Easy Skankingby Nick Aldridge / 22.11.2010
So long ago in the dark days of the 1980’s, bored with the high school politics and insularity of Sea Point, I started hanging out with the cool loner guy in my class, a guy with black Ray-Ban Wayfarers, skinny jeans, a flattop haircut and an awesome record collection.
He taught me the valuable skills of navigating nightclubs, crashing lefties house parties, hitchhiking and smoking cigarettes, all useful stuff for a 15 year old, but mostly he exposed me to music.
The music was post-punk, British new-wave, political and driven by a stomping ska rhythm.
And the best band of the lot was The Beat. They crossed genres, didn’t only play covers of old Jamaican tunes, were politically on the money and had the most infectious beat I’d ever heard!
When “Mirror in the Bathroom” came on the sound system, the dancefloor filled up! The punks, the ska boys, dressed in black and white, and the hippie surfers all got down to The Beat. At 2am in a dirty downtown club or a party in the ‘burbs, this was the shit.
Here you could dance away all that pent-up teenage frustration: girls, school, apartheid, the looming threat of going to the border, the fucked-up home life, all that anger and energy found expression right there on the back of the bassbeat.
Now, fast forward 25 years. A marriage has come and gone, a career’s done the same, my hairline hasn’t just receded, it’s simply disappeared. Too old to party, got a little kid, an ex-wife, just enough credit card debt to keep me awake at night come the end of every month. And the band that defined my youth are in town for one night only.
The idea strikes me as sad. All these old folks going out to relive their youth, in front of a band of old has-beens on a reunion tour, like Cliff Richard and the Shadows!
The Mercury is packed, full of familiar faces, balding, thicker around the middle. A couple of nostalgics are dressed in two-tone outfits and look surprisingly fashionable. Oh god, I’m old enough to be coming back in fashion. The 50-somethings are sitting along the far wall in the booths, under the red lights, looking sometimes like mafiosos and sometimes just like they did when they were 25 and I was 15 sneaking into nightclubs. Second wives, much younger than the rest, look kind of out of place. The dancefloor is packed. The Rudimentals are banging out their set and it’s cool to see they’re still at it.
Jesus, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gig!
Someone lights a cigarette and I realise there are laws about that stuff now! I don’t know what they are but there are laws. How old are the band gonna be? 60-something? Sleep-walking through a set of songs from twenty-five years ago?
Then The Beat appears on stage, that infectious rhythm kicks in and the dancefloor goes mental. All the questions about this being some kind of cheesy revival fade away. I’m skanking in front of one of the great bands of my youth surrounded by the people I’ve been on dancefloors with for the last 25 years.
Rankin’ Roger, the lead singer, toaster and eighties icon, talks between songs about how great it is to finally be here, all those years after recording “Free Nelson Mandela”, performing in South Africa.
And then it strikes me, we’re the people The Beat would have performed to 25 years ago. These guys are not just performing in South Africa, this is an event that somehow exists outside of time. We’re connected through shared experience. We get lost in the timelessness of music for an hour. Dancing really does free you in ways that nothing else can.
Next to me, on the dancefloor, is my old friend and nightlife mentor, wearing black Ray-Bans!
“You’re too cool, Old Man!” I say.
“What, the shades? Got ‘em free with GQ magazine.”
I look around and see seven or eight hands above the crowd holding Blackberry’s making videos. We’ve become a marketing demographic. I suppose we always were one.
We get lost in the music again. I’m fifteen, I’m twenty, I’m forty, I’m an old codger, and I’m still moved by this music. It’s like an enlightenment experience. I look around, and as one of the Blackberry’s reaches the end of it’s clip, I see the smiling faces of two little blonde girls on the screen saver. I think of my own daughter’s face on the Blackberry in my pocket. I smile and carry on dancing.
The band are awesome, energetic, alive, the music sounds fresh and exciting, just as it should, not re-worked but not in a time-capsule either.
Roger says, ‘I wish you guys down there could see yourselves from up here, 98% of the faces in this crowd are smiling!’
I realise I’m happier than I’ve been in years.