World of Chig   


#9 Ghost TownThe Specials

[482] Writer: Jerry Dammers. Producer: John Collins
#1 for 3 weeks from 11 July 1981

The soundtrack to the Summer riots of 1981. Being from Warwick and having lots of family from Coventry, I always felt quite proud of The Specials. They were undoubtedly local heroes, leading the way for Cov’s only other musical successes (unless you know better) King to follow four years later.

I also loved The Specials because I WAS a Rude Boy! No, not a rude boy, never that, but a Rude Boy. Being too young for punk, the ska/mod revival of 1980-81 was the first real musical movement in which I could get INVOLVED, rather than just watch from the outside. As mentioned in the Dexy’s piece, I had a donkey jacket in honour of their New York docker look, but this wasn’t incompatible with being a Rude Boy and following all the ska bands too. I had a pair of grey sta-prest trousers, with that neat crease all the way down the front, and I thought I was the bee’s knees. I was old enough to go to gigs at last – all I needed was the obligatory teenage rebel’s haircut. Up until 1980’s Summer of Ska, I had always had my hair cut by my Mum’s friend and neighbour, Sandra, the mobile hairdresser. Photographs of the period would make you think that this involved her coming round to our house and putting a crash helmet on my head while she trimmed around the outline. I had a fringe so straight it could have been cut with a ruler, and 90 degree corners that would make an architect proud. When The Specials and Madness and The Selecter arrived, I was going to have a crew cut! And get my ear pierced! Except I wasn’t allowed. One day though, in a rebellious mood, I cycled up to the hairdressers, and I did it! I had a #3 crop. I cycled back home again, wind blowing through my (relatively) non-existent hair, and grinned at my Mum through the window of the lounge as I cycled up the drive. You need to know at this point that my Mum was the headteacher’s secretary at my own school, so I was always under a little more scrutiny than most other kids. On this day, our deputy head had popped round for a cuppa, and was chatting with my Mum when I arrived with my #3 crop. Needless to say, my Mum was mortified, shocked, embarrassed and humiliated. And I didn’t care. She didn’t speak to me for days. She told anybody she came into contact with that I had embarrassed her by having my hair cut ridiculously short. (Let’s get this into context; a #3 crew cut is NOT that short.) But the best bit was, after she had moaned about it to her mother, my Gran took me to one side at her house and said “I don’t know what your Mum’s moaning for – it reminds me of your Grandad’s when I first met him.” Result! I don’t think I’ve ever told my Mum about that.

So why has World Of Chig suddenly turned into ridiculous family haircut confessions? Well, the upshot was that in 1980 I went to my first proper gig, seeing The Specials and The Selecter live at the tiddly Spa Centre in Royal Leamington Spa; a stage on which I have since appeared in a couple of musicals, but I digress. It was a Rock Against Racism gig, organised by the Anti-Nazi League, although I don’t think I really knew, or understood much about the ANL at the time. I was just happy to wear my sta-prest trews with the other rude boys. It was, however, an exhilarating, energetic and frightening occasion. Paradoxicaly, given the nature of the gig, The Specials were attracting some real undesirables, whose pogoing got out of control and turned to fighting. “Too much fighting on the dancefloor” – do you see? A year later, they were writing about their real experiences. I was in the circle of course, watching from the balcony and keeping my trousers with just the two creases. Eventually, it all became too much, and Terry Hall led The Specials off stage in protest. Such drama and excitement! You didn’t get this with Showaddywaddy at Coventry Apollo (which had actually been my first gig, as friends took me for free, but I try to gloss over that particular memory).

They came back on though, and the highlight was both bands doing a finale together, joined by someone whose presence at the gig hadn’t gone unnoticed - and how could it, given his size? – Buster Bloodvessel, from Bad Manners. I bought all of their singles too.

A splendid introduction to the world of live music.

‘Ghost Town’ came the next year, when becoming The Specials’ second number one, after the ‘Too Much Too Young’ EP. As social commentary disguised as commercial pop music, it’s hard to beat. It sounds absolutely unique now, and as creepy and atmospheric as it did then.

Top Tip: There’s a fantastic triple album of the best of The Specials which is in HMV’s sale right now. As well as all their classic tunes, it has the video for ‘Ghost Town’ on it, and I highly recommend buying it, as I did three weeks ago.

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