In the Summer of 1986, NME released their latest mail order cassette, C86, which earned its place in indie legend by pitching some fairly well known names (such as The Wedding Present and Primal Scream) with (then) lesser-known artists such as A Witness and Mighty Mighty.
The potential follow-up, C87, never happened back then but now, original C86 compiler Neil Taylor has put that right by selecting a whopping 74 tracks that would have been ideal for such a venture – and Cherry Red Records have packaged it up into a desirable 3 CD box. The criteria for the selection of songs is that they were released between C86 and the end of 1987, and that they don’t feature on Cherry Red’s other compilations (such as the reissued C86 – with 50 bonus tracks – or the excellent 5CD set Scared To Get Happy). This gives Taylor a range of 18 months in what was an incredibly exciting and productive time for independent music.
The compilation is not only clearly a labour of love for Taylor, but also an excellent way to get hold of so many hard to find (and / or expensive) tracks. For instance, if you fancy the 7″ of Disc 1, Track 1, the excellent ‘Pristine Christine’ by The Sea Urchins, you would be looking at £350 for the cheapest copy on Discogs. Plus postage.
There are fascinating early tracks by a number of bands who went on to have ‘proper’ Top 40 success: The House Of Love appear with their debut ‘Real Animal’, while there are also formative cuts by The Wonder Stuff, The Wedding Present, The Primitives and Inspiral Carpets. Few hearing The Shamen’s fantastic 60s psych single ‘Young Till Yesterday’ would have foreseen ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ coming down the line a few short years later. Of the other bigger-name bands on C87, Pop Will Eat Itself feature with their finest grebo moment (the irresistible ‘Sweet Sweet Pie’), while there isn’t a person in the world who couldn’t have their day brightened by the ebullient ‘Hang-Ten!’ by The Soup Dragons. The Darling Buds make a welcome appearance with a rare flexi-disc (surely a revival of that format is on the cards) version of ‘Spin’, while the sometimes-maligned Railway Children turn in their loveliest moment, the Factory Records single ‘Brighter’, which still sounds like a sure-fire hit, and of course, wasn’t. Cud, meanwhile, give a previously-unreleased demo of ‘Mind The Gap’, which is a fitting reminder of their charm and humility, not to mention humour.
Then we have the category of the bands who very nearly crossed over into the mainstream: The Heart Throbs (appearing here with ‘I, The Jury’) should have been HUGE and released a stream of brilliant singles featuring Rose Carlotti’s wonderfully strong, emotional vocals set against killer tunes, before eventually they got a little Radio 1 air play but never quite got the success they deserved. It was a similar story for The Bodines, who chip in with ‘Clear’ after having their finest moment (the jangle-pop heaven of ‘Therese’) steal the show on C86. The Weather Prophets were another group seemingly on the verge of the big time, signing to the indie / major hybrid Elevation label and releasing songs not dissimilar to early R.E.M. but not enjoying the commercial success of that band. They feature here with the marvellous ‘In My Room’, a countryish B-side which deserves its place here and a little more attention.
Another track here worth of the familiar ‘How was that not a hit?’ question is the very sunny ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’, by The Motorcyle Boy, while The Chesterf!elds‘ ‘Ask Johnny Dee’, a janglesome paean to a fanzine editor, begs the same question. Miaow‘s ‘When It All Comes Down’ is a welcome treat too; singer Cath Carroll went on to produce some sophisticated pop music under her own name, but here lends her voice to a brilliantly euphoric single which was the best thing that Miaow put their name to.
Anyone under a certain age may have a vision of the John Peel show being all ‘Teenage Kicks’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, but in reality the listener could get a much more accurate idea of Peel’s programme by listening to some of the tracks on disc 3: Bog-shed and A Witness were an archetypal Peel bands, the former sounding like The Fall‘s early stuff, albeit with a notably different vocal style, courtesy of the sadly departed Phil Hartley who quite possibly was a major influence on Sleaford Mods, while the latter offer up the pleasingly discordant ‘Red Snake’. Stump were another firm Peel favourite, the wonderfully barmy lyrics and vocals of Mick Lynch, (who heartbreakingly died last year just as the band were gearing up for a return), blended wonderfully with the elastic, extraordinary bass of Kev Hopper to create a truly unique sound, illustrated perfectly here with ‘Tupperware Stripper’. It is fair to say that some of the more ‘challenging’ sounds feature on disc 3, with Mackenzies and The Shrubs completing a hat-trick (alongside A Witness) of influential record label Ron Johnson, which traded in angular, off-kilter pop.
There is such an embarrassment of riches on display here that it is impossible to mention all of the artists, but if you were around indie clubs or late night Radio 1 in the mid-80s, you will find a veritable treasure trove on offer in C87. If you weren’t, all the more reason to use C87 to catch up on what you missed! A truly brilliantly put-together collection. Roll on C88.