Ranking Roger, 1981 and The Youth of Today

Hearing the sad news that Ranking Roger from The Beat had passed away and seeing that wonderful cover of The Face – featuring him – got me reminiscing about those wonderful early eighties.
Now, I’ve written enough about those days but what days they were.
Yes we were young, out and about all the time but… The Beat, The Specials, Madness, The Selecter. Along with so many more artists.
The Stray Cats, The Darts, Kid Creole, Elvis Costello, Adam & The Ants, Bruce’s The River, Ultravox, Dexys, Kraftwerk et al. And they were just the ones in the charts.
Bands playing every night. Clubs open late playing funky tunes for funky folks and all of us dressed up. Dressed up with somewhere to go. With everywhere to go…
Riots on the streets, trouble on the terraces, tribalism on the streets, Thatcherism on the rise. They were troubled but also exciting times.
When Ranking Roger appeared on the front of The Face Ghost Town by The Specials was at number one. It soundtracked that summer.
Political times deserve hard, tough topical tunes. The Specials gave us those tunes as did The Beat.
The Face chronicled all this and more. The magazine that launched in May 1980 – with (tellingly) Jerry Dammers of The Specials on the cover – and lasted until July 1999. Nineteen years recording “us lot” going out, dressing up and growing up…
I reckon I bought every copy and while I have none now I do have Paul Gorman’s superb The Story of The Face and would encourage all to buy it. It tells the whole tale and more; and I dip into in regularly for inspiration and to reminisce. It was a great magazine and over the years appealed to various generations chronicling every youth movement. It had many faults but it always wore its heart on its sleeve.
But for me it was about those early days. When Jerry, Ranking Roger and Haircut 100 were on the cover. When we read it from cover to cover then cut out the photos, plastered the walls with Kid, his Coconuts and beautiful girls like Sade Adu and Pauline Black. When we waited with anticipation for the copy to hit the shelves of the local news huts. Reading it on the tube, checking the clothes, the sounds, checking the girls and the politics of dancing.
The twentysomethings of our day, politically aware, smart and sussed. Making our way in the world listening to reggae, ska, funk and punk.
When we were young and cared, really fucking cared.
Now, of course, all us bright young things are getting older but we still care, really fucking care.
Make no mistake these are troubled times we are now living in and those troubled times need young bands inspired like The Beat, The Clash, The Specials were back then. We need righteous reggae music, dirty funk, tension and torment. Because that’s what makes things great. We also need publications as important as The Face, NME and i-D were back then.
Of course, times have changed and there won’t be publications as important as The Face again but there’s a whole world of technology out there and those of us that lived through those seventies and eighties can see the parallels.
It is now times for the kids to take up the baton. The millennials had their chance and did fuck all apart from drink coffee, have dinner parties, destroy pubs and take gap years. They fucked it up. It’s now time for the teens and twentysomethings to drive it forward and while I have my reservations I’m quietly confident they have the balls to do it.
There is the evidence as some incredible jazz and grime music is coming out of the cities, the England football team is a reflection and beacon of 2019 England (if not the UK), there have been millions on the streets these last few months. It just feels like there is something in the air.
These are troubling times. The Etonians and Harrovians need to be made to stand down. The Trump Criminal Org needs destroying, people calling themselves ‘Grand Wizards’ in the UK in 2019 is not acceptable nor is a Tory MP calling out “Cultural Marxism”. When has it ever been any different? Well probably not but these feel like really troubling times but as we know troubling times can be exciting times.
It’s over to you kids – we don’t need that fascist groove thang – do your bit! Get out there, form bands, DJ, wear clothes that your mum and dad doesn’t wear, make art, write, party, dance and kick against the pricks.

Footnote: So as we remember not only Ranking Roger and his contribution to culture and music, The Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, 1981 and all that let’s also remember Ian Dury who passed 19 years ago today. Another unique colossus who fought the world, didn’t give a fuck and produced some incredible art and music.

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