THATCHER, drunken escapades and social history, author Tony Beesley talks to music writer John Quinn about his latest book, Away From the Numbers: To Be Someone in the 1980s.
LIKE many decades when taking a look back, the 1980s have been bathed in a glow of nostalgia which doesn’t always give an accurate account of what it was like living at that time.
It wasn’t all yuppies, padded shoulders and mullets, but all-in-all a bit of a bleak period, especially for some South Yorkshire communities suffering under Tory policies.
It was also years before the internet, Facebook, Ipads and Ipods so teenagers had to make their own entertainment, which usually involved going out and meeting people.
Now meet Tony Beesley, a smalltown boy with big ambitions, by his own admission ‘a bit of a Del Boy,’ and now the author of five books, the latest of which, Away From The Numbers: To Be Someone In The 1980s, has just been published.
His first tomes were the Our Generation trilogy, which looked at the local punk and mod scenes in the late seventies and early eighties before he got personal with Kid On A Red Chopper Bike: A Ride Through The 1970s. His latest work continues in this autobiographical vein, with the child born in the mid-sixties moving into manhood.
Of course life wasn’t all joy during the previous decade – and Tony suffered a family tragedy near the end of it – but in a sense those still at school were insulated from the outside world. However once their formal education was over, hordes of early-eighties leavers found that any - left alone fulfilling - work wasn’t easy to find, especially if you lived in somewhere like Rawmarsh, the Rotherham pit village where Beesley and his brothers had been brought up.
You got the feeling that during that decade working class lads were seen as just being in the way. And music fanatic Tony was quite literally in The Way, a ‘Northern rock’n’soul’ band he formed who made waves on the local scene at the time - in various line-ups even after Tony left - but lacked the luck to break through nationally. It was one of several attempts to make a name for himself, hence the book’s title, taken from a couple of songs by The Jam, whose leader Paul Weller is still possibly still the biggest influence on Tony’s tastes. The book chronicles his meeting the modfather and also coming face-to-face with another of his heroes, the dearly departed Clash frontman Joe Strummer.
Moving away from music, it was hard to avoid politics in those days, especially when, like many of Tony’s friends and neighbours, you were left suffering by Thatcherism’s attacks on the two main local industries, mining and steelmaking, and the book covers this with passion, but this is countered with not-so-serious tales of drunken escapades and the like, all part of growing up and the sort of thing you look back at with great fondness when you’re properly ‘grown-up.’
The decade and the book ends with Tony about to become a dad for the first time, thinking about his own father whose early death had affected his later life so much, and reflecting on the fact that he: ‘’never did become a rock star, a poet, an artist...but most important of all I tried and I gave it my very best shot.” Nowadays he can point at his collected prose – all written in his spare time, as he also has a full-time job in retail - and be proud that the Beesley boy has finally achieved his aim of making a name for himself.
* Away From The Numbers: To Be Someone in the 1980s is available from many local stockists and his own website ourgenerationpunkandmod.co.uk, where you can also find details of his other books. The two autobiographical works are also available on Kindle.