Free Nelson Mandela? A confession.

I never did like The Specials’ song, “Free Nelson Mandela” back in 1984. There, I’ve said it and a small white man’s burden has lifted.

You couldn’t dispute the lyrical intention – unless you’re of the Tebbit clan – but the jaunty ska trumpets always left me rooted to the dance floor back in Leeds University Students Union. Not that I was a natural in the student discotheque, surprising though that may seem.

I was more of a svelte glam rock poseur and could do a mean languid impression of Phil Oakey or Marc Almond. I once provided a memorable routine to Soft Cells ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ at an overcrowded student party in Hyde Park, but Jerry Dammer’s anthem invariably led to me half heartedly jumping up and down out of time with my compadres until one evening I realised I just didn’t like the song at all so slinked off to the kitchen to hang out with members of the SWP (the Socialist Workers Party in those days before it had a Blairite conversion to the Socialising Workers Privileged Tendency in the late 1990s).

But now that Mandela has left our shores, I’m fully expecting the track to be re-released any day now only this time around on multiple formats of CD, I-Tunes, YouTube, DVD, and who knows, perhaps even 7″ rainbow vinyl: which lets face it, was the height of choice back in the mid ’80s.

Those days, the choice of vinyl symbolised an act of political solidarity so you had to be careful as you stepped around Jumbo Records in Leeds Merrion Centre to make sure you made the right choice for those student parties later on that day when us student geeks would earnestly look each other up and down, compare shoe size and argue whether it was plausible that the purchase of the record could play a small but important part in contributing to Mandela’s release and ultimately over throwing the apartheid regime. I hope it did, even though I couldn’t bring myself to buying a copy. Times were tough then and Human Leagues Hard Times seemed more in tune with both my personal and the wider public mood.

This time, though, I shall try harder to like the song although the chances that I shall be able to dance to it any more effectively are extremely remote.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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