From Sounds, November 10th, 1984
The recent Desmond Dekker show at Dingwalls was something of a revelation. Down the front were a score or more skanking skinheads, not yer usual clods in combats with a tube of Airfix stuck in their back pockets and ‘cut here’ temptingly tattooed across their Adam’s Apple.
No, these sharp-dressed droogs were sporting whistles and brogues.
“The blokes were in Dogtooth, Prince Of Wales check or Tonik suits,” wiry Hard As Nails fanzine co-editor ‘tattoo’ Paul grins in delight at the memory, “and the birds were in Trevira, proper penny loafers and lacey tights. They looked the business.”
Just one of the many signs of a skinhead renewal taking place in our green and pleasant. Not so much a case of ‘Skins are back’, more a re-emergence of original skinhead ideals.
The degeneration of skinhead as a style over the last two years can be traced directly to the dissipation of 2-Tone and the failure of Oi! to rebuild after the Southall disaster, in particular with the demise of the original 4-Skins, the original Business, Blitz and the Violators.
As the skinhead scene turned sour, the cream of the last generation either went casual or straight, while the gumbies stayed as dumb as ever.
The new emerging skinhead scene is too sussed to dabble in dodgy political extremes, just as its exponents are too smart to settle for the scarecrow look when there’s still decent Ben Shermans and ox-blood Royals to be had. Best of all, it’s not just a London thing.
The main bands are Burial from the Scarborough area, and Red London from the North east (who are much better live than their wishy washy Razor vinyl outings would have you believe).
There’s also the Oppressed from South Wales (who are spirited but too derivative and stuck in 1980 for their own good) and most intriguing of the lot the Marylebone Martyrs, a South London soul/ska suedehead band kept out of this round up only by their lamentable lack of a guitarist.
Mobs to be proud of include the legendary South End Clockwork Patrol, the Britannia Scooter Club, and the Cardiff skins who populate the Lexington where the juke box jumps to the sounds of Trojan, Sham and the Cockney Rejects, the new skin scene remembering its roots enough to think as much, if not more, of ‘Tighten Up’ and 2-Tone as the sharper Oi! bands.
In London, sussed skins have congregated over the Autumn for the Wednesday night Revival Express at Gossips, featuring selections from the Trojan, Sue, Studio One, Coxsone, Stax and Motown catalogues, not to mention new cropped personalities like French Cyrille and Millwall Trev. having recently parted company with Gossips, the Revival Express will be re-opening at another central London location shortly.
Peaceful co-existance with Mods is another healthy development (doubtless fuelled by the on-going phenomenon of scooter skins), and the movement’s equivalent of Sniffing Glue (or Maximum Speed) is Hard As Nails produced by a couple of rogues from Canvey Island called Paul and Ian.
The front of the next issue is headlined ‘Sussed skins against the scum’ and features a smart skin with a neat Ben Sherman and a Trojan Reggae tattoo having ‘words’ with a typical ’84 scruff.
“I genuinely hope sussed people can take skinhead back from the scruffs,” says Ian over a pint of ben Top.
“Most so-called skinheads today are just bald punks. Skins had nothing to do wit bald heads, sniffing glue and birds in 18 hole docs.”
Both Ian and Paul are British Telecom workers in their early 20s and they insist that HaN is a style mag. They first started their ‘zine in August 1983, inspired by the Phoenix List, the weekly Mod news sheet/event guide.
“We wanted to create a focal point for sussed skins,” says Paul.
“In many ways it was a reaction against the skin scene, ” adds Ian, “which was dominated by the Last Resort or the Sun idea of skins rather than the real ’69 skin-ideals.”
“Even the TV reflected the glueheads, the bald punks rather than real skins,” says Paul.
Why do you think the skinhead movement went wrong?
Ian: “Because of punk. In some ways it was positive, it brought about the revival but too many people followed the wrong line.”
Paul: “Skinheads became just an extension of the punk shock thing with the bald heads and the tattoos on the forehead – it doesn’t make you look hard, it makes you a laughing stock.”
Ian: “Real skins have got more in common with Mod than with punk. The bald punks, the Last Resort skins, picked up a real moron element, people who think it’s hard to be ignorant.”
Paul: “Being working class doesn’t mean being a thick gumbie, that’s what’s been wrong with skin ‘zines before.”
Ian: “They’ve been patronizing, they’ve talked down to people. Y’know, pages with one big pic and twelve words. Or that Chris Ryan book with print like a Janet And John book.”
What about the positive side of skins?
Paul: “My great hopes for the future are Burial, the Redskins, and the Oppressed, even though their lyrics are a bit caricature.”
Ian: “Whether you like their politics or not, the Redskins are the only band with real chart potential at present, the only ones who can appeal to a wider audience like the Specials did. Sussed skins like the Redskins more for their music than their politics.”
Paul: “The Specials AKA are the only relevant 2-Tone band left – there’s always got to be room for reggae and ska in any skin movement.”
And the future?
Ian: “There’s a small healthy revival, or should I say continuation of skinhead ideas. There are pockets of people all over the country, but I hope it never becomes a mass thing again because then it’d become commercialised. Hard As Nails is about skinhead style first and foremost. We’re the Face of Oi! and the voice of ’69.”
Hard As Nails has appeared three times, firstly as a limited experimental run of just 75. The second issue sold 250 copies and the last one has sold 300 and will probably run to another print (send large SAE and 30p to PO Box 11, Canvey Island, Essex SS8 9RY for a sample). The next issue, the Xmas edition, comes out soon and pride of place inside it will be an interview with Burial.
Impressed by the merry Madness/early Specials style ska of ‘Old man’s Poison’ balanced by the bite of the more Oi-some ode ‘Friday Night’, I recently journeyed to Scarborough’s Elvanhome Club to catch Burial’s live act, which showcased a similarly spiffing split personality.
Variously consisting of nifty bluebeat beauts and beefy Oi! excursions, the highlight of the set came with the crazed calypso of ‘Sheila’, a number already described by one expert as sounding ‘like a head-on collision between a sulphate-charged Kid Creole and Bad Manners on a beano’.
Earlier we congregated for a conflab in guitarist Barney’s bedsit, attractively decorated with old Sounds skin features. As well as barney and Chris, there’s vocalist Mick, bassist Ashley and drummer Charlie. Also contributing live is moonstomping man-mountain Nick, a cross between Chas Smash and H from the Rejects days. He’s 22 and a shop steward, four years older than the others who are variously dole boys, industrial butchers, and in Chris’s case, ‘part time God’.
Inspired by 2-Tone and early Oi!, Burial hailed from neighbouring Malton and first gigged in 1981 as a four-piece, with Upstarts fan Barney (from Lefthouse near Middlesborough) completing the line-up in ’83 after leaving his first band England Today.
“The skinhead scene was a great laugh back in 1980,” says Ashley, “I don’t think it’ll ever be the same again.”
“It was dance music, ” says Mick, “and that’s what Burial are trying to bring back. I like everything from Rod Stewart to Motown. The 4-Tops and Diana Ross made the best music of all time – apart from Sham. That’s why our set consists of punk, ska and calypso. We’ll play anything that appeals to us, and our songs are all about everyday life.”
What about thrash?
Chris: “We’d never play that, it’s too boring.”
Barney: “Some of the message is good, but I don’t like the medium they use.”
Mick: “We did used to write songs about the bomb and that, but it got too bleeding miserable. My attitude is while we’re here, let’s have a laugh. Only about a hundred people have got any say about dropping the bomb anyway. I’m no coward but if I ever saw a mushroom cloud, well, I’m a butcher, I’ve got a knife on me all the time, and I’d cut me throat straight away.”
Their chief concern is the decline of skinhead music.
“The music declined because the bands got bloody bad, ” says Chris, “and so much crap was coming out. Too many bands were copying GBH and couldn’t play a note. There’s not one band left from ’81.”
Currently the band are trying to link with Weller’s Respond label and/or the Madness Zarjazz adventure – the nutty ones apparently being on the look out for a ‘really good’ skinhead band.
“We don’t want to sign with some two bob outfit,” says Barney, “just as we don’t wanna be confined to one sort of music. We won’t be categorised.”
Charlie: “We ain’t aiming to be pop stars, but we don’t wanna get stuck in a rut either. We wanna get across to people.”
And that means all people – no spurious North/South, black/white divides with these boys, who, like the HaN herberts, happily co-exist with Mods and admit to hankering after scooters when spondulicks permit.
“A lot of misleading crap has been written about skinheads,” says Barney, “due to an ignorant minority, and we’ve all got tarred with the same brush.”
Mick: “At our Stockton gig the other night I talked to a lot of skinheads and during the gig I made this speech.”
Barney: “What was said, right, was ‘You read in the papers that all skinheads are thick fascist thugs. I’m not a thick fascist thug. Are there any thick fascist thugs in here?’ There wasn’t one response. And Mick said ‘The way to do it is not fighting among ourselves, it’s unity.’ All the skinheads were chanting: ‘UNITED! UNITED! UNITED!'”
Music to the ears and the only way, repeat ONLY way, the new skinhead scene will survive and thrive.