AS WE RECALL IT

As we recall it……

I have my best friend at the time, James Armstrong, to thank for turning me on to Ska and Reggae back at the end of 1967. Jim is a couple of years older than me and one day handed me a then new copy of Club Ska ’67 as the music just didn’t do it for him – fortunately it did for me and the rest is history.

By the end of 1968, my hair was cropped, I’d managed to afford a pair of Levis, braces, Doctor Martens and a single Ben Sherman. This would be later followed by Levi Sta-Prests, a ‘Sky Jump’ Harrington, another Ben Sherman and several more-affordable Brutus shirts. That was a terrific amount of expenditure in those days! All from Mr. Byrites in sunny, downtown Basildon. Normal footwear would also have been the Royal or Brogue style of shoes for those rich enough to have more than one pair, which counted me out – summer or winter, I had just the one pair of boots, no shoes until the 70’s but wasn’t alone.

*Interesting fact – laces on D.M.s were often changed for longer ones. Sometimes leather with odd metal ‘springs’ on the ends, which lasted all of 5 seconds before falling off. Why the longer laces? to wrap around the top of the boot and ties at the front after inserting through the tab which would then hold it down so everyone could read that you wore ‘Air Wear’ boots (DM’s were known as Air Wear before anyone knew who or what Dr. Marten was. It said Air Wear on the tabs so that’s what they were known as. Simple! Along with the red tab on the back of your Levis, this was essential for showing that you had bought the best (“in with the in crowd”) – no need to have a name on your Sherman or Brutus. These stood head and shoulders above all other shirts!

We also adopted the stainless steel comb which had to be worn in the left hand rear pocket; the blokes had the full width teeth versions, the Sorts carried the half teeth – half handle type, more often enough with the tip sharpened. Don’t ask why – or why blokes with cropped hair needed combs!!

*Interesting fact – Hair was cropped at that time, usually a number 1, 2 or 3 – no shaven heads. That was strictly for ‘old men’. Who wanted to be old? we were only just starting to live.

But this is jumping the gun a bit as the early Skins were wearing plain dark blue ‘Jeans’, (denim was not a buzz word, then) plain white t-shirts,  braces, working boots, a corduroy jacket (again, jean jackets were still not around at that stage) and for winter, the luxury of a Donkey Jacket. why? because this was all basic blue-collar working mans clothing and was more-or-less affordable.

*Interesting fact – The first Shermans that we saw locally were mainly the plain Oxford weave ones – great ‘cos we could wear the white ones to school! Next we saw the traditional gingham check ones in black, red, light or dark blue. Very popular, maybe because this reminded us all of home as the same pattern could be found all over households at that time as table cloths or curtains. Later, we got the great checks patterns which have still never been bettered in my opinion. Brutus or Shermans – the patterns were the absolute Dogs.

The sleeve cover of Skinhead Moonstomp is a unique time capsule window into our history showing most of what is mentioned above. I’m guessing that the picture was taken mid-’68 to early ’69. note the lack of Martens yet what appears to be a mix of Corduroy and Jean jackets, note also the 1/2″ braces and possible button-down shirts.

Original Levi’s were all ‘Shrink-to-Fit’ – a style left over from the ’50’s, where one put them on, then sat in a bath of freezing cold water for as long as you could suffer. they would then literally cling to your body shape. Better yet, they would actually hold that shape and looked superb!

*Interesting fact – original Levis were thick denim material used way back in the US to make miners tents and therefore made to last, unlike the modern equivalent of today; when you washed them, it was possible to stand them up in the corner of the room completely upright, they were that rigid and that strong. Try doing that with any brand at all today.

‘Jeans’ were suddenly in and we then saw the Jean Jacket – which had probably been around for years but not seen previously as a fashion item, they were meant to be a simple working day garment. Levi is still the one to own today, an original earns you kudos.

yep! they got the look. Lean and hungry.

*Interesting fact – Tattoos. Frowned on originally as being the domain of not only Greasers and Hell’s Angels, but also of the Navy/Merchant Navy. No self-respecting Skin wanted to be associated with any of these groups – even the Air Force and Army didn’t want to be linked with the Navy. How times have changed. Besides, ink parlours were not exactly commonplace and certainly out of reach of the average school kid! Sure, there was some self-inking done but crudely and usually on the knuckles. Nowadays, every one and his dog sports ink. some good, some bad.  Which takes me nicely on to piercings – considered at the time to be only for gypsies or for Gay men. Not saying another word.

All the ‘Spirit of ’69’ stuff is wrong as we were there in ’68, but then being so close to London I suppose we got the new fashions that much quicker than the rest of the Country – remember that this was at a time when there was no social media, internet, Facebook, cell phones,  just word of mouth and, of course, the media getting it wrong – -nothing has changed there, then! Even TV was not available in all corners of the UK and some were still struggling to get something other than BBC1 and ITV channels – BBC2 was just a twinkle in the BBC’s eye and Channel 4 was not even dreamt of at that time. If you check the net, it reveals that there were Skins around from as early as late ’67.

*Interesting fact – we referred to our groups as ‘crews’ and I’m guessing this was due to the military style influence of our look – crew cut hair, trousers above the boots and the occasional ‘flight’ jackets were all combat style possibly copied from the US troops in Vietnam, but Camo gear and ex-Army stuff??? never! 2nd-generation , maybe – but the media referred to us as gangs. Wrong again! ‘Crews’ were what we were.

I guess around late ’69 we got tonics – the first was a beautiful Blue/Green mix. There was only the one choice, so we all had it. This would be later followed by Red/Blue. Later we got Green/Gold just as Relco produce them today, then almost too late, Blue/Gold appeared right at the very end of the 1st. wave. Sheepskins were all the rage for a very short while, I put this down to the weight and also the cost – damned expensive back then, and where could you trust to leave it while you danced or drank? Nowhere.  Then came the Crombie. Oozed style and class. A single fold hankie held in with a tie-pin. Nothing fancy like today’s triple-peak version, and if you were really hard up, you simply pulled up the red lining and pinned that instead.

At this time, Loafers and round-toed shoes especially those by Solatio became the next vogue, moving away from the familiar pointiness of the Brogues and Royals. Perfect for my wide feet I could never fit into winklepickers and later shoes. Result!

Not to be outdone, girls of the time wore Sta-Prests, shirts and braces although not many wore the boots, times were still very conservative and parents still strict (whatever happened to that?). Here’s the rub: black tights or fishnets were not worn at that time – at least not pre-70’s – as this colour was linked to not only stage entertainers, but also the wealthy/classy and also Ladies of the Night, and Motorcycle girls (aka Greasers). No self-respecting parent would have let his girl out dressed like that. Regular flesh tones, white and Ochre along with the much more popular Chocolate brown was the order of the  day. During the 70’s, the Chocolate colour was further enhanced with pattern going up the outside of each leg – quite daring for the time. Oh yes, and skirts really were that short – left over from the mini-skirt fashion. Can’t fault it! Linda assures me that earings were either the round hoop variety or ball stud kind, maybe with a fake jewel bedded in it. Other than that, a plain silver broach in the shape of a Dragon fly, Lizard, etc. Can’t say I ever looked a girl’s ear too often.

*Interesting fact – it was very, very unusual to see a girl with razor-cut hair. Those you did see were the ones that were trouble with a capitol T. As can be seen from the old photos above, the ‘Feather Cut’ was what most girls had and it was very unusual to see a girl in boots – if they did, it was only when worn with Sta-Prests or Levis – never with skirts or dresses!

Just before we got Tonic, the girls had Trevira, a wonderful material and much sought after today. Usually in petrol blue, but Linda had a brown with gold pinstripe Trevira suit when I first met her. She reeled me in hook, line and sinker.  Later they got those damn Angora jumpers which would leave fine hairs all over our black crombies, made worse when under the lights of youth clubs and venues! They were a pig to brush out, too.

*Interesting fact – girls having their ears exposed ? Neither Linda nor I can ever recall seeing that, It came much later!

Whilst everyone and his dog saw fit to wear white socks I started wearing red ones ‘cos I hated anything that reminded me of PE/PT classes from school (and also why I have made no reference to Fred Perry’s which were nothing more than school Airtex vests with a logo on). I’m not claiming to have started the fashion and may well have seen someone else wearing them first, but when I traveled daily from Laindon to Southend to attend college, no-one else wore red to begin with. In fact, it was said so many times that people could tell we weren’t from Southend because we looked so different. Once we had been there for a few weeks, it was noticeable that others were beginning to drop their white socks in favour of red. By the end of 1970, red was and still is the accepted colour. Nice to have been in at the start.

*interesting fact – girls were referred  to as Sorts, a term which has been around for years (and not coined by Richard Allen!) and had a generic meaning – this being ‘type’ or ‘kind’ A tasty sort; a hard sort, etc,  but they were also known as Doris’s .

Around 1971 we saw the high-legged Dr. Martens and the bleached Jeans, which almost instantly became ‘de rigeur’ for the rising National Front movement and which eventually hi-jacked the Skinhead fashion along with the Football Terrace violence. Anyone with a violent streak hid behind the uniform of the Skinhead and the Media were quick to tar us all with the same brush, thus sounding the death knell for the original and first wave of Skinheads who wanted nothing to do with this madness – serious skinheads were there for the music (Reggae, Motown and Atlantic/Stax Soul, along with a sprinkling of James Brown), the fashion and good times.

The worst period of all was when we morphed into Coco Clown check trousers – I had a pair, very sad to say and looked a right Prairie-hat in them!

Skins began to grow their hair out resulting in the Smoothies or Smooths, our beloved button downs got rounded tulip collars and – god forbid – we started wearing flairs or bell bottoms. For Pete’s sake!!

above: young Smoothies heading for extinction.

Martens were traded in for shoes by Ravel in gaudy colours and everything went south.

I clung on to the look quite literally until my Martens fell apart, then the poor economic climate of the day prevented me from buying new ones, and to top it off, Shermans, Brutus and tonics had disappeared from the High Street.

Beers of the day was Harp or Skol Lager and Watneys Red Barrel, IPA was only available in half-pint bottles and was only for mixing with Bitter to make, obviously, Light & Bitter. Girls started on Port & Lemon but they soon had Bacardi & Coke which became THE drink.

*Interesting fact – Monkey boots and Jackets were never part of the scene, at least not down here in the South! These were for those on the fringes who kind of wanted to look like us, but didn’t want to be branded as possible trouble-makers, and were mainly worn by those not in any camp (Skinhead, Hippy, Greaser, etc). Bit like middle of the road pop music – bland and mindless; incapable of making it’s mind up where or what it wants to be.

These are of course, our memories of how it was. On trips to London to see Ska and Reggae acts, we didn’t notice any differences all those years ago.

If you were an original Skin, we would love to hear what you recall from pre-’72.