Various Artists – C85.                     Various Artists: C85 – album review

Cherry Red Records

3 CD clamshell box set

Out Friday 21 October 2022

1985 was a fertile year for the growing independent music scene and this three CD box set showcases the best of those bands from James to The Stone Roses.

It seems weird now to think that indie guitar bands weren’t really a thing until the early 1980s, and 1985 was certainly a fertile year for that rapidly developing scene. Only a year later the then relevant and trend setting NME offered its readers the chance the buy their C86 compilation tape (ask your parents, kids) with 40000 readers – including me – taking up the offer, so indie as genre was officially born.

This 3CD collection goes back a year to the acts who were essentially creating indie and some of whom, like the Primals and The Wedding Present, would go onto feature on the career changing C86.  In the meantime, some acts who remain capable of filling big venues set out their stalls alongside some bands who – often quite rightly – have disappeared into obscurity.

CD1 is by far the most accessible of the three, featuring some of the absolute bangers from this year, so it’s fitting that the still utterly ear bashing, squally feedback of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Never Understand is first up swiftly followed by That Petrol Emotion, featuring most of The Undertones minus Fergal.

The Woodentops were another band who should have been big judging by the spritely Move Me and the same applies Hurrah!  Another stone-cold classic is The Mighty Lemon Drops’s Like An Angel that still rocks, and The Loft’s Your Door Shines Like Gold came out of Alan McGee’s The Wardrobe Club, which was the epicentre of the growing indie scene. James offer the now obscure Uprising as an early sample of the wonky pop sensibility that sees them still filling arenas.

Indie in this period was a bot of a lads clubs so it’s good to see The Shop Assistants included as they influenced lots of bands down the years and Miaow’s Fate is equally good.  The Primitives supply a demo version of Across My Shoulder, and you can see even then why they were the hottest live ticket in London.

The Weddoes pop up with (The Moment Before) Everything’s Spoilt Again, and they’re another long standing band that lay down what has become a very successful formula. The Bodines literate indie pop was perhaps too subtle for the scene, and even the Happy Mondays join in the fun with some bog standard indie on Delightful from their Forty Five EP on Factory.

By an absolute country mile the best track is The Housemartins’ debut single Flag Day as Paul Heaton demolishes early virtue signalling set to a typically clever melody. It’s both a message of how things never change, and that this lot was heading for chart success.

The second CD is more of a mixed bag with some lovely hidden gems, and quite a lot of bang average bands like Yeah Jazz, or rockists like Del Amitri pretending to be an indie band. That said it kicks off with some delicate psychedelic rock from Primal Scream’s All Fall Down before the pills kicked in.

Other highlights include Sarah Goes Shopping’s Summer Blues, which may have been clocked by bands like Stereolab, and the quite magnificent Nose Out Of Joint from the Chesterfields who should have been as big as the Smiths.

There are far more women on this CD, including the Fox sisters who had transferred from Marine Girls to the terribly named Grab Grab The Haddock contributing to the summery Last Fond Goodbye. The funniest track is the tongue in cheek charm of The Kamikaze Pilots’ Sharon Signs To Cherry Red as a sensitive indie kid exploits her boyfriend’s troubles to score a record deal.

CD3 initially seems a little bit odd as it brings all the noisy bands that were on the periphery of the scene, including many on the Ron Johnson label. Full disclosure here as one of those noise merchants were Blackpool’s The Membranes, featuring Louder than War founder John Robb. It’s easy to forget they were on Creation who has the balls to release the wonderfully odd I Am Fish Eye as Robb babbles away.

Lucky In London by A Witness is a great piece of angular pop before some swamp blues from The Brilliant , and Nose Flutes’ girth is a hunk of shouty rhythmic noise. The box ser is set wraps up with The Stone Roses’ debut So Young, which does nothing to hide Ian Brown’s vocal frailties, and despite some great guitar work from John Squires there’s nothing to suggest that only three years later they would go on to make their undeniably great first album.

Students of this scene will love an insightful essay by former NME writer Neil Taylor, who covered the scene at the time, and some fascinating notes on the band to go with each track. Did you know The Membranes once came last in a local talent show to a six-year-old reciting a poem?

Cherry Red have done so much in recent years to revive interest in the birth of indie bands whose influence still resonate decades later. The bands who went onto big things are included, but there’s a genuine joy in hearing how good – or bad – some of the other long forgotten bands were.

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Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here

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