1979 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.
In the two biographies I’ve had published – with Neville Staple (Original Rude Boy) and Errol Christie (No Place To Hide) – the same question came up of night clubs that operated a race bar back in the 1970s and early 1980s. That is, in breach of legislation, they refused or curtailed entry to people on grounds of skin colour. You wouldn’t believe this could have happened in England within living memory – but oh yes it did.
The proof? Well, in 1978 the Birmingham night club Pollyanna’s was ordered by the Commission for Racial Equality to stop restricting black and Chinese people from attending its functions. Unbelievably the club not only admitted what it did but tried to justify it. Their argument was that in the interests of “a happy situation”, racial quotas had to be imposed. This included telling a university lecturer not to bring in a group of Chinese students!
Errol Christie told me that several Coventry clubs as late as 1981 operated an effective colour bar making it almost impossible for black youth to enter the premises. Ironically, the aforementioned Pollyanna’s did become a meeting place for Brummie punks and skinheads including a certain Ranking Roger, later of The Beat….who was black.
When I was writing Neville Staple’s biography – ‘Original Rude Boy’ – I was given a hold-all full of photos of The Specials and all kinds of memorabilia. This included a load of backstage passes from Specials gigs and other events Neville had attended around 1979 to 1981. Some of this stuff made it into the book but others didn’t. They all got scanned or photographed by me so take a look at this.
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!
Pauline Black – I had the honour of meeting the queen of ska five years ago when I was writing Neville Staple’s biography and she wasn’t a disappointment. Since then, I’ve had several encounters and she’s a truly amazing and very nice woman.
Luckily for all of you – The Selecter is touring again and they’re as good as ever. So get some tickets. Pauline has also brought out her biography – Black By Design, which is doing a roaring trade.
Here she is on the front cover of Record Mirror – thirty years ago.