The past few days and weeks have been some of the most troubled in our nation's recently history.
Political strife. An MP killed. The Brexit vote. Economic uncertainty. At times, it seemed as though each headline brought a bleaker and bleaker perspective into our lives.
But we've been through hard times before. In the mid 70s, for example, the country was hit by vast industrial unrest, an economic downturn, and the rise of the far right.
Ranking Roger remembers these times all too well. And he remembers what came after: a punky reggae party that crossed divides, and helped provide the landscape for The Beat, one of the most successful (and daring) pop projects of the era.
Here, Ranking Roger writes for Clash about these troubled times, and where to go next.
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It has been nearly forty years since I first came into the music business, and I wanted to reflect on the years gone by and compare them to some of today’s happenings.
The first style of music I ever recognised to be truthful was reggae music: history lessons and how to rediscover yourself. Although people like Bob Dylan had already come through as a 'People’s Man', a lot of the music out there did not meet with the living standards or the subjects that were being spoke about in the home, pubs, or on the streets.
There was a lot of racism in those days, also high unemployment and the new generation of kids needed something amazing to happen as we all got along but needed direction from the norm. Then came punk rock music.
Punk music was the second style of music which I recognised to be truthful in the form that there were no boundaries to what you could sing about and a lot of it was aimed against a very crude system which the working class people were not a part of. So, we started inventing our own way out styles, and clothes and fashion was reinvented.
As I was saying, there was a lot of racism in those days as well as high unemployment. I used to live in Stechford which was where the National Front had their headquarters in Birmingham. I remember they used to walk up the main road right past my house chanting evil slogans. People would tell me to stay in but I would notice the same neighbours would be out shouting at them for all their hatred and I would join them. That made me feel good but what was even more better was the fact that punk music was anti-racist too and that it was more or less saying what the reggae people were saying. Yes, that’s right, we had found the music of the working class, and we felt that we could change the world mixing punk and reggae together.
Roll on Rock Against Racism; a unique combating tool which brought the masses together and helped to promote unity. The bEAT played a few, and so did The Clash, UB40 and so many others that you could almost see where the music was going.
A lot of people got into bands because there was a high rate of unemployment or there was nothing to do, when punk started to go out of fashion, a more poppy version came out of it which was new wave punk, this is when bands like XTC, The Police, The Ruts and so forth could actually get into the charts and get hits. I guess the 2-Tone story came in on the back of the new wave phenomena.
Then in the 90’s DJ’s became the new stars and the musician was looking like they were going out of fashion, but I think after years of electronica people want it to be organic again, and there’s nothing like playing live.
Between 1977-1992 there were a lot of people saying a lot of things that still made sense and seemed to still be in touch. Since then, it seems like the knowledge has been suppressed by technological advances which seem to continually take us away from purpose, ie: I’m too busy texting on my phone or PS4 to pay attention to the world right now.
They have us in a fantasy world now, so what do you think of that?
Do you think the younger heads will get out of this cocoon and realise that this world is what you make it? But if you’re inside all the time no one will ever know about you, only through a computer. Yes things have changed, and I can’t hear the sound of protest any more, especially from the youth. “Stand and be counted man” or maybe you never vote?
You should, it’s one of the only freedoms we have left right now.
The youth of today should be singing about what’s happening around them in the world on a serious level.
Where is the new Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Johnny Rotten or John Lennon I’ve been waiting for, for a while? That’s what we need to be seeing now.
All those years ago when we were not happy with things we could protest and get things sort of put right, there was a community back then which made all sorts of thing happen for the majority as well as the minority too. Protest has and can change things but people seem happier with their electronics than to go out there and let government know how you feel about the way they are running the country.
So what is the difference between then and now?
Well, the homeless count is rising and the poorest people are finding it very hard to cope. If we don’t have a community, how can we help each other?
Unemployment is as high as ever with the system forcing you to take whatever work they want you to have or lose your unemployment benefits what you have already paid tax for anyway. Racism is again on the increase although I must say there was a time a few years ago where colour didn’t seem to matter any more. Well it has reared its ugly face again but it seems to be aimed more towards people who have come over here more recently. In whatever capacity, racism is wrong and we should always judge a person by what they bring to the community.
We are and have always been at war and I thought that by the time I was 50 we would have sorted our differences and be united world over. I’m afraid it seems like we haven’t move on. Things are just the same, just a different veil that’s all.
The U.K. is still strong and has a lot of good things going for it, but what we need most of all is our communities back. A lot of them were dissolved in the 80’s and 90’s. People need these places to talk and organise and that’s where the younger heads would come in and have their say. I still have a lot of hope in the future of this country even if music doesn’t seem rebellious any more because we think we’ve heard everything.
Well, maybe not.
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The Beat's new album 'Bounce' will be released in September (pre-order LINK).