Sunday, 5 August 2018


“Buster, he sold the heat…with a rock steady be-eat…”

High above me, pumping out of the tannoy speakers in the warehouse roof, this booming voice announced itself by speaking Jamaican words with a white London accent.

A couple of seconds later the air was filled with a sublime fusion of ska, reggae and pop, all wrapped up in cockney and Caribbean rhythms.

It was 1979 and we’d never heard anything like it. All round the warehouse blokes stopped in their tracks, smiles stretching their faces as they soaked up the exuberance of Madness.

I was 19, a soft middle class lad in a working class world of hardened men. Industrial Temping was an ancestor of today’s gig economy. The agency sent me off to factories and warehouses, sometimes for a day, sometimes for months. The work was hard, the pay poor, but for me it was perfect.

As soon as I’d saved up enough money I was free to board the ferry to France once again, to spend a few months hitching around Europe.

That summer the sounds of 2 Tone exploded into our lives. After years of going to three gigs a week during punk, live music was the backbone of my existence.

For years Rastas and Punks had mixed at gigs and been friendly, sharing a common enemy in Skins, but this new driving dance music, this monster sound had its roots in ska, which had always been Skinhead music.

Amazing gigs at the Electric Ballroom and the Hammersmith Palais followed. I remember huge line-ups, with The Specials, The Selector, Madness, The Modettes, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and The Beat all performing on the same night.

2 Tone spoke our language, sometimes politically scathing, at others touchingly sympathetic to love-lorn youth.

Rich in anti-establishment spirit, 2 Tone founder Jerry Dammers let all his lable's bands leave to form their own lables. Madness went Stiff, the Beat created Go Feet - everyone moved on.

Thanks to 2 Tone we’d enjoyed a bucket load of unbridled joy. Black, White, Punk, Skin, Rude Boy, Mod and Rasta: we’d all danced together, unified by joyous music.

Once you’ve shared the glory of a raucous gig, there can be no further animosity.

If only that had been the case at my place of work. I remember well that day I first heard Madness, because it coincided with the breaking of Tony’s mug.

With his lank long greasy hair, yellowed buckled teeth and sad weary eyes, Tony was an unlikely figure of fear. The foreman, emaciated in his faded Humble Pie T-Shirt and skull belt-buckle, he ruled that warehouse like a stoned Stalin.

During tea break I got distracted while chatting to young Jimmy about that new band we’d just heard, and my finger flipped Tony’s mug onto the concrete floor, where of course it shattered.

“Shit mate. Now you’ve done it. That’s Tony’s mug. He loves that mug.”

“Yeh? Loves his mug does he? Really?”

“No, yeh, really! Tellin’ you, he bloody loves that mug. You’re in deep doggydoo mate. What was your name again?”

At first I thought he was just winding me up, because I’d been the target of a series of practical jokes ever since I’d arrived at this assignment. I was used to it, imagining this trial a rite of passage that everyone had to go through.

Looking back now with a smile on my face, I realise that they were just ripping the shite out of the posh lad. One day my car wouldn’t start after work because they’d taken the rotor arm off the distributor.

“Ah come on, lads! You’ll have to do better than that!”

A week later my car wouldn’t start because there was some rubber tubing stuffed up the exhaust pipe.

“Ah come on, lads! You’ll have to do better than that!”

“We did! That tubing’s your radiator hose. Least, it used to be!”

These tests I passed with ease, but Tony’s revenge was more challenging:

“Oi, you, mug-smasher. You’re walking bundle today.”

Silence fell as every other head turned to look first at Tony, to make sure he really meant it, and then at me, to see if I was up for it.

These were times far from Health and Safety. I had to climb on top of a mountain of 20 metre long u-shaped reinforced steel struts, piled high by the loading bay.

Then judging carefully where the middle was, I'd loop a cable tie around a square of 25 struts, followed by another cable around the same 25 at each end, creating an open-ended bundle.
Unistrut bundles, exactly the same today as they were in 1979...

Standing on the floor beside my bundle, I used the handset to move the roof crane, bringing it directly over the middle cable tie, which I then hooked into the crane.

Every single eye in the place was watching. Hoping to hell and back I’d tied the middle one precisely in the middle, I slowly, oh so very slowly lifted the bundled with the crane, holding a finger loosely inside the struts at my end.

I’d heard the other blokes talk about “walking your bundle” and how you wanted your finger to be floating inside.

If you touched the struts for a second too long they’d simply tip up, fall out and crush you to death.

Over the tannoy came the sound of Chas Smash’s voice:

“One! Step! Beyoooond!”

No no no.
Not now.

Apart from the irony of the words, given my predicament, that was one moment it’d have been madness to dance to Madness.

10 days ago Galway danced to Madness like mad fools, and the Galway Races are almost run, so congratulations to GIAF and Ballybrit, and well done to you, the people of Galway, for enabling another incredible summer stuffed with successful festivals.

Nowhere gives better madness!

©Charlie Adley
959 words / 5,253 characters

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