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I bought my first 7 inch vinyl single in HMV, Commercial Road, Portsmouth in 1981.

Ghost Town by The Specials on the legendary 2 Tone label reached the number 1 position in July of that year and was a song that held a mirror to the state of the nation.

The Specials -  Ghost Town

Socially and economically, Thatcher’s Britain was on its way to breakdown. My personal memory of Portsmouth in the early 80s was of closed shops, litter blown streets and an undercurrent of violence. 1981 was a year of mass uneployment, race riots, hunger strikes and strangely, a Royal Wedding. Where I lived the music and the fashion of 2 Tone was enjoyed while the essential multicultural element was ignored. Despite the city being virtually all white, racism existed. The National Front were prominent in this period and I distinctly remember going to a school disco (I was 10) and seeing a line of slightly older kids shouting ‘Sieg Heil” and giving the Nazi salute at the end of the ‘der-de-der’ sax riff of The Piranhas –  Tom Hark. Very odd and considering the cultural references of this song, even odder.  The racial harmony point was certainly missed by the more meat-headed youth of my lovely city, some of whom would go on to enjoy their Saturdays as part of Portsmouth Football Club’s notorious 6.57 crew.

Brixton Riots

Ghost Town is a bizarre number one single in relation to others of the same year (Bucks Fizz! Shaking Stevens!) and goes to show how influential the group and the 2 Tone movement were. Lyrically, it expresses life in a nation blighted by the destruction of industry and mass unemployment and virtually predicted the violence that would break out in England that year. Shaky certainly wouldn’t have covered that sort of content. Musically, the track is inspired. Doom-laden reggae with jazzy keyboards, horns, an unhinged wail of a chorus and ghostly sound effects. Timeless. The B sides, though a little more low-key were nearly as good. Why? is the tale of a racist attack on band member Lynval Golding and Friday Night, Saturday Morning captures the meaninglessness of a night on the tiles and features one of my favourite lyrics from the mealoncholic Terry Hall: ‘Wish that I had lipstick on my shirt, Instead of piss stains on my shoes’. Nice.

Here’s the single version of Ghost Town.

And here’s the extended 12 inch version, with the awesome Rico Rodriguez adding woozy trombone to the mix.

The Specials

There’s a brilliant feature on how the track was produced here at the 2 Tone website: John Collins – A Producers Story

And a great article on being attached to Portsmouth Football Club: Up Pompey


Stussy poster

Stussy poster

Stussy poster

Stussy poster

Stussy poster