how aggi of the pastels stole my teenage heart
All about the mysterious Glasgow tomboy with her oversized denim jacket and lilting bass lines.
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I wish I had a better origin story. I wish I could remember the moment I saw her staring back impishly from the cover of Sittin' Pretty or first heard her distinctive voice on Up for a Bit with the Pastels. All I know is that by my late teens, I was absolutely enchanted by the style and spirit of Annabel "Aggi" Wright, and unlike most enthusiasms of that era, I stand by it.
As any indie fan worth her salt knows, the Pastels was a seminal Glasgow rock band of the 80s and 90s. Sometimes melodic, sometimes pop-punk, sometimes twee garage, its sound was ever-evolving and ever-endearing, Stephen Pastel's off-key vocals and sometimes-wry, sometimes-earnest lyrics lending even the most sophisticated tracks a rare poignancy. But I'm not the one to ask about their music, exactly; my emotions were, and are, emotional, and I couldn't tell you why moments on Illumination make me cry, just that they do.
Stephen Pastel (real name, McRobbie) remains an indie heartthrob: handsome and sort of shambolic-looking, with that cracking voice and all that talent -- and a research librarian into the bargain! There's a reason Black Tambourine wrote an entire song called "Throw Aggi off a Bridge." "Maybe you're singing those songs for her," they sing plaintively, "But soon, dear you'll sing them to me."
I got it; I was in love with Stephen Pastel, too. But I didn't want to throw his longtime collaborator and girlfriend off a bridge: I wanted to hang out with her. In fact, a big part of what I liked about Stephen was that he had such a cool woman in his life.
I remember distinctly listening to music I loved as a teenager and feeling, if not alienated, at least alien. In my big vintage house dresses, I wasn't the sort of girl these songs were about: not intimidatingly badass like the riot grrrls or cool and mysterious like Kim Gordon, or angry or sexual or ironic. I was just who I was: a quirky, goofy late bloomer with passionate interests and an embarrassingly soft "S" and eclectic friends, who secretly suspected that somewhere there might be a nice boy out there who'd think I was nifty, but would never have presumed to say so out loud.
And then came Aggi. First there was the music, of course: those awkward, heartfelt, warm harmonies, the surprisingly lilt of her bass lines. Even after she left the band in 2000, even after they'd broken up, I loved that they had been together when those moving songs were written. They were earnest; they were fun. They made it look like a blast, but a heartfelt blast. And maybe this was the kicker: in "Nothing to be Done," you could hear clearly that Aggi talked with a slight lisp.
Of course, she looked awesome. She wasn't especially glamorous, and she never tried too hard. But she always projected a tomboy cool that felt (to me) both aspirational and attainable. On the cover of Sitting Pretty she is obviously wearing her boyfriend's denim jacket. With her dark, shaggy bob and her charity-shop shirts, her crewneck sweaters and sweet face innocent of makeup, she projected something different from what I was used to. Looking back now, I realize she didn't intimidate me because she wasn't overtly sexual, but she was cute and sexy; she didn't have to project unwholesomeness to be cool. There's one snapshot of her and Stephen in which they're sitting in a row-boat; he's heartbreakingly handsome, she's wearing a scarf knotted about her neck, and a pair of oversized sunglasses, and her hair is tousled and they look so young and happy you can't help but grin. She's still the raddest thing I've ever seen.
It's not surprising that her art is great, too; Annabel Wright is an illustrator and artist whose work blends whimsy and clean lines in a way I find enormously appealing. I've thought about trying to buy a piece, but then I've felt creepy -- as much as I love her work, I didn't need to physically possess a piece of it. I even feel a little funny writing this confession; for so many years I've been a fan, and I'd hate to reduce all she's meant to me to a paeon to her hair or even how cool she looks with a bass (even if that's very cool.) Maybe that's why I don't need to own a piece; it's all there, in young me and grown-up me and everything she can still mean to the other girls out there looking for a song about them, but afraid to presume. You know the girl I mean.
We'll be rolling out stories by our favorite writers on their personal style icons all week. Read them all here. Who's yours?
Text Sadie Stein
Photography Stephen McRobbie