It was a brave pop band that went to Northern Ireland at the start of the 1980s and loudly advocated a non-sectarian message – but that’s what The Specials and The Beat did in 1981.
On the UK mainland, 2tone bands had made racial unity central to their musical message. When it came to the violence torn province, unity of Catholic and Protestant youth was their plea. I write about this tour in my biography of Neville Staple – Original Rude Boy. And below is a press clipping from my archives.
Through 1981, hundreds of young people made their way down to London on the Jobs Express. This modern day Jarrow March was received positively by most people with even muted criticism from the Tories and Fleet Street. Some newspapers did sneer that it was all a far left conspiracy and that the youth were being used by extremists, etc.
But there was no doubting that unemployment in the early 80s recession had hit teenagers very hard with the drying up of apprenticeships and factories closing. As the Jobs Express made its way to London, trade unionists – like those pictured below – mucked in to make sandwiches for the youngsters and give them a cheer.
This being 1981, however, it’s not surprising to read in this article that as one group of teens on the march came back from a disco, they were set upon by fascists. No further details are given but this was a grim sign of the times.
The summer of 1981 was rocked by riots against the government with cities across Britain experiencing massive upheavals. Coventry had been something of a tinderbox for years with skinheads clashing with black and Asian youth throughout the 1970s – something I write about in my biography of Neville Staple, “Original Rude Boy”. But things escalated in 1981 when an Asian youth was murdered in broad daylight in the shopping centre – enough was definitely enough.
The National Front had swaggered round town intimidating law abiding people and now the 2Tone bands born of Coventry organised a gig to take the streets back. It was a festival of racial unity. Though that didn’t stop the NF threatening to come down to the venue and cause disruption. At the same time as the gig, riots broke out round Coventry bus station.
Here is Melody Maker’s report on the gig from my archives!
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.