Adrian Thrills: A few random thoughts on the C86 era…

Along with Mark Perry’s ‘Sniffin’ Glue’, ’48 Thrills’ was one of the original punk fanzines, it was written and put together by Adrian Thrills.

Adrian went on to write for the N.M.E. and was one of the journalists responsible for the now iconic C86 tape. I had the pleasure of working with Adrian, as press officers at Ultimate Records in 1993.

Adrian kindly let me put a few questions to him.

Who had the initial idea, was it yourself and Roy Carr?

The idea was a collective one. Roy Carr, sadly no longer with us, Neil Taylor and myself, with help from Danny Kelly and others. Roy a genius at putting together these cassette tapes, which the NME would sell via mail order to readers. It started with the C81, which had been a snapshot of what was going on musically in that year. C81 was a broader selection than the C86, with bands that were part of the alternative scene (and would have later been deemed ‘indie) like Orange Juice, The Raincoats, Josef K and early Aztec Camera plus more mainstream acts like The Beat and the Britfunk duo Linx. Some of these NME tapes of the 1980s focussed on classic soul and jazz, two of Roy’s many areas of encyclopedic knowledge. Others, such as C81 and 1982’s Mighty Reel, were devoted to more contemporary sounds. In the six months or so leading up to the C86 tape, I’d become aware of a wave of new bands releasing singles on independent labels like Creation, Subway, Dreamworld and Ron Johnson. Barely a week would go by without something new coming into my orbit as the paper’s reviews editor. It was reminiscent of the wave of releases that came through Zoo, Factory, Postcard and in the late 1970s. For me, the ones that stuck out were The Mighty Lemon DropsLike An Angel, The Bodines’ Therese, the brilliant Safety Net by the Shop Assistants and the first two Age of Chance singles, Motorcity and Bible of the Beats. It was generally the more melodic end of what guitar bands were doing. I came across Miaow’s Belle Vue through Cath Carroll, the band’s singer who was also writing for us. From there, I dug further into what was quite clearly ‘a scene’. It was also being covered in the live section by The Legend and Neil Taylor. I caught bands at the Old White Horse in Brixton, Bay 63 in Ladbroke Grove, The Enterprise in Chalk Farm, picking up the fanzines and flyers as I went.

This was London before the gentrification of the 1990s took hold, so there was no shortage of basements and upstairs rooms in pubs for bands to play – cheap drinks and cheap admission prices.

Live in 1986 The Mighty Lemon Drops ‘Like An Angel’

Did you have any idea of the lasting effect C86 would have or how big some of the bands would get?

I don’t think any of us did. It was a snapsnot of a scene that was arguably at its most vibrant in the mid 1980s before the Madchester and acid house axis took over. I don’t think anyone thought they were establishing a template for what would later become ‘indie’. We weren’t trying to define a genre, so it was surprising when the term C86 became a byword for all that was good and bad about British (and Irish) independent music. People tend to characterise it as jingly jangly pop, but it was a diverse selection: guitar bands who owed a little to the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield; abrasive noise merchants; ‘manifesto bands’ like Big Flame and the Age of Chance, who both had a very clear idea of what they were about. It’s wasn’t just boys with guitars either, as the presence of the Shop Assistants, Miaow and Fuzzbox showed.

How did you go about choosing who would go on the tape? Dave Newton says The Mighty Lemon Drops got some cash for the studio – funny to think of the days where bands wouldn’t be expected to contribute for free!

Yes, I think the bands were all given a budget of about £200 to record a track. Roy was brilliant at fixing things and we wouldn’t expect anyone to contribute for free. The bands would then own the recordings. The selection process went to the wire, as these things do. I think we started off with about 12-15 acts and then kept expanding it, eventually ending up with 22. The independent scene was fast-moving, so new bands would emerge by the week as we were putting it all together. Neil was very on the case in coming up with additional names. Fuzzbox were one of the last to be added. I was keen to have The Housemartins on there too, but for some reason that never happened. It was exciting as the quarter-inch master tapes started to roll in, every one a winner! Roy and I put the final track listing together over a curry in his house in North London. We tried a few different running orders before settling on the final sequence. I always wanted to open with Primal Scream. Velocity Girl was just a great pop song. From there, I wanted to pick up the tempo with each track but keep the initial focus on the more melodic bands, such as The Mighty Lemon Drops, Soup Dragons, The Bodines and Mighty Mighty. From there, it becomes more of a roller-coaster, with chiming guitar bands alternating with more angular, ‘noisy’ acts like The Mackenzies and Big Flame. We wanted to end with a bang rather than a whimper, and the Wedding Present’s This Boy Can Wait provided the perfect closer.

Update 15.7.21 a message and photos from Adrian –

‘I’ve finally unearthed some boxes of old 1980s pics and found a couple of me from around that period. Nothing from any of the gigs unfortunately. 
Hope these do the trick though, both from record label offices / studios so at least a bit of a music connection (plus a period Smiths T-shirt for good measure)’

Thanks Adrian!

Read more about C86 here

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