I’m not actually sure if I ever had my own copy of this poster but if not I would have been about the only Lefty student in the 1980s who didn’t. It must have been hanging on the wall of every bedroom I slept in or living room I partied in during my art school days, and is as iconic a symbol of its era as the Tennis Girl poster — just the thing to have on the wall of your student digs when you brought a girl home to listen to your Smiths’ records because it showed that you were into politics but had a sense of humour too.
Amusing though it was, it did reflect a real anxiety that Ronnie Reagan was crazy/stupid enough to start a nuclear war – limited to Europe of course — and that Maggie, his ideological girlfriend, was too turned on by the size of his missiles. This feeling wasn’t just reflected on student bedroom walls either as the possibility of nuclear holocaust was all over popular culture at the time. There was When The Wind Blows in book shops, Two Tribes in the pop charts, and Whoops Apocalypse on the telly along with the nightmarish Threads which still gives me the willies today (the whole film is on YouTube if you want to relive the horror). We were hardly reassured by the government’s Protect and Survive booklet either.
Apparently, before it became a poster this image originally appeared in the Socialist Worker newspaper which surprises me because I had a mate in the SWP at the time and they didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humour.
The word “Indie” has long since ceased to simply mean a band on an independent label – I wouldn’t really call New Order Indie – but instead came to describe a certain lo-fi scruffy amateurism, jangly guitars, and singers with fey voices who probably got beaten up a lot at school. The basic template was sketched out early on by Orange Juice and The Marine Girls, then coloured in (with crayons) by the bands on the NME’s C86 cassette.
The fresh-faced charm of the music was reflected in a charity shop-bought style that seemed raided from the band’s childhood wardrobes: anoraks, duffel coats, cardigans, v-neck jumpers, floral dresses, stripey t-shirts, sandals, and plimsolls. At the noisier end of the Indie spectrum where bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain lived the look was slightly more Velvet Underground, but generally the aesthetic was more Ladybird Books than CBGB’s, with a lot of Jean Seberg in Breathless thrown in for the girls.
I was never a full-blown Indie Kid myself, but in the early 80s I did have an anorak and wore those blue deck shoes from Millet’s that were all the rage for a while. At the time I was going out with a girl who dressed exactly like the one in the photo above (except her hair was a peroxide flat-top) whose best mate Eithne was even more Indie-stylish and later made the step from fan to starlet when she joined Twee popsters Talulah Gosh (she’s playing the tambourine in this video). We went to see her play live with them one night and backstage after the show I was amused to see Eithne and Amelia Fletcher surrounded by earnestly shy boys who obviously had major crushes on them. First time I’ve ever seen groupies wearing anoraks, though they were probably offering them mixtapes, not sex and drugs.
Though it’s easy to mock the music and the fashion as “Twee” – and a lot of it was a bit too wet and mopey for me — the Indie scene of the 80s was carrying on the DIY philosophy of Punk at a time when most pop music (and its accompanying fashions and videos) was very polished and materialistic, so in a way they were being quietly radical. Very quietly — while wearing anoraks.
I saw U2 at the Hammersmith Palais the same year as this clip (1981) and it might not be hip to admit it now but they were fantastic, one of the best live bands I’ve seen and one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever been to. To use the vernacular, they really tore the roof off the sucker. Bono himself said at the end that it was one of the best gigs they’d played so far outside of Dublin.
Funnily enough I only really went to see the support band: Altered Images.
As a sequel to last weeks post here’s another great Neville Brody sleeve from the early 1980s, this one featuring his own illustration. Good though it is, the record is even better and I would have bought it even if the sleeve had been covered in sick.
In case you didn’t know, Defunkt were an underground jazz-funk combo from NYC whom the NME once said were “to funk as the Sex Pistols were to rock”, and this extended version of “The Razor’s Edge” from 1982 is a sweaty, funktastic, nine-minute workout for your hips.