I have a huge, towering stack of music papers from the 1980s in my study including the NME, Record Mirror, Sounds, Melody Maker, Smash Hits, Fab 208, etc, etc, etc. And in one edition of Fab 208, the editor had asked famous popstars of the day to draw themselves.
Most noteworthy for me was Dave Wakeling of The Beat who was the only pop star to depict himself in profile. The magazine noted that he feels strong about world problems.
The Beat were a very political combo and I had the honour of interviewing the late Ranking Roger for the biography I co-wrote of Neville Staple of The Specials.
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.
After finding that front cover of Ranking Roger in Record Mirror (see my last post), I’ve just had Beat songs going round my brain for the last 24 hours. Here’s ‘Too Nice to Talk To’ with a great video of the chaps in the recording studio.
The Beat recorded the song ‘Stand Down Margaret’, which caused quite a stir at the time – a spirited call on prime minister Maggie Thatcher to go. Below is vocalist Ranking Roger on the front cover of the long defunct Record Mirror. I interviewed him for the biography of Neville Staple – Original Rude Boy – published by Aurum Press. He was great fun to spend an afternoon with and some amazing stories from the late 70s and early 80s.
The start of the 1980s was dominated by the sound of 2Tone – a new take on the Jamaican ska sound of the 1950s and 1960s. It had a broad appeal across Britain with ordinary youth, both black and white. As a sound, it was just easy to like – a fun beat and sardonic lyrics. Trouble was – it was all over by 1981. Well, some bands lingered but The Specials split acrimoniously and two members of The Beat became General Public while the other two formed Fine Young Cannibals.
The United States had started to open up to 2Tone and then it was gone. So when Ranking Roger discovered that the seed planted in the US in the early 80s had grown into a mighty musical oak by the mid-80s, he got some ex-Specials together with him and formed Special Beat.