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.
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.
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.
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.
Rush mixed lyrics of a ponderously Canadian nature with English whimsical prog rock and never looked back. Their early stuff – ‘Anthem’ and ‘Caress of Steel’ – were horribly thudding metal. But then the trio relocated from their native Canada to Wales and got influenced by the likes of Van Der Graaf Generator.
Drummer Neil Peart was the band’s lyricist and claimed to be influenced by the ‘genius of Ayn Rand’. This political writer was a huge influence on some right wing Americans with a mix of unashamed elitism, worship of capitalism, belief in selfishness, an aggressive individualism and, unusual for American right wingers, atheism. Peart has denied being right wing himself and I believe has even called himself left wing and libertarian. So there you go.
Their middle era albums like ‘Hemispheres’ were very prog rock in their pretentiousness and 2112 had a classic concept story that gobbled up one half of the vinyl. A complete heap of Rand infused guff about a young man trying to rebel against evil communistic priests….oh God, I can’t be bothered to describe the rest of this plot.
But in 1980, Rush decided they’d rather like some pop success. And so out came ‘Permanent Waves’. Short songs like ‘Spirit of Radio’ saw them climb the charts and I nearly fell off the family sofa when they appeared on Top Of The Pops.
During a brief flirtation with NWOBHM – I joined my school mates and went to see them in Hammersmith. Dare I say – I enjoyed the experience. But I’m still kind of ashamed. If people ask which bands I went to see in 1980, I’ll say the Dead Kennedys or The Specials before I say…..Rush.