01. SWELL MAPS ‘Let’s Build A Car’ (Single A Side January 1980)
02. THE MEKONS ‘Snow’ (Single A Side August 1980)
03. THE CRAVATS ‘Precinct’ (Single A Side October 1980)
04. BLUE ORCHIDS ‘Work’ (Single A Side February 1981)
05. BLURT ‘The Fish Needs A Bike’ (Single A Side October 1981)
06. FLUX OF PINK INDIANS ‘Sick Butchers’ (Neu Smell EP July 1981)
07. RUBELLA BALLET ‘Krak Trak’ (Ballet Bag Cassette January 1982)
08. THE NIGHTINGALES ‘Paraffin Brain’ (Single A Side April 1982)
09. THE DANCING DID ‘A Fruit Picking Fantasy’ (Single B Side May 1982)
10. THE MOODISTS ‘Gone Dead’ (Single A Side May 1982)
11. THE SCIENTISTS ‘Swampland’ (Single B Side August 1982)
12. THE MOB ‘Cry Of The Morning’ (Let The Tribe Increase LP February 1983)
13. THE REDSKINS ‘Lean On Me’ (Single A Side July 1983)
14. THE FITS ‘Tears Of A Nation’ (Single A Side August 1983)
15. INCA BABIES ‘The Interior’ (Single A Side November 1983)
16. THE THREE JOHNS ‘AWOL’ (Single A Side November 1983)
17. THE MEMBRANES ‘Kafka’s Dad’ (Crack House Mini LP December 1983)
18. ALIEN SEX FIEND ‘New Christian Music’ (Single B Side March 1984)
19. THE ORSON FAMILY ‘No-One Waits Forever’ (Single A Side March 1984)
20. LAUGHING CLOWNS ‘Holy Joe’ (Single AA Side March 1984)
21. THE FOLK DEVILS ‘Hank Turns Blue’ (Single A Side March 1984)
22. NEW MODEL ARMY ‘Christian Militia’ (Vengeance Mini LP April 1984)
23. LIME SPIDERS ‘Slave Girl’ (Single A Side October 1984)
24. THE JAZZ BUTCHER ‘I Need Meat’ (A Scandal In Bohemia LP November 1984)
25. JESUS AND MARY CHAIN ‘Vegetable Man’ (Single B Side November 1984)
26. BIG FLAME ‘Debra’ (Rigour EP March 1985)
27. BONE ORCHARD ‘Princess Epilepsy’ (Princess Epilepsy EP March 1985)
28. NOSEFLUTES ‘Girth’ (Girth EP August 1985)
29. THE WOODENTOPS ‘Well Well Well’ (Single A Side August 1985)
30. THE WEDDING PRESENT ‘Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy!’ (Single A Side August 1985)
31. THAT PETROL EMOTION ‘V2’ (Single A Side October 1985)
32. BOGSHED ‘Panties Please’ (Let Them Eat Bogshed EP October 1985)
33. THE BAND OF HOLY JOY ‘Rosemary Smith’ (The Big Ship Sails Mini LP March 1986)
34. THE GODFATHERS ‘This Damn Nation’ (Single A Side April 1986)
35. BLYTH POWER ‘Sordid Tales From The Ffucke Masticke Room’ (Junction Signal EP May 1986)
36. THE PASTELS ‘Truck Train Tractor’ (Single A Side June 1986)
37. THE EX ‘They Shall Not Pass’ (1936: The Spanish Revolution EP July 1986)
38. THE VERY THINGS ‘This Is Motortown’ (Single A Side June 1986)
39. STUMP ‘Buffalo’ (Quirk Out Mini LP October 1986)
40. ETON CROP ‘Yes Please Bob’ (Yes Please Bob Mini LP November 1986)
41. AGE OF CHANCE ‘Kiss’ (Single A Side November 1986)
42. THE CHILLS ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ (Single A Side March 1987)
43. THE MOTORCYCLE BOY ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ (Single A Side September 1987)
44. CUD ‘Only (A Prawn In Whitby)’ (When In Rome Kill Me LP June 1989)
45. DOG FACED HERMANS ‘Bella Ciao’ (Single A Side July 1989)
A weekday evening in the backroom of a scabby Victorian pub. Grimy, sticky, stinking of warm ale and cold sweat, on a low stage a bunch of surly urchins are bashing away on their battered instruments, the woefully inadequate PA shredding any semblance of tuneage. Within touching distance, twenty or so of their mates are wheeling and flailing around enthusiastically while a handful of casual punters and music press journo’s seeking the next big thing look on aghast, shrinking back against the bar to down their pints before fleeing into the night.
That dear reader is how I spent the first half of the eighties; watching proud, defiantly noisy upstarts at The Fulham Greyhound, The Moonlight, The Starlight, The Trafalgar, The Pinder of Wakefield, The George Robey, The Hope and Anchor, not to mention my hometown’s Paradise Club, Oxford’s Jericho Tavern and other long forgotten pubs and poky dives where it was possible to catch The Membranes sparking a riot for a quid. Forget the fact that the history of the independent underground has been rehashed to become some kind of nightmarish cult of twee, sixties acolytes and their jingle jangle songs. That wasn’t my eighties. In my eighties, barring the brilliantly awkward Pastels, there was no sign of anything so precious, the independent charts just as likely to be filled with one off strokes of genius like The Very Things as a bunch of fey boys and boyish girls in Mothercare anoraks.
Psychobilly at The Clarendon, Goth at The Batcave, Anarcho Punk at The Ambulance Station, southern folk punk, northern soul punk, Australian garage punk, the early eighties threw up a glut of youthful, free spirited mavericks haphazardly cross pollinating music of every hue to create their own peculiar sonic visions. Trapped in the small provincial towns of their birth, yet influenced from afar by the energy and aspirations of PiL, Wire, The Stranglers, Gang Of Four, The Fall and The Pop Group, and the belief that Doing It Yourself was the real Cultural Revolution, the realisation that you could create your own music and release it into the world gave them the all-embracing energy to transform their hometown enclaves into hives of manic activity, and in the process transform themselves.
A feeling that anything could happen reverberated through the early eighties just as it had in the punk seventies except even more so, a keenly felt sense of possibility that resulted in all kinds of avenues being explored: groups were promoted, club nights kick started, record labels launched and new connections forged. Ignored by the weekly music press, spreading the word was limited to the odd Peel play, the ubiquitous fanzine, endless letter writing and the devotion of a small group of knowledgeable enthusiasts driving the whole thing along. A couple of gobshite ego maniacs even made a few million out of it!
What made all this activity even more remarkable was how it was played out against the joyless backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, a country at war with itself as much as a division of Argentine conscripts squatting a lonely rock in the south Atlantic no-one had ever heard of. Operating in the shadow of fascist violence, mass unemployment, the miner’s strike, the Wapping dispute and the crushing of the unions as an effective force, it was inevitable that the political state of the nation would play a huge part in all our lives and musicians were no different. And yet while the likes of The Mob, Flux Of Pink Indians, The Redskins and New Model Army wore their anarchist or socialist hearts on their sleeves, not everyone felt the need to write songs about it. Then again they didn’t need to. We all knew which side they were on!
Alongside the raft of names to emerge was a steady stream of similarly minded malcontents known only to the faithful few: The Mekons Jon Langford, The Membranes John Robb, The Nightingales Robert Lloyd, The Mob’s Mark Wilson, The Redskins Chris Dean, New Model Army’s Justin Sullivan, Blyth Power’s Josef Porta, The Wedding Present’s Dave Gedge and Stephen Pastel to name just a few, were the personification of individuality, overcoming numerous barriers to reap their own rewards through sheer hard graft, dogged persistence and a strict adherence to their own principles, a rare trait indeed in such a careerist, money mad decade.
The music these characters and their cohorts produced was uncompromising and invariably noisy; from the ramshackle psychedelia of the Blue Orchids to the pastoral, Edwardian, rockabilly of The Dancing Did; from the idealistic diatribes of the Flux Of Pink Indians to the clattering VU pop of The Pastels; from the au-go-go garage goo of The Scientists to the unlikely beauty of The Band Of Holy Joy; these were musicians determined to please no-one but themselves, their records an eccentric grab bag of differing styles yet bound together by the belief that it was still possible to create your own culture and change the world, even if it was just your own small part of it.
Running my own Criminal Damage label and promoting shows, I was doing it for myself and changing my world too. Signing on every two weeks I was living the dream, albeit in a rot infested, inner city terraced house with one gas heater, a colony of feral cats and the clothes I stood up in. The Alternative Chartbusters here were an essential part of my soundtrack to all that. The epitome of true independence (even if a few did end up signing to a major), I bought all the records and caught them live when I could, certainly up to 1986 when there began to be a noticeable shift from ‘independent’ to the desolate wasteland of generic ‘indie’.
As record sales plummeted accordingly, the majority of the outfits here didn’t stand a chance, discovering to their cost that by refusing to compromise and play the industry game they were pushed further and further into the margins, lost and forgotten in the retro mania for indie pop and Creation’s elegantly wasted, ‘genius’ rock’n’roll nonsense. Of course, there was still the occasional, brilliant, idiosyncratic release like The Motorcycle Boy and the Dog Faced Hermans remake of the Italian, anti-fascist, resistance song ‘Bella Ciao’, but they were few and far between, the age of the true independent well and truly over.
With my old vinyl long gone, I didn’t get to hear these records again until the online digital archives opened the flood gates. Even then I had to sift through a whole load of shit and wait a few years before finding them. But I’m glad I did because having lived through several soul sapping decades of risk averse, security seeking, liberty bashing, health and safety culture that has resulted in the wholesale closure of pubs and venues and the gentrified, commodified appropriation of leftfield music, they’re a glorious, timely reminder of how joyful, fearless and above all unfettered my independent eighties really were.