I was born in the latter half of the 1960’s and therefore missed the boom years of the sexual revolution and the ever decreasing skirt lengths. My parents were trendy and in their mid-twenties by the time I arrived, and like them I was dressed with the fashion. As I travelled through primary school I was mainly in the clothes they bought for me on a budget, with the added layer of mud and blood for a boy who loved being outside playing dangerous games. It was not until the end of the 1970s did I have some control of the clothes I put on my back, and feet. A few small jobs delivering evening newspapers, and a Saturday job sweeping up either in the owner’s florist, hardware shop or tattooist. He was a ex fairground owner with lots of fingers in lots of pies! He paid well, if somewhat inconsistent in sums, from a large roll of notes he carried in his pocket. Sometimes he would give me an extra pound and say with a wink,
“Buy yer mum sumfink nice.”
With my hard earned cash I bough 45 rpm singles from Woolworths who carried the Top 20 and stocked it every Saturday. It was on one of those trips I bumped into a guy from my school. He was all worked up about a new release from his favourite band, The Jam. On the back of his enthusiasm I too bought ‘Eton Rifles’ having never really taken much notice of the band. That was the day I never looked at music the same again. Gone were the records that I thought were nice on the ear, in came the anger of a generation of 4 million people unemployed. The Jam not only offered songs I could relate to, it had a lead singer called Paul Weller and his MOD revival dress code.
Within a few months I had transformed my long hair of the 70’s into something that resembled a number of MOD cuts being brandished by bands on Top Of The Pops. Secret Affair and the Merton Parkas were in the charts and I had new group of friends to boot! Music and fashion drew us together;
Times were so tough, but not as tough as they are now
We were so close and nothing came between us, and the world
No personal situations
Thick as thieves us, we’d stick together for all time
And we meant it but it turns out just for a while
We stole, the friendship that bound us together
(Thick as Thieves – The Jam – 1979)
One Saturday we were travelling on the London Underground to Mile End , located to the far east of the city . There, located a 10 minute walk from the station was Silvermans, an army surplus store of some reputation where you could buy the MOD coat of choice, the M65 US Military (fish-tail) Parka. They were not cheap and therefore this 2 hour train ride was not just a shopping trip, it was a pilgrimage. After finally finding one that had a good fit and not too worn, I wore it home with pride and dreamt on the train what design I would paint on the back, for that was an expectation! My dreaming was shattered as we entered Acton Town station. The word Skinheads! had hit my ear drums and I saw the panic on my friends faces. As the train can to halt the window in front of me was a mass of checked Ben Sherman button down collar shirts, braces and blue jeans and the hallmark Crombie overcoats. The doors slid open with the standard announcement, ‘Mind the gap, please mind the gap.’ I tensed as 30 or so skinheads entered the carriage.
“Oi oi! – The MODS are in town” Went up the cry, and I admit, I was scared.
What struck me was that the group were a mixed bunch. Young, older, female and to my surprise, black kids. I had never been with a crowd of skinheads as my only interaction was with a group of right-wing hairless thugs high on glue chasing me through back alleys at home for sport. These people were different, really different. They sat and stood around us casually taking very little notice of us, until one girl asked me if I had a light for her cigarette. She had bleach blonde hair cut styled in the traditional feather cut for female skinheads. Her eyes were heavily made up and she had small gold hoops in her ears. She wore a white Fred Perry polo shirt that drew your eye to her well formed breasts, narrow waist, very tight blue jeans turned up at the bottom to reveal highly polished oxblood coloured Dr.Martin, 14 holed boots. She was the most sexiest girl I had ever seen in my life up to that point. I pulled out my lighter and held it up with the flame exposed. She lent forward, igniting an orange glow and held my gaze. Two things happened at that moment which remain with me. Firstly she said,
“What a real gent you are MOD boy.” And then kissed me on the cheek laughing.
Secondly, and in the heaven I now found myself in, music started playing from one of the group’s portable cassette players. This was my first exposure to SKA. This fast paced forerunner to Reggae had our carriage companions bobbing their heads like flamingos in time to the beat. For the rest of the journey I was educated by my smoking angel in the reasons why white skinheads and black rudeboys mixed; it was the music and the dance and dance she told me that made everything matter. I was hooked, and to this day Toot and Matays, ‘54-46 Was my number’ still reminds me of the tube ride, my parka and the huge confidence I gained from being part of a fashion revival that shared a love of clothes, music and above all, we were all thick as thieves!