CIRCY member Professor Lucy Robinson reflects on Indie Rock-a-Nore, a one-day indie pop festival raising money for the suicide prevention charity Grassroots.
The theme of CIRCY’s 5th anniversary year is ‘children, young people and the future’. But what does that mean, given growing concern – in the UK and internationally – about young people’s mental health and wellbeing? In October, CIRCY lent support to the Indie Rock-a-Nore Festival, which raised money for Brighton suicide prevention charity, GrassRoots. In this special extended blog, CIRCY’s Professor Lucy Robinson reflects on the event. Her writing highlights the creative power of linking the personal and political in inspiring research (including a forthcoming article), and above all, in understanding, and supporting, young people’s lives in challenging times.
Janet Boddy, CIRCY Director
Lucy Robinson, Professor in Collaborative History, University of Sussex
The Indie Rock-a Nore Festival was held on 21st October 2017 at the Hastings and St Leonards Angling Association. It was “[a] one-day indie-pop festival (midday to midnight), bringing together current indie bands and those of yesteryear. Raising money for Brighton based suicide prevention charity, GrassRoots, who provide support across East Sussex (Charity Number: 1149873)”. Alongside the bands there was a raffle, a pool tournament and a buffet. CIRCY made a small contribution to hosting costs, ensuring that all money taken on the door could go straight to the charity. Over £2500 was raised on the day.
The event was organised in memory of Mathew Fletcher, drummer (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Bugbear) who committed suicide in June 1996. It was organised by his sister Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research Tendertrap, Catenary Wires) and his ex-girlfriend Sarah Corrie (Comet Gain, Velocette, Go Boadicea!), both of whom talked to me and shared their reflections with me after the festival.
Go Boadicea! (Sarah Corrie and Juliet Harris) opened the festival
The line up
The line-up bought together bands who had known Mathew, and bands that Sarah and Amelia had got to know since; it maps a complicated indie music family tree, with different generations playing together.
Go! Boadicea — Self-defining as “Riot Twee”, Sarah (formerly Comet Gain and Velocette) and Juliet (presenter of the Indie Wonderland radio show and half of DJ duo Sheilas Take A Bow). Mikey Collins — Formerly on the drums in Allo Darlin’, Mikey Collins played his solo material here. Deluxor — Described by Melody Maker as “Fierce, frantic and fully sorted”, all girl band Deluxor was co-founded in 1996 by Camden comrades Anna Page and Elaine Hills. They disbanded in 1998 and reformed specially for the festival. The Metatrons — A fuzzy pop band, formed in 2011 in Hitchin, who have released two albums and a limited edition 7” single for Record Store Day in 2014. Catenary Wires — Made up of indie pop royalty Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, Catenary Wires bring with them a very fine pedigree from Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap.
Pete Astor — A key figure in the indie pop scene, who worked with The Loft and The Weather Prophets as well as solo projects including “Injury Time (Solo 83-93)” on Cherry Red Records and “Spilt Milk” on Slumberland Records. Wouldbegoods — Led by Jessica Griffin, WouldBeGoods are a key staple of the British indie scene, joined for the festival by Peter Momtchiloff (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Scarlett’s Well) Deborah Green (Thee Headcoatees, The A-Lines, Ye Nuns) and Andy Warren (Adam & The Ants, The Monochrome Set The Popguns — Part of John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 1989 with “Landslide”, The Popguns reformed in 2012. At the festival, they played an ‘almost acoustic’ version of songs from their album “Sugar Kisses”. The Loves — A rare and sought after performance by Simon Love and his merry cast of near-thousands, who have have been producing 60s-drenched sounds since 2000. Spearmint — Indie cult heroes, “Sweeping The Nation” since Shirley Lee first started the ball rolling in 1995. In the film “500 Days Of Summer”, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character stated “It pains me we live in a world where nobody’s heard of Spearmint.”
The charity: GrassRoots Suicide Prevention
The event was organised in memory of Mathew and to raise funds for the charity GrassRoots Suicide Prevention. Although there was no formal link with the charity before the event it was a natural choice for Sarah and Amelia. And the Grassroots team also felt a connection with the event, they were music fans who had been touched by the recent suicides of musicians Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington.
Based in Brighton, GrassRoots provides support for people contemplating suicide – those concerned for their own safety and for that of others. They train professionals and community members in suicide alertness and intervention, raise money and promote best practice. They build a network of support through their pledge systems, by which individuals and organisations can pledge to ask for support if they need it and to offer to support those in need.
At an individual level you can pledge to:
- tell someone if I’m struggling and need help;
- reach out and tell you if I’m worried about you;
- listen to you, without judgment if you need someone to talk to;
- ask you, directly, if I think you’re trying to tell me about suicide;
- help you get support if you’re struggling and/or thinking about suicide.
Organisations can pledge to:
- encourage colleagues to be open and honest when life gets difficult;
- talk sensitively to colleagues if we are worried about them;
- help them get support if they need it;
- encourage colleagues to sign up to the individual Tell Me suicide prevention pledge.
GrassRoots have also produced the Stay Alive App, which can be downloaded at the AppStore or Google play. The App provides links to national and local crisis support, and ways of taking control in a potentially dangerous moment – by having a care package in place, and with the Life Box. The Life Box allows you to upload images that will remind you of your reasons to live, and is, in effect, an earlier version of yourself intervening in your life to protect you. GrassRoots have also made a short film about the Stay Alive App.
The GrassRoots #StayAlive App
Why it mattered
This event mattered personally to me. Mathew was one of my best friends and I loved him and I let him down. His death was a watershed moment in my life. Everything changed and I learnt some very hard life lessons; I had to work very hard on my own mental health. Mathew had been my soul mate. When I published my first book I dedicated it to him. He had helped me feel clever; I felt clever because he was my friend. We smoked and watched musicals together and he helped me revise for final exams on my degree. I know that Mathew loved me because he would take me to see bands that he hated because I liked them. When I was sad he would sit with me as I fell asleep. When I’d had yet another disastrous drunken encounter with another unsuitable person he would turn it into a hilarious adventure over cups of tea the morning after. He promised me that if anything happened to me he would look after my oldest daughter Stevie. He was very practical about this role – he was the only person I knew who was likely to ever earn any money, and he knew what decisions I would have made in pretty much any situation. And I let him down.
Mathew Fletcher. Photograph by Alison Wonderland
Mathew mattered to other people too. Sarah and Amelia pooled their considerable skills and networks to bring the event together. Amelia wrote a brave, open and honest reflection on Mathew’s suicide for the programme/zine guide to the festival. Both Sarah and Amelia noted how surprised they thought that Mathew would be that people cared at the time, and still care enough, to remember him. The painful irony being that we were capable of providing each other with the sort of collective ongoing support for each other in our grief, that he had been unable to access from us at the time.
But Mathew also mattered in another way, as part of an imagined community. He is an important part of the history of UK indie music. He was the drummer in the Oxford band Talulah Gosh, and then in Heavenly. Talulah Gosh were shambolic indie marmite, and I loved them. Their legacy spread, inspired others and their jangly sound marks an era. Their indie sound (associated with terms like ‘twee’) is usually established in 1986 as part of the C86 generation – named after a cassette tape produced by NME, although Talulah Gosh, weren’t actually included on the tape. The term indie refers to the politics of its production; ‘independent’, but indie has always been more than a commercial relation. Pete Dale has positioned indie as part of a political and aesthetic development from crass and anarcho punk, through to the myspace generation. Hesmondhalgh has written that indie is an aesthetic and an institutional challenge to the popular music industry. It has an aesthetic, a sound, a sensibility, that extends across the specific context of production. You can, after all, sound indie on a major label.
“It was inspiring for women but also for men. It was a similar thing to punk and of course we were very into the whole DIY aesthetic; we made our own sleeves. We made our own clothes – to some extent. And we certainly didn’t have a press person in those days!” Amelia Fletcher
In 2006, Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne compiled an album to mark the anniversary of the original cassette C86. This time Talulah Gosh were included (although people often assume that they were on the original tape).
The scene has also recently been gaining historical, academic and public analysis. Talulah Gosh’s label Sarah Records was the subject of a documentary in 2014, and Michael White has published an account of the label, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records. Filmaker John Spira had documented the Oxford music scene in his documentary Anyone can play guitar, which I had shown as part of a documentary programme on music documentary in 2011. Academic Pete Dale, who is also frontman for indie band, Milky Wimpshake, has published a number of significant publications on indie DIY as a process and style.
I’m not going to attempt a full analysis of the emerging secondary literature on indie here, but I am interested in what it has, and does, mean to people. One of the people who came along to the event explained what the pull of indie was today, and indeed the event, was for her.
“Anything with the word indie in the title would catch my attention. Plus, I know someone in The Loves, it was for a good cause, it was a great opportunity to see some new (and old) bands with likeminded aging indie Britpoppers like myself, the pool tournament and buffet were a great idea, and it seemed like the perfect chance to get to know people in Hastings and beyond.”
Indie is, and was, then more than a form of production and distribution, there is something ‘likeminded’ about indie fans that crossed generations, and space. People have described indie’s aesthetic and mindedness in various ways. These usually refer to its DIY punk roots, childlike aesthetic and political possibilities. Sarah Corrie described it to me as ‘punk without the anger’. Indie picked up the DIY of punk and ‘emphasised a sort of democracy over virtuosity’. Indie plays with generational moments in life cycle stage and in time. There is a politically infused performance, of, if not childhood itself, a refusal to grow up. There’s a playfulness in the instruments chosen alongside drum kit, guitar and bass; indie musicians play (literally) with plastic melodicas, kazoos, and ukuleles. The marketing aesthetics are childlike – infused with some punk rock Warhol. For example, Gates-Shannon notes a propensity of pictures of kittens in indie twee imagery for example, – not least on the cover of Heavenly’s Rise and Fall of Heavenly. Bands like the Wouldbegoods are named after works of children’s literature. But this childhood, even in its first incarnation, is an age of contradictions. As Dale has pointed out, indie as a sound has been increasingly uncoupled from indie as an economic intervention in the market. The contradiction of sounding alternative whilst signed to a major label is, perhaps, the material base at the root of layers of more complicated contradictory positions of resistance.
Indie wields its contradictions in self-conscious ways. It is ‘aggressively cute’, cutie, ‘introverted, yet aggressive masculinity’, ‘Twee as fuck’, ‘riot twee’, ‘pop punk’. It has an aesthetic of powerful vulnerability, a performed rejection of macho posturing. Indie combines leather jackets, vintage cardigans and colourful anoraks. The aesthetics of indie, as summed up with terms like ‘kidult’, somehow also brought our pasts and our presents into a closer relationship. The contradictions of these youthful bonds and ongoing connections, consolation and determination, of the strength in asking for help, were woven through the event.
There has been a growing amount of work on ageing in subcultures, particularly around punk and goth. I was inspired at the festival with the carefulness with which performers and those of us re-connecting connected the past with the present, speaking kindly to our younger selves, calling our older selves to account. The time travel of youth cultures struck me as something particular when it is related to a subculture that explicitly negated adulthood. I am going to look forward to researching the adult childlike in indie in a further project very much inspired by Indie Rock-a-Nore.
At the festival there was a lot of looking back at our younger selves, but not in nostalgia, in dialogue and in consolation. Sarah for example, introduced a track by her band, Go Boadicia!, as the song she should have written when she was 14 years old, rather than now. Sarah wrote a song to give her youthful self a voice ‘and the power to say what she thinks and feels’.
It didn’t surprise me that the festival was organised and populated with amazing inspiring women. Women have always made space and noise on the indie scene. Talulah Gosh’s jangle was explicitly gendered. Alex Petridis wrote that ‘Their music was a bold attempt to reimagine pop utterly drained of maleness and machismo: a world in which the Cookies or the Shirelles had been bigger than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones’. Indie’s gender performance was not overtly sexual. The main thing for Talulah Gosh ‘was that we were very keen not to be sexy’. Looking back Amelia recognised that saying ‘No To Sexy’ was a political position. Implicitly feminist, it extended to the framing of their press photographs, clothing and choice of childlike instruments. Amelia told me that it ‘was really deliberate and non-sexiness was a really strong reaction women having to be sexy to be popular, that felt just really wrong’.
The politics of indie’s sexuality were also important for Sarah. As a style and scene it allowed her to ‘feel [ ] relatively safe’ and ‘mostly’ not dominated by ‘testosterone fuelled Alphas’. This was particularly important for many women for whom the punk scene had been dominated by male violence. The choice to donate to a charity targeting young men’s mental health was also a political position. Not least, it is a recognition of the price paid by young men negotiating gender roles growing up.
This was more than a reunion event, although the way that many of the bands got together in response to the call marks the importance of the cause, not least of those lost on the way. Mathew’s indie had been a subculture built in record shops, gigs, second hand clothes sales, and stealthily occupied public spaces. This affective community continues, through relinked book groups, open mike nights, Facebook pages, unknown mutual friends, and all sorts of coincidences. The cross-generational indie scene has far fewer than six degrees of separation, not least because since both Sarah and Amelia have moved to the area, it feels like Hastings as a space provides a somewhat more sedate version of what Oxford gave us as youngsters.
Indie Rock-a-Nore was a collective consolation, not just mourning Mathew and the others we have lost on the way, but also apologising to them, and helping to provide resources to help other young people at risk today. I can only wish that these resources had been available when we were younger, and that one of us would have thought to access them to help Mathew.
 Dale, Pete, ‘It was easy, it was cheap, so what?: Reconsidering the DIY principle of punk and indie music’, Popular Music History, 2009, 3:2, 171-193
 Hesmondhalgh, David, ‘Indie: The institutional Politics and Aesthetics of a Popular Music Genre’, Cultural Studies, 13:1, 34-61,
 Dale, Pete, ‘It was easy, it was cheap, so what?: Reconsidering the DIY principle of punk and indie music’, Popular Music History, 2009, 3:2, 171-193. Dale, Pete. ‘Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy: The Emergence of DIY’. Popular Music, 2010 29:1, 176-178. Dale, P. (2016). Anyone can do it: Empowerment, tradition and the punk underground. Routledge.
 Gates-Shannon, Caroline, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee”: Performing Gender and Age in Twee Pop in Geed Rock and Exploration of Music and Subculture, edited Alex DiBlassi and Victoria Willis, p104
 Dale, Pete, ‘It was easy, it was cheap, so what?: Reconsidering the DIY principle of punk and indie music’, Popular Music History, 2009, 3:2, 175
 Gates-Shannon, Caroline, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee”: Performing Gender and Age in Twee Pop in Geed Rock and Exploration of Music and Subculture, edited Alex DiBlassi and Victoria Willis, p100
 Blake, David, Timbre as Differentiation in Indie Music, Music Theory Online, 18:1, 2017, http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.12.18.2/mto.12.18.2.blake.php
 Lucy O’Brien, p136, Reddington 59 -65, Downes, Julia ‘The expansion of punk rock: Riot Grrrl challenges to gender power relations in British Indie Music subcultures, Women’s Studies’, 2012, 41:2, pp204-237