Last week we published a piece about the return of one of the mid 80’s bands whose name became synonymous with the famous C86 scene, The Flatmates. Today we’re thrilled to be able to bring you another Flatmates feature in the form of recollections of the band by a member of another band much loved by Peel at the same time, Glenn Airey of The Rosehips. Also accompanying the piece we have another video shot during The Flatmates surprise comeback warm up gig at The Wunderbar, Midsomer Norton two weeks ago.

The Flatmates play their first proper show for donkeys years this Friday at The Exchange in Bristol. They then have several other dates lined up as well, details of which can be found on the article mentioned above which you can find here.

Over to Glenn:

My rather tangential relationship with the Flatmates goes back to 1986 when I was in a band called the Rosehips and Martin Whitehead signed us for his Subway Organization label. One of our first gigs (and certainly the first away from our hometown of Stoke) was supporting the Flatmates downstairs at the Caribbean-themed Tropic Club. I think Martin invited us down to have a look at us before finalising the signing, and we were thrilled afterwards to learn we had passed the audition.

We went on to play around the country with the Flatmates maybe half a dozen times, maybe more. We became their ‘little brother / sister’ band for a while I think. We all became good friends and, on at least one occasion, Flatmate-Rosehip relations took a more carnal turn although don’t bother asking for more details on that as they won’t be forthcoming.

So Naive by The Rosehips

Martin also produced our two singles for the label and carried out a bit of management work although, really, the scene was so DIY and we came and went so quickly that it didn’t amount to too much.

The Flatmates were genuinely great live and, to us as teenagers, also extremely cool. Debbie and Sarah were strong, equal partners, not the stereotypical indie-girl gimmicks. We were mad for the Ramones and the ‘mates covered my favourite song, I Don’t Care (and possibly others I’ve forgotten.) They were a brilliant, get-up-and-dance, punky pop group with almost too much energy, thanks in large part to Rocker’s rather ramshackle drumming. I mean it very affectionately – when Rocker left the Flatmates, we snapped him up -and as they got rather slicker I must admit I lost interest a bit as my own tastes took me in noisier directions.

That the ‘mates didn’t enjoy more chart success in the late 80s, however, has always surprised me. They looked good and dressed cool – no ‘Sleeperblokes’ here – and the songs were definitely up to scratch. Maybe there was just too much competition in what was still an emerging indie-crossover market, although you have to say that some of those who did achieve more lacked some of the Flatmates’ very obvious credentials.

There were, frankly, some right wankers on the indie scene at that time – big time attitudes weren’t unusual at even the pokiest little gig – but the Flatmates were always lovely to us as well as ticking all our boxes when it came to style and influences. Ramones, Jonathan Richman, 60s girl groups, all check. Plus ice-cool Sarah on bass totally rocking the Tina Weymouth look. Swoon!

As I say, we drifted apart a bit as the ‘mates developed a more mainstream sound, but I still remember feeling very proud of them when the great Errol Brown gave Shimmer the thumbs-up on Radio 1’s Round Table, even if he did add ‘it sounds as if they’re just learning to play their instruments’ which might have upset Martin a bit!

It’s a different world now, of course, in all sorts of ways. The current Flatmates line-up is both younger and older at the same time. I like what I’m hearing and I’ve no doubt that a couple of decades rest and a return to the grassroots will result in more great recordings and memorable gigs. Long live the Flatmates.

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And here’s that second video by The Flatmates from their surprise comeback / warm up gig at The Wunderbar, Midsomer Norton two weeks ago. The track’s called Shimmer.

All words by Glenn Airey. More writing by Glenn on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. He can also be found on Twitter where he tweets as @GlennAirey.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great piece. Cool band. I saw the Flatmates play a great gig in Southampton around 1987/88 and remember chatting to them afterwards and they told me they had played a then-unreleased Pauline Murray song called This Thing Called Love. I’ve always wondered how they managed that, and if they ever recorded it. (Pauline later did with the Storm).

    • We covered This Thing Called Love after I heard Pauline Murray and The Storm play it at a gig in Bristol in 1987, and realised what a great song it was. We were unable to release it until Pauline had it published, her version came out in 1988 on a 12″. The Flatmates version crops up on the “Love And Death” CD comp which came out after the band had split in 1989, and is now fairly hard to find. We hope to reissue it in the next year or two. Follow us on Facebook for latest updates.

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