Something is definitely in the water in San Francisco – a quiet musical revolution is taking place with bands such as Seablite, Chime School and The Umbrellas taking up where the C86 bands left off.

The Umbrellas are the quintessential C86 band – sweet boy/girl harmonies, uplifting bouncy tunes often belying slightly melancholy sometimes dreamy vocals about love and loss, and of course the ever jangly guitars.  A summery/autumny sound that always brightens your day.

Having seen the likes of The Shop Assistants, The Pastels, Motorcycle Boy, Fizzbombs, The Mighty Lemon Drops, Tallulah Gosh, The Wedding Present etc back in the day, right up to The Catenary Wires more recently, I can confidently confirm that The Umbrellas are up there with the very best of the genre.

I found it interesting that the band themselves say in interviews that they were influenced by C86 and Sarah Records etc.

I describe them as C86 as I grew up in that era – however C86 was itself influenced by Californian pop of the 1960s, both musically and in terms of fashion.  It was rare to read a review of a C86 band that didn’t mention The Byrds or The Beach Boys.

So The Umbrellas are really just reclaiming the California sound of their birthright!

They recently released their 2nd album “Fairweather Friend” and it really is a stunning 10 track album.

The Umbrellas are four renegade romantics crafting irresistible indie pop hymns. The band’s self-titled 2021 debut album became a breakout moment, winning critical praise and sparking an international tour. Follow-up LP ‘Fairweather Friend’ goes a step further – absorbing the sonic attack of their live shows, it balances this with studio finesse, allowing the San Francisco four-piece to become the band they’ve always aspired to be.

A lean 10 track affair, ‘Fairweather Friend’ grasps towards beatific pop while fuelled by a sense of risk, and the precision that comes from long months on the road. The Umbrellas coalesced around a group of musicians who would frequent legendary San Francisco record emporium Amoeba Music. Singer and guitarist Matt Ferrera links with bassist Nick Oka, while Keith Frerichs is the powerhouse drummer. A chance encounter with Morgan Stanley singing karaoke at a Fourth of July party cemented the line-up around an avowed thirst for melody. “All of us love really earnest pop songs,” Nick points out. “I guess we got to a point in our lives where we wanted to be genuine”

I often say that the older I get the more I hate nostalgia.  And yet, here I was watching a band who sounded suspiciously like the bands I used to go and see when I was 18.

The thing is, what I hate about nostalgia isn’t enjoying things from the past or looking back on happy times and reminiscing – which is perfectly healthy, it’s just that a lot of people my age convince themselves that they lived through a golden age, and things can never be as good again through a mix of rose-tinted glasses and selective memory.

It can’t be good for people’s mental health to convince themselves that everything is rubbish and getting worse, with all the good times behind them, but my newsfeed for example is full of people posting “before and after” pictures of buildings, and even if the “before” is literally a bomb site, you can guarantee the comments will be full of “it looked so much better then, life was much simpler, I miss those days”.

Funny thing is, during the “golden age” people my age talk about, my parents thought it was rubbish and everything was getting worse, as they waxed lyrical about the golden age when they were, coincidentally in their late teens / early 20s.

So many people say there’s no decent music being made anymore, just because they put on Radio 1 as they did when they they were young, and don’t like what they hear.  Or someone recommends a band to them, and they give up after 20 seconds because it isn’t grabbing them the way a song they’ve been listening to for 30 years does, despite the fact that they probably heard their favourite bands being played several times before they started taking notice of them and gradually got into them.

If you think nobody is making decent music anymore, but you like C86, then you really need to check out the current San Francisco scene urgently, starting with The Umbrellas.

The first C86 band I saw were The Shop Assistants at The Venue in Edinburgh back in 1987.

I was on a first date with a girl I’d met at a Deacon Blue gig at the same venue.  I hadn’t heard of The Shop Assistants, but whilst the girl was my reason for going to the gig, it was C86 that I fell in love with!

Could anything be better than the buzz of my first time, breaking my C86 virginity?

Of course it can!  Yeah, it was a great night, but I was full of anxiety, the girl was staying over at my mums, but my mum was quite prudish so insisted on separate rooms.  Something that lead to her dumping me for a guy with his own place and a car!

In contrast, The Umbrellas gig I was feeling chilled, looking fwd to baking Focaccia and Baguettes at the weekend for a family doo!  And people say the past was a simpler time 😉

My life priorities might have changed, but my enjoyment of the music is a constant.  Why should you stop discovering bands and enjoying their music just because your acne has cleared 🙂

After a long day at work, I didn’t really fancy the trip to Manchester, but I went home walking on air.

Ultimately it’s what going to gigs is all about – nothing beats that after-gig buzz of a great show, it’s about making life that little bit better, even if only for a few hours.

It’s not about clinging on to your youth or trying to re-live it, it’s just about living – having something to look fwd to beyond finding a bargain in the middle aisle of Aldi 🙂 Mind you, finding jars of Garners pickles for 75p when they are normally £3.95 is pretty mind blowing 😉

Midbill was Oh Hippo who describe themselves thus “Oh Hippo invite you to sit down, sway a little, and have a couple of beers babe you deserve it. They are a 6-piece indie pop number made up of members of Precious Metals, Ether Mech, Wurms, HUP & Kites, full of soaring vocal harmonies, smooth basslines, and a subtle undercurrent of anxious dissonance. Come have a beautiful time.”

And opening the show was Mumbles.

I’d forgotten my earplugs – essential gear when you are photographing down at the front of the stage, but I thought with a fairly melodic headliner and a band called “Mumbles” it should be a fairly quiet night…

How wrong I was!  Mumbles were like Bob Mould’s noisier cousins, despite being a member short on account of him having moved to Germany.

Ok, I may exaggerate slightly, but they certainly woke me up!

It’s another reminder of why grassroots music venues are so important – few bands start out playing arenas, and without small venues our culture would be greatly impoverished not only at the grassroots level but further up the chain too.

If a band are going to make the effort to come all the way from the USA to entertain us in UK cities, we really should do our bit and help spread the word so that more people can enjoy their music and help ensure bands keep coming back.

Although the Umbrellas haven’t quite finished this tour yet (at time of writing) they’ve still to play Paris, they say they are already planning their next trip over.

I suspect most of us in that room are counting the days already.