All the Skinhead Girls I Ever Went Out With
had to be.
Most could shut
a pub to silence.
All could talk
‘til the Monopoly
boot came home.
The blue of
the same green
as the liquor
On Saturday night
I heard ‘Ali Baba’
and I wanted
my dream last
night last night.
Her monkey boots
scraping my shin,
of cinema carpet
as the adverts
and the action begins.
Prince Buster, with 2 Tone and mod revival kicking off, in the NME, 9 June, 1979.
X-Ray Spex and Black Slate gig in an abortion benefit, as reviewed in Spare Rib, issue 68, March, 1978.
National Abortion Campaign benefit
Girls in pink stilettos with pink plastic specs in their hair; clumps of boys pogo, shooting up and crashing heads together, staking out territory in front of the stage; a smattering of feminists commiserate “I feel about 70 – they all look so young.”
London’s Roundhouse was crammed on January 15 for NACPUNK – a benefit concert for the National Abortion Campaign, an amazing mixture of people and bands, with X-Ray Spex ‘top of the bill’. (New wave and women’s movement may resist stars, but Poly Styrene is quite a name!)
Sadista Sisters, on first, really piss me off – I suppose they’re sending up sexism with charades of musical entrepreneurs fucking queues of young hopefuls, but their anti-sexism is ambiguous, and so clumsy and slow. Between acts they alternate tough liberated songs with sweetening slush. Only the slapstick made me laugh, making grotesque tomato sandwiches to throw at the audience. And that’s been done before.
Dead Fingers Talk I did like, but some people had the same problems about the ambiguity of what they were doing. I’d been told in advance they were a gay men’s band, so I saw their song There’s Something Not Quite Right About Harry as strong satire. People round me seemed clear what it was about; one black leather heavy jeering ‘wankers’ and ‘queens’ at the band knew what he was afraid of. Only later I heard left-wing indignation that NAC had booked a queer-bashing band.
Black Slate played polished but predictable reggae, then X-Ray Spex bounced on – Poly Styrene in fifties suit, silver blue and knee-clinging, with a ribbon in her frizzy hair. “I don’t know about aborrrtions…” she drawled, ripping into her latest single Oh Bondage Up Yours. She’s got fantastic stage presence and witty lyrics:
When I put on my make-up
The pretty little mask, not me
That’s the way a girl should be
In a consumer society
The concert made loads of money – £2350 to get NAC out of the red (the bands all played for nothing) – and it drew a huge crowd. Politically it was a wasted opportunity – a few leaflets and posters would have helped, some badges for sale, a lurex ‘Woman’s Right To Choose’ banner over the stage. There were no clues it was a benefit, let alone what for, until one woman tried to make a speech near the end and got booed off – inevitably: speeches are boring. Only Rock Against Racism were at work outside, selling their paper Temporary Hoarding, complete with Poly Styrene interview.
Many feminists felt the event was out of their control: the Roundhouse ruled, men guarded the doors, put on the records, brought on the bands. I felt that too, but would have been glad that the music wasn’t just ‘ours’, the audience not just ‘us’ – if only we’d made clear who ‘we’ were.
The Horace Ové film reviewed in Black Echoes, 18 March, 1978.
Pressure, Horace Ové
Notting Hill Coronet.
Not exactly a film about Black Music, and yet it’s that and much more. And essential viewing for those who want to understand the realities of black oppression, which lie behind the inspiration for much Reggae.
Pressure is set in Ladbroke Grove, and is showing appropriately enough just down the road from that very location. It also strikes close to home in its subject matter, which seems to grow disturbingly more topical week to week.
The film is basically the story of a black kid’s search for work and his journey through frustration and despair to final awakening “black consciousness”. Our hero, Tony, has been out of school for over six months when the film opens, and a job seems as far away as ever. Most of his white ex-class mates are already well settled into their new working status. Inevitably the forces of discrimination begin to separate him from white society. And in turn his naïve schoolboy image transforms into the street sharp character of the final scenes.
The opening sequences are rather hammy and awkward – his white friends for instance are just that bit too clean and pleasant. But pretty soon you stop analysing as you become absorbed in simply wanting to know what happens next. The feel of the film strengthens as one bitter experience after another compound themselves in Tony’s mind. Our involvement grows until we too begin to see the pressures of Babylon all around.
There are some nice touches of irony too, like the preacher in the black peoples’ church who tells them to “drive all black thoughts from your mind”. Religion is just another form of oppression because God is a white man.
Events culminate into the scenes of police terrorisation and brutality which have a powerful and moving effect.
The ending itself might seem indecisive but perhaps that’s the only honest conclusion. Certainly there seems no cause for the optimism that “Black Joy” suggested, and in that sense Pressure is a more satisfactory film.
Herbert Norville’s performance as Tony is commendable, and the kids from the ghetto do their stuff with convincing style. Tony’s mum is good too, with her fits of histrionics that had the audience rolling about.
I would have liked to have seen some use of rhythms in the film score. Horace Ové is no stranger to Reggae (viz. his “Reggae”, presently showing with “Smile Orange” at the Brixton Ace), and yet Pressure restricts itself to a couple of pleasant tunes that add class, but don’t generate much heat. Some compelling sounds come out of the Grove itself which would add much appropriate atmosphere. However Horace Ové succeeds in presenting a provoking picture of city oppression. Pressure drop indeed.
Smiley Culture’s essential Cockney Translation reviewed in Black Echoes, 28 April, 1984, by Pete Johnson.
Smiley Culture: ‘Cockney Translation’/’Slam Bam’ (Arthur Daley)
After years of domination by Yard DJs, the MC scene is starting to get a good shake-up from London’s own supa-powered toasters. First Philip Levi rocked the nation with his superb ‘Mi God Mi King’ and now there’s Smiley Culture, another boss DJ from this city’s Saxon Sound with a further lesson in how to do it right.
‘Cockney Translation’ is not only an extremely clever piece of chat (Smiley, like Levi can do his thing in double-time and spit out lyrics like mango seeds), but also very funny. It might not make a lot of sense north of Watford, but for anyone at all conversant with the way London kids can switch from Yard patois to East End rabbit, this will give rise to a prolonged, knowing laugh.
What Smiley actually does, is to mount the ‘Real Rock’ rhythm and run through just about every term and phrase used in daily city life, rendering each first in cockney and then Jamdown fashion. Great is the word.
‘Slam Bam’ is a very fast double (and at times treble) time chat to the Heptones’ ‘Baby’ rhythm, extolling the virtues of origination over imitation. Good also.
Both produced in fine style by Fashion’s Chris Lane, who has let the vocals control centre-stage until the explosive dub run-outs.
Michael Smith interviewed in Black Echoes, 4 December, 1982.
Roger Mills was born in Hackney Hospital, 1954. “I have always lived in Hackney, in flats until was five and then a house ever since. I went to secondary school in Clapton, a comprehensive. It was a huge modern school with thirty or more kids in a class. I worked for about five years in various advertising studios when I left. I was a ‘paste up’ man, he’s the one who colates all the different ingredients of an ad. and sticks it together.”
He was part of Hackney Writers’ Workshop and Basement Writers. This piece comes from the first Hackney Writers’ Group anthology that came out in 1977. In 1976 he had a story, The Interview, published by Centerprise and in 1978 the autobiographical A Comprehensive Education was also published by Centreprise.
For most young black kids, reggae is the ONLY music. Forget the stuff you see in the pop chart, that’s white man’s reggae. What I’m talking about are the obscure West Indian import records that sell by the dozen in those black owned record shops that no white man dare enter. Not that they would be unwelcome, but like the Caribbean supermarket around here it’s like another country, Jamaica, to be exact.
Reggae comes at you from all angles around here, from basement flats and tower blocks and, of course, those high street record shops. It comes canned from young skinny-legged girl’s cassettes and from open car windows, a sound to savour on hot sticky summer afternoons. Unlucky if you live above a black family though, because you’ll hear it coming through the floorboards too. “Here we go again”, my parents would say when Saturday night came. The black family along the road always had a party that night, and I mean a party.
It wouldn’t start until 11 o’clock and woud begin with a fanfare of slamming car doors. Then the reggae began, except that it was called blue-beat then.
Forget your finely tuned stereo and tweeters. They played their discos through huge monoliths of machinery, a closet with a speaker in it.
And on they’d go until morning. I didn’t mind it, lying in bed listening to it all, the music stripped to the barest crudest beat by the distance and air.
No, I didn’t mind it at all. I pictured them all dancing in hot moving rooms. For them it was a weekly return to Jamaica, the reggae records a cheap ticket home.