Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Old Mods & Skinheads Looking Back (A Message To You, Rudy)
Danny, 64, pulls his checked button-down collar away from his neck and frowns.
"So what I want to know is, where did the bloody skinheads come from?"
Jimmy, 55, shifts his weight onto his left foot and smiles.
"Places you didn't like to visit, mate."
"I know there was a Mod link," Danny continues frowning, "But in 1968, I was a Mod and just after I'd bought my first proper suit from a tailor, I was chased down the World's End by a pair of skinheads who caught me, slashed my jacket and left this as a reminder of our meeting…" he pulls the collar further away from his neck, turns his head and shows off a 43-year old scar running from behind his ear and up into his white-grey hairline. "The suit was lovely too, in two-tone silver and blue, with two side vents, tapered trousers, four buttons and a dark plum lining."
"Oooph. Must have hurt."
"Yeah, the ripped suit as much as the cut head. I never got why they did it. Why did they fight the Mods and the Hippies?"
"My bother was a skinhead," Jimmy offers, "and he was a psycho, basically. Aged 14 he got dragged home one Saturday evening by two coppers after trashing a train on his way back from a Chelsea game. That must have been around 1969. He was four years older than me, and a right bully. He used to be the school boxing champion—not because he was any good, but because he wouldn't give up, just kept swinging and didn't obey any rules, so no-one wanted to fight him. He used to 'spar' with me and vey kindly used to let me wear the gloves. One of these lumps"–he points to his bent nose— "is a product of those sparring sessions."
Scars compared, the old Mod and Skinhead get to discussing clothes.
"I liked the sharp trousers, properly buttoned shirt and Crombie coat," Danny says. "And the brogues, of course.
"Now there's part of the reason that Skins hated the Mods," Jimmy suggests. "Mods were middle-class, had jobs, money and an education. Proper brogues were expensive which is why work boots, properly shine up were worn along with the turned up jeans and Crombie, or sheepskin coat if you could afford one."
"Yeah, I knew I couldn't be a proper Skin because I was middle class," Danny sighs heavily. "I came from Finchley, and trained to be an accountant."
"That's where you went wrong, see? Skinheads were working class and pissed off about the changing state of the nation back then. Hippies were mostly middle-class layabouts as far as the skins were concerned, and they had no self-respect. The tonic suits, hats and music Skins were into came out of Jamaica, where the cool rudies of West London, Handsworth and Toxteth came from originally. They went to the same schools as the skins and their music, dances and attitude—weirdly influenced by Westerns, I might add—was too attractive to ignore for the Skins who had no 'culture' that they could relate to from their parents or big brothers. I mean, who wants to hear a 20-minute drum solo while stoned out of your mind?"
"The original skinheads weren't racists, were they?"
"Nah, they were class warriors, mate. Or at least they could have been if the idiot element among 'em hadn't loved the way a shaved head and big boots scared people, and got off on the violence."
"And then it became fashionable, of course, which is the end of everything, right?"
"Right. I blame those stupid books by Richard Allen. After the first one was a big seller everyone started moon stomping on to the bandwagon. Remember Slade? A piss-poor metal band from Wolverhampton, they cut all their hair off in 1969 and became skinheads. Didn't work though, so they grew it again, put glitter on their mugs and became pop stars. It was never gonna work for them though, 'cos Reggae was the only music skins would dance to."
"Those Tighten Up albums were great, weren't they? And not just because of the sleeves."
"See, Mods were still into American soul or English rock n roll like The Who or Small Faces at the time, and the original reggae singles were all rare and either only heard at Jamaican blues parties or on pirate radio stations. You had to go out looking for the music, the scene, back then. None of this browsing Facebook for 'mates' based on their 'likes'.Original skins were very community-minded really, there was a lot of support given by the boys and girls to those who chose to wear the gear, cut their hair and be shunned by the rest of society."
"I was a skinhead, briefly. Aged nine or ten, I got my head shaved just like my brother, got handed down his old Harrington jacket and a pair of DM boots, and loved the feel of the outfit. Me and a couple of mates had a great time swaggering around the alleys where we'd play football with our scarves hanging off our s-belts. Mind you, we were always being given grief by teachers for the way we looked. And then David Bowie appeared and it wasn't long before I was being sent home from school for having a Bowie haircut…"
"Later, after Punk had become fashionable (in early 1978) and I gave up on it, I briefly went back to the Skin look. But by then those horrible NF gits had given the look a very bad name, and after a couple of rucks with Cockney Reject fans I went completely the other way."
"Morrissey had a thing for skinheads, too…"
"Naturally. It was an attractive look for people of his—our—age. There's a, waddyacallit … homoerotic appeal to that brutal, shaved look, right? The threat of violence, all that masculine power dressed up in those cute clothes. If you fancy a bit of stylish rough, what's not to like?"