I grew up in an era of Ska music with the Specials, Madness and The Selector being regulars on the University circuit. One song that brought back memories of this era played on the radio the other day: Ghost Town.
The main line repeated throughout the song is “this town … is coming like a ghost town.” It’s a song that really stood out at the time and I can recommend you read the end of this blog for more background.
It’s strange because I’m feeling like we are going through this moment again. With most of the music, travel, photo, book, general stores and more closing down, it’s a fairly weird time we are going through. This occurred to me the other day when I saw a report on Business Insider of mall closures in America.
People shop online and at home and the impact is now being felt in the physical world, as store closures and mall failures hit.
Finally, we see the same with banks. Banks are actually being told by the Federal Reserve that they have to get approval for a branch closure as, unlike the UK, there has to be at least one branch in town:
It’s a time of declining bank branch numbers, but bank examiners continue to expect bankers to meet the credit needs of their communities (from the article As Branches Decline, How Do Bankers Continue to Comply with CRA? which is well worth a read).
Unfortunately, that one branch in town is a ghost branch.
And that one branch is going to be targeted for closure. From Reuters this week:
The number of bank branches in the United States will shrink by as much as 20 percent in five years, according to a report from commercial real estate firm JLL. This reduction comes as banks are looking for ways to cut costs and to encourage their customers to embrace mobile banking technology rather than completing basic transactions within a physical branch. The U.S. banking industry could save as much as $8.3 billion annually if it trimmed the number of branches and downsized the average bank branch from 5,000 to 3,000 square feet.
The tour for the group’s More Specials album in autumn 1980 had been a fraught experience: already tired from a long touring schedule and with several band members at odds with keyboardist and band leader Jerry Dammers over his decision to incorporate “muzak” keyboard sounds on the album, several of the gigs descended into audience violence. As they travelled around the country the band witnessed sights that summed up the depressed mood of a country gripped by recession.
In 2002 Dammers told The Guardian, “You travelled from town to town and what was happening was terrible. In Liverpool, all the shops were shuttered up, everything was closing down… We could actually see it by touring around. You could see that frustration and anger in the audience. In Glasgow, there were these little old ladies on the streets selling all their household goods, their cups and saucers. It was unbelievable. It was clear that something was very, very wrong.”
In an interview in 2011, Dammers explained how witnessing this event inspired his composition:
“The overall sense I wanted to convey was impending doom. There were weird, diminished chords: certain members of the band resented the song and wanted the simple chords they were used to playing on the first album. It’s hard to explain how powerful it sounded. We had almost been written off and then ‘Ghost Town’ came out of the blue.”
The song’s sparse lyrics address urban decay, unemployment and violence in inner cities. Jo-Ann Greene of Allmusic notes that the lyrics “only brush on the causes for this apocalyptic vision—the closed down clubs, the numerous fights on the dancefloor, the spiralling unemployment, the anger building to explosive levels. But so embedded were these in the British psyche, that Dammers needed only a minimum of words to paint his picture.”
The summer of 1981 saw riots in over 35 locations around the UK. In response to the linking of the song to these events, singer Terry Hall said, “When we recorded ‘Ghost Town’, we were talking about ’s riots in Bristol and Brixton. The fact that it became popular when it did was just a weird coincidence.” The song created resentment in Coventry where residents angrily rejected the characterisation of the city as a town in decline.
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