Gordon and I were chatting recently about the NME's now much-celebrated C-86 cassette, launched in 1986, and claimed as the original source of the twee pop genre by some. For instance, the allmusic guide entry for twee pop includes the following:
"Twee pop traces its origins to 1986, the year the British weekly NME issued a cassette dubbed C-86."
"the C-86 movement was itself short-lived, but it influenced hordes of upcoming bands on both sides of the Atlantic who absorbed the scene's key lessons of simplicity and honesty to stunning effect, resulting in music -- given the universal label of twee pop"
Now, I have two problems with the above statements. Firstly, as Gordon and I agreed during our chat, much of C-86 just isn't that good. Without a doubt, the stand out tracks on the cassette are Primal Scream and The Shop Assistants. The Bodines' track, 'Therese', is also listenable. Much of the rest of the cassette is lumpy, unoriginal indie-rock, which sound nothing like the music that eventually came to be called C-86 as a genre. Of those three good tracks I would contend that only The Shop Assistants' effort 'It's Up To You' can definitively be given the twee pop tag.
The second problem I have is that, prior to the release of C-86, there were plenty of bands around who were already making music which had all the hallmarks of the twee pop genre, i.e. boy-girl harmonies, lovelorn lyrics, infectious melodies, and simple, unaffected performances. Many of these bands also embraced the DIY, flexidisc-producing ethos that was epitomised by seminal twee pop label Sarah Records.
So, who do I have in mind as the true precursors of the twee pop spirit? Well, I would say the very earliest roots of the music can be heard in the breathless girly vocals of Altered Images (the band who inspired the Talulah Gosh name), the shy, DIY naivete of Marine Girls and the self-conscious, clever/cute, student-pop of The Chefs. However, the band who really captured the essence of twee, way back in 1981, is the band I'm going to write about tonight. A band, funnily enough who prompted this blog by coming on during a random shuffle of my MP3 player last weekend, much to our Ray's delight, and who, co-incidentally, have just re-issued a retrospective of their collected music. I'm talking, of course, of Trixie's Big Red Motorbike.
Trixie's Big Red Motorbike were Mark Litten and his sister Melanie who recorded their songs on a reel to reel tape recorder in Mark's bedroom at their home on the Isle of Wight. The duo were eventually joined by Jane Fox of the Marine Girls and the band were active between 1981 and 1985, during which time they released two singles, one e.p. and one flexidisc. Despite making truly wondeful music and being championed by John Peel the band's music career never really took off - mainly because the idea of a music 'career' was anathema to them. To quote from Wikipedia:
"Trixie's Big Red Motorbike signed a publishing deal with Twist and Shout Music, and received enquiries from several independent record companies. However, they never had a recording contract, a manager or an agent. A combination of shyness, lack of business acumen, and a determination to stick to the DIY punk ethos of the time caused them to miss opportunities again and again. Physical isolation from the centers of the music industry was also a problem. Their first two records were sold by mail order, and in the pre-internet early 1980s, most of their contact with the outside world was by post."
Now, you will probably not be surprised to learn that, despite their relative obscurity, The Streetlamp team were alert to the band way back when and that an often played copy of their magnificent 1983 single 'Norman and Narcissus' nestles proudly within my own record collection. If you've never heard this track then you are in for a treat - this is a lo-fi, sugary, indiepop confection with melodic jazz textures. Here's a video:
Isn't that wonderful? An MP3 version converted from my very own vinyl copy (complete with scratches and hiss) can be downloaded 'here'. If you liked that, then you may be interested to learn too that, this month, the band have released a retrospective compilation of their musical output on bandcamp. You can stream/buy this 'here'.
Now, I suspect that my choices for the originators of the twee pop sound may cause some debate. Indeed, I suspect that our Gordon may well have something to say on the subject. That's good, I'd like to hear your opinions, if you have them. But, I hope too that you will admit that Trixie's Big Red Motorbike are a band who deserve to be brought to the attention of a new audience and I hope also that you will come to love them as much as I do.
Of course I pretty much agree with all here. For me though, the Magna Carta of all Tweepop is a fairly obscure Beach Boys song tucked away on their 1970 album 'Sunflower'; a track called 'All I Wanna Do'. Have a listen and then tell me that St Etienne didn't base their entire output on this track, or that Sarah Records haven't used this as some blueprint:
Also, the lazy journalists who proclaimed that C-86 heralded the birth of Twee Pop seem to have missed the fact that most of the bands who are any good on the tape have 'borrowed' EVERYTHING from Postcard Records who were only releasing records a mere SEVEN years before C-86!
For me, as Griff points out, the Marine Girls are the true purveyors of that purest Twee Pop....the strummy guitar and the bass playing the melody are what the Field Mice built their entire sound upon.
And of course there's always Dolly Mixture and Kleenex who both encapsulated that 'Trixie' sound, both long before any of C-86 bands were even formed.
It's not often you associate lazy journalism with the NME....he said sarcastically.