Saturday, April 27, 2013

NME Charts December 1983: the best of times and the worst of times?

What were the UK pop kids, dancers and punks listening to 30 years ago? Here's some clues in the charts  from the New Musical Express 24 December 1983.

The Dance Floor charts weren't really a reflection of record sales or even necessarily of what people were dancing to in many UK high street clubs. This one was compiled by the DJ at Birmingham club 'The Garage' so it's probably more a snapshot of what people were listening to there and in similar places where the DJs played an eclectic mix of of  funk, soul and more post-punk funk from the likes of A Certain Ratio and Jah Wobble. Certainly I remember going to lots of student parties in this period where James Brown was obligatory - he was still releasing great records in this period, with 'Bring it On' coming out in 1983 and his last hit 'Living in America' in 1985.

The term 'World Music' hadn't yet caught on, the category 'Third World' was used in the NME charts to cover music from Africa, the Middle East, Mongolia and seemingly anywhere outside of Europe and North America. The chart was compiled by Triple Earth Records, which went on to become a significant 'world music' label in the 1980s.

The Reggae Disco singles charts and Reggae LPs chart were compiled by 'Observer Station' with a whole lot of Johnny Osbourne - three singles and an album riding high. Michael Palmer's Ghetto Dance was number one single ('Ghetto dance, ghetto dance, Babylon give me a chance...').

The Independent charts were based on record sales and had become a big deal in a period of many iconic indie acts (Smiths, Cocteau Twins, New Order, Birthday Party), the anarcho-punk scene (Conflict, Subhumans), psychobilly (The Meteors and Cramps) and emerging goths (Death Cult, Sisters of Mercy, Alien Sex Fiend). Label wise the big ones were 4AD, Mute, Rough Trade and Factory, but Stoke-based punk label Clay Records was also important (Discharge, GBH, Abrasive Wheels etc).

The main UK charts featured some classic pop as well as lots of crap which no amount of nostalgia/retro irony can rescue from the charity shop unwanted piles where it now lingers. The dominant album was Michael Jackson's Thriller - number one in the charts a year after it was first released. Culture Club has become a global sensation that year, and Luton's Paul Young was riding high. I worked in a Luton factory that summer packing electrical instruments while listening to Radio One with his then girlfriend's mum!

Monday, April 22, 2013

'Summer Nights' by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

The sounds
Of the Harlem night
Drop one by one into stillness.
The last player-piano is closed.
The last victrola ceases with the
“Jazz Boy Blues.”
The last crying baby sleeps
And the night becomes
Still as a whispering heartbeat.
I toss
Without rest in the darkness,
Weary as the tired night,
My soul
Empty as the silence,
Empty with a vague,
Aching emptiness,
Needing someone,
I toss without rest
In the darkness
Until the new dawn,
Wan and pale,
Descends like a white mist
Into the court-yard.

First published 1925.
See also: Dream Variations

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'the people who danced on the hill on summer nights'

My favourite Arthur Machen story is the The White People, published in 1899, featuring the diary of a young woman who has stumbled into the world of faery or something similar...

'she told me one very strange story about the hill, and I trembled when I remembered it. She said that people always went there in summer, when it was very hot, and they had to dance a good deal. It would be all dark at first, and there were trees there, which made it much darker, and people would come, one by one, from all directions, by a secret path which nobody else knew, and two persons would keep the gate, and every one as they came up had to give a very curious sign, which nurse showed me as well as she could, but she said she couldn't show me properly. And all kinds of people would come; there would be gentle folks and village folks, and some old people and boys and girls, and quite small children, who sat and watched. And it would all be dark as they came in, except in one corner where some one was burning something that smelt strong and sweet, and made them laugh, and there one would see a glaring of coals, and the smoke mounting up red...

And when they were all inside, round in a ring, touching each other, some one began to sing in the darkness, and some one else would make a noise like thunder with a thing they had on purpose, and on still nights people would hear the thundering noise far, far away beyond the wild land, and some of them, who thought they knew what it was, used to make a sign on their breasts when they woke up in their beds at dead of night and heard that terrible deep noise, like thunder on the mountains. And the noise and the singing would go on and on for a long time, and the people who were in a ring swayed a little to and fro; and the song was in an old, old language that nobody knows now, and the tune was queer. Nurse said her great-grandmother had known some one who remembered a little of it, when she was quite a little girl, and nurse tried to sing some of it to me, and it was so strange a tune that I turned all cold and my flesh crept as if I had put my hand on something dead.

'Philos under a full moon' by Ric Nagualero
Sometimes it was a man that sang and sometimes it was a woman, and sometimes the one who sang it did it so well that two or three of the people who were there fell to the ground shrieking and tearing with their hands. The singing went on, and the people in the ring kept swaying to and fro for a long time, and at last the moon would rise over a place they called the Tole Deol, and came up and showed them swinging and swaying from side to side, with the sweet thick smoke curling up from the burning coals, and floating in circles all around them. Then they had their supper. A boy and a girl brought it to them; the boy carried a great cup of wine, and the girl carried a cake of bread, and they passed the bread and the wine round and round, but they tasted quite different from common bread and common wine, and changed everybody that tasted them. Then they all rose up and danced, and secret things were brought out of some hiding place, and they played extraordinary games, and danced round and round and round in the moonlight, and sometimes people would suddenly disappear and never be heard of afterwards, and nobody knew what had happened to them'.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Obligatory Thatcher Death Post

Effigy of Thatcher at the party in Trafalgar Square last night - the hair made out of Sainsbury's carrier bags
(insert joke about grocers' daughter here)
When Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990, me and my workmates at a north London hospital invited some like minded people over to our HIV unit to share a bottle of champagne. Later some of us went down to a party in Trafalgar Square to continue the celebrations. Although Thatcher was forced out of power by a Conservative Party leadership challenge, there was no doubt even then that the poll tax movement, including the riots in central London on March 31 1990, was a major factor in her fall from grace.

After ten years or more of defeats at the hands of Thatcher and her cronies it felt great to have been part of something that had shown that they were not invincible, even if it didn't turn out to be quite the political turning point we'd expected - within a few months we were engulfed in the horrors of the Gulf War.

The end of Thatcher's career was a politically significant event - the death from natural causes of a very old woman many year later in her bed is not. But the Margaret Hilda Thatcher who died in the Ritz Hotel was only a minor component of the mythical 'Margaret Thatcher' that dominated Britain in the 1980s. The mythical Maggie was an almost superhuman figure, single-minded, all-powerful, ruthlessly vanquishing her foes and transforming the country and indeed the world on a couple of hours sleep a night. This myth of the Iron Lady was carefully cultivated by Conservative party strategists and a fawning press. But it was also built up by opponents on the left who credited her with a new doctrine of 'Thatcherism' and more broadly by all those who turned her into a symbol of secular evil (a witch, no less) and who chanted endlessly on demos 'Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out' as if what later became known as the neo-liberal offensive against the working class was a one person operation. 

I remember causing controversy selling this at a Luton Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament event in 1985. People also used to chant 'one more cut, Maggie's throat' on demos. With hindsight I wonder whether such sentiments were a symptom of weakness - the violent fantasies of the powerless and defeated.
If you go back now and read contemporary radical analysis of the 1970s it is striking how much of what was later branded as Thatcherism had already been identified before she even came to power .  For instance, 1978's Policing the Crisis by Stuart Hall et al saw the 'The Law and Order Society' taking shape throughout the 1970s, under both Labour and Conservative governments, with the post-war consensus breaking down as a result of economic crisis. Of course Thatcher's government may have accelerated some of these tendencies, but they were neither new nor Thatcher's idea (Brendan O'Neill's 2008 piece on The Myth of Thatcherism is lucid on this, though I'm still open to argument that there were some novel features of the Thatcher regime, such as deliberately pitching its appeal to upwardly mobile working class people).  Her global role is also exaggerated and distorted - the supposed champion of freedom wasn't quite the ally of Polish workers that she sometimes pretended to be, and she backed the murderous leftist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as well as the murderous rightist Pinochet in Chile.

Several hundred people partied outside the Ritzy cinema in Brixton on the day that Thatcher died
Still if the myth was... well a myth... the pain was real.  Thatcher was the figurehead for a regime which oversaw state violence, economic misery and mass tragedy with seeming indifference to the lives of those affected. For people in or around the mining industry, the 'Battle of the Beanfield', the nationalist community in the north of Ireland, Hillsborough and more, it was personal. In fact much of what was dismissed as left wing paranoia at the time has been proven to be true - yes, the police really did lie and cover up what happenened at Hillsborough; yes, British agents really were involved in the murder of Irish lawyer Pat Finucane etc. etc.  So no great surprizes that Thatcher's death has prompted celebrations in Belfast, Brixton, Bristol and Glasgow, and by Liverpool fans, among others.

Trafalgar Square last night
Last night's anti-Thatcher party in London's Trafalgar Square felt like a gathering of some of the scattered remains of Thatcher's Enemy Within. Among the 2-3,000 in the rain, there was an Irish tricolor and starry plough flag, a National Union of Mineworkers banner (shown below), and plenty of ageing punks, anarchists and socialists.

I went along despite some misgivings... In terms of a political response to the situation we face today, rehashing the 1980s is a dead end. What confronts us not a hangover from a 1980s political project ('Thatcherism') but a global economic system that seems incapable of matching the enormous potential of human creativity with even the basic human needs for shelter, security and a half decent standard of living, no matter which politicians appear to be in charge... Getting older and having to deal with the death of friends and family has also robbed me of taking any pleasure in other people's bereavement, even if in 1984 I would have been quite happy to see the Cabinet blown up in Brighton... And yes it's just as problematic today as it was in the 1980s to go on about a woman, even a Prime Minister, as a witch and a bitch...

Still I went to Traflagar Square, partly because having lived through the rest of the story I felt I had to be there for the final chapter, partly because I wanted to show my solidarity with those victimised by the press including individuals named and shamed in national newspapers for just liking a facebook page. Some people were there to gleefully dance on Thatcher's grave, others just wanted to remember those who died and suffered under her rule. As a party it wasn't great, it was pouring with rain and the music was limited by the police stopping sound systems, quoting Trafalgar Square bye-laws (of course there were some samba drummers).

Still the point was made - whatever else people might think about this week's anti-Thatcher parties and related campaign to put Judy Garland's Ding Dong the Witch is Dead to the top of the charts* they have blown a hole in the fake national consensus that would have celebrated Thatcher as a political saint. The ghosts of the struggles of the 1980s have re-emerged to challenge their erasure from history - even if they do not point a way forward they cannot be forgotten and still have much to teach us.

Police surround sound system in Traflalgar Square
* Ding Dong the Witch is Dead' ended up as number 2 in the 'official' BBC Charts, although it topped the iTunes chart for much of the week.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Respect for the Dead: Some funerals from the Thatcher Years

Up until 1983, the authorities generally left Irish republican funerals alone. An abrupt change of policy by Margaret Thatcher's government resulted in police and soldiers violently intervening in numerous funerals for the remainder of the decade.

It was not simply a matter of preventing shots being fired over coffins - the RUC would provocatively try and seize flags, gloves or berets off coffins. There were baton charges and plastic bullets in clashes with mourners.

A coffin falls to the ground as Royal Ulster Constabulary officers fire plastic bullets at funerals of IRA Volunteers Paddy Deery and Eddie McSheffrey, Derry City, 2 November 1987

Police try and push through mourners at same funeral:

Mourner injured in police baton charge in Derry '87.

Police try to seize flag from coffin at 1983 funeral of Joe Cravan of the Irish National Liberation Army
Police at the Belfast funderal of Larry Marley in 1987, delayed for three days as a result of police intimidation.
And they wonder why?:

Anderson Town News, 12 April 2013


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Acid House 'Trip to Hell' 1988

KRS-Dan on Flickr has been uploading some yellowing newspaper clippings from the acid house era. This one from the Sun, 2 November 1988, sums up the late Thatcher period. A ludicrous acid house 'trip to hell' cartoon next to an image of Margaret Thatcher as Superman!

Well with Duke Dumont's slice of retro-house Need U topping the UK charts in the week of Thatcher's death, we can safely say that house music has outlasted her. Even if bizarrely Need U has been knocked off the top slot by people buying Judy Garland's Ding Dong The Witch is Dead to mark the demise of the one-time Iron Lady.

From Music Week, 10 April 2013 - Thatcher should never have messed with the Friends of Dorothy

Related: Thatcher's War on Acid House by Michael Holden (, April 2013):

'First she came for the milk. Then she came for the mines. Then she ran out of things to come for, so she went after the soccer fans and acid house. It might sound unlikely in an age where there are a pair of TV screens showing Sky Sports in every pub in the UK, but if you wanted to go toe-to-toe with the establishment at the tail end of the Thatcher years, the fast track to getting a beat down from the police was to watch soccer or listen to a series of repetitive records with the intention of dancing.

If you were looking for a measure of how the country has adjusted since Thatcher's reign, you could do worse than consider how two constants of the modern mainstream—soccer and electronic music—were once painted as folk devils by a regime fast running out of new things to point its police horses at... for young people, the harshness of the establishment’s war on the twin evils of soccer and dance music came as something of a surprise. It wasn’t till I fled a party in Dalston in 1989 that I felt it firsthand. The motivation for my hasty departure was the sudden entrance of a group of cops based at Stoke Newington Police Station who were notorious in the area for their thuggery. They'd come in, take the numbers off their uniforms, and break things up about as violently as they could without firearms, swinging at male and female ravers alike...'

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Partying in Paris 1944: with Sartre, de Beauvoir & Camus

In 1944 the Nazi occupation of Paris was in its last deadly phase. The RAF was bombing the city's railway stations and the Resistance was stepping up its activities - to be met with fierce repression and mass executions. Following a show trial, 23 members of a Jewish and other migrant workers' resistance group led by Armenian communist Missak Manouchian were executed, most of them in Paris in February 1944.

A group of artists and writers linked with various degrees of commitment with the Resistance met and socialised in these conditions, holding parties in each others houses with quite a guest list.

Pablo Picasso was living in Paris at the time and wrote a play, Desire Caught by the Tail, which was performed in the home of surrealist writer Michel Leiris, with Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beavoir and  Albert Camus taking part, and the audience including Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan and Picasso himself. The party continued after the play: 'Those who stayed after midnight had, because of the curfew, to stay til dawn; Mouloudji sang 'Les Petits paves', Sartre sang 'Les Papillons de nuit' and 'J'ai vendu mon ame au diable'.

George Bataille
'Eager to continue the mood of celebration, some of their friends went on to organise a series of ‘fiestas’, as Leiris called them. The first was held in March at George Bataille’s flat, where the musician Rene Leibowitz was in hiding; for the second Bost’s mother lent them her villa in Taverny. They drank and they clowned. Queneau and Bataille duelled with bottles; Camus and Lemarchand played tunes on saucepan lids; Sartre conducted an imaginary orchestra from the bottom of a cupboards…'

Sartre and de Beauvoir
'The third fiesta was held in June 1944 at Toulouse’s flat, where the huge circular drawing room opened on to a garden. The hall and the rooms had been decorated with flowers, ribbons, garlands, knick-knacks… At three in the morning, Toulouse [Simone Camille Jollivet] made her appearance, wearing rouge on her eyelids and blue eye-shadow on her cheeks. Unsteadily she danced a paso doble with Camus. The party lasted til daylight, and when Sartre and De Beauvoir, together with Olga [Kosakiewicz] and Bost, were walking through the deserted Place de Rennes, they saw placards on the station wall: no trains would run until further notice. Later on in the day it was announced over the radio that English and American troops had landed in Normandy.’
Simone Jollivet ('Toulouse') 
Of course this group of friends were also famous for their socialising in Saint Germain cafes such as Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore. It was while hanging out at the latter in May 1944 that Camus, Sartre and de Beauvoir first met Jean Genet who came over and introduced himself.

Jean Genet
After the war they continued to party - in 1946 for instance Sartre, de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Francine Faure took Arthur and Mamaine Koestler out on the town 'to a little dance hall in the rue des Gravilliers and then to a nightclub, the Scheherezade' followed at four in the morning 'to a bistro in Les Halles, where they drank a great deal'. As existentialism became fashionable Sartre popped in a couple of times to Le Tabou, a nightclub on the rue Dauphine that had became popular with its  black-clad aficionados. In May 1947, the news magazine Samedi Soir published a  report entitled 'This is how the troglodytes of Saint-Germain live!', which described the 'gigantic orgies organised by filthy young existentialists' who spent their time 'drinking, dancing and loving their lives away in cellars, until the atom bomb - which they all perversely long for - drops on Paris' (quoted in Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey).

Mamaine and Arthur Koestler
It's tempting to apply Sartre's notions of 'seriality' and 'group-in-fusion' to these convivial spaces, the former the everyday condition of individuals in isolation from each other and the latter characterising those situations when individuals overcome their separation in collective activity (Sartre famously quoted the storming of the Bastille as the supreme example). If post-rave we can conceive of the dancefloor or even the cafe as an example of 'group in fusion', Sartre tended to see the group's fusion being dependent on the individuals within it define themselves against some 'third' other. He wrote of the cafe as  'a milieu of indifference, where other people exist without troubling about me while I don't worry about them', and indeed did much of his writing in cafes on this basis.

Francine Faure and Albert Camus

Source of all quotes unless otherwise stated: Ronald Hayman, Writing Against: A Biography of Sartre

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Public Dance Halls Act 1935 in Ireland

Excellent Dublin newspaper/blog Rabble has an interesting piece on the Public Dance Halls Act 1935 in Ireland, which remains in force to this day. The Act requires a licence from the state for any dancing 'which is open to the public and in which persons present are entitled to participate actively' and applies broadly not just to pubs and clubs but to any 'place' defined as 'a building (including part of a building), yard, garden, or other enclosed place, whether roofed or not roofed and whether the enclosure and the roofing (if any) are permanent or temporary'. In practice, the police have historically used this even to apply to private houses in some cases.

As Rabble points out, the Act was originally passed on the back of a moral panic about jazz undermining traditional Irish culture - but ironically its implementation undermined that very culture as it was used to stop country dances too.

The future regulation of drinking and dancing in Ireland is a live political subject, with a Sale of Alcohol Bill currently under discussion (see Rabble article).

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Chris Porsz: 1980s New Town Punks, Teds & Psychobillies

The working class style tribes of  the 1980s have been nicely recreated in Shane Meadows'  This is England films/TV series. But some of the best contemporary images of that world that I have come across are by Chris Porsz, many of them collected in his excellent book 'New England: the culture and people of an English New Town during the 1970s and 80s'

Many of the more cliched images of 80s sub-cultures are based on a tiny minority of people in bands or scene setters in big city clubs - a long way from how people on the dole or with low pay tried to make a mark with their hair, clothes and music in towns where sometimes the few exisiting clubs wouldn't even let them in.

Portz's pictures were taken in Peterborough, but they could have been taken almost anywhere in England in the early '80s, with punks, pychobillies, rockabillies and skinheads hanging out in town centres with bottles of cider for refreshment. Certainly they remind me of Luton at that time.

Looking at these pictures now it's interesting to note how even amongst the hardcore, piercings were quite muted - in the early 80s those with nose rings were really transgressing the boundaries of the socially acceptable. Likewise tattoos weren't common beyond the upper arm.

(you can buy Chris Porsz's book at his website and in bookshops including Tate Modern in London. His site also includes some sweet reunions where the subjects of  his 1980s photos have been reunited with the images of their younger selves)

All photos © Chris Porsz

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Girl Germs

Girl Germs is a 'feminist not-for-profit club night that showcases women-fronted bands' with their next night coming up on April 27 2013  (8 pm - 2 am) at Power Lunches. 

'The line-up includes The WharvesShopping, and Skinny Girl Diet. There will also be zines for sale, courtesy of Vampire Sushi distro, and DJs playing everything from Beyonce to Bratmobile, until the early hours.

We're super excited about the lineup this time. The Wharves blend taut rhythms and guitars with gorgeous, reverb-heavy harmonies to create instant ear-worms. Shopping are made up of members of some of our favourite bands: Trash Kit, Wetdog and Cover Girl. The result is as urgent and melodic as you'd expect from these DIY veterans. Skinny Girl Diet describe themselves as a 'fierce girl gang from London'. Everett True describes them as 'Gothic, grunge AND teen female.' A goth/grunge, fierce teen girl gang is what Girl Germs' dreams are made of. Your new favourite band.

We choose a charity or organisation each time to receive the money we take on the door. This time, we are fundraising for the Feminist Library, an incredible archive of material relating to the women's liberation movement which supports research, activism and community projects.

Girl Germs was partly born out of frustration. We were sick of having to dance to songs all about male-angst, or that referred to women only as objects to be abused or put up on pedestal. We also wanted to meet people who felt the same way as us - people who we could collaborate with, dance with, take part in activism with, and enjoy cake with.

Facebook event details here; Venue: Power Lunches, 446 Kingsland Road, E8 4AE. £4 entry.

(See Lydia from Girl Germs History is Made at Night Questionnaire here)