Exhibit / March 20, 2017
Object Name: “Mirror in the Bathroom” by The Beat (music video)
Maker and Year: The Beat, director unknown, 1980
Object Type: Music video
Video Source: YouTube/stardustdays
Description: (Richard McKenna)
Released in April 1980, the same month that friction between police and local black communities resulted in the St Pauls riot in Bristol, The Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” captured perfectly the tense paranoia, as well as the personal and national disaffection, of the day. Composed of Dave Wakeling on vocals and guitar, Ranking Roger on backing vocals and toasting, Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele on bass, Everett Morton on drums, and veteran saxophonist Saxa, who had played with Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker, The Beat were part of the musical phenomenon known as 2-Tone, which fused Jamaica’s ska music (originating in the late 1950s) with the neurotic, propulsive energy of punk rock. The 2-Tone style was adopted by a new generation of progressive young Britains who rejected the class and race enmity of the past, and was fueled by resentment at the increasingly reactionary policies of Margaret Thatcher, who had been elected as prime minister of Great Britain in 1979.
The band (known as The English Beat in North America) hailed from Birmingham, a city once known as the “workshop of the world” and home to Indian, African, and West Indian communities that had helped forge a unique industrial and musical culture. Like many other recession-struck British cities, however, the Birmingham of the early 1980s was struggling to cope with the growing pressures of mass unemployment and the racial tensions that this exacerbated—a situation that far-right parties like the National Front attempted to exploit for their own ends.
Possessed of neither the cartoonish appeal of London’s Madness nor the lugubrious cabaret nihilism of Coventry’s The Specials, the Beat projected a frosty, mod-ish detachment even on more upbeat tracks like their first hit, a 1979 cover of Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown. This alienated blankness was evoked perfectly in the video for “Mirror in the Bathroom,” which was shot around the band’s hometown and in The Rum Runner, a well-known local nightclub and ex-casino that opened in 1964 and was frequented by many midlands musicians until its demolition in 1987. (The decor visible in the video was the result of renovation work by club owners the Berrow brothers after a visit to New York’s Studio 54.)
The first digitally recorded single to be released in the U.K., “Mirror in the Bathroom” came out on the band’s own Go Feet label and was produced by the prolific Bob Sargeant, who had just produced both The Fall’s seminal Live at the Witch Trials and the Buzzcocks’ classic A Different Kind of Tension, both from 1979. Sargeant’s intermittent use of dub-like echo throughout the song contrasts with its sharp surface textures, increasing its alienating impact. In total, “Mirror in the Bathroom” spent nine weeks on the U.K. charts, peaking at number 4, and was later featured in the films Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). The Beat split in 1983, Saxa and Everett Morton going on to form International Beat, Ranking Roger and Wakeling becoming General Public, and Andy Cox and David Steele joining with Roland Gift to become the Fine Young Cannibals.
The year after “Mirror in the Bathroom” was released, racial and economic anxieties exploded in a wave of rioting that spread across Britain, with large-scale outbreaks occurring in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham.