Down in the suburbs of Cowley, Uxbridge, something extraordinary is happening. That most unfairly maligned of genres – C86, or indie pop, has not only been given a wash and brush up for the 21st Century but come out sparkling in the work of two bands: Colour Me Wednesday and the Tuts.
The former have recently released one of the great surprises of the year in their debut album ‘I Thought It Was Morning’ on Discount Horse records (see http://discounthorse.limitedrun.com/products/517074-colour-me-wednesday-i-thought-it-was-morning). Lead single ‘Shut’ is glorious, like some parallel universe where the Undertones and the Sundays actually wrote Terry Hall and Jane Wiedlin’s ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’. Vocalist Jennifer Doveton is spot on in capturing that pure, melodic, vocal sound that the likes of the Shop Assistants and the Flatmates perfected in the mid-80s, yet getting the balance with the textural roughing up of what we used to call ‘Buzzsaw’ guitars just right. The video is great too with Ms Doveton filmed lip syncing on a roundabout – while presumably trying to hold down her breakfast… Watch it in full here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lkni5QYgcvE .
But why is this sound returning now? Back in the eighties the whole point of C86 was defining itself against everything that mainstream pop stood for – whether that be consumerist acquisition, slick surface sounds/clothes or competitive sexuality. Music journalist Simon Reynolds summed this up in his Melody Maker article of June 1986:
“Rock rebellion was based in the censored ‘truth’ of adolescent desire, but this form of misbehaviour is not just allowed now, its enforced as a prescribed model… the Situationists and radical psychoanalysis proposed the recovery of play as the crucial component of cultural revolution; they used play as a political strategy and as a critique of Western consumer passivity… The flirtation with… camp, the prevalence of love songs with genderless love objects… the defence of sensitivity… all these connect not just with feminism… [and] faced with the infinite accommodation of consumer capitalism the radical response is to abstain, to cling stubbornly to the will to misfit.”
Full Article in “Bring the Noise” by Simon Reynolds [Faber & Faber 2007] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bring-the-Noise-ebook/dp/B002ZODPS8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378710280&sr=8-1&keywords=bring+the+noise+reynolds
Now, of course, these ideas have periodically surfaced in the counter culture both before and since the C86 era (e.g. in the 1960s Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, or the late Kevin Ayers in Soft Machine, in the 1970s Jonathan Richman, through to the 1990s Riot Grrl movement of Huggy Bear or Le Tigre) but it is interesting that they have reappeared now when youth unemployment and the treatment of the under 25s in society is such a concern. Colour Me Wednesday’s album absolutely nails the C86 sound from the quality lyrics of, for example, “Shut”’s near camp opening lines “It’s like I failed my teens, now I’m failing my twenties…” to “Bitter Boys” resigned ‘I kind of liked you (‘til you said that), you seemed okay to me…’ or “BBQ”’s commendably arch vegetarianism ‘You’ve got the populist view… supermarket shelves are stacked in your favour…’. There’s even time for the odd political sideswipe in the likes of “Purge Your Inner Tory”, but it’s the balance between the lyric, the rawness of the guitars and the sweetness of the vocal melody which is so hard to pull off convincingly.
Most bands tend to either go for a softer acoustic sound, think Belle and Sebastian or Camera Obscura, or fundamentally misunderstand the oppositional nature of the music and go the traditional rock guitar route (think any US ‘pop punk’ band of the last 20 years). While the softer option can work, what Colour Me Wednesday have done is much more difficult to pull off over the length of an album. This is a sound that works best when bands are better songwriters than technical musicians – which is why many of the stalwarts of the past (e.g. Girls At Our Best, the Primitives, Darling Buds, Echobelly even) tended to produce one or two superb records before looking to ‘develop’ their sound. So if this is Colour Me Wednesday’s time we should cherish them in their current state of grace – their future will hopefully hold many great things, yet it might just as easily lead to a hitherto unsuspected love of death metal, AOR mediocrity or even power ballads…
Sister band the Tuts have only the one physical release to date, their debut eponymous EP from July 2012, but this can be augmented with a few more recent bandcamp downloads at their site (see http://thetuts.bandcamp.com/). Harriet Doveton, guitarist in Colour Me Wednesday, also plays bass in the Tuts who on the evidence of the 4 EP tracks are not quite as spiky, yet rattle along in an engaging early Blondie meets Talulah Gosh sort of way. New download ‘Worry Warrior’ shows some development, while hinting at greater ambition with its sleeve’s homage to the genius of X-Ray Spex’s ‘Germ Free Adolescents’. This feels like a band worth keeping an eye on, confirmed by the Tuts forthcoming support slot with Kate Nash at the Shepherds Bush Empire on October 12th. This should be a sympathetic crowd, given that Ms Nash has herself drawn on ‘Riot Grrl’ influences on her last couple of albums, and tickets are available here at the time of writing: http://www.seetickets.com/event/kate-nash/o2-shepherds-bush-empire/715040.
Whether this turns into something beyond a couple of great records is a moot point but the signs are good and both of these young bands deserve our support. It’s really not good enough to complain about modern pop and the impotence of the current counter culture if, when presented with a viable alternative, you refuse to back it. So which is it to be?
09 September 2013