The wonderful thing about punk was that it didn’t just generate loads of copy-cat bands. ‘Doing your own thing’, with your inabilities and presenting your own view on life is what made punk so much more interesting. When hundreds of girls picked up instruments, audiences finally got to hear some very different sounds and viewpoints.
There at the start of the London punk scene was Brixton girl Rhoda Dakar, whose involvement and importance in punk has been often downplayed. The punk-influenced, ska-loving all-girl band she joined as singer – The Bodysnatchers – became aligned with Two Tone, and because Rhoda subsequently went on to guest and collaborate with members of The Specials, she’s not always included in the ‘women in punk’ nostalgia rollcalls.
In many of the interviews with The BodySnatchers, it’s apparent that they adopted ‘Rocksteady’ as their music as it was slow enough for the less than competent musicians in the group to play.
Rhoda grew up hearing diverse styles of music but as a young teenager was a fan of Bowie, Iggy Pop and the New York Dolls. When standing in for Gary Crowley on the punk and New Wave Show in October 2017, Dakar recalls the impact that one concert made:
“The New York Dolls – I actually did see them when I was about 14 and they played in London. They were just brilliant and I think that’s really when my ears clicked into punk . I understood then what the sound of punk was gonna be; I worshipped at the knees of Johnny Thunders thereafter.”
The record choices and commentary on this radio programme illustrate Rhoda Dakar’s inspiration from punk, encouraging her to change her acting ambitions into becoming a singer. In the early stages, there were no punk records, so old reggae and ska discs would fill in between bands at gigs. When the first punk single ‘New Rose’ by The Damned came out, Rhoda recalls the excitement of finally having something to play:
“I remember pogoing like a nutter around my 6th form common room. We were just so please to actually have some punk vinyl at that point.”
When Shane McGowan (of The Nips, later The Pogues) was asked to introduce Rhoda Dakar to the emerging Bodysnatchers, she was keen to write songs and get started, although the first songs tended to be covers like Monkey Spanner and Double Barrel whilst the rest of the band learned to play their instruments. The Bodysnatchers were quickly offered tours (supporting The Selector), recording contracts (2-Tone) and movies (Dance Craze). The extensive touring meant that the band didn’t record as much as other contemporary artists, leading to a split in 1981.
What Rhoda Dakar contributed during this time and subsequently, was to use the punk directness in challenging the status quo and expressing political anger. She wrote the song ‘The Boiler’ which was recorded by The Bodysnatchers and subsequently The Special AKA. This compelling but harrowing account of date rape was played extensively by John Peel but banned or edited by other media shows.
“I didn’t know about writing songs, but I knew how to improvise – I had originally wanted to act and had worked in the theatre on leaving school. Performing it live was acting, that’s all. A friend had been raped a couple of years earlier and I suppose I was thinking of her at the time. Recording it was a very long and drawn out process. It was released a year after it was first recorded” Marco on the Bass blog
The campaigning element continued with Rhoda Dakar being part of the 1984 ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ release, which has been acknowledged as playing a small part in the wordwide campaign against apartheid in South Africa. (Mandela was released in 1990)
These blog posts include interviews with Rhoda Dakar and discuss her more recent solo releases and collaborations, as well as dates where you can see her play this year:
For now, we salute you, Rhoda Dakar for being an extremely cool punk girl, for making some great songs and being an inspiration. We hope you’ll get in touch and tell us how it was in your own words!