This month Cherry Red releases a 5 CD set, “Scared To Be Happy: a Story Of Indie-Pop 1980-1989”. 134 tracks, hours of, I’m afraid, mostly harmless fun.It is a pretty broad selection, the criteria seems to be that if John Peel played your track on his show then you were a contender. There are few things more dull than men old enough to know better going “rhubarb, rhubarb” about the definition of “indie” & how come my favourite band, which is even more obscure than Bad Dream Fancy Dress or 14 Iced Bears, didn’t make the cut. So here’s some music…
Time has not served the music of the 1980s too well. Even the best of the synths & suits bands now sound a little lame. I loved Heaven 17 & ABC at the time but I rarely reach for their dry, drum-machine, white boy funk these days. The worst of them, the Thompson Twins, anyone or anything who would describe themselves as “New Romantic”, were always awful. The jangle-pop, guitar based bands of the C86 generation were OK, they referenced a lot of music that I liked. I do however prefer my sounds to not be too precious, to have, I guess, cojones. Husker Du or Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike ? Guess.
The Quality Control Dept here at loosehandlebars have been divided about the posting of “Almost Prayed” by the Weather Prophets. Nothing to do with the music, it’s a fine record. Everything to do with the leather trousers. Come on, are there no mirrors in your house mate ? The Prophets were formed after the Loft, an early signing to Creation Records, broke up, impressively, in mid-gig. The band not only stayed with the label, founder Alan McGhee managed & even played bass with them for a while. “Almost Prayed” a 1986 single was as good as it got for the Weather Prophets.It got them on the telly & down to the trouser shop & erm…I quite like this slice of the Weather Prophets but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.
This is more like it. The House Of Love came to play with the big boys. Straight out of South London they looked, with some justification, upon “indie” as a ghetto. These young guns were hoping to hang out with U2 & the like. They had the songs which did the important trick of tipping the hat to the correct classic influences but sounding modern & dynamic at the same time. “Shine On” was released by Creation in 1987. After a big bucks major deal all the stops were pulled out to make the song the hit that it seemed to be. The House Of Love was a double act. Guy Chadwick wrote good songs (“Destroy The Heart”, “Beatles & the Stones”, check ’em out). Guitarist Terry Bickers knew his rock history & made the songs sound better. However Chadwick was a motormouth, the interviews where Bickers sits silently are a little disturbing. The boys were eager for the rock & roll lifestyle before they had earned it. Their big advance went down their necks & up their noses & Terry became increasingly paranoid about becoming sidelined. He left the band in a blaze of glorious burning bank notes, magic mushrooms & Sham 69 tunes. Terry Bickers was not a well man, by the time a re-recorded “Shine On” made TOTP he had been replaced. The House Of Love were just another band that could have.
“Scared To Be Happy” has no tracks by Orange Juice, the Smiths & Felt, 3 bands who,whatever your indie parameters, made a big impression. I know that it’s a licensing thing not a judgement call. Included are bands who were a big deal, Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain & My Bloody Valentine (all off of Creation). There are bands who did sell records & there is the next generation, the Stone Roses & the La’s. There is an unreleased demo by We’ve Got A Fuzz Box & We’re Gonna Use It…what the f…?
Oh & there is a track from this noisy bunch of guitar guerrillas.
That Petrol Emotion’s contribution to “Scared” is “Its A Good Thing”, a single from 1986 but I’m going with “Abandon” from 1990’s “Chemicrazy” LP because just look at the clip…this good at a soundcheck ! TPE, a fine bunch of Derrymen with an American singer, kicked ass with their first 2 LPs. The O’Neill brothers, John & Damien, had been part of our favourite young pop-punks the Undertones. 10 years on they wanted to write about more than chocolate & girls but crunchy guitar hooks played like ringing a bell were, by now, 2nd nature. The aptly named “Manic Pop Thrill” was followed by the melting pot of “Babble”, a hit round our yard but, on reflection, ahead of its time.
At the end of the 80s there was a change in the British music scene. In 1988 Acid House broke big across the country, DJs not bands carried the swing. A new gang of boys, led by the Roses, turned up. The “Madchester” mob, the ” baggy” brigade, indie-dance they called it. In 1990 TPE, hit by the departure of John O’Neill & the no show of the expected breakthrough, got a gale force of a 2nd wind with “Chemicrazy”. The crackling charged energy of the guitars, the lyrics written by grown ups & Stevie Mack on top vocal form, was an autobahn ahead of those boys whose default setting was banal. Indie-dance, pah ! This was dance-rock.
That Petrol Emotion did not consider themselves to be part of any scene. Only yesterday, I am informed by the NSA, the writer of “Abandon” denied an affinity to “any of that fey indie bollix”. Charming language Mr Gorman ! Members of TPE drift across my F-book screen as do members of 2 of the bands who also feature on the set & are playing this weekend at a promo gig. The June Brides & the BMX Bandits always were & still are good value. Incredibly they will share the stage with 14 Iced Bears…huh ! I have no definitive or original conclusions about British Indie. The music I listened to in the 80s was by TPE who are included but probably don’t fit, Stump, on C86 but not here & Yargo …yeah, Yargo. Another guy I listened to was Michael Stipe, he said “My feeling is that labels are for canned food”…It’s a broad church & music is love, especially the good music.
Mr Duglas T Stewart off of the BMX boys, if I can persuade myself that making a “friend request” is not the lamest thing a grown person can do then I hope you will look kindly on your Inbox. Also The Everlasting Yeah, 4 of That Petrol Emotion, are about to announce some gigs & let’s hope for some new music from them too, that first batch of tunes were the very thing.