Sunday 2 July 2017

Anniversary snapshots: 3rd July 1981

Blimey, I'm finally managing to write again! Thanks for your encouragement and understanding. But hope you'll forgive some retrospective indulgence...   It could even turn into an occasional series, tho' that might be over-ambitious.  Anyway, this started because I was thinking about a gig I was at on this exact day many years ago - hence 'anniversary' - and it dawned on me just how much has changed, although the band in question are still performing (albeit not the complete original line-up).  More on them in a mo.

First, time to forget everything we now take for granted about modern technology.  Rewind to an era when we weren’t all connected, forget having a home computer and transmitting words and pictures like I'm doing now.  I'm back to a time when we still had £1 notes and had to get photos developed at Boots and wait two weeks.  I won’t go on, you were probably there too.

So I'm in the early '80s, and 1981 in particular.  How was it for you?

The music I think of first is that post-punk / embryonic goth thing because I was really into those bands I’d heard through John Peel, like Modern English, Psychedelic Furs, Positive Noise, the Cure...

There were other new sounds too  - I loved the first New Age Steppers album with its dub rhythms...

...and still had allegiance to the anarcho-punk of Crass who released 'Penis Envy' that year.  I don't recall ever enjoying that in the way I did others, but it had its place.

These were varied times musically; I could play New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ alongside Dead Kennedys ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ and Radio 1 could play Bucks Fizz next to the Jam. So much was going on.  Then, thrown into the mix, was something altogether different: electro ‘machine music' from a German band who’d already been around for over half my life.  Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk seemed pretty old in '81 (in their 30s!).  I knew this because my sister already had Radioactivity in the dark ages of 1975, a record she'd been given by a German boy during a Town Twinning week.  I was 12 in '75, I liked Showaddywaddy and guinea pigs.  So, yes, they were ancient but, at the same time, so ultra-modern.

On Friday 3rd July 1981, I saw them at the Hammersmith Odeon.  It was the first time I’d been to a gig venue with seats.  I was used to black-painted halls with sticky floors and being close enough to a band to look up the nostrils of the guitarist and count the hairs.  Down there on stage – a long way away, no up-nosing for me - were four figures who looked more like androids than people, each producing synthetic sounds from a personal console, behind them a huge screen projecting the kind of digital graphics I’d only really seen on Tomorrow’s World.  

Honestly, this is what I mean about forgetting what we know today because back then it seemed so futuristic.  Like when we were little and tried to picture what life might be like in the year 2000 (all jet-packs and holidays on the moon), the computer world that Kraftwerk envisioned wasn’t one I could imagine living in.

Now, as I type this using familiar technology, their version seems retro, like Gameboys and Space Invaders do too. But in 1981 we were still gawping at magic flashing signs on the motorway telling us we were too close to the car in front as we travelled down to Hammersmith in P's Vauxhall Viva.

I’m not sure quite how Kraftwerk fitted in to my musical taste, they just did.  Seeing them felt like witnessing something special.  The sophistication of sound and imagery took us to an other-worldly place, where our hosts didn't seem fully human.  How different from the gigs I'd been to before.  At the same time it was highly accessible, especially in songs like the wistful electro-pop of 'Computer Love'.

We were enthralled for two hours by four automatons, but just occasionally they let slip their robotic façades and smiled, and we loved them for it.   They filled our senses.  It was such a memorable and awe-inspiring night.

And unlike gigs I’d been to before, the ones with sticky floors, there was no real fashion style dominating the audience - there were all sorts there, with no aggro.  P wore a black cape! I don't know why - or perhaps I do - I mean, this was an era when many of us aspired to be vampires, at least part-time.  K was wearing brand new purple creepers from Shelley’s.  I donned my moth-eaten black lace dress (my mum’s from the 1940s), my hair deliberately tangled.

In the foyer on the way out we spotted Toyah! ‘I Want To Be Free’ was in the charts - she was going to turn this world inside out and turn suburbia upside down.  I'm not sure how she got so far with that voice, but she did have the look.

 As we queued to leave the car park, we were amazed to hear a tape of what we’d just listened to being played back – someone must’ve recorded the set on a portable cassette machine. Maybe smuggled in under a cape.

Possibly still dazed from the Kraftwerk experience, P took a wrong turn as we headed home and started driving West instead of East.  We didn’t know as we drove towards Southall that something serious was happening there that night.   The first we heard was in the papers the next day - there was nothing then to tell us what was going on in real time, no tweets, no rolling news.  

Luckily we turned around in time, oblivious to what was unfolding further down the road.  Petrol bombs were being thrown and a pub set on fire when a violent conflict erupted after a number of Oi bands  booked to play the Hambrough Tavern brought many of their racist supporters to an area with a high Asian population.  That was another side to the hot Summer of 1981: riots.

It's weird to think of Oi bands, riots and Kraftwerk in the same breath.  I’m so glad I’d been in the company of the latter that night.  I don’t think Oi fans would’ve taken kindly to seeing us dressed in cape, creepers and lace, singing 'It's More Fun To Compute' out the car windows, and laughing at the ridiculous idea of that ever becoming a reality.


As for Kraftwerk, they're touring again with 70-year old Ralf Hütter as the only original member, and by all accounts their performances are not that dissimilar to the one I enjoyed 36 years ago today.  Whereas so many other things have changed...

Developed at Boots, July 1981

In the digital age, July 2017

Thought it was about time I said hello properly!


  1. So love this post! I remember seeing Gary Numan on TOTP for the first time and having a similar reaction - the future had arrived!

    There are many occasions when I would give my left arm to go back to those disconnected times. No mobiles, let alone smartphones, no social media, no compulsion to share everything in that permanent "like-chase" that so many people seem stuck in. Where a Walkman and a digital watch were the only personal tech needed... I know, I sound old. I say all this as a technophile, but I just think it's all gone a bit too far. Remember when one-hour photo developing seemed amazing? Do people even print photos now? I could go on, but I won't.

    And a nice touch at the end with the photographs - a proper hello back to you!

    1. Ah thanks, Martin. I went on a bit there so thanks for sticking with it! That made me laugh - Gary Numan as the future - but, yes, absolutely. It seemed like a future that would still only exist in Sci-Fi films and books, not one we'd ever really know, just an idea we could play with. And now we're here and it's all gone a bit crazy, because seems to me that in our effort to retain the essence of being human in the face of such advanced technology, we're over-compensating hugely. Whereas, we could just track back a bit and have more of a middle ground. Does that make sense?
      I get irritated by the technology we have that exists just because it can, not because it's good or needed, except to line the pockets of those who market and produce it. The Emperor's new clothes spring to mind. I don't think it's because we're old as in old-fashioned, more old as in wise :-)
      But I'll stop before this turns into another full-length post.
      Mind you, there is some irony in our proper "hello"s being via a computer screen... oh hell, I love it sometimes!
      (No Detectorists tonight though, btw... I feel bereft!)

    2. Exactly! Who needs a smart kettle, for goodness' sake?! So yes, I couldn't agree more, that backtracking to the middle ground is where we should be.

      As for proper hello's, I think some of the more frequent music bloggers had a bit of a real-world get-together recently. Maybe that'll happen again in the future, with a wider invitation list - would be nice to meet some blogging "friends" for real.

      No Detectorists this week? Gah. Televisual week in tatters...

      And Gin G, I still have the last Walkman I bought - A Sony WM-DD33 ... and it's still excellent!

    3. Indeed - smart kettle - why?! And don't get me started on AI...

      On a much nicer, proper human note, yes, it was lovely to read about the music bloggers' meet and how well it went. I'm a bit reticent about these things (large groups of people especially) as I'm quite shy! But another small gathering of like minds has been mentioned in the past too and I could be up for that. Perhaps a regional contingent or something. I was even thinking about occasional gig buddies! As you say, it would be nice to meet some blogging "friends" for real (I'm sure there'd be plenty to talk about!)

      Love the Walkman! Now you've got me thinking about the ones I used to have (I'll have to look at more pictures)... long gone to the great car boot sale in the sky but fond memories of my musical travelling companions remain.

    4. A regional meeting sounds more manageable, not just for the logistics of travel (I'm in the east of England, a lot of the bloggers I read are in Scotland!) but also the size - like you, I'm wary of a large group (although, having said that, it does make it easier to hide, with the "pressure" spread out over more people)... But anyway, occasional gig buddies might also be a plan, especially as I tend to go to gigs mostly on my own these days, and gigs are always better if you have a mate to talk to them about.

      My Walkman still sees occasional service, if I need to digitise something that's on an old tape. It's so solid, so heavy (the DD series had a direct motor to drive the wheels, rather than a rubber drive belt) - I love it!

    5. Well (feeling brave now!) perhaps that really is something we could look into - I'm an East of Englander too and I also like the idea of being an occasional gig buddy if logistically possible! (Mr SDS is no longer into it and has no qualms about me going without him -just people I used to go with live too far away these days so I tend not to!) So maybe that's something to consider at some point, preceded perhaps by a mini-meet in one of our fine East Anglian cities for anyone in the region who feels the same way?!

    6. Count me in for all of the above!

  2. Thank you Gin G. Love the way songs can take you back in an instant to a past experience and time, so I completely get what you say about hearing the Police over here. I wonder how different '80s Britain was to '80s America? We had a lot of political unrest here but I suspect a lot of the time that was mutual!
    As for the Walkman, haha yes I remember how incredibly hi-tech they seemed at first, and I loved mine. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar comes back, apart from now having a retro appeal like polaroid cameras, the idea of having everything on your phone always strikes me as a bit of a liability: lose/damage phone and you lose/damage it all. I quite like keeping things separate...

  3. Suddenly I feel very old C!
    Oi (Gary Bushell)/Calculators/Cassette Recorders. And yet, and yet, Kraftwerk have lost none of their other worldness; how do they do that?

    1. Not old, John. Like me, simply...well, I was trying to think of another word... but "mature", "vintage", etc. don't sound much better. I'm open to suggestions. Whatever it is, we're not alone and it's not so bad!

      But, yes, Kraftwerk, even older, remain quite timeless.

  4. Great post C. A friend of mine went to see them in Dublin recently and by chance stayed in the same hotel. He ended up having breakfast with Ralf Hutter. Bizarre.

    Great 1981 photo btw.

    1. Thank you SA. That's brilliant about your friend and Ralf Hutter. Wow, what a privilege. Now I'm just trying to imagine Ralf eating bacon and eggs washed down with a cuppa... it's not easy.
      Thanks re. the old photo!

  5. Oh lovely to see you blogging again and what a great post full of memories that really strike a cord with those of us of a certain age - It is bizarre to think that when we watched Tomorrows World in the '70s and saw all this new technology, we really thought by the year 2000 we would all be living in space age houses and wearing silver foil suits. The world of Kraftwerk seemed perfectly realistic. As you say, looking back they now seem lovingly retro, but Ralf still going, at age 70! Fantastic. And, although houses, clothes etc have changed very little in some ways, the amount of technology we use on a daily basis could not have been predicted although I do feel hypocritical when I complain about it all as I do love my computer and what can be done with it - Finding all of you!

    Good to see you have, like me, bitten the bullet then and introduced yourself! Love both those pictures and somehow you are just how I expected - What a lovely lady. I merrily tapped out my posts for a long time in anonymity because I do tend to write about people from the past quite a lot and wanted to "protect the innocent". Hearing of the bloggers convention earlier this year made me realise that perhaps making great blogging buddies but remaining anonymous was a bit of a wasted opportunity, so might have to rethink that one - It would be lovely to have a bit of a meet-up at some point down the line (but when you mentioned the word regional it got me worried - I'm about as far north as it gets!).

    PS - I used to work in a small local chemists as a teenager and we took in people's spools to be sent off for developing. When they came back we had to check through the photos to make sure they had all turned out ok - No privacy in those days. Also I have a photo of myself in 1981 looking very similar to the one you have just shared! In fact I have just retrieved an archive box from the loft and when I start blogging again I think it would be fun, like you've found, to share some of the amazing finds from that era.

    1. Oh thanks so much Alyson, glad you enjoyed the post and I thought it would resonate with more than a few so I love knowing I'm not alone here! Yes I feel the same about technology - like most things there's good and bad - whilst there are these worrying trends for the sort of thing Martin and I mentioned in above comments, the other side to it is all this, which is very enriching. Someone once said something along the lines of it's about making sure you have control over it, not for it to have control over you. Sounds about right.

      Thanks re. the photos - it was actually my birthday yesterday and I had this urge a bit like a New Year's Resolution to just go with it and get out there (even if 'getting out there' is a misnomer when used in this virtual sense!) I really enjoy seeing old photos of people on here too, especially when they're so obviously from a particular time, so would be really lovely to see some of yours any time you wanted to share (hope you do!) There was another female blogger ('Kolley Kibber') some years ago who I came into contact with not long after I first started; her posts and comments were always a great read and it was good to have another female perspective (and of similar age). Anyway one of her most popular series of posts was when she reproduced some pages from her old university diaries (full of gigs, flatmates and boyfriend) including some fantastic old photos. I'm sure you'd have loved them... so, if you ever feel like doing something similar... :-) That said, the issue of anonymity from friends and family is still a consideration and I'm the same so completely get it.

      The 'regional' thing came to mind because it had been mentioned before and would be easier from a practical level, especially for a first time (baby steps!) ... The suggestion once came up of a series of 'mini-meets' to see how it goes. But it would be such a shame never to meet you if we ever did decide to go for it so who knows? - I've never been to Scotland....! :-)

    2. Oh - Happy birthday for yesterday - You kept that one quiet! Hope you had a lovely day.

      Funny you should mention the blogger who reproduced her old diaries as I found my old journal from my final year at school and it was full of stories of the concerts (didn't called them gigs back then!) and films we'd been to see. Also lots of boyfriend stories! Would have to change the names but it is a piece of social history which will end up in a skip someday so definitely going to use some of it here before it all goes to waste.

      I'm definitely in if you ever decide to "go for it" with a more expansive meet (and Scotland is very nice in summer if you ever want to venture north!). There's been a fair bit of selfie-sharing of late so we really are blowing our anonymity big style anyway.

      Good to see you've found your mojo again!

    3. Thank you Alyson, I did, very low-key, just as I like it!

      The diary/journal idea would be wonderful. I forgot we tended to call them concerts by the way - that sounds more grand now but yes it could refer to even the smallest venues at that time.

      And I'm now in the "I'll go if you go!" frame of mind if it came to a more expansive meet out of the region... so maybe we will!

  6. Good to see you back C and with an excellent post
    Just think - there was no opportunity back then for a selfie with Toyah!

    1. Ah thanks CC.
      So true about Toyah - I hadn't thought of that but it absolutely sums up the difference between then and now. We all just looked across at her but the way I remember it is that nobody made a big deal of it.

  7. Glad you are back writing again. My dad has a calculator from the 80s, it still works(with a battery), and he has no intention of replacing it :) I'm a fan of the early 80s albums by The Cure and Kraftwerk, not heard of New Age Steppers and Positive Noise, I'll give them a try. Kraftwerk sound like a must-see live from your description, they predicted the future, and if touring near me, I'd consider going. Music was definitely more exciting/varied then than it is now.
    I read about the 1981 riots when I was at the Museum of London in January, a very tense time indeed. Luckily you escaped the violence.
    Lots of selfies going around recently. 12 in '75, so you must be in your mid 50s by my calculations, you look 10 years younger!

    1. Thanks Chris - I needed a bit of a break, I think many of us know that feeling! I'd be interested to know what you thought of some of the other bands I mentioned from the '80s, as I can no longer hear them myself with the same fresh ears. I did revisit the Modern English and Positive Noise albums I used to have when I started writing this post, but they didn't sound too good to me any more. On the other hand, early Cure sounded better than I expected. So it's interesting how our tastes and opinions can change - or not!
      I hope Kraftwerk do play near you at some point too.
      Those old calculators never die.... I think too many things now have built-in obsolescence.
      Thanks so much for your very kind words - the low quality of my phone's camera means it's soft focus which is very wouldn't say that if it were HD!
      But very much appreciated :-)

  8. I appear to have completely missed your previous post, which I must now go back and take a look at - I wondered where you'd got to! The first LP I heard by Kraftwerk was 'Autobahn' in early 1975. I was very much into Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze etc at the time, so it was the next logical step. Those earlier albums of theirs felt somehow less cold and clinical than the way they became later in their career and, to an extent, have remained. My cousin's American husband is a Kraftwerk obsessive and will be dead jealous when I tell him that I know someone who saw them in 1981!
    1981 was a simpler time tech-wise, that's for sure - then again, ten years ago seems a simpler time from my viewpoint now! We live off the grid to a certain extent and I'm constantly surprised at how quickly technology moves along while I'm not looking! There's a Douglas Adams quote that comes to mind; 'Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.'
    Apologies for the rambling nature of this comment. I had a very late night last night and am seriously beginning to pay for it now - there wasn't even any booze involved! Belated birthday greetings C, from all at Swede Towers. Put my name down for that East of England meet-up.

    1. Many thanks TS, hope you've recovered now from the very late night!
      Klaus Schulze/ T Dreamn etc. completely passed me by but I do remember thinking Radioactivity was unlike anything else my sister was playing around that time.
      I like that Douglas Adams quote, how true.
      An East of England meet-up is definitely a possibility isn't it? - would be lovely to see you.

  9. My Grandparents lived in Southall, (they had since the early 50's )and they were really concerned about the aggression on the streets directed at their neighbours. Love your photo btw 😍

    1. Must've been scary for your grandparents then. Thanks re. photo, just to prove I'm not a bot!

  10. She's back and she has'nt changed a bit??

  11. Glad you've found your writing mojo! Really enjoyed this. 81 was a year of new beginnings for us. We settled in Cornwall where I was working at an entertainment complex, right on the beach. A surreal summer in so many ways, but a run of bands to see throughout. The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ultravox, OMD, etc etc. Also the likes of Whitesnake and Rainbow. An anything-goes kinda time. Already looking forward to your next post. Nice pics, by the way.

    1. Thanks Martin - and for your encouragement - glad you enjoyed this.
      Really interesting that you were in Cornwall seeing those bands you mention at that time and also working there. I think I may know the venue in question too, (from exploring the area on holiday later on, though, - not from gigs, sadly)
      Re. next post, I was also spurred on by something you said in reply to a comment I left at your place a little while back, so have one brewing. Hope I can just manage to hold onto the mojo for it.

  12. Now that was worth the wait! Terrific post, C. Loved the photos and musical memories. Technology and advances in AI in particular are scaring me these days, and I often wish we as a family had the courage and gumption to get off the grid completely. Overall, we are a fairly analog family, though, and we do a good job of shying away from the latest bells and whistles. Thankfully, my kids have no interest in phones, video games or even television. Makes them sort of odd ducks among their age groups, but I consider myself lucky. Good to have you back.

    1. Aw thanks Brian! I'm so with you on technology and advances in AI. I could rant at length about that but I'll just get myself worked up - reassuring therefore to know I'm not alone.
      That's really something about your kids' lack of interest in the digital world, and so refreshing! For all technology's advantages, there's nothing like appreciating the real physical world for what it is and I often wonder how many children it's passing by. At the same time I think sometimes things have to get stretched to the extreme before people realise it's not what they really wanted and things start to revert again - I hold onto that hope anyway, especially when it comes to the idea of a future where we lose sight of all our wonderful human talents and abdicate everything to bloody robots!

    2. PS - hope you had a brilliant vacation!

  13. Great to have you back, C, with a wonderful post that brings back memories! And don't be shy about or afraid of a larger group when it comes to a next blogger's meeting (nor should you, Martin + Alyson): I can assure to you 100% that there wasn't a single participant I wouldn't want to meet again! Also everyone was constantly able to do whatever everyone wanted, no pressure whatsoever ... what I'm trying to say is: those 'little groups' build themselves up automatically.

    So I hope to see you all when it comes to the next meeting!

    Take care,


    1. Ah thanks, Dirk, lovely to hear from you! Well, it was brilliant reading about and looking at the photos from your now legendary bloggers meeting in Glasgow, we were all eager to know that it went well and excited for you! It's reassuring to read what you say here (though we know you're all lovely, just some of us are a bit shy!)

      Thank you - maybe we will all meet up next time -
      those museums won't know what's hit them ;-)

      Take care too, C

    2. Cheers Dirk. Like C, I also enjoyed the various write-ups of the Glasgow gathering. Who knows what the next one will bring?!

  14. 1981 and that summer stick very much in the mind.

    I left school in 1981 so that very month or just before - whenever I turned up for my last A level.

    I was in one of the best bands I was ever in which sadly disintegrated before the year was out as we all left school and floundered about not knowing what we were doing. I originally headed off to be trained as a computer operator, only for the company to decide I showed some other aptitude and rapidly moved me to being a student on a scheme to become a software engineer.

    My new girlfriend (now Mrs F) went off on holiday to the Isle of Wight at some point and that began to show we had something serious going on as I missed her and she regularly called from a call box near their caravan. I went to see Excalibur with a mate whilst she was away.

    When she came back I went off on a holiday with my brother, last one ever just the two of us, we went to visit my Aunt in Cheshire and around North Wales etc.

    I have no idea on gigs that year...

    1. Ah, very vivid, Graham - thanks. It's great how we can remember such moments with so much feeling - whole seasons - in spite of how long ago they were.


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