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Scared To Get Happy – A story of Indie Pop 1980-1989

Another beauty from Cherry Red , a colossal 5 disc compilation celebrating the UK indie scene of the eighties.. Scared To Get Happy is excellent fun, nostalgia for those of us who lived through this stuff first time around and an essential discovery vehicle for younger music fans.

So what was indie pop? I see little point in tying ourselves in knots trying to come up with one definition. Even the word indie means different things to different people. In this context it really meant ‘Independent’ as in independent label. Perhaps the biggest and best thing punk rock did for music was inspire others to have a go themselves, not only to create music but also to form record labels – hitherto a closed shop of major outlets and tightly controlled distribution. The post-punk years changed everything, allowing the likes of Factory , Mute , Rough Trade and our hosts Cherry Red to rise to prominence and cause a major schism in British music. In the charts and on national radio, lumpy new romanticism would give way to increasingly bland, antiseptic pop – whilst we outsiders had the alternative chart, the NME and Peel. These indie bands were the true legacy of punk. Unlike the myth that surrounded post-punk, (people not being able to play their instruments, etc), this lot often displayed beginners levels of musicianship with clumsily basic chords and wantonly impoverished production values. That was the whole point. A DIY ethic dictated most of the music on show on this compilation. Theirs were Rickenbacker’s with sticking tape and cardboard.

The singing too tended toward the shrill. Wilfully off key at times (with some notable exceptions – Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt had a lovely voice, Tracey Thorn , one of the voices of her generation) the whole thing was somehow marvellous. We didn’t want studio sophistication. It would only have shown up the flaws anyway. No, we were rebelling – kicking against the bland, cynical control of the majors, playlisted daytime radio and manufactured pop.


Shambolic playing and fey vocals aside, other aspects of indie pop included student union politics, a love of sixties pop and the growing feeling that it is okay to be awkward. Many of these bands occupied the C86 era post The Smiths (not featured) and Morrissey had created a nerdist icon. The C86 mob threw off repression and celebrated shyness. “Jangly” was the adjective of the times and shamble pop ruled the waves. “Scared To Get Happy” is a clever, knowing choice of title because the music itself was celebratory – albeit the partying of the introverted.

The geeks would inherit the Earth…. for a little while at least.

It is worth pointing out that this collection spans the whole decade. An earlier movement had taken place centered on Glasgow’s Postcard label. Home to Orange Juice and Joseph K , the short-lived imprint was nodding back to 60s pop long before anyone else and was probably as big an influence on the C86 scene than The Smiths. In any case there was never just one scene. Yet all the songs on Scared… go together seamlessly. You could play this on shuffle and not flinch as we shift from 1989 to 1980 and back. Ordinarily such compilations serve one of two purposes. Discovery or rediscovery. Scared….. did both for me. At £40 it might be somewhat pricey. 130 plus songs makes it value for money in that respect but I do hope such an initial outlay won’t put off younger or more casual enthusiasts from taking a gamble. Everyone should have this.

You won’t find Orange Juice or The Smiths on here though. Felt , and The Fieldmice are other notable absentees but there is little mileage in discussing such omissions. Some artists are precious. Some back-catalogues are expensive. 134 other bands did make this collection and with names like The Flatmates or The Mighty Lemondrops many of these acts had their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. Listening now, I’m transported back to my student days. I used to delight in hearing Peelie introduce such bands. “And now…. The Shop Assistants” – he’d intone wearily. It was wonderful. The Weddoes , The Wake …. McCarthy …. brilliant stuff, fun, formative years with funny, half-formed bands.

Don’t be scared to get Scared To Get Happy .

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