It’s 1981, and the UK is in the grip of a depression. This is reflected in the pop charts, where UB40 are singing about unemployment, The Specials are mourning inner city decline, and The Police are commenting on the troubles in Northern Ireland. Even Madness are having a Grey Day. Meanwhile, over on Top Of The Pops, a fat, bald man in a bright yellow dress and Doctor Marten boots cartwheels onto the stage and begins to do the Can Can.
Bad Manners were always focused entirely on having a good time; social commentary was left to their contemporaries. Thirty three years on, and nothing much has changed. The nine original members have declined to one, but the one left is the only one you would be likely to recognise. Buster Bloodvessel no longer wears the dress (though what he may do off stage is his own business), and he is a little less rotund than he was at the height of his fame, but he is still recognisable as the face, voice and enormous personality of one of the early 80′s best loved bands.
As he finally bounded onto the stage at Brighton’s Concorde 2 at around a quarter to ten, an evening which had been incredibly loud and rather anarchic from the off reached its full tempo. We’d already experienced The Pukes- a twelve piece punk ukulele band, no less- and spent some time in the rather chaotic company of Max Splodge (of Splodgenessabounds fame, although obviously fame is relative), but there is only one man whom the audience want to see. Buster, greeted with a joyful chorus of “You Fat B******,” yelled, “For those of you who don’t know, this is Ska!” The crowd went quickly bananas, and remained in a heightened state of emotion throughout, fuelled mainly by Red Stripe, nostalgia for their misspent youth and the driving rhythm and optimistic beats of Hackney’s finest and his exuberant band.
Even for those few of us who had remained decidedly sober, there was much to enjoy. The hits were all here, and all of those hits were- and are- designed to make you want to jump up and down. Many did, to the extent that you worried about the strength of the dancefloor; particularly as it contained a number of Buster lookalikes (though you felt that for many this was just a happy accident). As the audience pogoed through My Girl Lollipop, Lorraine, Walking In The Sunshine and Just A Feeling, amongst others, you could feel the room vibrating under their energetic efforts. “I love Brighton, but for the last 30 years I can’t remember it. It’s like a whole new experience,” said our leader, a vision in a spotted shirt, striped shorts and bovver boots. You felt very much as if a large swathe of the audience were likely to join him in that they’d be unable to remember tonight, at least.
The energy never slackened, even during the two interludes where Buster wandered off stage and left his band to continue to play in his absence. Threatening the audience for mocking his weight, he yelled, “Times have changed- I could sue you all for discrimination now,” before adding, “I love being a fat B******” and moving swiftly into a rendition of Fatty Fatty, a song from the 1980 album Ska ‘n’ B. This ended with the instruction, “If you’ve got it, wobble it!” We did.
The evening climaxed with a version of the Can Can. We’d already been royally entertained with Wooly Bully, Lip Up Fatty and the wonderful Special Brew, but we all knew what the encore would be and we weren’t disappointed. Promising us that he’d be back next year, he then ushered a dog onto the stage, and proceeded to encourage it to bark through the first half of the number, before allowing it to run around the stage for the second half. Tail wagging excitedly, it seemed to be having a thoroughly marvelous time. We knew how it felt.
As we left the venue, some revelers who must have departed early to beat the rush sped past. Their vehicle was unusually labelled “The University Of SKA.” If such a hallowed establishment exists, then Buster Bloodvessel is undoubtedly a Don; yet you would still suspect him of letting off stink bombs in the Great Hall. He may be a little lighter, and considerably more venerable, but he’s never grown out of his role as the class joker. And you suspect he never will- but who’s complaining? They still love you, Fatty Fatty!
Published on in Random Ramblings.