The story so far: In 1986, as you may well know, NME released a cassette, C86, showcasing the diverse independent talent of the day. In 2014, Cherry Red Records made the astute decision to re-issue the collection on CD with 50 bonus tracks. It was such a success that last year, original compiler Neil Taylor imagined what an equivalent collection from the following year might have looked like, and thus the 3CD indie treasure trove C87 was born.
So, the good news for 80s indie fans everywhere is that this sequence has now been extended to include a compilation of (mainly!) 1988 material in the shape of, you guessed it, C88. And what a collection it is: 71 tracks, almost all of which are difficult or impossible to find (on physical formats at least) in 2017. Many songs make their first appearance on CD.
It’s a nice touch too that the collection begins with a track taking a playful swipe at the indie scene, a song which actually includes a line about sending off for (and failing to receive) a mail-order only Soup Dragons single. It could only be the irrepressible Pooh Sticks with their ’88 classic ‘On Tape’. The Stone Roses‘ meanwhile, chip in with the Peter Hook-produced ‘Elephant Stone (7″ Version)’ – probably the only track on the album that you could get your hands on in your local High Street store, if you are lucky enough to have one. But this album isn’t really about the indie big-hitters: you won’t find Happy Mondays or The Wedding Present here, but you will find The Man From Delmonte (if you are of a certain age, you may remember the fruit juice ad) with their jaunty, brass led ‘(Will Nobody Save) Louise?’ , and The Charlottes, whose excellent sub-two minute single ‘Are You Happy Now?’ sounds like a slightly more spirited version of The Darling Buds (who appear later).
Other Disc 1 highlights include the short-lived Moss Poles fuzz-bass delight of ‘One Summer’, and Bridewell Taxis‘ ‘Lies’, which marries an insistent guitar riff with brass and Felt-ish vocals. Choo Choo Train offer up a truly hard-to-find gem, a mainstream-sounding, almost early XTC in texture single ‘High’, while Bradford, who were championed by Morrissey (and supported him on his first ever solo show) contribute the yearning ‘Tattered, Tangled and Torn’. A real delight arrives in the form of Creation Records’ intriguing Pacific, who had a couple of really fantastic singles out on the label; ‘Shrift’ was one, and the other ‘Barnoon Hill’ is wisely included here. Their electronic sound used Atari computers and the distinctive vocals of Dennis Wheatley. Their tenure was brief but notable. Shoegaze icons Pale Saints offer up a demo of ‘Colours and Shapes’, revealing that their early sound was more in the jangly vein, the song having a hint of Primal Scream‘s debut album track ‘Leaves’. They would go on to make a gigantic leap on their classic 1990 debut album Comforts Of Madness.
Disc 2 begins with one of the bigger names on the collection, The House Of Love, with the B-side of their wonderful ‘Christine’ single. This one has vocals from Andrea Heukamp rather than regular singer Guy Chadwick and thus shows a different side to the band. It’s another imaginative selection in a series that never goes for the obvious. Another band who had success in the actual Top 40 comes along in the shape of Leeds’ Cud, whose contribution is the typically irreverent ‘Slack Time’. The Sea Urchins‘ ‘Please Rain Fall’ was arguably the greatest triumph of Sarah Records, a truly lovely single from the band who would split three years later and splinter off into Delta and Amusiacs.
Kitchens Of Distinction and The Heart Throbs make welcome appearances with ‘Prize’ and ‘Too Many Shadows’ respectively, the latter being one of a number of gloriously spiky, heartfelt singles that the band left off their eventual debut album, Cleopatra Grip. The Darling Buds, themselves only months away from an appearance in the grown-up charts, are here with their finest moment, ‘Shame On You’, while a couple of other bands who would make the crossover to the mainstream fairly spectacularly, The Shamen and Inspiral Carpets also appear. The Shamen were still in their (excellent) psych-pop phase, a million miles from ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, while the Inspirals demonstrate that they didn’t mess with their sound much at all to get the hits rolling in; they were swept up in the Madchester scene without really trying to put out an indie-dance record, (with the possible exception of ‘Commercial Rain’). Lesser-known gems come in the shape of songs by Bubblegum Splash, Murrumbidgee Whalers (try finding a 7″ of their ‘Giving Way To Trains’, limited to 250 copies on Ahab! Records – not even Discogs has a copy!), and Peel favourites Rote Kapelle.
Disc 3 begins in fine style with another Creation band, Revolving Paint Dream (featuring future Primal Scream member Andrew Innes), and their splendid two-minute masterpiece ‘Sun, Sea, Sand’. The Fizzbombs throw in the wonderfully fuzzy (fizzy?) ‘Surfaround’, and The Wake appear with the sparkling synth-led male/female duet of ‘Crush The Flowers’ which is apparently a demo but sounds like a Top 10 hit. Whirl appear with the hard-to-find power pop delight of ‘Clear’, while other highlights of the final disc include offering by Holidaymakers, The Great Leap Forward and the delightfully mournful ‘Cubans in The Bluefields’ by Easy Village.
All in all, C88 is an absolute goldmine illustrating a fascinating time in indie music, post-Smiths but pre-baggy, and this review has only scratched the surface. Particular praise should go to compiler Neil Taylor who has avoided the usual, predictable suspects to create a superb collection of music that would otherwise be out of reach for most fans. As with the other sets in the series, the artwork and 9,000 word booklet is a delight too. Every home should have one.
C88 is released by Cherry Red Records on 30th June 2017.