1978-85

One of my carers, nine years my junior, was telling me how cool and diverse music and fashion was back in her teenage years, and how everyone likes the same, commercial rubbish now. I wonder if every mini-generation has felt the same.

 

Listen folks, I am going to argue that the seven years I was at big school was the most remarkable time for youth culture, ever, specifically the diversity of it. You will never convince me that I am wrong, so don’t bother trying.

I want you to picture my fifth form, which was 1982/83. I was 15, going on 16. All boys, state funded Grammar school where you got in by passing the 11+ exam, pupils from all over York, about 750, around the corner from Mill Mount Grammar School for girls.

The New Romantics, think Spandau, Ultravox, Human League, Nick Kershaw and Boy George, wore make-up and dresses for school. When they went for a dress, they were sent home to change. My friend, Niall McLaughlin wore dresses and I didn’t know what to make of it. One boy brought Mark Almond, he of Soft Cell, Tainted Love to Sports Day in July. The boy got into trouble after appearing in the audience of Top of the Pops a day later. Someone remembers a boy called Stephen Toy dancing to Vienna in full New Romantics garb.

Punk emerged in the late 1970s, and it was scary to me. Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Jam, Boomtown Rats, Undertones. I was scared of Bill Holland, who often had a mohican. Apparently, he once brought a bull whip to school. Exceptionally rebellious. Bill wasn’t alone, and punk had a dedicated band of followers at school. All videos from the era, very tame now.

I didn’t understand the difference between 2-tone, ska and the Mods, but they all wore long, grey Parka coats or green bomber jackets with sew-on patches. The patches were of Union Jacks, Lambrettas, Vespas, Madness and The Specials. Those who could, rode on the back of older riders’ scooters. I didn’t feel threatened by the Mods, or as they were also known Skinheads.

Dave Jackson started his trade in singles and packs of ten at a young age. I remember he could goz, spit, a long. As I recall, he was a Ted, with quiffed back hair. There weren’t many, but I was scared of Jacko.

Can you believe that some small Islands off the northwest of Europe could produce Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Gillan, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Saxon and Whitesnake at the same time? Well they did, and this was Heavy Metal, my thing. AC/DC and Gary Moore had to be added. In general, Heavy Metal fans were not that rebellious, because everything seemed ok. As a friend pointed out, it was quite middle class. We sewed patches on our denim jackets. Album artwork was a big thing, translated to the patches. Ian and I went to see Whitesnake at Leeds City Hall in 1983, and I proudly wore my Slide It In t-shirt without initially knowing what the song and accompanying artwork were about. Black tour t-shirts were very cool, in my eyes.

This was also the era of Queen, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra, Genesis, Fleetwood Mac and Kate Bush, to name but a few. These bands didn’t inspire a look at Nunthorpe. Apparently, over at Mill Mount, there was the gypsy/hippy look inspired by Christine McVie and the moods of Wuthering Heights.

The factions would meet, especially to take part in the illegal trade in tobacco. Lunchtime, high stakes Black Jack was an opportunity to show how hard you were.

Of course, musical and fashion allegiances changed quickly, and I was left nonplussed by one such. My friend to this day, Ian Macdonald, staunchly Heavy Metal, started to like a synth, alternative band called The Associates. He hung out with Richard Thomas, who brushed his fringe across his face and only wore black. I left him to it and strengthened friendships elsewhere. It was ok to have evolving tastes, as Tim explains later.

Looking back, the strong cliques ended with the end of fifth form. This was when you could jack in school and get the dole, get a job and an apprenticeship or go the Tech to learn how to be a chippie, sparkie or mechanic. We lost the characters, the boys to start a fight, and to whom it was ok to give authority, including headmaster, G.I. Cushing, the twos. I looked down on those who left at sixteen. When I look at Jane’s brothers and many people I now know, I’ve seen it takes all sorts.

So I entered the sixth form, the last two years at big school. Many kids came from outside. You were more judged on your musical and sporting capabilities, how hot you were, all distilled down to the pub you went to and who was there.

I wrote to a few friends to provide their recollections.

Simon
Music from that era and earlier still fills up most of my music time and even my 15 year old son admitted liking most of it. Best band for me is still Led Zep and still hope to see them one day although having recently see Roger Waters and his Pink Floyd renditions then they must run a close second. Knol can’t believe you have missed out on Poppy Discos and associated headbanging. I still have a scar on my chin from heading a speaker whilst keeping up with Freebird. I still have my denim jacket somewhere with said badges and the Motorhead dogs death skull embroidered on it….it still has a mild wiff of petulia oil. I also still have a copy of the first album I bought from Feelgood Records, Rainbow’s Down to Earth followed soon after by Rainbow Rising. Ah to have that long hair again….great memories Knol and thanks for sharing your stories.

Lisa
It’s Friday night and, thirty odd years ago, I’d be gearing up for my ‘usual’ Friday night down the Spread Eagle. Resplendent in my stinking white, sleeveless afghan coat (from the ‘hippy shop’ the Rocking Horse in Micklegate) I’d down 2 pints of Merrydown cider whilst listening to Freebird and the like on the jukebox, waiting for my poor dad to find his way through the smoke at around 9.30pm to drive me, John Gawthrope (he was usually there for some reason) and various girls home. I always vomited out of the car window, usually immediately after dropping off Joanna ‘shut yer gob you’ Long! My poor father…….

Obviously I can remember the head banging too Simon, blessed as I was with my Roger Taylor look-alike ‘shaggy perm’ – I was made for Poppy Discos! So you omitted Queen Knolly, now added, – but I know you know how much a part of number 11 Pear Tree they were! There was a lot of Kate Bush in our household too, my sister fancying herself as a copycat, long haired tortured maiden who was happiest running through the North Yorkshire moors in a storm……(she still is!).

So the thing I loved most about the music in ‘our era’ was that there was genuinely something for everyone and we were all cool (right?!). Just to add it to the mix, our dad’s favourite was, totally bizarrely for those of you who know my father, Gary Numan 🙂 You’ve got to laugh!
I can’t think of a more colourful mix of musical talent than during that period.
Good one Knolly!

Tim
The late 70’s and early 80s were indeed a magical and eclectic mix of great music and fashion.

It started for me with Madness and 2-tone, saw their first tour in Bradford. They were very out of tune but the energy was electrifying. I think I would have been around 13 and still fuelled by bread products from Woolgroves in Acomb. I had a black Arrington jacket, bootleg tie and a fine pair of two tone trousers!

Then the Police turned up with Roxanne, I wore the cassette out on that LP. The new romantic stuff passed me by on a fashion level but the tunes and sights at Prince Consorts were Special! Around this time Simon, Tom and I made our first visit to a Nightclub and the Olde World Club. I distinctly remember Simon dancing with a lady who was several months pregnant!

Poppy Disco followed and the mighty AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. 3 gigs in one month at Leeds Queens Hall, Genesis, Thin Lizzy and AC/DC. I purchased a fine pair of cowboy boots so I could see but didn’t need them as a spent most of the gigs wedged between the crowd suspended far above the melting clay floor.

For some reason I then bought a Shalmar LP and went disco. Jackson 5 et al. I bought Madonna Holiday on 12 inch with my lunch money and Simon told me she was a bloke in drag.

At the point University was looming, The Cure (one of the finest bands) entered my life and I was being deafened by Spear of Destiny and bouncing around to skiffle with Terry and Gerry.
I could go on…..

Tom
Good read as ever, and a fertile topic. We’re round a virtual pub table, late on, and it’s Simon’s round I believe; Tim’s on ginger beer / wheat germ extract; and you’re still using some health excuse for losing track of your zippy purse….
I’d be in the It’s Better Now Than It Was camp, despite still being stuck in a rockabilly groove from which I can’t climb out.
On the ‘78 – ‘85 pop graph, I was something of an outlier. The forties big band thing was a rumour, but all along I quietly liked West Coast jazz, readying myself for existential angst with tenor sax while you all variously followed denim or two-tone or crimped paths.
Bill Holland was a pussy cat (I had an “in” – my Dad knew his Dad – so he left me alone). Was Van Den Heever being punk when he ate a shit sandwich in Room 15? Can’t put a better bit of butter on your knife….it all makes sense now.
Music was political then like it isn’t now. And the tribe you picked often said a thing or another. Whitesnake was, you could argue, very Poppleton. Dringhouses less Whitesnake, more Selecta.
I’ve my whole record collection in the palm of my hand today, which is great. Any time I want I can flood the house with djembe drums, Tibetan throat singing, or Lamal. Or all three at once, if I want that vibe.
Today is definitely better. Now, where did I put that box of Glen Miller seventy-eights?

Louise
I lived in my grandad’s house in Fishergate, when I starred Mill Mount, a year later than everyone else and he only had a radio and a-really, really old fashioned TV. I was 13 and Mill Mount was my 4th secondary school in a year and I remember feeling angry most of the time between the age of 12-13 due to the constant upheaval of moving cities, schools, making and leaving friends. I heard a woman screaming out a song on the radio and I knew I’d found my twin flame. Hardly knew what she was saying but it didn’t matter, as I felt exactly how she felt, or so I imagined. Atomic by Blondie was the first single I ever bought . Although, I had to take it round to my friend Hilary Bowling’s house to actually play it. Her dad was even more grumpy than mine and “something important in the civil service’, which clearly gave him no job satisfaction, so playing time was limited by him storming into her room and pulling the plug out the wall.

At the time if you’d asked me, I’d have said I hated most 80’s music as it was electronic and had no soul, I’d have told you I preferred 60’s especially Motown, 70’s but only really heavy metal (Rainbow still my favourite). I did however, adopt every horrific 80’s fashion going, Kajagoogoo’s Limahl’s hairstyle but only for a weekend as the beads hurt like mad after a couple of hours. Then there was my burgundy wedge phase, in honour of The Human League, followed by almost skinhead short n spikey after ‘o’ levels, to look more edgy like Souxsie Sioux, which of course I didn’t, I just looked bald and it emphasised my moon face. I hated it and cried all the way home.

There were many meals missed and dinner money was spent at Red Rhino Records on Gillygate or in WH Smith’s. Sometimes if I’m honest I bought music I really wasn’t keen on because I just wanted to fit in, so I played it for a while and told myself I liked it. This was so with Echo and The Bunney Men and The Jam. Although, I like them now much more than then.

80’s were some of the best times I’ve lived through, despite the pixie boots, donkey jackets, tie dyed jeans, endless mohair jumpers that needed more combing than the cat and all those plastic beads. Music, well that’s probably better now but only because the 80’s happened. So let’s celebrate it because it formed us and changed everything up.
One of our number, the same Ian Macdonald who left me for the Associates and Richard Thomas, went on to tour with some of the biggest rock and pop artists, and he explains that the most successful bands embraced change.

Ian
AK you are absolutely correct about the youth culture and music of the 70s/80s. In only a 15 year period the musical/youth culture environment of the uk morphed dramatically several times. You had to actively seek out information about music/bands with no instantaneous drivel about what your idols had had for breakfast via Twit ter or Farcebook.
This may seem like the ramblings of a grumpy old fart stuck in the pre digital dark ages but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I have continuously embraced digital technology to enhance the performances of the bands I have toured with to the extent that Roger Waters described The Wall as Rock Theatre.
Bands of that time had to be good and had to force themselves on the record companies, whereas now ( thanks to Waterman and Cowell) bands are now forced into a sellable concept wether they can perform/ sing or not (Katy Perry cant sing)!!
I still have all my analog vinyl and denim jacket and will always enjoy delving back into our youth…..
1978-85, you won’t beat it.

Andrew Knowlman

I am a 50-year old father of two children, married to Jane. I live in Hertfordshire, UK. I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in April 2015.

2 thoughts to “1978-85”

  1. Now then! Apart from that lot, what about Peter Gabriel, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Annie Nightingale on Sundays, Reading Rock Festival (before it moved up river), Howling Wilf and the Veejays, Blues-n-Trouble. I could add more, including Steely Dan and ZZ Top, but they’re from over the pond…

    I used to work with a Gawthrope by the name of Jane.

  2. Aah and everyone forgot the tape wars in the sixth form common room…most times you could hear U2 (mainly my fault), when John Burroughs and I decided to make an appearance…other than that, there was the chance to sing in a cool band…I wisely hooked up with Rupert Till (now a Professor of music…yes, really…he has a new album out), Steve Parker (nothing to do with his cute sisters), Jon Lund (nothing to do with his good lucks…said girls everywhere…), plus Steve Johnson and Richard Thomas made the odd appearance…

    Great years, great times, with great friends…!

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