Patchy bits and pieces of footage that comprised the 2-Tone label’s concert film Dance Craze have been around for a while now on your video hosting platform of choice, although it’s safe to say that aficionados won’t be bothering with them any more now that this magnificent remastering of James Massot’s original 1981 film is available, along with indispensable extras such as the simply brilliant 1980 BBC Arena documentary Rudies Come Back. First, though, if there’s a negative to get out of the way, it’s the main feature’s fascination with snippets of BBC RP and British Pathé: witness a game yet correctly poised Lady Lewisham being asked what she thinks of teenagers in the 1958 cinema newsreel It’s The Age of the Teenager. “I think they’re splendid!” she reports.
The mild irritation caused by these inserts --possibly funnier or more of a curio in 1981 than now-- highlights the fact that you wouldn’t want anything to interrupt Dance Craze, which is nothing less than spellbinding from the get-go. This is the undiluted essence of the 2-Tone genre in its rawest, most vital live form. All of the songs are, astonishingly, superior to the records, a huge testament to the treatments that have been applied to the soundtrack. It can be declared with confidence that Massot’s film gives us the definitive versions of both Concrete Jungle and particularly Nite Klub by The Specials, who on stage (hyped and cajoled by a frantic Jerry Dammers) are an even more chaotic affair than the bouncing, seething audiences that sway around the assorted venues, lapping and encroaching on the stage like a sea at high tide. Easy Life by The Bodysnatchers, Inner London Violence by Bad Manners, and an exceptional Rankin’ Roger-powered rendition of The Beat’s Big Shot are three more standouts… but then there’s also Night Boat to Cairo and The Prince by Madness, or The Selecter’s terrific Missing Words. It’s soon revealed as a pointless gesture to sort or assess any of this. All of it is a font of pure, unmitigated joy.
The same can be said for Rudies Come Back, a particularly splendid episode of the BBC’s Arena which die-hards will long ago have found lurking in the website archives --that virtual dusty cupboard that’s always worth a rummage. NME journalist of the day Adrian Thrills seems a bit perplexed that this 2-Tone thing (in this instance focusing on The Specials and The Selecter) is happening in Coventry and not London as he visits its headquarters, an upstairs room on an ordinary terraced street. This, in fact, seems to be Jerry Dammers’ bedroom --there is a partially-made bed in the corner and jackets are hanging on a rail-- and we find all The Specials there drinking Red Stripe and playing records such as You’re Wondering Now on the Dansette.
To see Dammers on stage, you wonder exactly how he’d run an operation churning out national chart hits. Well, the answer is not a surprise. He runs it anarchically, as we see when demo tapes and actual artist contracts are plucked from a pile in a drawer and hurled around the room. “This is how The Beat came to fame,” he says, spilling a handful of cassettes.
They all look so happy. Even the sadly and recently deceased Terry Hall does, at times. Roddy Radiation explains the tales of personal violence that inspired Concrete Jungle. Hall takes issue with Dammers’ anti-marriage stance. And then --as if to best illustrate the entire point-- they all have a dance.--Neil Jackson