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 Scottish post-punkers Scars supporting Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls in 1981 and they were superb. Their debut album Author! Author! was brilliant too and they seemed like major contenders for pop stardom. Sadly their lead singer quit the band to make a (failed) go of it as a solo artist and Scars fell apart. So all we have is the one lost classic of an album, a couple of singles, and a few rare clips like this. Shame.
There’s an exhibition on at the Tate Liverpool at the moment called Glam! The Performance of Style which looks interesting. Part of the show is a 1977 documentary called Roxette about young Roxy Music fans in Manchester getting dressed up to go see the band live. The whole movie is 30 minutes long and looks utterly fab judging by this short clip which makes me really want to see the entire thing (wish they’d used a different song though, don’t they know I posted “Beauty Queen” just last week!) I’d love to make it to Liverpool to see the show too but doubt if that’s on the cards.
There’s an excellent interview here with Nick Logan, the man who was editor of the NME during the punk late 70s (where he hired two unknown kids called Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons) and then went on to independently create Smash Hits and The Face which must be about as brilliant a track record you can get in the yoof culture business.
I was a keen NME reader when The Face first came out in 1980 and carried on reading them both for a few years, but increasingly it was the glossy newcomer I looked forward to getting the most. As a design student I ate up the influential, envelope-pushing layouts of Neville Brody and it’s slick production values which were a lot more attractive than a smudgy, inky newspaper. In comparison the latest weekly news about The Smiths wasn’t that interesting to me anymore and The Face just had it’s antenna and attitude better tuned to the new decade.
Looking at back issues now is like opening time capsules of the trends of the 1980s, and the contents of my own wardrobe too. The cover of the “Hard Times” issue above is exactly how I was dressing circa 1982: ripped 501s, studded belt, deck shoes, vintage 1950s shirt from Flip. Then a few years later, I (along with every hep young man in London) was wearing my 501s (always 501s) with chunky Doc Marten shoes and an MA-1 flying jacket, a look credited to the magazine’s fashion stylist Ray Petri. I still have the dark blue MA-1 jacket I bought 25 years ago, still in very good nick too.
I don’t know if Logan was a genius or just lucky, but The Face hit the streets at exactly the right zeitgeisty moment (Smash Hits too), catching the start of a style-obsessed decade when the word “designer” was applied to everything and a pop star’s haircut and trousers were considered worthy of serious notice. But the most inspiring thing I got from the interview was that The Face was never market-researched or focus-grouped or any of that bollocks. Logan just had an idea for a magazine he’d like to read himself and filled it with stuff he thought was interesting — that was the only criteria. As someone who’s suffered through hundreds of interminable and depressing marketing meetings that suck all the life out of any good idea, that seems like a dream come true and the only way anything great ever gets done.