Skinheads, Mods and youth subculture

In my medium feed at the weekend was a link to a post titled “British skinheads in the 1980s were young, pissed, and stylish as hell“. I scanned through the pictures, read the accompanying text, and see just a very small slither of a culture and a style that I and my friends wouldn’t have been associated with in 1972, and would have rejected. Yeah some of us were involved it fights at Football matches, it was of it’s time.

As I sit here today, my clothes are still inspired and styled by those days, I’m even comfortable with a #1 haircut. While Richard Allens books Skinhead, Suedehead, Boot Boys, Skinhead Escapes, Smoothies, Terrace Terrors, Boot Boys and the final Mod Rule chronicled a generation, it’s unlikely that any single person experienced more that a few of the fictionalised events as youth culture was moving too fast.

Where I grew up in Hemel Hempstead we were almost exclusively white, and with London our nearest big city which had been hugely multicultural, for hundreds of years, racism just wasn’t a thing. So the toxic, hatred filled skinhead imagery of the 1970’s – 80’s just doesn’t ring true for me.

There are a few interesting videos online, two of the best by Don Letts. Letts was the DJ at the Roxy Club and before that, Chaguaramas, and we were there on New Years Eve 40-years ago at the Clash gig, we walked out, our time had passed. Letts films, especially the story of Skinhead, and it’s predecessor, the Fred Perry Sponsored, Subculture of British Music and Street Style take a serious look at the genre. I’d love the chance to talk to Don one day.

British Youth Culture Films featuring Music

Thursdays Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London discussed and took submissions from the listeners on their top-3 British Youth Culture films featuring music. I’d not heard of many of them, so I hit the BBC iPlayer pause button and made a list of all those mentioned. The films are listed as they came up on the show.

The most popular films mentioned, including by Robert were Quadraphenia, Take it or Leave It, and Babylon.

Quadraphenia (1979) features one Gordon Sumner aka Sting, as we as Phil Daniels and is set in London in 1965. The music is predominantly American acts, but features 4-tracks from the Who.

Stardust(1974) features then “teen pop-idol” David Essex as the pop star Jim Mclean and was a follow-on to the 1973 film, That’ll be the day. It was a surprisingly gritty film, and certainly had an impact on me. The soundtrack is primarily numbers by David Essex and Dave Edmunds(as the Stray Cats).

Babylon(1980) features Brindsley Forde’s character as he takes his reggae sound system based in west London. The film was for the most part set in “current times” and was no a retrospective. It was a relatively low-budget film compared to the first two entries.

Take it or Leave it(1981) autobiographical film of Madness.

Telstar – The Joe Meek Story(2008) set in the 1960’s about about Joe Meek, the flamboyantly gay, tone deaf, songwriter-producer behind the ’60s. Features many 1960’s tracks.

The Harder they come(1972) – Honorary entry, highly rated, not British. Features reggae star Jimmy Cliff(and others), filmed in Jamaica. Reggae soundtrack primarily featuring Jimmy Cliff, but also Toots & The Maytals, Desmond Dekker.

Breaking Glass(1980) London new wave/punk scene – featuring Phil Daniels, Hazel O’Conner and Jonathon Pryce.

Absolute Beginners(1986) Set in the late 1950’s, famously features David Bowie and Bowie tracks, but also Sade, Paul Weller and Gil Evans.

Young Soul Rebels(1991) Set in London 1977 and the Queens Silver Jubilee celebrations and two friends running a pirate radio station. Music features many jazz-funk style tracks popular at the time.

24-Hour Party People(2002) Retrospective on the mid-1970’s  with Tony Wilson setting up Factory Records whose acts included Joy Division(New Order), The Happy Mondays. Features racks by the Clash, the Pistols, Happy Mondays, Simpley Red, New Order.

Human Traffic(1999) features the Cardiff club scene of the 1990’s and a story around a weekend of music, love and club culture. Varied club, trance music tracks inc. Fatboy Slim, Public Enemy, Armand van Helden and more.

Velvet Goldmine(1998) set in 1984, but primarily about the 1970s glam rick era. Surprisingly features Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale, also Eddie Izzard.Music from bands of the glam rock scene inc. Roxy Music, T-Rexx and also contemporary artists such as Thom Yorke.

That’ll be the day(1973) drama set in the late 1950’s/early 60’s with David Essex as the lead, and featuring a soundtrack  of early rock and roll, primarily American inc. Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Bobby Darin et al.

HELP!(1965) drama film featuring the Beatles and their music, but based on a story about Ringo and a ring being a human sacrifice.

The Commitments(1991) – story of a imaginary Irish band the Commitments and their struggles to make it. Features classic remkes by the band of classic songs. Features the vocals of lead singer  Andrew Strong.

Kill Your Friends(2015) drama set at the height of the Britpop music scene in the 1990’s.

Expresso Bongo(1959) drama about the music business featuring Laurence Harvey and Silva Sims, Cliff Richard. Cliff Richard provides much of the soundtrack.

Pink Floyd The Wall(1982) not clear(to me) this film belongs, but it is set in the UK and around the music business. Pink Floyd provide majority of soundtrack.

Control(2007) biopic/profile of Ian Curtis the troubled lead singer of Joy Division. Soundtrack includes tracks from glam rock(Roxy Music, David Bowie) through Punk through electronic and especially remade and original Joy Division tracks.

Backbeat(1994) dramatization of the Hamburg(late 50’s) period of the Beatles. Soundtrack by various artists from the time.

Flame(1975) drama featuring the band Slade as 1970’s band Flame. Features reworked Slade tracks, also many stars of the then pop-music industry are in Cameos.

Bronco Bullfrog(1969) gritty East London drama covering the period and influences that lead to the Mod movement.

A Hard Days Night(1964) biopic drama of a day in the life of the Beatles.

Radio on(1979) road trip drama set in 1970’s Britain. Soundtrack features Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Born to Boogie(1972) – features Marc Bolan and Ringo Starr pseudo documentary about T-REXX.

Nowhere Boy(2009) dramatization of the formative years of John Lennon. Sountrack features tracks by Elvis Presley, Dickie Valentine, Gene Vincent and others, as well as remakes of tracks by cast members.

Beat Girl(1960) (I assume not the 2013 DJ based remake?) Released in the US as Wild for Kicks. Set in the late 1950’s features numerous British character actors including Adam Faith, Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee. Notable John Barry’s first music soundtrack commission, with vocal tracks performed by Adam Faith.

Blow-Up(1966) archetypal mod photographer shoots mysterious beauty drama featuring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave et al. great jazz soundtrack by Herbie Hancock.

Performance(1970) Classic Nicolas Roeg film about an east London gangster and a former rcok superstar. Stars Mick Jagger; also an appearnce by one of my favorites from the 1970’s Callan series, Anthony Valentine.Sountrack features track by Merry Clayton and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and one by Jagger.

Sid and Nancy(1986) morbid biopic about Sid Vicious of the sex pistols; features Gary Oldman. Soundtrack features classic Pogues performances, also Joe Strummer and the Sex Pistols and others.

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle(1980) “documentary” about the Sex Pistols break-up, from the point of view of Malcom McLaren the Pistol manager. Soundtrack includes many Pistols songs specially engineered for the album using older lyrics and band members, as Johnny Rotten refused to participate.

Catch us if you Can(1965) released in the US as “Having a wild weekend”. Eponymous movie named after the David Clark 5 (DC5) hit, filmed at the peak of their success. The film is a drama about a model and a stunt actor.

Still Crazy(1998) (incorrectly called Strange Fruit on the Elms show). Features Billy Connolly, Jimmy Nail and Bill Nighy, as well as many others. The seminal 1970’s band “Strange Fruit” reuniting after twenty years of silence. Soundtrack contains tracks by the cast, written by the likes of Chris Difford, Mick Jones, and Jeff Lyne(ELO).

It couldn’t happen here(1987) Surreal Pet Shop boys movie, based on memories of Lowe/Tennats childhood, crossed with Mrs Thatchers late 80’s England. Ensemble British cast including Barbara Windsor. Soundtrack by, and featuring classics of the Pet Shop Boys.

Smashing Time(1967) Comedy drama filmed in London and written by George Melly. Stars Rita Tushingham, Lynn Redgrave and Michael York. Lots of satire, also Juke Box Jury is parodied.


Spinal Tap(1984) American film, Directed by Rob Reiner and set in 1982 about a British heavy metal band, Spinal Tap. Film didn’t qualify for a formal entry in the list as it is staged around the bands American comeback tour, filmed in California, and thus not about British youth culture. Soundtrack features songs written and performed by the cast.

The Rutles(1978) original title All You Need Is Cash. charts of the adventures of the prefab four, a total Beatles send-up. The soundtrack also parodied many Beatles songs, and features the work of Neil Innes of Monty Python. Actually, if you like the Beatles, this film is quite good, if you don’t like the Beatles, this film is very good.

From the Robert Elms Facebook page:

British Hustle(1978) – Few details, seems to have been a film shot at Clouds, Brixton, featuring some of London’s club dancers at the time, including Tommy Mack. Also includes Greg Edwards as DJ.From this clip and this clip on YouTube, seems to be a documentary rather than movie.

Pirate Radio(2009) original title The Boat that Rocked. Movie about the early days of pirate radio, set in the 1960’s, primarily a comedy parodying Radio Caroline. Soundtrak contains many classic tracks from the time, mostly British.

Stuart Kolnick, Recycled Sounds (Omaha, Nebraska)

I mentioned this list and the show on Stuarts facebook page. Stuart runs a fantastic used music and record shop. He is a brillaintc resource, and in a flash came back with these two films which hadn’t previously been listed.

Rude Boy(1980) Features The Clash and a fictional roadie as well as actual events from the time. Shot in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Soundtrack includes live, rehearsal and recorded versions of Clash tracks.

Dance Craze(1981) documentary film about 2 Tone. Film includes broad selection of live performances of 2 Tome bands at the time including Madness, Bad Manners, The Specials, The Beat.

LPSDo you have any others to include in the list? The classification was British, and Youth Culture, that featured music. Documentaries were not really included. Feel free to add a comment below and I’ll update the post.

While you can find copies of most of these movies online, many legitimate through the British Film Institute aka the BFI, also through streaming services such as Amazon, and Lovefilm, I’m not going to include links here.

Bowie – Changes

Today mark’s the release of a new David Bowie single, Blackstar, also the title track of his 25th Studio album to be released on Bowie’s birthday next year.

dare-death-of-rock-n-roll600-1[1]The Fred Perry Subculture website has an extract from a David Laurie book, called Dare. I have to admit, I found a couple of the claims somewhat troubling.

How Bowie & Kraftwerk Inspired The Death of Rock’N’Roll

Screams the subhead, and book cover, along with

[David Bowie and Kraftwerk] invented modern pop music

I admit, I have not read the book. While I can see some validity in the death claim, except I doubt anyone in the US would actually agree Rock and Roll is dead, even today. I just don’t agree that Kraftwerk, and/or Bowie invented modern pop music.

David Lauire says of himself “David Laurie was 14 in 1982, living in an endlessly damp, grey South Wales”. Coincidentally, 10-years before that, as a 14-year old, in April of 1972, I was watching David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars in High Wycombe.

There is no doubt about his influence then, but I do think this is taking what Bowie did, and fitting it to a chosen narrative. ie “Can you write about how Bowie invented modern pop music?”.

Rather than Bowie being and driving the change, what he really did, more than possibly anyone else, was make the changes to himself, his own music, to stay relevant. The changes would have happened without him, it was his realization and ability to move with the changes that set him aside from his peers… The Soul diva persona was a direct response to the dance music revolution that had started in earnest in 1972 in London and was growing rapidly through the mid-70’s. Glam Rock was dead…

I’d argue, somewhat more tenuously, that his electronic music, and man who fell to earth period was little more than Bowie thrashing around trying to find a way to be relevant with the emergence of punk, and equally more electronic music, along with Eno two guys with history, trying to find a future. The Berlin Trilogy a good justification for this, it wasn’t until the b-side of Lodger, with it’s more traditional Alomar guitar riffs, and more regular beat that Bowie found his rhythm again, and this continued on Scary Monsters.

So, yes no one predicted his new personas, because at the time, only the people dependent on the Bowie income stream cared. Pop culture, fashion and youth movements wait for no man…

“Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time”

Thatchers impact on me

Listening in on BBC Radio London, and watching the social media around Margaret Thatchers death has been difficult. She was polarizing in life, and so in death. Billy Bragg, Morrissey both wrote long pieces on the effect, and impact of what she did. @ragtag aka Karl Roche a former IBM colleague posted a link to Russel Brands piece on Mrs. Thatch. in yesterdays Guardian.

Brand makes many good points, especially near the end when he says:

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship.


I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship – it’s just not British.

I’m not getting dragged into the venomous, partisan discussion about what she did and didn’t do for Britain. Unlike Brand, I am old enough now to understand what Thatcher did for me, and why. I can never say how, what, and where I would have ended up if she had not existed, because she did.

Margaret Thatcher was clearly a reaction to the post 2nd World War Britain. A country that lost half a million people in the 2nd World War, almost 1% of its’ total population. The devastation to London and the home counties was second only to those European countries and cities who had been in a direct battle. In post war Britain, everyone came together, great numbers of people came from the north of England, from the West Indies and from Ireland to help rebuild, to create the new communities.

Britain came into its’ own, united, social, and made great gains and great recoveries. I grew up in a town that housed some 70,000 people, that for the most part hadn’t existed 10-years before I was born, it was just a small town. There were six similar towns, all around London.

Britain had been at the forefront of many things, culture, music, art, while flower power didn’t start in the UK, it quickly found a home in London, we had the swinging sixties, The Beatles, The Stones, David Bailey, David Bowie, Roxy Music. Heck in 1966 England even won the Soccer World Cup. My generation had everything to look forward to, including not having to suffer from the dour and gray days of pre-war London, the Rachman like exploitation suffered by recent immigrants in West London, we lived in a relatively affluent suburb, with plentiful council and social housing.

We also had loads of job opportunities  both heavy industry and technical industry, administration and the emerging information society. Things were not perfect, many of the old industries were suffering from intransigence of the Unions; Industry and the Unions lacked the vision and competition to be successful in the new world order, driven by the emergent Japan and the other European countries buoyed by the US Marshal Plan, of which Britain had been the biggest recipient we were floundering.

For me though, the election of the Thatcher government in 1979, took me from the euphoria of the early 1970’s, laced with the frustration of the 3-day week, to wondering how, and what to make of myself. My parents took advantage of the Thatcher governments “gerrymandering” and bought their council home. The effect over the next few years was to fundamentally change the country, riots, no chance of social housing, little chance of private rental, soaring mortgage and interest rates, the “me” culture.

When I first met my future wife, Wendy. Our first home was a rental on the ground floor of a damp, Victorian house. It was super expensive, came with its own mold, wallpaper wouldn’t stay on the walls in the bathroom and the kitchen, because the walls were so damp.  The chances of getting a mortgage were no existent. We went to see the council, and were seriously advised that the best way to get any chance of a council home, was for Wendy to have a baby, and for us to live apart. I was astounded, speechless, angry.

We’d gone from the bright future of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s back to the 1930’s. Job’s were scarce, communities had been decimated, people were rioting on the streets. I managed to get a job with Canada Life Assurance in Potters Bar. I had no idea where it would lead, but it came with the possibility of a Life Insurance backed mortgage at preferential rates. 1980, we moved into a small, terraced house, built in 1896, and were paying the preferential mortgage rate of 15%. Yes, 15%, and when Wendy and I decided to start a family in 1982, and Wendy stopped work, my salary was barely covering the mortgage and bills, there was no real alternative housing.

It’s not that I felt anyone owed me anything, but it’s hard to explain, given I had not lived through a war, not been transported to a different country, not been subject to a family breakup, in fact to this day, I’ve never been unemployed a day in my life. But everything had changed.

And so it was when I got a phone call from a recruiter, a bank from NY was coming to London and wanted to talk to me. I went for the interview, and when on the same day as the interview, they offered me a job, I stopped at High St Kensington tube station and made a call to Wendy. “Where had I been?” – “what had I been doing?” – I would be home later and explain it all. I bought a babygrow for Ella before getting on the train and the next 4-weeks were a whirlwind, as we first made a decision to move to New York City, and then rapidly set about closing out our former lives in England.

I can say with all honesty, not that I’d ever met Mrs Thatcher, or because the British are bad people, but I couldn’t see how I’d ever get a fair chance in the UK. I’ve never looked back. I can’t say how things would have been different if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been Prime Minister, because she was. What I do know, having been thinking about this a lot over the last few days, is that I made Norman Tebitt proud, I did what he extolled us to do in 1981, I got on my bike and rode out of town.  Maggie would have approved.

Many, if not all my core beliefs though are the antithesis of Mrs Thatchers’. I do what I can for others, I believe in a social safety net. I believe government has a role in setting and defining how we should lead our lives; I believe in a fair taxation system, where those that have the most, pay the most; I believe in a common, state funded medical system; I believe that workers should have the legal choice to organize to defend themselves against an exploitative employer; I don’t know if this was because of the socialist culture that I grew up in, or as a reaction to what I watched get destroyed, or just because, well they are the rights of a society.

For all that though, I can’t see what all the fuss was about, Mrs Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, did the job she was elected for. My American friends to this day don’t understand that in Britain we don’t elect the Prime Minister, we elect a MPs. they belong to a party, and the party MP chose their leader. Mrs Thatcher was for perhaps as much as 10-years, a leader.

My parents, their peers, knew what they were voting for and got it. Mrs Thatcher though never built anything that society wanted or needed, compared to those that had come before her, she’d never really passed any substantive, lasting law, except the 1980 Housing Act. Most of which followed, despite her ladies not for turning aspiration was either reversed, not implemented or superseded. In comparison with Clement Atlee, Mrs Thatcher never built anything, she just tore things down and sold them off. As Brand said “If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t”.