McCarthy, C86 And The ‘P’ Word

(There is zero point in reading the following if you’re under thirty. )


McCarthy – really saying something

So you know how it goes…

…you’re googling around the cyberwent, just passing time till the dishwasher finishes and you can get blasted in the face by eggy steam as you open it, when…

You find a fabulous page about a magical period in pop music.

I ended up there because I was looking for McCarthy info. For me, they’re another of the great lost pop bands of history. I nearly got to see them live at The Dial but Gary Baker broke his arm and the gig was called off. Bugger. It didn’t stop me shamelessly trying to rip them off, though. Fast, jangly, angry guitar pop – McCarthy wrote the required text. And I plagiarised it.

And then, looking through the stuff about Jamie Wednesday, I came upon Bob, another forgotten indiepop gem. I did get to see them play and it was an amazing gig. They played a jaunty, boppy variant of indie, like that purveyed by The Brilliant Corners or, more recently, Milky Wimpshake. I’ve still got a copy of Bob’s ‘Swag Sack’ and it makes me smile whenever I listen to it. It’s ultrapop.

I got to drive round Bob for some reason. I can’t remember why, maybe getting them some chips or something. They were lovely blokes, very silly and friendly. A bit like The Family Cat, who White Town were lucky enough to support. (I’ve not gone insane and started using my band name as a strange third-person thing, that was back when White Town was a guitar indie band. Not just me and a load of synths.)

I’m rambling. Forgive me, I must have swallowed some Deep Heat by accident.

I was 19 / 20 when C86 happened. It made a lasting but subtle impression on me (had to be subtle – I was too fat for paisley). It changed my brain. It was a kind of post-punk burp, a late-80s flowering of hapless, passionate and mostly commercially pointless pop music. It wasn’t weird to form a band just to play gigs for yourself. Or, like I did, to book a gig before you actually had a band. Or any songs. Or could play the guitar.

It wasn’t uncool to sing about your own life, your politics or perhaps your fascination with Katherine Hepburn. Getting signed? Well, yeah, that’d be lovely but who to? It’s not like EMI were keen on the shambolic bedsit agitpop of most of the C86ers.


Wonder what? Wonder what the fuck you’re on about…

When labels who had a roster of C86 bands did score big, it wasn’t with those acts but with appalling ham-fisted karaoke like Oasis. Welcome to the arid, crapulous ’90s. Hello Chris fucking Evans, fake football fans and Loaded. The only good musical things in the ’90s were Riot Grrl and hip hop. The rest was lardy, apolitical, parka-wearing, stadium-filling utter shite.

Oooh, sorry – I mentioned the ‘p’ word again, didn’t I? Look, I’m not claiming that everyone with a bowl cut and a Jasmine Minks t-shirt in 1988 was some kind of Narodnik but there was a fundamental difference in musical aesthetic then. I think it was a musical version of Italian Neorealism. There was a connection with the artist’s outer world, documentary pop. What that pop documented varied from artist to artist, certainly, but it was all more real than now. More connected.

And something else… How can I explain it… ah yes: bands were crappy and proud. Prog was anathema, the sonic atrocities of post-rock and mathrock had yet to be invented (prog by any other name) and if you knew how to play a bit too well, people would eye you with distrust and invariably try to set fire to the laces of your Docs.

The idea was all. What are you trying to say? What do you want to express? Never mind if you only know three chords, anything more is jazz funk anyway. Just get it out, form a band, play a gig, record some stuff somewhere cheap or free and then release it. Could be on cassette, could be, if you’re very lucky, on a flexi or 7″. Just GET ON WITH IT! The personal is political: the act of releasing your own music, of not waiting for permission from some cokehead, arsefaced A&R raccoon is a fundamental rejection of the model corporate capitalism has for the production of music.

Now, we have a different music scene. We have bands who can record 64+ audio tracks on their own home computers, maybe at 24bit / 192KHz if they feel like it. We have musicians who are immensely technically able. Hey, those guys can really play! The average home computer can burn a CD! You can make your own CD of your own original music, no record companies involved at any time – how magic is that?

There is nothing logistical standing in the way of a new explosion of creativity. If you’re too poor to afford your own music computer, use one at school/college/Uni/work. Or do it on a cassette four track, who cares about recording quality anyway?

And yet…

All the guitar lessons in the world can’t create a mindset. All the gear in the world won’t suddenly make a songwriter connect with that world and try to represent/change it, like a lot of the C86 bands did. And yeah, I know it was an overwhelmingly white, male, middle-class scene: believe me, I felt that all too deeply, often being the only non-white face at indie gigs. But despite the demographic deficits, there was a lot of hope, integrity and fervour there.

Being very cynical, I guess you could say it was cool to be independent and anti-major so that became the prevailing zeitgeist. Now I think it’s become cool to be a dead-fish-eyed celebrity whore. You don’t form a band to make music, you form a band as a stepping-stone to FAME! Why do you want to be famous? Ummm…. to fill that yelping, whimpering hole inside you. Just look at some of the “musicians” applying for X Factor.

Yes, I’m being nostalgic. Yes, nostalgia is always wrong, as wrong as a Tory MP telling us their hip music tastes. But I’m every so slightly right, too. If something as stupendously evil as the Iraq invasion had happened during the C86 era, you can bet it would have set the musical world on fire. Just as the Miners’ Strike did a bit earlier. Things weren’t so brain-numbingly safe and apolitical then – I do believe the average band did more and cared more.

Nowadays, indie bands don’t even care enough to pay lip service to the most evil event of the last ten years. The average indie songwriter is a very handsome bloke pretending to be a nerd, mewling about some failed relationship that never even happened. Why? Because that’s what indie is: whingeing by numbers. Let’s keep mining that teenage angst seam, it’s where the money is!

Reality doesn’t touch modern indie bands, they’ve retreated into an imaginary 1950s, a seaside postcard Britpop dream. All mockney swaggering and fuck-all to say about the real world. Videos shot on appropriately grimy council estates that cost ten times the average resident’s yearly income. Fake poverty, fake angst, fake second-hand clothes. Real?


ADF – the true heirs to the C86 DIY aesthetic?

In the real world, I’m going to this protest on Sunday. The always excellent Asian Dub Foundation are playing at 5pm. Since music scenes like C86 and bands like McCarthy don’t exist any more, there’s no indie band playing.

********** New Bit! ************

Turns out I’m half wrong and half right about the apolitical nature of current indie bands. Tomorrow night at the Brixton Academy, there’s an indie gig on in benefit of The HOPING Foundation which works with Palestinian children in refugee camps. So there you go, an indie band actually connecting with the real world. But who’s the band?

Primal Scream.

Yep… C86 band Primal Scream. They started off jangly, went rock and now have become bastard heavy disco. Here’s what Bobby Gillespie has to say about it:

When I was growing up in Scotland, my dad, a print workers’ union leader, made trips to Nicaragua to support the Sandinistas. He would persuade factory owners to donate paper, and he sent school books, pens and jotters to the children. It was the obvious thing to do then, and it’s the same today with Palestine. The way it looks to us, every Palestinian is a political prisoner – and every Palestinian has the right to be free.

The band has been wanting to do this for a long time. We are all so upset and appalled with what is going on there. Of course, we’re not the first musicians in this country to try to use our music to help those who need support. John Lennon used his name and money to oppose the Vietnam war and support the workers on strike. If Lennon were still on this earth, he’d be doing Palestine. In fact, he’d be rocking the Brixton Academy tomorrow night.
(Source: The Guardian)

Good to see at least one indie band with a functioning heart.