‘Whatever Happened to the C86 Kids?’ by Nige Tassell (Book Review)
As an ode to 80s independent music and the lives that followed, Whatever Happened to the C86 Kids is Nige Tassell’s entertaining quest to track down at least one member of all bands featured on NME’s C86 tape. How have their lives been since? And how do they look back on the opportunity that C86 presented?
The C86 tape
Released on cassette in 1986, C86 was a compilation of 22 tracks from bands signed to independent record labels in the UK. Primal Scream, The Soup Dragons, The Wolfhounds, The Wedding Present and The Pastels are featured among others. As a belated follow-up to C81, it provided a vibrant picture of the indie scene developing in the UK, and it helpfully signposted to the bands you should look out for.
For some bands, the tape was the springboard for an illustrious music career. However, for others, it became the bane of their existence, leading them to lose their passion for their respective bands and acted a sign that they should change careers. With the book’s band-by-band structure, you get to read about a wide array of viewpoints on C86 – but most of those who have contributed to the book look upon it fondly. Alternatively, through their silence, those who refused to talk about C86 most likely view the whole thing differently.
Where are they now?
I absolutely loved reading about what happened to these artists after C86. Some still tour with their C86 bands, and some have started new music ventures. And for those who left the music game altogether (albeit sometimes briefly), some of them opened up bike shops, became driving instructors or exchanged rainy England for sunny Los Angeles.
For example, Sushil Dade, the bass player of The Soup Dragons, was a driving instructor for seven years. Among his customers were indie Glasgow musicians from bands such as Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits and The Pastels. In fact, it is thanks to Duglas T. Stewart from Teenage Fanclub for Sushil’s current career as a radio producer for the BBC. However, he hasn’t left music completely, as for years he had a side project named Future Pilot AKA. And he wasn’t the only member of The Soup Dragons to find a fulfilling career out of band life. Ross Sinclair became a professor of art and a multi-award-winning artist.
There are also a handful of moments of humorous irony: when a member of The Shop Assistants ended up working in a bike shop (David Keegan is the store manager, however).
For those who stayed in the music industry, Keith Curtis from A Witness has become a successful promoter and tour manager for more than 200 acts, with a roster of artists including Arlo Parks, Bauhaus, De La Soul, Kaiser Chiefs, Kano, Lewis Capaldi and Orbital. And you can still see The Pastels and Close Lobsters perform live, among others featured.
For many, when they looked back at their music careers, there was always that difficult tussle: exploring your passion vs paying the bills, fun vs sensibility. It was wonderful to read about how each band – and each band member within them – navigated that. And it was reassuring, even for those who couldn’t face being in a band again, that their love for music stayed alive long after their band’s split. If you ever wanted to know what their record collections look like, then Nige provides the answers in this book.
The birth of ‘indie’
Whatever Happened to the C86 Kids? is also a tribute to how wonderfully creative the independent music scene of the 80s was. It was adaptable, full of potential, and happened at a time when the ‘independent’ in ‘indie’ really rang true. Where independent fanzines were put together with Sellotape, synthesizers and drum machines were built in bedrooms, and sometimes where John Peel had to lend you £150 so you could take a last-minute train down to London for a session.
The social security safety net – as well as previous policies such as the Enterprise Allowance Scheme – meant that it was easier for working-class people to pursue music as a profession. These days, the financial burden of a music career is becoming greater, meaning that for a lot of people it is almost impossible to sustain it without other sources of income. Due to this barrier, the indie music scene now appears more middle-class and commercial in nature.
Therefore, the book remains a real treat for indie music fans, whether you lived through the 80s and wanted to revisit it, just for a little while, or you’re from a younger generation and want to read about how it all began. That is why there is still an appetite for documentaries about Factory Records, for example. So, despite the increasing challenges for musicians across the country, it is lovely to see the legacy – and enduring appetite – for early indie music is still going strong, and it is books like this that help keeps that spirit alive.
Whatever Happened to the C86 Kids? by Nige Tassell is a wonderful exploration into indie’s early days and what happened to those involved. Apart from being a real treat for music fans, especially if you love independent music from the 80s (like me), the book provides useful insights about nostalgia, youth and how we adapt to changing times – which remain forever relevant. When we look back at our successes and failures, often decades later, how do we reconcile with them? Learn from them?
There really is something for everyone in this book, whether you’re looking for new music to discover, entertaining interviews about lives well-lived or info on where all of the good pubs are. This book really has it all.
Thanks for reading!
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