Hello. I want to share with you my recollections and memories of the skinhead scene that I have always been a part of. At the moment I am recovering from falling off some scaffolding, so this has given me time to get to grips with modern technology and given me a chance to reflect for the first time on the subject of Skinhead culture and share with you some of the stories and memories of the past from like minded people which has been prompted by hearing the interview with Symond Lawes on the Brighton skinhead reunion recorded some time ago.
I will start by telling you about myself. I’m a 50 year old skinhead and bricklayer now living in Wendover, Bucks. I grew up around the Camden Town/Somers Town area of London.
When I was a kid, kicking a ball around at night, my mum always said: ‘Be home before the Mods come out!’
This was around 1969, she was referring to the lads, who would have been Mods, who had inherited the same patches outside the local pubs that their elder brothers hung around some years earlier.My parents still called them Mods, and I always thought of Mods as being the the elder statement of skinheads. These were previously the 7/6d’s, that have now come of age. We knew which families they came from, and who they were, and our families knew their families and so on. There were some real tough families in the area at that time. By this time the groups that my parents remembered were growing up, getting married, they were joining the Army and working for Her majesty ( GPO) or staying at one of her Hostels. (HMP Pentonville was near my home)The GPO tower was looming over us, like a calling card, it was a respectable career to aspire to and a lot of us did end up going to Mount Pleasant GPO, after being kicked out of school.
But a further aspiration, was to join the local gang. I was way to young for this at the time but I would look out of my bedroom window, with envy watching this group, evolve from 1968 onwards. I will never forget the sound of the the light buzzing of scooters as the gang rode their inheritance from their older brothers. They were a group of lads who had this tough but smart look about them, They wore mostly denim jackets, with Crombies ¾ length coats, boots and braces. The gals didn’t have the skinhead feathered hair cuts, like they did later. Some of them looked a bit like the Toyah Wilcox character in Quadrophenia. Most of the girls had Crombies but looked feminine but they still looked like Sixties Mod girls, with kilt type minis, they wore their hair in a shoulder length style that hinted at skinhead look. It was a bit like a flat mullet, with a fringe, that looked like it had been cut around a saucer template.
You always looked out for “Names” on the skinhead scene. “Names” who were hard enough to have been kicked out of the local boxing gyms. The word got out amongst the scene. They were always tough Jamaican offspring kids, and they were ALWAYS part of the group. These kids where always in the mix, as some of the top boys, but in many ways smarter. “wiv the threads” a right proper mixed bunch who always fought and hung around together, Skinheads or mods, peanuts, however they were, they were the was the only group you would ever see with blacks kids.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Somers Town like this:
SOMERS-TOWN, a chapelry and a sub-district in St. Pancras parish and district, Middlesex. The chapelry is a compact portion of the metropolis; lies between New Road, the Regent’s canal, and the Great Western railway, 2 miles NW of St. Paul’s; occupies ground which was mainly unedificed so late as 1780; and has a post-office‡ under London NW, and an S.-Police station. Pop., about 14,500. The living is a p. curacy in the diocese of London. Value, £300. Patron, the Vicar of St. Pancras. The church was built after designs by Inwood, at a cost of £14,291.—The sub-district extends beyond the chapelry, and comprises 184 acres. Pop. in 1851, 35,641; in 1861, 39,099. Houses, 3,907.
Some of the lads dressed smarter then the others, the way they dressed reminded me of the slick character in the 70’s TV show “Please Sir” some of the black lads had the Tennis Fred Perry shirts, and braces with “Peyton Place jackets. My mum wanted to see me dress like that, as she fancied the film actor Ryan O’ Neil.
She seem eager to see me in one of those outfits, more then any other form of attire. Later on most of the Jamaican kids were smartly dressed in tonics and loafers especially on music nights and at that time they had the same inner London accents as most of them had come over in the 1950’s when they was babies and a few of the younger lads was born in the UCH the same as me.
On youth club nights I would hear the sound of the club in the Cumberland Market down in NW1. This was mixed with the turn out of the dads and older lads coming out of the Kings Head opposite my house. At the time I didn’t know what the stuff they were playing was, but it had such a infectious bounce to it, and it echoed all around my room at night. I used to tuck my head under my eiderdown. I felt so spellbound by the rhythms and beats. So much so, that I would wake up with it almost resonating like an exact recording in my head the next morning.
This would stay with me for life. Later on I discovered exactly what it was and that it was the ska/rocksteady music. The ska would be played at the early part of the night just as it was getting dark, and the sound would be taken down a level later in the evening with the Rocksteady beat. At the time I was too young to get involved and my nearest encounter of rubbing shoulders with this crowd, was seeing these older kids break away from the group and go on the march to Highbury, on Saturdays. The older lot headed for the boozers and then the North Bank, while we went to the West Stand with my dad,and my mates who all had older brothers in the ranks so with that and the fact that there parents knew mine and who’s boy I was!
As I got older, I would go around me mates gaffs, a lot of their elders had left home to start families. It was almost the unwritten law at that time, that the elder brothers room should remain untouched, and that included record collections. For me, at the time that was heaven. I understood that ska was the main stay amongst Skinhead record collections, although a lot of skinheads at the time, did listen to other stuff apart from reggae there was a popular local band called “The Action” that locals still followed also nearly everyone of them had “Who” and “Small Faces” poster or disc, and also would you believe: “A Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis. which his brother always called his “Shagging music.”
I thought it was a kind of dance at the time and I remember being glad to see those records and posters as it kind of blessed what I thought was a guilty secret of mine, my love of “The Who.” In a way it wasn’t that strange, as we all gravitate to a kind of group or music that attracts us and that was the whole Mod ancestry! It wasn’t quite the mainstream but it was heavy enough to be called Geezers music but it never crossed over to hippiedom which I always thought of as being “THEM” the group you never want to be with. I inherited a hatred of them, not so much the music coz there was a lot of “Blues” which I always loved, and that’s when I started to get more knowledgeable about this kind of music, as I knew that it was the root of ska, a Jamaican take on the blues that they had heard from the Southern states. So this also gave it a blessing to like “The Blues” as well.
My dislike for hippies came from the fact that they all seem to talk posh and they always seemed to be moaning in middle class accents and I despised those military wing greasers.The music consisted of “geezer rock” or white English men who played “Soul” and “Blues” that came out of “Rock” getting it slightly wrong. This was a style that developed by mistake. This clashing together of styles seem to repeat itself later on with Punk which I embraced quickly as soon as I was old enough to welcome it all but I had always being a Skinhead or Suede head since the time I tried to dress like guys from 1968 and 1969.
I have never been anything else as my age stopped me being a Mod. Then Punk came along and there was no way I was going to wear flares and attend concerts with the hairy ones on ice at Wembley!!! I’m pleased to say, that I have lived my life as a skinhead, and never succumbed to wearing flares no matter how out of step I was with the early to mid 70s.
I would also like to touch on something that Skinhead/Suede head discussions seem to overlook, This is when I started to hang around music venues the remainder of Skinheads from early days to the early mid 70s suede heads, were influenced by “Glam Rock” although it was from the less feminine side such as Mott the Hoople and Steve Harley. There seem to be the pre- punk, side which was full of the skinhead types, and that was “Pub Rock”. There were so many of us in our group, we would make our way up to Tally Ho boozer in the north end Kentish town, to see the bands that played there, that included all of us and those who were old enough to get in “legit”.
We were all part of the old gang of would be skins. This time more of them were wearing DMs, and crombies, with either a No2 or slightly grown out suede head haircuts. This was still the family “Skin” very much so, and this was the heavier aggressive sound that was for working class inner Londoners, or any other cities youth. We could relate to it.. it was our Generations “The Who.” I sounded out all of these bands, pre-punk even trying to get down to that London in Essex hotspot which was Southend. I thought Dr Feelgood were fucking magic. My mates started to hunt through those record collections to find stuff like it and in hindsight we enjoyed Kersal Flyers Brinsly Shultz etc….. I loved all that stuff. By then of course we’d turn up trying to get in to gigs (I was still too young by the way) to any gigs that we thought was of that ilk, but once we got to them and heard them there was something more unhinged about some of those bands: “London SS” and the “101ers” need I say more that was my introduction into punk and then for a year or two I indulged my self into it.
I met up with mates all over London, that I knew from Boxing Gyms by way of boxing, regular trips down to the Bridgehouse, when it was in Barking Road also it was only a short walk down to the “Roxy” it was close to us and we used to just to hang out there. We Heard that “Dee Generate” out of “Eater”, was our age so we thought: “Let’s ave some of that.!” Some of the punks were a bit creepy, and a bit too arty, for my liking, but I went with it. There was some crumpet, but the girls were all weird wiv suspenders and stuff, and their knockers were sticking out of bin liners!
This was great for a kid my age, especially the at the “Roxy” the mighty Menace at “The grope and wank her” (Hope and Anchor yes we used to think it was funny!!!!!!) We would chat to Charlie Harper at the George Roby,there was this lesbian down the west end. We used to go and hang around with her with an added idea I was gonna cop an eyeful, but that turned out to be the only place a lot of bands were able to play, thanks to the then Tory run GLC so although I did do a lot of growing up in experiencing ways of female flesh. It wasn’t the lesbo orgy I was expecting.
I will like to add, that at times we could feel a change happening, felt a ruck coming on, there were more swastikas, appearing with some of the punks. My jeans were scruffier but I still wore my black “Peyton Place” jacket and me Fred Perry tennis shirt we used to call em, not polos, they was well cheap then down Petticoat lane or Roman road. I always wore me DMs, and my hair was a bit above No2, I was a punk, but I always stayed a skinhead,too so the Swastika was a symbol that we despised. We grew up with parents and grandparents that had experienced it.
Half the streets were still corrugated fenced up, from Bomb sites, back in the days of me observing original skins I used to read read battle picture library and War picture library, those booklets, you know the kind of thing I mean. I used to have dreams of single handedly wiping out Nazis. I used to go to bed thinking that there was an army of rapist, Nazis hippies and coppers, and Narkie Grasses. and how I can dispose if them.It also was a symbol of The Grease, another reason why we hated them, because of their treachery of wearing what Nazis wore. although we hated “The Filth” and any establishment figure,, we were still working class British people and we was not that rebellious. So I resisted wearing that stuff but we was always up for a ruck people tend to think or want to believe it was the far left that was bovver boys when it was the opposite. I hate politics in music or subcults ,that’s why I don’t hold wiv no S H A R P stuff, but I will say this, we never saw a Tory never mind supported them.
Everyone came from Labour voting working class families,, so we knew what we wasn’t, but never dwelt on what we were or what we were going to be. I hated politics and what’s great about being a skinhead then and at now my age is that it’s like being in stir “You don’t ask questions.” The nonces will be found out and dealt with at some point, and a skinhead gathering is the same for anyone on both sides. Both far extremes will feel marginalised eventually and this it started out as a youth sub culture, and we have taken it with us. It’s what you feel, being a skinhead is all about, and it is what brings us together. As it’s the furthest thing away from being a 14 to 15 year old Mod. Skinhead, Rude Boy in the 1960s, suede head 1970s is politics. Thats what your mum and dad talk about, and as I still haven’t grown up nor do I want to I am a old but proud pathetic old git, and I won’t never change!
Going back to attitude. Well, We did speak in a way that isn’t talked now, but even your hard line trade union lefty activist would be slaughtered by the speak Gestapo now!!! it was another time, there was paki – bashing by gangs of mixed black and white youths especially after the arrival of Ugandan Asians not because of colour but because they were new and strange and our ignorance wasnt enlightened by the lack of integration and not willing to embrace, the culture,, unlike the Irish around our way which was a massive wave of families and for young people the West Indians shared there fashion and music it was ignorance and for us, the it was an overwhelmingly important pastime of fighting. This could be amongst any inner city youth Asians were just another group to ruck with, nothing more or less, as far we were concerned! As a group, privately who knows or cares what your views was away from the the lads was,, there was and there wasnt, least among us anyway and especially skinheads who were the hardest lot of the roughest manors, but I am sure Teds, Rockers, fuck even some working class hippies that went along for the trip as it were spoke like that,or picked on someone or something they didn’t understand that they felt weary of amongst not just kids but everyone at that time.
Most skinheads got a bashing from other skinheads most people amongst us was working class, and most of them were skinheads, or related to skinheads. I recall skinhead battles tales amongst the groups , and later on, about area gangs, they didn’t think in terms of London boroughs, just London areas and it was all very Territorial, for example there was Somers town, were I was, Kentish town, Upper Holloway Archway,Clarkenwell ,Shorditch/Hoxton/ Dalton, Queens Crescent, Camden town, then going eastwards there was Stoke Newington, Clapton and then the East End, Bethnal Green, Mile end , Wapping, Stepney, go further east and you get Canning Town, or West Hammersmith, Chelsea Fulham and Shepherds Bush.
Or you might know guys from these areas from work in the centre or boxing club circuit, or gigs, and you would talk and have a laugh but if you were meeting for a ruck then you be knocking shit out of each other if they were representing the area, and further to that, you might have a West Ham or Chelsea supporter in your local gang who would fight with you if you were called out by another manors lot but as they were mostly Arsenal around our way any friendship went at for that fixture. same goes for an Arsenal supporter from Fulham he’d be rucking his mates at football and come Saturday you looked at the scarf not the person that’s what how mad it was I have been told about it from older skinheads that I used to admire when I was looking at them from my bedroom window, fuck some of these guys are in there 70s now.
It was slightly different when I turned the age to shag and ruck but not that far off, but you get me gist !!! so I think Asians at the time got more of ribbing then a hiding it was other groups but most people would unite if they saw greasers setting on a skinhead or what you deemed as one of your ownAs for the Hambourgh tavern I’ve got my own views on that I was there although not for long we couldn’t get to it, but I remember feeling so fucking angry, to see skins that look like they were on the side of the the filth again it was whipped up by both right and left, press and lay politicians and more so the music press who hated the thought of working class council kids being a force, I don’t blame the Asians, they were young fuel filled lads protecting their area or what was force fed to them,they were young like us and was up for a ruck, like any group of whipped up teenage lads, we wanted to go down here or there and make some working class noise and have a few pints. I’m not a conspiracy weirdo, but there was so many reasons why the fucked up middle class left, the fucked up Nazi right wing plus the broadcast media and music press caused that, as the latter didn’t like something that was based around youth led pastime angst and they didn’t like something that they didn’t make or break because it was real and not manufactured, it was something that we could enjoy and dictate what happened with it. It served our purpose, it gave birth to the boneheads that have soiled a working class culture and ruined the fledgling stages of young rock n roll bands,And took away a good deal of their income at a time when they should of been making it good. We could enjoy a good few years of live working class punk rock, seeing as it was taken away from its own manufacturers and given to people who could enjoy it it started going down hill after the Clash signed to CBS it was salvaged and put to good use but the press wanted it dead. These days we can relax with it as our first love and enjoy the Ska and rocksteady that we adopted, and still love, through our own choice as Middle Aged skinheads, that the music press didn’t intend us to love and there’s fuck all they can do about it!!! I’ve got through a whole pack of 20 smokes, in the time it’s taken to do this, didn’t realise the time, that’s more then i get through in three days, but I have enjoyed sharing this with you all…. as you can tell I can go on for ever about this…
Those days were right proper heady,, faces were on stage,in bands that you knew from seeing them around the chippy/ newsagent in tobert street,,or the youth club, and you know faces from school ,, punk , Arsenal ,especially (Arsenal/Highbury grove ) school , most of the locals around our way went to William Collins ,, I was expelled from secondary schools,, St George’s in St. John’s wood, Highbury grove, ect , only two weeks at William Collins,
I was used to seeing loads of local faces being on telly,, in bands, you took it for granted,(Pauline’s people then Grange Hill) 70s corona drink ads,ect ,, i stopped noticing,,
people from Anna Scher and all that!!! and so on,,but I know who your talking about now ,Low Numbers, they were in the Dublin castle,,i recall ,seen em with Madness,( or invaders, cant remember what stage they were at, the time) loads of us started bands, we loosely played,,,,but nothing proper,,, some bands went further then others,,we were called THE St Pancres Chronical after the local Rag, but we were shit,,, I played guitar but every time I picked i it up , I just ended up playing Blues,,,bending notes,,,and sounding to much like Heavy Rock?,, I was fine with it, but it pissed the rest off,,,so we decided to stick to being in the crowd watching/ listening,
,,coz I knew people from other schools in other manors , we kind of broke away from Cumberland market faces , except for four mates in Robert st,,,and The Crown Flats,local people became just another face ,,you recognised ,and the families they came from,,, and who your dad and grandad drank with,
,There was a local crooner type who went of to the Army,,, geezer called Gary Driscoll,, he was the first local I knew off, that was dragged up there!! To get noted,,
,my ole man used to be mates with the landlord,of the Dublin castle ,then a Irish fella called Barney Finley,,I was. Mates with his boy Raymond,, they passed it on to the present family,,in the late 60s ,we used to run about in there after lock up, two o clock on Sunday afternoons, coz we’d often go to av sunday dinner with them!!so it was only right I would later make that me local,, so i witnessed the start of all that too,,was lucky Spose living between West End and Camden Town,
,,I was able to get into clubs in soho,,in the late 70s coz me dad knew all the faces and names ,Jimmy and Rusty Humphreys ect,, that’s why I was able to hang about the latest clubs, being younger,me dad ran an electrical repair /retail shop ,,in Berwick street,called Friel and Francis ,with me uncle Bob (pic,on the front of oasis album), would you believe,, the first parking metre in Westminster was unveiled outside the shop,and a young spiv that hung about in and out was Alan Suger came down parked his van with hilivery A .M .S .TRADING,,marked on the side,coz he knew the press would be snapping, me dad used to sell his car Ariels,(cute ,, got to love that) anyway they used to rig up the sound in Ronnie Scott’s,
I used to bunk of whatever school I was in ,to work on Berwick street market,,,
,we used wheel the sack barras to pick up the veg and stuff from around what was to become the Roxy before the fruit and veg moved across the river,, John Holt used to have something to do with it , I remember , it was converted from that,,,so that’s why I familiar to it to hang around there,,later,,, coz I was a cocky little shit, and coz Eaters drummer was from the sticks and was our age , we dint want him to out do us ,to be part of it all.. , i knew Id be looked after,,by someone that would be to hand,,if it got to heavy we could UP any older punk that snarled at our presence,,when they did, we was quick to take of our young punk head , and say “we ain’t fucking punks were skinheads”,,,you tossers,,, although we were at the time,,, lot of the older punks were from the sticks,, so when we got snarled at ,, we’d give it our “( we’re from here,you ain’t and you don’t know what’s around the corner on the way out ,)
,,the other local connection was my grandads drinking buddy ,who liked drinking with riff raff,was Constance Lambert, he used to live up Park Village East and come down to The Victory ,in Albany St ,he used to drink like a gooden apparently , corse he pegged it before I or the The Who was born,so he dint see his sons success ,!