My secret affair

Why '70s power pop is unfashionably cool again


A few weeks ago, I was at a party celebrating 60 years of Fred Perry. You got free drinks if you handed in four cardboard logos at the bar, and all the celebrities who usually turn up to such dos were there, like Mark Lamarr. The soundtrack was mod – The Jam, The Lambrettas, The Chords, Purple Hearts, all manner of things jerky, pulsating, pub-rocky, punky and cool. Then suddenly my ears were full of warm ’70s power pop. Why were they playing Boston? “What is this expertly-constructed, richly-melodic and appealingly-uncool material?” I asked the DJ, poised to write the name down. "This is My World by Secret Affair," he said. "I thought you were going to tell me to turn it off like the last three people."

In their little burst of fame between 1979 and 1982 Secret Affair were the great hope of the mod revival, got the cover of NME and Smash Hits and had a clutch of hit singles. But for everyone who counts them in the movement’s “top three” there’s someone who says they were faux mod – because they were a bit too soft, a bit too melodic.

For Secret Affair, the musicality was political. Frontman Ian Page disliked what he called the “punk elite” – middle-class people masquerading as working class, expressing their so-called rough edge in out-of-tune guitars and singers who couldn’t sing. Since when had the working classes played their music like that? Page, who played trumpet on stage, wanted a return to the ’60s with more than just the suits. In Pete Townshend’s new biography (Who I Am) there’s an early photo of Roger Daltrey in his first band, The Detours, playing the trombone – they did weddings and bar mitzvahs. That’s the kind of thing Page was thinking about. That’s where mod really began.

Perhaps the vision was too subtle? By the late ’70s slick music was firmly associated with mindless entertainment. Secret Affair saw Weller as a kindred spirit (they were adopted by The Jam’s fans) but they sound ebullient – almost evangelical – in comparison: while Weller sang about people getting jack-booted on the tube, Page hymned mod individuality in lines like "people stop and stare and I feel so proud!" Their first hit, "Time For Action", is basically a gospel song. They also wrote a tune called "Let Your Heart Dance". They could have been any kind of band, but they got swept up in a movement that both made and destroyed them – they quickly disappeared along with the mod revival.

Fast forward 30 years to their comeback gig last Saturday, in a student union on Great Portland Street. A mod comes flailing through the crowd like a Catherine Wheel with a spliff in his hand, trying to start a fight like he’s on the beach at Margate, and three security guys wrestle him to the floor. It’s strangely at odds with the scene on stage – a three-piece horn section, Hammond organ, Page sitting at a keyboard like Gary Brooker leading robust, jazz-infused rock reminiscent of Procol Harum, Steely Dan and Geno Washington. He’s been working in advertising for the past few years. You get the feeling this is the band Secret Affair wanted to be all along. The crowd in feathery haircuts and sharp suits stare through the long guitar solos, organ wig-outs and gospel-fills on a nostalgia trip that is very different from the one that the band are having. But it doesn’t really matter. Like the first time round, Secret Affair get their audience, regardless of whether or not it’s the right one.


Seventies men: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend (Getty Images)

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR