by the same number of artists, so it will broaden out considerably the original tape.
Q: You mention ‘research’. Will there be a book to go with the release of C86?
Yes, I’m halfway through a book which covers the period between late summer 1983 and spring 1986. The Living Room opened at the end of summer 1983, and although there were a number of other equally important venues such as The Pindar of Wakefield and Thames Poly in London, to name buttwo, Alan McGee’s club was a significant rupture. Ironically, it took a long time for the scene to gel and that happened long after The Living Room closed (in 1984). It was arguably only after The Jesus & Mary Chain broke through significantly at the end of 1984/start of 1985 that people, and in particular the music press, began to take note of what was happening and give it coverage. Hence why 1985 was so important. And May 1986 was of course when the C86 tape was issued. So much of what surrounds the mythology has been undocumented or glossed over: the inspired, small record company entrepreneurs who started out in the factory and in many cases ended up back there, the regional scene with wonderful clubs like Ziggys in Plymouth (set up by Jeff Barrett), and the club that Big Flame ran in Manchester, thefanzine culture and the wonderful scenesters and writers involved in it, the low-fi aesthetics of the bands, the whole death-to-trad-rock attitude, which would have worked, I believe, if more people had held on to their principles. There were too many indie folk around who in their haste to not get trapped in the indie ghetto ended up mimicking those they had originally despised and set out to topple.
I published my previous book (Document & Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade) through a mainstream publishing house, but I’m going to try to crowdfundC86 & All That, as the new book is called, taking the independent ethic to its logical conclusion. I’ll keep everyone posted as to when that happens.
Q: What to you is the legacy of C86?
I think there is an echo, just a faint echo, of a time when music – everything really – wasn’t so controlled. Of course it was really but we just didn’t realise it. We still had the naïve belief that we could be part of something that could bring about change for the better. It is not always the case, but too often now people have traded in any interest in that for a culture fed to them via major multinational corporations, who keep them occupied by supplying them with an endless stream of shiny gadgets and controlled technologies. Other than that, just take a look at those indie kids from the eighties, Don’t they just look so good? Don’t they just look like they’re having so much fun?