C86 Heroes The Flatmates Return With New Lineup, Gigs & A SingleA few weeks ago we told you about “Scared To get Happy“,  a 5 CD box set which focussed on the era of indie pop’s history associated with NME’s landmark, free, C86 tape. One of the bands whose name which has become synonymous with said period was The Flatmates (despite not actually on said tape) and as if by magic, shortly after Scared To get Happy came out The Flatmates announced that they were not only reforming but that they had a few gigs & a new single lined up to release as well. Louder Than War, inevitably, were very excited… Read on for more background about The Flatmates & for details of their comeback.

Ah, the heady days that were the 80’s eh? Riding the wave that’d been the emergence of punk John Peel was in his pomp, ‘pop and politics’ were the order of the day and bands could expect to actually sell their music for money rather than have it stolen for nowt! Midway through said decade a certain well known music rag gave away a free tape strapped to the front of one of it’s issues, compiled by both said rag itself and what was then a nascent record label, Rough Trade. The intent was that C86 would “reflect the new music scene of the time”. And boy did it do that!

The movement that said tape begat a name for was, in the main, a mass reaction to the dreariness of the early 80’s. It has, over the years, mistakenly become synonymous with “cuteness” (as well as lollipops, badges and anoraks of course) but in actual fact it was much, much more than that – if, indeed, it was actually ever that at all! (At this point I should probably refer you to what our boss wrote about C86 on these pages, as well as what our Ged Babey wrote when he reviewed Scared To Get Happy for us). C86, essentially, was a continuation of the ethos of punk. It was the height of fanzine culture, a time when the words “pop” and “politics” were never more than a couple of words away & it was the time of the mighty Ron Johnson Records, a label which was home to many of the bands on C86 none of whom anyone would fit into a “twee” category!

Although the tape was a lot more spiky & edgy & lot less poppy & cute than it’s generally remembered The Flatmates were an exception to that rule – they conformed more with peoples conceptions of the genre. They were, to put it bluntly, “indie pop to the core”. Their music is now & was then a celebration of “life, and all things bright and beautiful” – as much an indie pop clarion call as you can get! They were also of course much loved by the man Peel himself whose championing of indie bands may have raised eyebrows in certain circles at the time (people who thought his job was to bring the unlistenable to listeners) but in others made his mid 80’s show the show it was. Over on Bristol Archive Records the band’s Martin Whitehead tells the tale of when the great man came to see them play their first ever live show:

The first gig as The Flatmates was on January 21st 1986, supporting Half Man Half Biscuit at ‘The Bunker’ at The Tropic Club in Bristol. The gig was the first that the newly discovered Half Man Half Biscuit had played south of Manchester. People even travelled from London for the gig including Radio 1 DJ John Peel who arrived too late to see The Flatmates. When he did turn up, Deb gave him a badge and told him he “didn’t miss much, cos we weren’t very good anyway”. A message which was relayed to all his listeners the following week. Thanks Deb.

The original incarnation of The Flatmates disbanded in 1989 after releasing several singles, (such as “I Could Be in Heaven”, “Happy All the Time” and “Shimmer”) which had varying degrees of success. They may have not released an album in that time but along the way they’d become one of the most highly regarded indie bands of the time & have become the template on which many bands since have based themselves.

Which brings us to 2013 & imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I logged into Facebook & found an invite to a gig by …  The Flatmates themselves! A bit more research & I’d found out the band had indeed properly reformed & had a clutch of shows lined up. The new lineup features original band members Martin Whitehead (head honcho of the record label “The Subway Organization” on which The Flatmates records were released), Rocker (famous now as one of Dandelion Radio’s founding DJs & whose monthly 3 hour show is as big a treat for all fans of contemporary indiepop as you can find anywhere) and new singer Lisa Bouvier. At the shows the band will be playing a mixed bag of material including songs old &, excitingly, songs new some of which will be released as a new single. Last week they sneaked onto a bill at The Wunderbar, Midsomer Norton & played what was their 151st gig & the first since 1989. A video of one of the songs they played is below.


Rocker’s said about the comeback:

Martin (guitar) and I (ex-drummer, now keyboards) have been planning the comeback since he sent me some raw demos in 2007, I saw straightaway there were some great new songs here, and together we made up some backing tracks, however original singer Deb made it clear she did not want to be involved, and despite my efforts to persuade her, the project was put on hold, Martin and I agreeing that we could not resurrect The Flatmates unless we found a singer as good as Deb.

In 2012 we discovered Lisa (Vocals), who has her own band, and has been playing with several others including bass for The Proctors. She was perfect as lead singer, and jumped at the opportunity to join up. We then realised we needed a line up to play live, so we added Brian (Drums) and Verity (Bass), who are both active in the Bristol indie scene.

The Flatmates play their first gigs for 24 years in a couple of weeks:

Bristol Exchange Fri Aug 23rd – Tickets

London The Miller Aug 24th – Tickets.

Brighton At The Edge Of The Sea Fest Aug 25th – Tickets.

Nottingham Pop All-Dayer on Sept 14th – Tickets.

These dates will be followed by a short tour in October which will take the band to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield.

The Flatmates have a new 7″ coming out to coincide with the tour. Titled “You Held My Heart” & written by Lisa it’ll be released on drummer Brian’s Archdeacon Of Pop record label, in conjunction with Local Underground and of course The Subway Organization. You can pre-order the vinyl & stream / purchase downloads here.

To get an idea of what that’ll sound like check out the video below.


All words Guy Manchester. More words by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.

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Guy is a former full time member of the Louder Than War editorial team, who's since moved on to pastures new. Music's been a large part of his life since he first stumbled across Peel on his tranny as a fifteen year old. His whole approach to music was learnt from Peel in fact, which includes having as inclusive a taste in music as possible. Guy devotes most of his time looking for new music & although he's been known to say "the only good music is new music" he pretty much accepts this is bollocks. Favourite band The Minutemen.


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