AD5803-Community- Skinhead Culture and History
In the early 1960’s suburban kids began to rebel against their parents, schools and the media to create their own identity 10 years after the Teddies and 5 after the Mods and Rockers by forming the Skinhead community. As the Windrush generation (HMT Empire Winrush, a passenger liner and cruise ship launched in Germany in the 1930s which carried 500 settlers from Jamaica in 1948) entered Britain and started working on the docks with the Cockney working class, many of the young who were entering into work began to look for their role models. The young men shaved their heads and became influenced by the smart attire of their Jamaican friends. Although money was tight the pride in looking presentable and strong became the new fashion. They became united on the dance floor and a mixed marriage of culture flourished with music at its soul. Desmond Dekker and The Pioneers brought together a totally multi-ethnic and non-racial crowd who simply thrived off of the beat and as much as Trojan Records was thrilled at the interest in their music, SKA (skinhead reggae) was created specifically for the UK scene that was sprouting.
Although places such as Notting Hill and Ladbrook Road offered a reggae scene which encouraged multi-culturalness, racism in the UK during the 1960s and 70s was very much still a fact of life with many parents raising eyebrows at their Children’s Black friends. The article below gives a brief indication of the political situation from that time:
There was therefore little surprise when news stories started appearing as Skinheads became linked to ‘Paki-bashing’ in the news, as many thought it almost normal for youths at that time to carry such racist views. However, not all of the scene were like this and the media really began to stir the pot of moral panic within the public, as they had done with Mods and Rockers in the past.
So how could you spot a Skinhead? The Ivy shop in Richmond, which originally opened due to its obsession with Ivy league clothes from the US colleges, became the ‘holy grail’ for the Skinhead scene. John Simmons who owns the store actually named the Harrington Jacket, when he saw Rodney Harrington wearing a Baracuta Jacket on Peyton Place. They sold the jacket a few weeks later in the window as the Rodney Harrington Jacket. Soon the staff became lazy and just wrote the Harrington Jacket and the name has since stuck. Skinheads would dress these with Sta pressed Trousers, originally worn by Mods or Levi Jeans with a half inch turn up. Smart short sleeve shirts and braces with a Crombie coat, were paired with them. In the late 70’s, football fans began to pair this look with Fred Perry polos buttoned up and freshly polished Doc Marten boots. Part of the Shipley Football Firm stated ‘Look after your boots and they’ll look after you’. Brogues and polished loafers were also favoured as footwear amongst Skinheads. The men would have shaved heads and the females a feather cut- both required constant maintenance, epitomizing the very nature of the proud look.
As the first generation of skinheads began to grow old, some turned into hippies in the late 70s, others stayed and some lost their angst fading back into society but their was a second generation on the rise. As football fans regularly travelled the country, many were coming to London and seeing the Skinhead look. They took the influence back home and although London was thriving much of the rest of the UK was in disrepair. As a result, the scene which visually depicted the British Working class spread. Unfortunately, as many of the football hooligans put on their boots, their violent and vocal obscenities linked the Skinhead scene to more media abuse. Football matches back then were a place for young men no longer recruited to wars, to let out their anger in obscene violence as firms controlled the grounds and crowds of their teams. However, this is not to say the Jamaican link had been lost as Two-tone bands such as Madness and The specials stole the hearts of many, it can never be underestimated how much love for the music is in this subculture.
Racism and its ability to spread was becoming noticeably apparent in the scene. In 1970, Richard Allen wrote the book Skinhead whose main protagonist was highly racist but many looked up to him due to his strength, anger towards the state and ability to achieve. The National Front was high in the Polling poles during the 1970s, during football matches and gigs they would try and recruit; at Chelsea football matches nearly 10% of the crowd would purchase the Bulldog, the National Front’s newspaper. The Selector would often have to stop playing as people began heiling and saluting. Pauline Black describes how the Skinhead ambassador would ask her to return to stage stating how they loved the music and it was just a few idiots, the lead singer would then reply: “Convince your other mates that look the same as you, that they’re at the wrong gig”. Nevertheless, as job prospects were nearly non- existent and people didn’t have anything to occupy their time, the NF would send groups of men to take young boys from the estates and offer to take them out. The Shipley football firm described being taken to Scarborough Spa where they were locked in a room to listen to members from the NF talk. Many described becoming members merely for the free music they used to play after their meetings.
Fuelled by anger of the times, the hate from the media and a brewing of racism spreading throughout some of the scene, OI! music began as the new music for the 3rd generation of Skins. The aggression of punk was heard in the hard guitar sounds and crowd jeering choruses, “There was no Black in OI!”. Due to the bands that were racist, Blacks didn’t feel safe at the gigs and this caused many problems for the friends formed from the roots of Skinhead. However, it is not to say all OI! music was racist that would be very incorrect but due to the events of 1981 and the banning of all OI! music by Thatcher, the remnants of genre remained funded by Right Wing groups.
In the Summer of 1981, 200 Skinheads travelled to the large asian community of Southall in London, to the Hambrough Tavern. Unfortunately the OI! scene attracted certain types of Skins, on the way to the pub it is said that several jumped out of cars and destroyed shop windows of local businesses and harassed some of the shop keepers. They were actions which prompted Asian youth to the street and following those incidents, petrol bombs were released and much damage was inflicted to police property and many lives were tragically lost.
The media went crazy at the scene and in 1992, Boneheads such as Screwdriver- a white power band- became affiliated with what OI! stood for. Many fascist Neo-Nazi rallies would take place across the world and due to the pride that the military shows towards their appearance, these people drew similarities from pride of appearance and the work boots from the skinhead scene, tarnishing all that the scene stood for. There is now a clear cut difference within the scene- spirit of ’69 or Blood & Honour boneheads from ’81.
The appeal of the skinhead scene is that they stand up for themselves and for their community. They stand up for what they believe in and even having the hardest time in society, present themselves with pride. Two of the biggest groups to stand against the racism that was rising within the scene was Sham 69’s Rock Against Racism, which eventually broke Jimmy Pussey’s band as fascist supporters would make gigs unbearable and S.H.A.R.P run by Roddy Moreino. Neither wanted the scene to be tarnished by people who clearly didn’t understand its roots and fought against the prejudice they were creating against the Skinhead scene.
Although my personal views are strongly rooted in the spirit of ’69 and I have grown up understanding its foundations, many even in my class today do not understand how the scene has been tainted and where it all began. It is this reason why I really wanted to document those youths who continue the scene in a non-racist/ S.H.A.R.P supporting way, letting the spirit of ’69 live on.
Below are two films about the scene which truly encompass the contradiction within the scene:
All quotes and information has been extracted from the following Documentary about Skinheads below, which I watched years ago on the television and have not seen a more informative documentary about its true roots since: