The Beat recorded the song ‘Stand Down Margaret’, which caused quite a stir at the time – a spirited call on prime minister Maggie Thatcher to go. Below is vocalist Ranking Roger on the front cover of the long defunct Record Mirror. I interviewed him for the biography of Neville Staple – Original Rude Boy – published by Aurum Press. He was great fun to spend an afternoon with and some amazing stories from the late 70s and early 80s.
Prince Charming was the king of pop in 1981 – and he had a fan club. Were any of you out there a member?
Thumbing through my old copies of the NME – and by the way, I found out the NME itself has no copies of its old issues pre-1983 – I couldn’t help noticing that Gary Numan was not a performer held in the highest affection. Even though his material has been sampled since and I think history has been kinder to him. But the savaging he got at his career peak was ceaseless.
Nick Kent of the NME had resolved to destroy him by April 1981 – thirty years ago. I’ve got the article in front of me and it’s cruelly hilarious. “…Ground control is evidently calling your number as I write in the same harsh, hollow cadence you yourself have utilised for your sound…” Ouch.
Numan was frequently accused of having snaffled David Bowie’s mantle while the great man took a break for various reasons before bouncing back with Let’s Dance. Nick Kent said Numan must have been feeling the heat by 1980 when Steve Strange and John Foxx were taking the limelight but the return of the thin white duke himself meant the end.
“…David Jones from Beckenham (Bowie in case you didn’t know) had returned from his sojourns out in left-field to claim his throne, the very chair your bum has been keeping warm in his Nib’s absence for – how long is it now? Two years, at least, eh?”
Kent said that Steve Harley had kept Bowie’s seat warm in 1974, Numan had done so for a while and Steve Strange was performing that task as he wrote. It was time, Kent felt, for Numan to go away. Which as it goes, is pretty much what he did.
So I was racking my brain for 80s memories the other day when I suddenly thought – did I really see The Cure supported by Classix Nouveaux at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road in 1980? And surely the answer came back – yes. Yes I did.
Here is a ticket stub to prove that gig happened.
Dominion Theatre has been playing host to the ghastly Queen musical for a while and the whole area round it is now being dug up for Crossrail. But one night in 1980, I went there with my buddy Alex and we saw The Cure. But I’m going to be very honest, though I loved The Cure – it’s the performance by Classix Nouveaux that really stuck in my mind down the years.
It’s infuriating when I know it should have been Robert Smith and not the high pitched Sal Solo that stayed in my memory – but hey ho. He must have put on quite an act. This video was recorded for the brilliant single “Is it a dream?” on a disgracefully low budget – looks like a back garden and a dry ice machine. But Sal Solo makes the most of it.
As punk spluttered to a standstill in the late 70s – except for some sod awful bands that tried to keep the flame alight – a whole load of youth cults bubbled to the surface. One of them was a revival of the 60s mod sound and look. Around Carnaby Street, you could once more bump into chaps who looked like they’d just been auditioning to be in The Who circa 1966.
The Jam were at the forefront but they were always much, much more than simply a mod revival combo. The Purple Hearts, The Lambrettas and Secret Affair formed the core of this movement and scored some chart hits. But it was an 18 month to two year wave that came and went – though the same could be said of the other youth cults of the time.
The classified ads section of the music papers were full of mod gear you could buy. Here’s a shopping list from 1980 with prices of mod gear on sale at a shop in the Midlands.
Union Jack Fabric Belt – £1.75
The Who belt buckles – £2.90
Target Straight Ties – £2.90
Badges were 40p each or 5 for £1.75 with Lambrettas, Merton Parkas, Specials, Selecter, etc.
The summer of 1981 was warmer than most in the UK – but not because of the weather. Cities across the country exploded in rioting. First it was Brixton in April and by July, like a forest fire it had spread to Toxteth, back to Brixton, Coventry, Birmingham, Southall, etc, etc. Even middle class suburbs felt the need to stage a mini disturbance in case they got left out.
A huge leap in youth unemployment; a prime minister who didn’t seem to care (Thatcher); police forces imposing stop and search that left black youth feeling targeted and a general sense that Britain was on its knees. I was 18 at the time and everywhere, there was a sense that the country was fit to blow.
Punk no longer served the purpose of channelling this youth anger. And there was plenty of fury under the surface. It needed a new music that would articulate the problems as opposed to just screaming: F… off! Not that punk hadn’t done a sterling job in the mid-70s but now it fell to ska and 2Tone to convey alienation and despair.
The Specials, a band made up of black and white talent, found its time. Terry Hall was the snarling ex-punk front man. Neville Staple brought a street-wise knowledge as a young black man who had known the inside of borstal and prison. Jerry Dammers was the musical genius who revived a Jamaican sound, ska, that captivated us from 1979 to 1981.
The single Ghost Town rocketed to the top of the charts. It was bleak. It was uncompromising. It painted Britain as a soulless dystopia ruled by a government that had turned its back on millions of people. Unfortunately, the song was the last hit for The Specials – as divisions within the band erupted to the surface.
There was always a lot of chat about whether Terry Hall had been plotting for ages to leave The Specials and form Fun Boy Three or if it was a sudden flash in the pan. I’ve found one interview where he says that he knew when The Specials got to number one with Ghost Town, it would be their final appearance on Top of the Pops.
“I knew that would be the last time I was ever going to be on telly with the Specials and it was, well, emotional.”