WH Smith goes ska in 1980

IMG_62321979 and 1980 were the glory years of the so-called “second wave” of ska music – first wave in Jamaica twenty plus years before and now the 2Tone wave came crashing out of Coventry. The Specials seized the charts by the scruff of the neck with a string of hits. And even WH Smith felt the vibe as the his ad from 1980 shows.

But…by the end of 1981, political pop gave way to bubblegum pop. However, fans of bands like The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat have remained fiercely loyal to the present. And it would be remiss of me not to mention that I co-authored the biography of Neville Staple, front man in The Specials, titled¬†Original Rude Boy.

The collapse of businesses during the 80s Thatcher recession


Over the first six months of 1980, a total of 3,160 firms called in the receivers. If you look at the list – as I’m doing now – there were loads of Midlands based medium sized manufacturers – especially in the automotive sector.

The toy industry was decimated in this period with Meccano closing down (makers of Dinky Toys); the failure of Dunbee-Combex-Marx (makers of Hornby trains, Scalextric cars and Sindy dolls) and huge redundancies at Lesney (maker of Matchbox toys).

Still, one area thrived – private receivers. Insolvency proceedings had been overseen by the government owned Official Receiver but Thatcher decided the City could do a far better job. And so through public policy, she helped build up the likes of Deloittes, Peat Marwick, Cork Gully and Coopers Lybrand. Many of these firms have since merged to create mega-accountancy operations.

Britain in decline
Britain in decline

Northern Ireland Troubles in 1980

Thank goodness this seems like an epoch ago! Even though I’m half Irish, I’m glad to say that the carnage we once witnessed year after year in Northern Ireland now seems a distant nightmare. One can’t be complacent but – fingers crossed – we don’t look set to return to those days anytime soon.

Here’s a reminder of how awful it was – the latest update from The Observer in 1980. What a sad front cover.

1980 – the Year of the Skinhead

That may not be how many would wish to remember the year but at the time, it was hard to ignore skinheads. Much maligned or did they get the criticism they deserved? Putting it crudely, there were skinheads who were bad and skinheads who were broadly good.

Bad skins supported the National Front, caused trouble on football terraces and if you saw a group walking down the road towards you – it was best to think of an exit strategy. Skinhead punk bands featured prominently as cheerleaders for fascist politics and one group undoubtedly played a major role in provoking the 1981 Southall Riot – though they whined to the NME afterwards that it was all a terrible mistake.

Good skins weren’t necessarily helping little old ladies across the road but they were more likely to be adopting a style they knew was associated with Jamaican music.¬† I knew skinheads on the far left of British politics and of course, the skinhead look was already being adopted by the gay scene – though some within the gay scene were heavily critical of the look.

Here’s how the Observer in 1980 reported on the year of the skinhead.

Was anybody on the People’s March for Jobs in the early 80s?

It all seems a long time ago now – and yet mass youth joblessness is back with us in Europe. The People’s March for Jobs in 1981 was a very big march streaming into Hyde Park and made up of many young people who had come from all over Britain. Grim economic times but a real gritty determination to fight back in those days. This leaflet may jog some memories.