Tuesday, 28 November 2017

C86 and all that by Neil Taylor

History is written by the victors and ebay vendors. So C86 has come to mean something the tape's compilers and contributors weren't aware of, because it didn't exist: a scene based around bands who played jangly guitars and were in thrall to the Buzzcocks, The Byrds, Orange Juice and the Velvet Underground's Loaded.

Neil Taylor's thorough study of the UK's underground guitar scene after post-punk - or C81 as it wasn't called - digs deep into the world of fanzines and micro scenes in small towns. It looks under the surface, in some cases several miles underground, to reveal what was going on when goth was happening overground.

The early 80s indie scenes were a punk rematch inasmuch as the acts had noted, as Taylor points out with reference to The Nightingales, "there was a credibility gap between what punk was meant to represent and what it actually was". Or, later, that The June Brides were "music that was punk rock but sought to speak to people rather than shout at them".

These scenes, though, weren't simply a correction to punk. Many acts were reacting to the mid-80s overtly glossy MTV pop. It was a fight they could never win, but the point was that it was worth fighting.

What Taylor does very well is introduce all the building blocks that created the scenes and then the scenes themselves. Taylor introduces links, but offers no overarching connection between the disparate scenes. The reader is invited to connect fanzines and labels and bands - some people were involved in all three creative outlets - and realise how the underground created its support networks of fans, club nights and gigs.

The reaction to C86 was swift in part, Taylor explains, because the NME's rival paper Melody Maker, attacked most of the bands on there and reduced the jangly ones to a simplistic, unpolitical, asexual mass.

A more astute observer would have noticed that 5 of the acts came from one label, Ron Johnson, so maybe angular, edgy, anti-pop was the real C86 sound. Or that there was no C86 sound, as The Servants' David Westlake explains:

"I was conscious of there being a scene centred on a number of disparate bands. There are precedents for different people on a scene or in a putative genre having a productive contrariety or antipathy to each other...That went to the heart of C86."

C86, then, was the last hurrah of indie's founding years before major labels signed up and spat out the most promising contenders, and Britain's youth decided that they'd much rather take ecstasy in a field than stand in the back room of a pub with a pint of snakebite and black.

What was that June Brides lyric? "We'll learn how to walk then to tumble/To swagger is worse than to stumble". What those Melody Maker critics missed was the anti-macho, anti-rockist, inclusive ideology of Britain's guitar underground.

Britain's indie scenes in the early to mid-80s could be adventurous and thrilling and open, but they could never rightly be pigeonholed.


  1. Has it come out yet? I could only find a Kickstarter funding page going way back. I do remember Neil Taylor's NME articles at the time. He was a bit like a fanzine guy writing for the big music papers or certainly trying to be. Still there were some very fine bands in that 'scene'and there was something very political and individualistic about it all. As a Go Betweens fan I'm sure you'd have liked the opening chapter of the Luke Haines autobiography where he describes the part they played as rather more knowing older brothers. They did really rate The Servants of course and worked with David Westlake quite a bit over the years. I saw Robert Forster, talking and playing at the Manchester Louder Than Words festival a few weeks back. He was in splendid form!

    1. Yes, it's out. Waterstones have it. David Westlake is a massive Go-Betweens fan and played the McLennan tribute gig 4 times. His Janice Long session backed by The Go-Betweens is a joy.

  2. So you are happy promoting a book by a man who has failed to communicate with Kickstarter backers from 3+ years ago? A man who disappeared and refused to tell anyone what had happened to their thousands of pounds?
    A man who is now selling the book, giving it away to his musician mates and bloggers but failing to send the items to people who paid in some cases hundreds of pounds for iterations of the book and ancillary paraphernalia? Nice.
    How about an article about Taylor's behaviour these last few years.

  3. Hello Anonymous
    I reviewed a book I bought at a book launch recently. I don't anything about the kickstarter or its related problems. I'm not sure why you think I do.

    You're very angry about the kickstarter and assume I know about it and am supporting it. I don't and I'm not.

    You know who the author is. Find him on his facebook and take your problems there. This is the wrong forum.