From memory, my first pocket calculator was given to me by Dad around 1977. Like the first mobile phones, it was a clunky bit of hardware. But it seemed magical. Not only could multiplication and division be done rapidly, there was no need for that dog eared log book to calculate cosines or my completely incomprehensible slide rule.
I hated maths. Always preferred arty subjects. But if I had to do maths – which I did to ‘O’ (ordinary) level – then I was going to use my calculator. Or so I thought. Because in the 70s, calculators were viewed as a form of cheating. So in spite of the march of technology, you still had to master the bloody slide rule.
Why? I mean, when I went to the local greengrocers, did the shopkeeper sit there with an abacus to work out my bill? No, there was a till. For the life of me, I couldn’t work out why I was denied the opportunity to take my Texas Instruments calculator into the exam room.
Unbelievably, this debate has rumbled on into the 21st century! There are still stringent conditions about the use of calculators in GCSEs with some papers prohibiting their use. Obviously using a calculator in your smartphone is not allowed as somebody might be texting you the exam answers from outside.
All that aside, calculators were so amazing in the late 70s and early 80s, that the German band Kraftwerk even wrote a song composed on them. I saw this gig at the Lyceum in London in 1981.
Neville Staple is still touring with The Neville Staple Band and I filmed this gig on my iPhone in Chelsea a while back. He puts on a great performance as you can see. Neville is not playing with The Specials anymore but treats you to all the classic songs. I worked with Mr Staple on his biography Original Rude Boyback in 2009.
Aaaah – student union politics in the early 80s. I was Deputy President of Liverpool University student union (Guild of Undergraduates to be exact, the official name) and things were very polarised politically. Thatcherite Tories versus Militant Tendency and some other groups in between. At the university, radically minded feminists were in the Womens Group tackling still very prevalent sexism among blokes at college – particularly in the medical and veterinary faculties.
So – there was bound to be a bust up when the Liverpool University Veterinary Society decided to put on a ‘comedy’ revue in the student union using the OMD album cover but changing the title to Obstetrical Manoeuvres in the Uterus. I arrived at the student union to find a queue of angry women outside my office and needless to say, the vets were forced to climb down.
The riots of 1981 and a spate of racist attacks weren’t helped by a small number of bands whose political views were to the right of Hitler and the entire high command of the Third Reich. One Oi! gig in Southall led to the pub they were performing in being burnt to the ground by Asian youth.
So, in the months that followed the inner city riots of that year, Oi! had its work cut out improving its public image. The media was branding skin bands as fascist and racist and in part to blame for the violence that had been seen on the streets.
With these accusations ringing in their ears, some skin bands decided to show their anti-racist credentials by taking to the road which would include two anti-racist gigs and an appearance at the Right To Work campaign march. The Business, Infa-Riot, the Blitz and Partisans duly went off on tour.
Sheffield’s George IV saw the Blitz join the Mo-Dettes for an anti-racist gig while all the bands played an Oi Against Racism concert in the same city a little later on.
Who could forget the spring of 1980 – May to be exact – when prog rockers Yes announced that they were to merge with electro-poppers, Buggles. Geoff Downes would take over Rick Wakeman’s role on keyboards while Trevor Horn would be lead vocalist instead of Jon Anderson.
I saw this musical calamity at Hammersmith Odeon, as the venue was called in 1980, and from the start – the mood in the audience was ugly as hell. The lights went up and the boys waved – goodbye might have been an idea.
I’ve never been to a gig where people shouted “Bring back Rick Wakeman!” but this was the one. Then my poor ears had to endure Trevor Horn struggling manfully – or not so manfully – to reach the falsetto highs of Jon Anderson.
The ‘Drama’ album wasn’t that bad. Tempus Fugit had a good bass line. But little wonder that when Anderson re-joined the band he didn’t perform the numbers from that LP.
The only good thing about this whole episode was that it finally killed off any warm residual feelings I had towards prog rock. Suddenly, they really were the sad and tragic dinosaurs that the NME had warned us they were since the dawn of punk.