Even in a lifetime, parts of London can change dramatically and Shoreditch is a huge transformation story. Thirty five years ago, it was a battleground between neo-Nazis and anti-fascists.
National Front supporters would strut through Brick Lane intimidating the local Asian population and spray painting swastikas and racist graffiti. And in 1978, the NF set up its headquarters in deepest Hoxton – 73 Great Eastern Street to be precise.
In the spring of 78, the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism organised a huge anti-racist carnival in Victoria Park, Mile End – which I attended with my school mates. In our group was the son of Len Murray, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, a fellow pupil at my school. On what was a magical day, we watched The Clash play in the park as well as the Tom Robinson Band – not a combo remembered much by anybody aged under 40.
Later the same year, south London got its chance to rock against the National Front with a carnival in Brockwell Park. But the word went out that while the capital’s anti-racists were watching some great bands – the Nazis would be taking over the east end. The call went out for some of those who opposed the NF to forego the music and counter-demonstrate against the far right in Shoreditch.
Peg trousers are a forgotten part of the late 70s sartorial scene in my view – everybody remembers tartan bum flaps and the stuff most of us actually didn’t wear. But peg trousers were everywhere. Pleats on men’s trousers are now viewed as the work of Satan but in a world where flat fronted did not reign supreme, as many as sixteen pleats were acceptable on so-called Bowie trousers.
And looking below – what was it with the German NATO jackets that popped up everywhere between 1979 and 1981. There must have been some kind of job lot coming in from Germany and we were just conned into believing they were unbelievably cool. If you remember, they kind of elasticated at the waist.
Some New Wave clothes ads from the back of the music papers in 1979.
I’ve just decorated my bedroom as a shrine to the coolest 80s pop stars and here’s a budget idea to do the same to yours. Basically, I got some of the best Record Mirror front covers off e-bay and then had them framed. Around 1978 to 1981, the magazine had some very stylised front covers with artistic images of stars instead of photos. I don’t know what the reason was – cost, whatever. But framed – they look amazing – here they are!
BBC Four (or BBC Fortysomething as I call it) ran an excellent series of programmes back to back on Friday night about Top of the Pops in 1976 – the year, which I’m sure you’ll recall, it really sank to all time lows.
TOTP in the 60s focused on music and giving youth a voice. It bounced in to the early 1970s with the amazingness of glam – particularly Marc Bolan. And there were the great opening credits to the grinding rock of Led Zeppelin. But then it all ran out of steam. Every Thursday, aged 12 and 13, me and my sister tuned in listlessly to TOTP hoping something would be played to excite our jaded senses.
What I thought the BBC Four programme evidenced brilliantly – and Paul Morley is a god for saying it – was how crap the crop of DJs on Radio 1/TOTP looked by the mid-70s. These smug arbiters of pop taste were annoying the hell out of all of us. Ex-Radio Luxembourg presenters still convinced today they were right not to play punk records – citing the level of record sales.
But as we all know, record sales were contingent on DJs giving songs airtime. I mean, Dave Lee Travis happily plugged his Convoy GB record, which I certainly didn’t want to hear at the time. And that was the problem – these guys loved their novelty hits while ignoring a musical revolution right in front of their noses.
Tony Blackburn rocked up on the BBC4 prog to say that he still detested punk. I recall Generation X appearing on one edition of TOTP hosted by Blackburn and when the camera went back to him, he looked as if somebody had just taken a dump on his face.
The BBC carried on turning TOTP in to a variety show for all the family until the knocking of punk at the front door became so loud they had to be let in. I mean, to give you an idea how awful 1976 was on TOTP – just think about Disco Duck, Brotherhood of Man and Showaddywaddy and consider that while that was being played at TV Centre to people still in flares, the Sex Pistols were gigging but a few miles away in central London.
As Toyah said on the programme, and I never thought I’d quote her, punk injected new life in to TOTP. Far from overthrowing it, they gave the format a whole new lease of life. Seeing Siouxsie Sioux playing Hong Kong Garden on the show is as electric now as it was when she appeared. And yet, there was David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton on the BBC4 programme still saying that punk was horrible.