Pop faces of the early 1980s


Three magazines from my huge archive of 80s stuff – Record Mirror featuring Blondie, My Guy with Steve Strange and No.1 magazine with the faces of 1983.  Record Mirror was a good music mag but it never inspired the tribal loyalty that attached to the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds.

In the late 70s, it would publish painted images of pop stars, some of which I’ve framed as they were rather fetching. The mag closed down in 1991 but bizarrely, the name was bought by Giovanni di Stefano – an Italian lawyer most famous for being on Saddam Hussein’s legal defence team!

Blondie IMG_1747 IMG_1656

The NME visits Liverpool after the 1981 riots


At the start of August 1981 – just days after the July riots had simmered down – the New Musical Express went to Toxteth to find out what locals were really thinking.  Police still patrolled every street corner and there did not appear to be a single shop in the area that had not been looted.  A woman called Anna sat behind a makeshift stall beyond which was a pile of rubble that had once been “Anna’s Fruit Shop”.

“They’ve just created more unemployment by putting shopkeepers and their workers on the dole.  They haven’t hurt the police – it’s just their own community that they’ve destroyed.”

While middle aged and older residents were aghast at what had unfolded in their community, some younger interviewees were enjoying the breakdown in law and order.  There was a cocky bravado at getting goods they couldn’t normally afford free of charge.

“We just do it for what we can get out of it – to see what we can nick.”

“Just ‘cos I enjoy every minute of it.  I only do it for kicks an’ so I can rob cars.”

But there were more thoughtful youngsters who said the situation had been building up for twenty years.  The police had always treated black and white youth in the area with suspicion, searching their bags, getting a bit rough with them.  “People were bound to fight back one day.”

The death of David Moore (the only person to die in the riots, see my other blog posts on him) seemed to validate their actions as he was a defenceless, disabled man mown down by a police van.  So the NME went to talk to the police who, it noted, had received 1,631 complaints (mentioned in their annual report) resulting in formal disciplinary action against just two officers.

In spite of its trendy-left reputation, the paper took an even-handed view towards the constabulary pointing out that while there had been allegations of harassment, the police themselves had been subjected to daily provocation including being spat at and called ‘pigs’ to see if they would react.  As one garage attendant stoically remarked to the NME – “there’s good and bad on both sides”.

Talking to members of the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee, it became clear that well known comments about the local Toxteth community being the product of liaisons between black seamen and white prostitutes were now widely attributed to the Merseyside Chief Constable Ken Oxford himself – though he denied it vehemently.

The exchange between the L8DC and the NME was frosty in the extreme and things only got worse when the reporter arrived at the Carribean Community Centre to be told “no white press in here”.  About twenty local youth quickly arrived on the scene to ask why the music paper only came to see them when there were bad times and crisis.

Promoting Merseyside bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark didn’t endear the NME to these black teenagers who saw that as “only another example of discrimination against blacks – in this case by the predominantly white-controlled music business”.

Clearly not having a good time in Toxteth, the reporter then alleged that he had been frisked as he moved along by inept pick-pockets and four other youths were now bouncing up and down on the bonnet of his ten year old Escort van.  Remonstrating with them, he got this stark response.

“You come into a trouble-torn area with your fancy cameras on your back an’ your slick tape recorders an’ fire questions at black people under pressure.  An’ then you wonder why they want to hit you over the head an’ steal your equipment an’ leave you on the ground.”

Describing himself and his cameraman as “white boys in the wrong part of town”, the NME reporter decided to exit the city.

The hatred of Gary Numan


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.

 

 

July, 1981 – when Britain went a bit mad


It was a month to remember…

John McEnroe lost the plot at Wimbledon……cricket fans threw cushions at the pitch because play was stopped early….Reverend Paisley shot at in Belfast…..inner city riots in Toxteth, Moss Side and Brixton…..Home Secretary authorises use of plastic bullets against rioters…..Basement 5 split….a teenager gets in to the House of Commons with a very big knife screaming that he wants to murder Thatcher….fighting breaks out between SAS operatives and mourners at an IRA funeral…Ghost Town goes to number one in the charts…..fatal stabbing at Black Uhuru gig….South African mixed race couple ask permission to leave Britain due to ‘racial hatred’…..Sounds magazine sues NME magazine….a thousand Mods do battle with the police in the Lake District…..Lady Di has one of her first on camera tearful tantrums at a polo match….a twelve year old girl is on trial at the Old Bailey for stealing a donut…Michael Heseltine suggests a big garden festival will help Liverpool forget recent riots….builder David Young was fined £50 for shouting abuse at the king of Saudi Arabia during a state visit…..’Britain in Turmoil’ thunders the Daily Express on its front page….

NME at its most pretentious – 1981


NME
We read it – but did we understand it?

We’d all taken to the streets and rioted in 1981 – or so you might have believed reading the NME.  In fact most of us were in the boozer saying ‘you heard where there’s a riot this weekend then?’ with no intention of actually going and observing.

Truth is, we’d all gone a bit narcissistic and poncy by the end of 1981 – eye liner, big fringes (Human League or Spandau) and even though the economy was shot to pieces, people pretended to be decadently rich….on the cheap.  Or as Ian Penman of the NME put it…

“This was a year when our narcissism was indiscreet; it moved out from beyond our keyholes and openly solicited us with its gaze.”

Yeah, just like I was saying.  Ah, the NME was going through a bit of a wordy, pseudo-philosophical, deliberate purple prose phase.  And none of us could be spared the ramblings of their scribblers.  In the normal three page article on some cultural aspect, it would take at least five or six paragraphs before you had the faintest clue what was being written about.  Almost as if the subject of the article was a total drag.

So Penman continues with this…writing at the end of 1981 in his wrap of the year:

“Nineteen hundred and eighty one divided into two clearly separated but separately ill-defined worlds, both lost in narcissism. The only dangerous intimacies took place in the scenery between these two worlds – but we shall take stock of these later.  For the time being – two views.  Or, if they are indeed narcissistic in nature – two sets of views.”

OK – anybody understand what that actually means!!!   And he then went on to analyse the Adam Ant video of Stand and Deliver.

“Adam stops brandishing his highwayman’s pistol in favour of a hand mirror; this is the point at which we cease to be unmentionable scared.  From anyone else it would be sexually hilarious, this switch from gun to gaze, but with Adam the threat is nothing more than a double entendre with no real punchline.”

Etc…

Spandau Ballet – all about the trousers


Cartoonist Serge Clerc interprets the Spandau Song ‘I don’t need this Pressure on’ by showcasing the baggy trouser chic of 1981.  The year when you could just about walk down the road with a sixteen pleat or more pair of ‘Bowies’ – unless you encountered a gang of heavy metal fans, in which case you were severely beaten up.  I saw this happen to one New Romantic at a club on the Kings Road.  His head audibly cracked under the bovver boot of a rocker – still makes me shudder to this day.

Best tunes in the first half of 1981


NME
The NME in 1981 – at the height of its influence

Hard to imagine a time when the New Musical Express was a style and music bible we read voraciously from cover to cover. And yet it was. What the NME told us was good….we generally believed.

NME journalists polled themselves in July 1981 to see what they thought were the best tunes so far that year.  Some of the songs I wouldn’t argue with while others seem a strange choice looking back.

1 – Me No Pop!     Coati Mundi

2 – We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang     Heaven 17

3 – Being With You     Smokey Robinson

4 – Walking on Thin Ice     Yoko Ono

5 – Adventures on the Wheels of Steel     Grandmaster Flash

6 – Reward    Teardrop Explodes

7 – Chequered Love     Kim Wilde

8 – Pull Up to the Bumper     Grace Jones

9 – Birthday Party     Grandmaster Flash

10 – Pocket Calculator     Kraftwerk

Top album was Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places by Kid Creole and the Coconuts.   Germanic misery merchants DAF came fourth with Alles ist Gut.  Black Uhuru were deservedly in the chart and the Au Pairs.