Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two tone, two minds

Way back in the late 70s (when I was your age, O best beloved), two-tone became popular, and I just loved it, and still do, though now I've learned to call it Ska. Maybe not their best, but the one that kicked it off then and there was Madness and:
Had I been more awake, I would have realized the connection between Ska and skinheads. Pretty obvious in retrospect, especially given the best of the bands at that time:
As far as I can make out, the skinheads started off as a working class offshoot of the Mods in the 1960s. The Who, like me, were obviously far too middle class and played in places like the Railway Hotel, Wealdstone. {Still not sure how my mother knew about things like this, but this is what she would often say as we drove past the place -- now knocked down and turned into crappy flats trying to attract downwardly mobile high fliers (arithmetically challenged wannabe 1-percenters, sinking through the 20th percentile, and evidently bamboozled about where Wealdstone is) -- but at my time a bikers' pub that I never had the courage to go into.} Punks (with the same mod ancestry) and skinheads were brothers in aggro in the mid 70s, and nice middle class boys like me still cowered. But by the time recession started biting (late 70s, labour, under Jim Callaghan, and far worse, early 80s, conservative, under Margaret Thatcher), the skins started to get nasty. They'd been on the way already, with Rock against Racism starting against them about a year after punk. Beginning as reggae-lovers, they moved to white supremacists: the film This is England gives a pretty good idea (and a great soundtrack). Two-tone was something of a reaction against this, and was decidedly black and white (hence the name).

My favourite two-tone bands were, in order, the Beat (annoyingly, here called the English Beat) from Birmingham:

(plus maybe my favourite song
and one I know you like:
). And then the Specials (from Coventry)

. Of course Madness (yes, from London, named after a song by Prince Buster)
and also Bad Manners, with Buster Bloodvessel and his unforgettable hymn to beer (Special Brew is a strong beer from Denmark, sold only in Britain), and I'm sure you'll get the Beano artwork reference

And then there's the Ska master
(like the boots, don't recommend the hairstyle), and

The two minds? Well, it's all about racism, nationalism, and having the basic decency to ignore it. Your grandfather was a tricky one to work out. I can remember (in I think 1966) when the Victoria Line had just opened on the tube, going up to town for some reason and on the way back having a gigantic Jamaican woman hand me and my brother a fistful of tickets so that we could run round and round through the newly installed automatic barriers. Dad was chatting and joking with her as we circled through, and everything seemed warm and friendly in the world. It was only later that I began to realize that it was not so. In his particular bestiary, while West Indians did in fact count as white Englishmen, perhaps because they were so good at cricket, other cricket-playing races were not so favoured (sorry India and Pakistan); none however came quite so low as Nigerians, French or Germans. A regular Alf Garnett. But later still came the realization that none of this racist pantheon had any bearing on his relations to individual people. Hardly anyone was invited back home from work, but Ibrahim Rizvi was the only repeat invitee: there's principles, and there's people. Our next door neighbour was if anything even worse, and yet still the same. Politics somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, she was nonetheless a great fan of Basil D'Oliveira, a "coloured" South African cricketer who wound up playing for England, and did a great deal to promote sports against apartheid. She didn't like his (entirely understated) politics, or his skin-tone, but he was a good cricketer.

As economies implode, we're in for way more racist and religious bigotry. My response may seem craven and cowardly, but it's to neither agree nor strenuously disagree. Listen, try to understand where the people are coming from, and focus on individuals. As I once tried to tell you and Eric, you don't have to respect peoples' beliefs, but you do need to respect the people. Usually, they come through.

No comments:

Post a Comment