A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (18)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 30 APRIL 2008

The_Specials-Ghost_Town-UK_single

Like many others of my age in 1980, I bought a whole bundle of singles by new emerging bands such as The Beat, Madness and The Specials. I didn’t go the whole hog and buy the natty suits and pork-pie hat, but I loved my ska bands.

In 1981, The Specials released Ghost Town, a song that was completely unlike any other that had ever emerged from the ska movement. It bulleted up the charts and spent a number of weeks at #1. In retrospect, it has been called the most prophetic of songs ever to be a chart-topper, and there’s all sorts of great pieces of writing all over the internet about how politically significant it all was.

But…….I’m sorry to say, and this may be seen as a piece of heresy, but my love for the song is solely related to the tune and the great vocal performances…

However, that shouldn’t be taken as meaning that I wasn’t aware of the political stooshie that Ghost Town was causing. I was growing up fast in 1981, just about to leave school and go off to University. I had a comfortable and very pleasant upbringing, but I was from an area where I had friends who should have come with me to university, but were in circumstances where they had instead to take on a job to in banking or with the civil service to help support their parents, one or both of whom were out-of-work. Poverty and deprivation weren’t alien concepts to me.

There is no other way to put it – Ghost Town is a savage attack on the state of British society at the outset of the 80s. The Tories under Margaret Thatcher had come to power in 1979 thanks in part to a famous main campaigning slogan of ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ with a poster that showed a huge crowd of people waiting to get into the unemployment office and sign-on.

Two years on, the situation was even worse – unemployment rates had almost doubled across the country. In some areas, particularly where there was a high concentration of young ethnic minorities, as many as 8 out of 10 folk weren’t in employment.

Throw in the rise of the fascist far-right in the shape of the National Front who were blaming non-whites for the state of the nation and a police force that was being given more and more stop-and-search powers by a government determined to appear as the party of law-and-order, then the ingredients were there for something to kick-off.

The people were getting angry.

So angry in fact that in April 1981, something happened that was totally alien in the UK. There was a riot in the streets.

It happened in Brixton in London, and it began as the reaction of a crowd to what they saw was the racist arrest of a local youth (something that was subsequently proven to be true).

The trouble escalated over a 48-hour period before being brought under control. For the first time that I could recall, pictures of police and civilians fighting toe-to-toe in the streets were shown on television, along with images of what seemed to be a whole neighbourhood on fire. And it really did look as if there was going to be some sort of major uprising, but within two or three days, the police had regained order.

Two months later, Ghost Town was released as a single.

But the song wasn’t just a reaction to what had happened in Brixton – in fact it had been written and recorded before the April riot. But to some it seemed to act as a rallying call, for within weeks of its release, as it climbed its way up the charts, there were more riots on the streets.

This time it was Toxteth in Liverpool that was initially in the spotlight. Again, it was initially a reaction to tensions between the police and disaffected black youths, and similar scenes of carnage were beamed live into our homes courtesy of the TV (and all this in the days before we had 24-hour news channels). Toxteth was on a larger scale than Brixton and before long, other riots broke out, the largest being in Handsworth in Birmingham, as well as in many other towns and cities across England.

My recollection is that it took about a week to get things back to normal.

Living in Scotland, I had a feeling of being sheltered from all of this trouble. It may have been Liverpool, Birmingham, London and so on, but it felt as if it was as far away as Detroit, Chicago or Los Angeles.

There was no rioting in Glasgow. Nor was there ever any threat of rioting in Glasgow, despite the unemployment problems being every bit as bad here as anywhere else. What I believe was crucially absent at the time, was a disaffected ethnic minority in my home city that was prepared to take to the streets in protest. I’m not going to make any absurd claim about racism not being an issue in Glasgow in 1981, but it certainly was nowhere near as big a problem as it was in the inner-cities south of the border. Oh and its fair to say, that policing methods were slightly different as well…

The fact I was physically separated from the trouble and violence is why I never, at the time, made the connection between Ghost Town and what was happening in many parts of the country. It was only in the cold light of day a short while later, when the music papers in particular made the connection that the little light bulb went on above my head.

To lots of people, this song will always be associated with events that briefly threatened the very fabric of British society. To this humble scribe, it’s just a great song.

Here’s the 12″ cuts with the second of the the two b-sides featuring probably my favourite ever Terry Hall vocal. Having said that, the other b-side is up there with the very best of The Specials.  It really is a maginificent three-track single.

mp3 : The Specials – Ghost Town
mp3 : The Specials – Why?
mp3 : The Specials – Friday Night, Saturday Morning

Enjoy.

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

friends460

Here’s something else Dick van Dyke posted over at the old place back in June 2009:-

Is it me, or is ‘Friends ReUnited’ (and a hundred sites like it) a vacuous world of eavesdropping and one-upmanship? I mean, why, oh why, would you want anyone to know that you are now “Married (To Tracy) with 2 kids, a lumbering great mortgage and a hamster with terminal alopecia”?

And why pray tell, 20-30 years on, would you wish to be re-united with a ‘friend’ who boasts online (with photos) of his 13 foot dinghy, a Thai bride, and a timeshare in Playas de la Scunthorpe? (Bet he still has the ‘Scwewy Wabbit’ speech impediment though. Hah!) I mean, you thought the bloke was a complete cunto at school, so why would you wish to know of his subsequent adult success in the rowdy revolutionary world of soft furnishings?

Or of Maxine’s … ‘Divorced twice, 5 kids (left home). Now living with Trevor (as if you know him personally) and enjoy weekends at Dump Truck conventions in and around Caerphilly’.

Mildly curious? Christ no…

mp3 : The Jam – Burning Sky*

So anyway, in my worst midnight post-cheese-on-toast nightmare, I can just see me now – meeting up at ye olde Smegma Comprehensive School for their ‘20 Somethingth Anniversary Re-Union Night’. ….

Pissing down with rain on a bleak Tuesday in late February. I deliberately park my 14 year old Nissan Gusto a full 800 yards away. The invite said 7.30, but I thought I’d sneak in unannounced at about 8.15.

Like a prize twat, I Pull instead of Push the heavy front doors. I wonder how I might get back home in time for the 2nd half of the Champions League game on TV. Then I hear Eddie & The Hot Rods from the Disco in the gym … and crack a half smile.

mp3 : Eddie & The Hot Rods – Do Anything You Wanna Do

I was 16 when I last scuffed my shoes through these corridors. I didn’t have a past that could catch up with me. My mind wandered back. ‘You Boy. Keep to the left,’ growls the rampant Deputy Head – Leggy Hargreaves. ‘And tuck your shirt in, you insignificant little wretch’. Funny how the smell of rancid over-cooked cabbage still remains. Even though I still had my ‘life to live’, I recall just how dog-tired I felt with it all even then.

By the cloakroom, I catch my reflection in the glass of a near empty Trophy Cabinet. Belly-bulging Fred Perry over my ‘best’ jeans. Ever expanding forehead shining. Jowls like Deputy Dawg.

“Who the fuck is that?” I ask myself.

I’m collared by ‘Northern IT Guru of The Year 1989’ – Kevin Holdsworth – who is loud and proud and sporting a Devo T-shirt and inane greying goatee.

“I’m still that post-punk science fiction surrealist you know and love” he snorts. A trickle of adhesive saliva stays put in his beard.

“Did you know Basher Briggs was in prison?” Kevin announces.

“Remember how he never paid for his school dinners?” he continued. “Sneaking past dinner lady Doreen on her weaker left side; the side where she’s had the minor stroke and couldn’t see properly?”

“Oh, and remember when he smacked that effeminate lad who dressed as Ziggy Stardust?” Kevin bellows so much, his man-boobs quiver.

“Bust his nose he did. Covered his ginger quiff in blood and snot and purple make-up”.

I see a resplendent Miss Goodyear over by the rack of medicine balls. She was about 26 in 1979 and quite unrecognisable from the portly Molly Sugden figure she now cuts. Did she realise I wonder, just how attractive she was back then? As she flounced around the Art Dept caressing her coffee mug with both hands whilst wearing such unfeasibly tight trousers? Of course she bloody did! The camel toe which launched a thousand wanks. I wonder if she misses that long lost power which she held in the palm of her hand? Do Kate Bush, Agnetha, Debbie Harry et al still miss the teenage boys’ sea of .. adulation?

Evidently, in the year of Our Lord 2009, Miss Goodyear’s spottily cravatted and ‘distinguished’ husband Malcolm is Skipper at the Dewsbury Sailing Club. She says he’s trying to get Brotherhood of Man to perform at the annual Spinnaker Ball. Oh yes, he has contacts y’know; mostly through the KBC – the monthly networking Kidderminster Breakfast Commerce get-together. “And he’s a martyr to his IBS you know”.

“I wonder how he shits in a schooner when caught short?“ I hear myself thinking. Visions of him baring his arse to the choppy lake as his bowels rage are conjured up.

“Sorry, must move on. Work the room ha ha”.

mp3 : The Specials – Do Nothing

Sidle up to the sad fucker who basks openly in his own mediocrity.

“Ey up Colin. How’s yer mum?”

“She died”.

“Oh .. right”.

As I grab a handful of ‘nostalgia inducing’ Monster Munch, I see Sharon across the room. Her once long chestnut hair is now a thinning grey bob. Once bright, sparkling eyes are now dull, bespectacled and moon-stomped by crows. Pert breasts now spaniel-eared and spent. Should I pretend I haven’t seen her? Perhaps she will do the same?

The fact remains that hers was the very first errant hand in my underpants. Nonetheless, I can’t approach her now; not after all these years. Too much water under the bridge of sighs. Or as Sharon would no doubt put it, ‘Too Many Walls have been built in between us.’ I had to wash my own corduroy trousers that night – much to my mother’s puzzlement.

Dignity and embarrassment. Plus ça change ..?

I hear from a heavily tattooed love-god Dave, that 4th Former ex-‘bike’ Tricia Walsh has found Jesus – whilst she was working down at ‘Mr Bubbles’ Launderette. I also heard that Delroy – her skunkweed salesman boyfriend – has ‘found’ Wormwood Scrubs in the meantime. She prays for his rehabilitation. He continues to exchange Crack from the East Wing.

I check my watch as Blue Oyster Cult are introduced to the Steve St. Claire Disco decks. Mike Riley (aka Mavis) tells me that Tanya Wilcocks lost her circus acrobat husband last year in a bizarre trapeze accident. Her face is free from any colour and she visibly carries a wrung-out anger and bitterness which seems to be gnawing at her poor, empty soul. Why, she could crush that glass of Vimto with a single squeeze of her liver-spotted hand. Since the somersault tragedy, he tells me with added relish, she hates God and has rejected all religion.

“Best she keeps away from ex-bike Tricia Walsh and her freshly bashed bible” I whisper, as I sip on my can of warm Skol.

“Still a cynical fucker then, Dick?”

“No mate, not me. … Not me.”

mp3 : Whipping Boy – When We Were Young

*Note from JC : I’ve included the demo version of the song that was made available on the Extras CD from 1992.  It has a sound and feel that seems more appropriate to the posting…

A LOT OF THE FOLK PICTURED ON THIS SLEEVE WILL BE GRANDPARENTS NOW…

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There are loads of stats that can be thrown about from today’s offering.

– in February 1981, this became just the second EP ever to reach #1 in the UK singles charts; the first had been back in 1976 when greek crooner Demis Roussous took his Phenomenon EP to the top of the hit parade

Too Much Too Young became the first live track to reach #1 in more than 9 years; the previous occasion had been Chuck Berry with My-Ding-A-Ling

– at 2:04, the lead track was the shortest #1 throughout the 80s

– the five tracks on the EP had ten different composers

Terry Hall‘s dad was in the audience for the Coventry gig at which the b-side was recorded; this was the first time he’s seen The Specials perform in concert

I’ve long hummed and hawed about whether to use this 45 on the blog for the simple reason that it is record in terrible condition with all sorts of hisses and crackles.   But in the end…..

mp3 : The Specials – Too Much Too Young (live)
mp3 : The Specials – Guns Of Navarone (live)
mp3 : The Specials – Skinhead Symphony (live)*
* features Longshot Kick The Bucket, Liquidator and Skinhead Moonstomp

Enjoy. And hopefully you can track down versions with a far better sound quality.

A POLITICAL PROTEST SONG (2)

Many many thanks to those of you who responded to the request to submit your favourite political song.  I will get round to posting all of them over the coming weeks but felt this is the one that should start things off.  Here’s the e-mail:-

Hello over there JC.

Glad to see T(n)VV on WordPress. (I am a WordPress expert so if you
ever have q's let me know).
I looked at seeing if there was a way of extracting the archive of
TVV, even after deletion, but sadly there wasn't.
Luckily there's the wayback machine.

I'm dropping you a line about your latest post though.
A few months back I created a cousin to F&M called Politics and Music:
http://politicsandmusicblog.wordpress.com/

I got bored of it very quickly though.

I would like if more than five people read it so I wondered if you'll
post the first entry from P&M, which isn't really about a political
protest song, it is more at a look at how the political protest song
is viewed.

If you don't like this one please feel free not to use it - or if you
want to post one of the other two articles on P&M.
Either or I'm not bothered. It's your gig and you decide.

Cheers,
Webbie.

I’ve always been someone who values the contributions to my blog(s) whether in the shape of comments or guest postings, so how could I refuse Webbie…..indeed all of his articles on P&M will appear here in due course although of course I’m hoping may of you will follow the link over there in advance.  Here’s the first article:-

———–starts————————————————-

I am an 80′s throwback. Born in the mid 60′s but the period when music began to resonate with me was from 1981 onwards. Why that particular year ? I don’t know. On Top Of The Pops everybody was having fun, having a party. I wanted to be invited.

It was also around this period that I was only a year away from the harsh reality of Thatcher’s Britain – No parties, just the dole. But watching these bands on the telly, in their bright colourful clothes, with the ballons, with the streamers. It took you away from the grey world outside.

At that time I was living in Liverpool. Only a few months before with my best mate Walter, we sat on some steps and watched the Railto burn.

As mentioned I wasn’t long for the unemployment line and soon became one of the 3 & half million signing on. Things were grim. Strikes, picket lines and where I lived – the riots. Switch on the TV, take your mind away…

The country was unhappy. Toxteth I witnessed. There was also Brixton and more.

History is slowly beginning to repeat itself with the Tory government (yes I know coalition but the Lib Dems are just puppets) with benefit cuts, cuts to the NHS, high unemployment and recession once again. An unpopular leader leading the country down another dark path.

These days there are many outlets to express our anger and frustration about the Tories, so the outrage is spread out and looks thin on the ground. Back then it was more concentrated. There were only four TV channels and everybody watching them. It was actually easier for some to get there word out. To vent their feelings, to raise those issues.

Music can reflect what people are thinking and feeling. The musicians like the rest of us suffered unemployment and then wrote about it. The most famous example in 1981 was The Specials with Ghost Town. A perfect reflection on the state of things. It captured the mood perfectly.

mp3 : The Specials – Ghost Town

The Specials obviously weren’t the first with social commentary. This has been going on every since popular music began. But to me it seemed that in the earlier part of the 1980′s there was an increase in these type of songs.
There was easily enough material for the songwriters. Thatcher and her battles with everybody. The dockers, miners, steelworkers… even the unemployed. Lots of misery and poverty around but also the open, raw capitalist greed.

Many bands attempted to raise awareness of fascism, racism, politics and the constant threat of a nuclear war. Even the established and well loved artist Paul McCartney sang about giving Ireland back to the Irish. But the single (as you will see from that link) was subsequently banned.  Other acts such The Police and yes, even Spandau Ballet also sang about that always touchy subject.

Every time a musical act does a take on one of these issues though, they are criticised. How dare these pop stars talk about politics. They should mind their own business.

The argument is always there whether they should get involved or stay out of it. The thing is that sometimes it works and sometimes not. There are a few instances when it became a force for good – such as with Band Aid and the eventual Live Aid concert. But sometimes the song becomes a bit of an embarrassment. The chart pop stars of the 80′s addressing a current plight somewhere. Their smooth, popular image then dented when they cry about war. It’s like a stand up comedian suddenly stopping midway through his act to do a slideshow on the African famine. Sometimes an uncomfortable act for us to witness.

A sample of potential embarrassment was with this line in a song, which was met with much derision when first heard:

“Don’t say you’re easy on me, you’re about as easy as a nuclear war…”

It was a throw away line, with the original message of the song not about a holocaust, but of relationships.
The rest of the lyrics in the verse before that line:

“People stare and cross the road from me
And jungle drums they all clear the way for me
Can you read my mind, can you see in the snow
And fiery demons all dance when you walk through that door”

Jungle drumming, snow visions, mind reading and to top it off – the demons:

mp3 : Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know

The line is remembered and brought much unwanted attention to Duran Duran. A fan misheard the lyric and wrote to Simon Le Bon to ask what “you bad azizi” meant.

This inspired them to create an experimental B side for a single released in 1990:

mp3 : Duran Duran – Yo Bad Azizi

From a potentially embarrassing lyric – another song. But they still didn’t compose this about the actual event of a nuclear war. It was just a riff on a letter they received. And as far as I’m aware Duran Duran have never done any protest songs, have never tried to raise awareness for the rainforests or poverty… or anything like that. Correct me if I’m wrong though.

Webbie, 9 January 2013

——————–ends————————

Note from JC

Webbie’s original posting linked to stuff on you tube instead of mp3s.  Given that you tube is owned by Google, who are also the owners of Blogger from which the original TVV was unceremoniously removed, readers will hopefully understand why I wont be posting you tube content at the new place.