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C87 & C88 Hayley Scott , October 16th, 2017 08:33

Following Cherry Red's extended C86 compilation, two ‘imaginary’ sequels - including The Sea Urchins, The Wake and The House Of Love.

Not enough has been written about The Sea Urchins, other than the occasional nod in love letters and tributes to Sarah Records, the label that the band have come to personify, with their gleaming pop sensibility, occasional 60s leanings and propensity for jangly, Byrdsian guitars. They didn’t have any hits. They didn’t even record a proper album, although two LPs were released later: 1992’s Stardust, a retrospective issued on Sarah, and a live album released by Fierce Records in 1994. Most acts on the label never set out to make it big. Sarah’s ethos was clear: an emphasis on DIY ethics and an adherence to the punk cliche that anyone can start a band.

Thanks to Cherry Red Records, The Sea Urchins and their contemporaries get a well-deserved look-in across C87 and C88, two recently compiled boxsets documenting indie’s golden era, serving as a continuation of C86, the 22-track cassette conceived by the NME in 1986. Not much had changed in those two years: Margaret Thatcher in government was the catalyst for many of these bands’ formations - McCarthy, especially, were defiant socialists, using Marxism to create a narrative for the bulk of Malcolm Eden’s lyrics.

C86’s precursor, C81, offered a snapshot of British post-punk at its most diverse: styles ranged from jazz and ska to the emergence of new pop tendencies in bands like Linx and Scritti Politti. C86 is more renowned for one style of guitar music: shambling and scattershot, basic and lo-fi, and rooted in melody. Its reputation is one of stark contrasts, however. On one hand, bands all over the world cite C86 as a primary influence; on the other, many still disregard the tape as reductive, focusing on an unambitious strain of guitar music.

Stylistically, both C87 and C88 pick up where C86 left off, but previously neglected bands are the focus. Early incarnations of the era’s biggest success stories – The Stone Roses, Pale Saints and The House Of Love – highlight the ever-present temptation of a major-label crossover, particularly during a time when indie was in vogue.

Sarah Records features heavily across both compilations, and it’s The Sea Urchins who stand out as proprietors of a sound that defined the era, regardless of how many potential fans they eluded. C87’s opener, ‘Pristine Christine’, dabbles in misty-eyed melancholy, but it’s still one of their more sprightly numbers (compare it, for example, to the tear-jerking balladry of their song on C88, ‘Please Rain Fall’). ‘Pristine Christine’ defines the wide-eyed naivety of youth: it’s a brilliantly unsophisticated approach to pop - simple, unpretentious and shamelessly fey.

C88’s inclusion of the more obscure groups is a joy. The Wake fall under the category of bands that never got the recognition they deserve: a confounding circumstance, given that they were one of the best bands to come out of the Glasgow scene. Unhelpful comparisons to New Order during their time on Factory minimalised their impact, however, and the group were too often omitted from discussions on indie and its originators. ‘Crush The Flowers’ is The Wake at their pop-orientated best, eschewing the tribal post-punk gloom of earlier years for something far more breezy and optimistic.

It’s easy to denounce compilations like this as a nostalgic glitch in contemporary culture, but this idea that nostalgia is damaging to music’s development is fundamentally flawed - revisiting the past can be a progressive act. You could align C86 and its follow-ups with current issues, with bands wanting to address their dissatisfaction with politics using a more active, hands-on approach. The majority of these groups were fiercely political, self-sufficient and antidotes to a culture that was becoming more reactionary. C87 and C88 serve as timely reminders that bands don’t need mainstream success to change lives.