I had a question from ‘B’ who has an instagram account called “skinhead_pioneers” – he writes:
“….My question relates to yourself and your clearly skinhead style on the photo in Paris. A website dates it to September 1977, and you to 78. Not much of a difference I know but in terms of skinhead revival these few months were crucial, with Sham and all that.
My questions are: 77 or 78? When did you adopt the look? And did you do so by reference to the 1969 wave or was it already part of the nascent skinhead revival? Were you a punk in 76? Did you hold on to the skin look for a while after 78?
It’s mostly for my instagram account called « skinhead_pioneers » (100% non political)
Thanks in advance!
I dutifully replied:
Hello B, glad to answer.
Back in 1969, I was eleven and just started the local secondary school in Barnes. I found that at least 50% of my year had various stages of crops and so I too went off to have a #1 at the barbers. I only had money from my newspaper rounds but nevertheless was able to save up for Sta-pres, DM’s, Harrington’s, loafers (loved the Blakey’s…), a parka, etc. I couldn’t ever afford a crombie or a tonic suit but that’s life….
There was a local youth club just a short walk from me in the high street in Barnes SW London, called the Annex. It held a Sunday night disco every two weeks and being a working-class area, it was mostly frequented by ex-skins or smoothies. There were some very violent individuals from around the area that would frequent the youth club; you definitely had to watch your step and there was a fight most nights! The disco they hired played exclusively soul, funk and ska music, and the first time I ventured in there as a naive adolescent, I was literally blown away by James Brown’s funk, The Skatalite’s ‘Guns Of Navarone,’ and Manu Dibango’s ‘Soul Makossa,’ It was a revelation to me and like a bullet between the eyes. I suddenly became aware that there existed another whole world of soul out there (funkier and) that I’d been oblivious to. It was the stuff I craved and instinctively knew I wanted to hear and dance to. While the radio was still pumping out puerile crap for the masses, weekly I was exposed to Desmond Decker’s ‘Israelites,’ Kool and the Gang’s ‘Funky Stuff,’ and ‘Jungle Boogie,’ Zap Pow’s ‘This is Reggae Music, and ’Prince Buster’s ‘Al Capone.”
No photos I’m afraid – too young!
By 1976, I’d been a soulboy for about three years but things were changing and I was transitioning to the punk scene via working for The Subway Sect and The Clash. The soulboy fashions grew ever-wilder too and for a while there was a mutual sharing of venues and fashion. The soul boys would even borrow from punk later that year as fashions crossed over and many soul-boys had their head shaved (including me), during that long, hot summer. So yes, once again I was a skin. (photo below, Sept. 1976).
By 1978 the two-tone scene had arisen and the Clash were filming the movie Rude Boy. The producers of the movie (Dave Mingay and Jack Hazzan), had to try to go back in time during pick-ups and so several times I was asked to shave my head again to maintain continuity. I was fine with it cos half our audience were skins by now and I was right at home with it. So I was a skin for the third time!
(2nd photo from October 1978 in Paris – we were on the ‘Sort It Out’ tour. I know we played the ‘Paradiso’ in Amsterdam on Oct. 21st….)
Thanks for the question B. and to everyone else….keep ’em coming!
It got me to wondering how many of you out there went back and forth through skinhead phases (for whatever reason), and remembered buying clothes again and again….? Maybe it never gets old!
P.S. If you’re on instagram don’t forget to visit B’s « skinhead_pioneers »
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2019 8:21 AM
Subject: Re: Email from website
No problem B. I shall continue to publish your thoughts on the blog because the development of youth culture in Britain from the 50’s onward, and itsInterconnectedness fascinates me too.
Looking back, I can easily see a logical evolution of working class culture – the roots of the early club scene owed much to the progression from teddy-boy to mod to skinhead to smoothie and onto soul-boy. Pop sociologists may dispute this but the undeniable truth was that it didn’t emerge from books or the media. Neither was it manipulated by svengali figures in the background like punk would later be. It evolved from the streets in an almost mass-consciousness movement by the working class kids.
With no general rules and no definable framework discernable by outsiders, it was a scene that has been hard to capture by writers and certainly has not been given its importance in the evolution of the later punk scene. Ultimately, it was a scene which evolved so quickly, existing within its own coded realm, that it was hard to commodify and even harder to exploit – and that’s just how we wanted it! While our middle-class counterparts were busy applying for grants to art colleges and the dole, the working-class kids were out there creating their own fundamentally separate reality.
The nascent punk scene in 1976 also traced its roots back to the past club scene – they didn’t just magically appear one day at a Sex Pistols gig; they arrived at that place from their own linear timelines as a result of actions taken years prior. They drew inspiration, fashions, and members, from a scene that had already existed and evolved for at least the previous two years. We too had arrived there not by chance, but by the inescapable pull of events that were leading many in London down an unknown path, will o the wisp like.
Many of those that we saw nightly on the soul scene would eventually spike up their hair and become punks. They were already pushing fashion further and the organic, unconscious, cross-mixing of genres continued to grow. I vividly remember one particular soul party we were at where Sid Vicious showed up. He was already well known to everyone on the scene and the party was immediately buzzing with word of his presence. Within ten minutes of arriving, he had managed to knock someone out in the kitchen.
I had a white one and a blue one with stripes . They had belonged to an ex boyfriend and his folks had given them to me because he grew out of them .
When Madness played the Hot Club , they asked where I had gotten my Ben Sherman , I had to ask what they meant.
Anyway , it was a different brand but I guess it had all the correct style details .
I needed education on how a proper rude boy / rude girl dressed before I realized that I must have picked up my style tips from some photos .
I was oblivious to style signifiers until I got to the UK.
“I mainly remember the Glasgow show being an absolutley riveting one, with all emotions running very high & battle lines clearly drawn – Joe’s “Get To Fuck” t-shirt, the bouncers physically launching themselves into the crowd from the ledge below the Apollo’s high stage, somebody setting fire to some of the remaining stalls seats as we left & police cars scattering the crowds outside the Apollo by driving straight at them & not stopping. It was a miracle that nobody got hurt. The Crawley show a few days later, was much more frightening on a personal level with gangs of skinheads roaming the hall hitting people at random – and Alan Vega as well of course! I was insulated by the crowd at the Apollo as I was in a centre of row seat about 10 rows back but no such luck at Crawley. And after all the fuss at the gig, managed to avoid the skins on the way back to the station only to find it full of Teds….”
Baker Glare Ahh, those glorious days of mayhem – thanks for the personal memories, Mark Hagan (wherever you are now mate….)