In March 1981 I turned 12. This of course meant that when it comes to the band's that I have loved for 40 years now, my initial appreciation came from afar, or at least not from the front of the stage. Exposure was limited to Top of The Pops, Smash Hits and of course much discussion/argument in the classroom.
I have mentioned before that musical appreciation in the early '80's was a tribal affair. Even in the small school that I attended that tribalism was was fully reflected. 1981 saw the tail end of the 2 Tone scene, although the finest moment of The Specials did not occur until July of that year. Punk still had a relevance..... The Jam, The Clash, The Damned and of course The Stranglers were still going concerns, in addition to that a new wave of punk in the form of UK '82 was emerging, for naughty schoolboys one local band going by the name of the Anti-Nowhere League was to become essential, if not secretive listening. Those not scanning the pages of the aforementioned 'Smash Hits' (the weekly music press did not feature in my life for a couple of years yet) were absorbing information gleaned from the pages of 'Kerrang'. UK '82 had a hairy counterpart in the form of NWOBHM or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that gave the world the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon and the Tygers of Pan Tan.
Away from the clashing guitars, the electronic bands were enjoying their first flush of success, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, OMD and the like. Then there was Gary Numan... the first path that I went down. All things considered, my education in popular music was something of a melting pot. By way of example I can recall borrowing and taping (we didn't pay any heed to the 'Home taping is killing music' message! There was too much music and too little cash for us to worry about that) 'Dare' by the Human League, AC/DC's 'For Those About To Rock', the Pistols' 'Anarchy in the UK' 12", 'My Generation' by The Who and 'Dirk Wears White Sox' by the Ants... all within a week's period.
That musical mix was also the soundtrack to a very turbulent and dark year. Peter Sutcliffe's reign of terror was ended with his arrest in January. In the Spring, grey foreboding 'H block' prisons featured on our televisions nightly as Bobby Sands MP and IRA member died whilst on hunger strike triggering riots in many nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.
Trouble followed trouble as policing methods in black communities resulted in explosive riots in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. As mentioned earlier 'Ghost Town' by The Specials, a mournful response to the urban decay of Britain's former centres of industry, resided at number 1 in the UK singles chart as inner city areas of Liverpool and Manchester burned. Joe Strummer could only have dreamed of such a scenario.
Away from the troubled streets, the 'Royal Wedding of the Century' saw Charles, the 32 year old heir to the throne, marry Diana Spencer, an aristocratic girl just weeks out of her teens when they married in July. That didn't end well either.
So, yes it was a miserable year but the music was great.
What will follow in the coming weeks in another in the '20 From' series which will put a spot light on... yeah you guessed it, 1981!