Department S and ‘that song’…..
I have recently been revisiting the music of late 1979 through to 1981, years, which for one reason or another, hold a certain resonance with me. For those who were around at that time they must now look back with gratitude on quite possibly the most diverse period of popular music there has ever been. New bands breaking out of a post-punk Britain took the independent, politically charged ethos of the socialist working class of Thatcher’s new world order and crafted lyrics and music into accessible, commercial hits. Young artists such as Paul Weller took that anger which punk spat out over a public firmly ensconced in a 1970s Eurovision bubble and achieved the one thing punk bands craved; commercial success. Punk bands wanted a hit record and a wad of cash just as much as the next group and to think otherwise is to be found guilty of sentimentalism.
Top of the Pops was the major music show of the week, the singles chart played on Radio One every Sunday drew huge listening figures and the top twenty was a fabulous melting pot of ska, reggae, punk, heavy metal, American rock, electronic, soul and pop. Most young people were very tribal in their musical tastes, if you liked Sabbath you could like Thin Lizzy but never, ever, admit to a soft spot for Madness or Ultravaox, it would never do. Although we forgave Phil Lynott for hiring Midge Ure! Britain’s youth took on the associated colours, pin badges adorned blazers, parkas, denim jackets, Harrington’s, crombies, sheepskins and leathers in a show of identity music and politics giving them a voice otherwise drowned out by the establishment.
At the end of 1980 and into the early new year there was a song whose glorious title was being mimicked up and down the country, imagine the hoax calls pubs used to get with “Is Vic there?” now being added to the list of traps set by drunken students on poor barmaids?! And so we sang and/or spoke the strap line, it was the defining piece of the song from a band which were impossible to define. Like Martha and the Muffins and their hit, Echo Beach, they were a modern band which punk-esq overtones somehow managing to transcend labels and styles and so creating a unique style of music which went on to influence the Indie bands to follow.
Department S originally only lasted for two years but there is a reformed version who are actively touring today. So, for those who remember, here’s a reminder and for those who missed out, here’s what you missed….
Categories: The Music Lounge