Smooths playing it cool: Bryan speaks

Hello, everyone! Hope life is treating you all very fine!

Before moving on to the post, I would like to remind you that you can also follow The Ballroom Blitz on Facebook. The page is growing steadily and we’re almost 400 people with similar interests. But it’s not about quantity but quality and it’s really nice to have such a great community and to get to know original skinheads, not original skinheads but original style followers and, of course, other vintage lovers. Thanks for the nice feedback, too.

Now, going back to the real topic. As I have said before, I have managed to get in contact with a few original skinheads, suedeheads and smooths via The Ballroom Blitz Facebook PageBryan was an original suedehead/smoothie from the time and he gladly agreed to share some of his photos, thoughts and reflections with The Ballroom Blitz readers. He was too young to catch the skinhead wave of fashion but he was really influenced by all these really cool skinheads and their girls who looked so amazing to him as a young lad. In 1971, at the age of 13, he got into the next style: suedeheads.

“I lived in West London and was lucky enough to be surrounded by Reggae music and black culture – I bought as many 7″ singles as I could with my pocket money and Saturday job wages! I shopped in Shepherds Bush Market and Harlesden for the latest Trojan and Pama releases – the Trojan charts were my bible and tried to listen to every new release each week. I would spend hours in the record shops (my favourite being Muzik City and Websters in Shepherds Bush)”, he says.

Regarding clothes, Bryan adds: “I managed to persuade my parents to buy me a Ben Sherman shirt for school and some Frank Wright black tasselled loafers… And never looked back! My sta-press and tonic trousers came next – after my prized possession of Dr. Martens boots! We got into lots of scraps and mischief – nothing horrific and fairly harmless really. My main passion was music and clothes.”

“I ‘caught the fashion’ of the suedehead at that time and really loved the style – my Crombie overcoat was red lined and had the red silk hankie with a gold pocket stud to keep it in place. My older brother was one of the original Mods from the very early 1960s and I inherited the most amazing sheepskin coat about 1971 – it got ripped in fights, stolen once and recovered after a chase and scrap! I slept out on a beach in it and lived in it day in and out – it still always looked good. I was known for my sheepskin coat! It must have been very expensive as my brother spent all his money on fashionable clothes and buying that coat in 1963 must have cost him a fortune.”

“This photo was taken around late 1972 before the feather cut. The Brutus shirt was one of my favourites and was worn with thin white braces and bleached Levi jeans – they had a tiny half inch turn up – this was just before a QPR football match! There was a fashion for us to wear the cuffs turned back twice. The kitchen was pure 1970s style! That wallpaper was wood effect and had just been completed by my father’s decoration skills :)”

A wider shot:

“My hair went from a short crewcut in 1970 to short ‘suede’ style in 1971 and then we grew our hair so in the 1972 photos, you see much longer hair and by 1973 we became Smooths and Sorts :) with quite long hair – I got this feather cut and then short crop to the top with longer sides – some of the photos show this and small details like the tiny strings of love beads we wore around 1973.  My constant was my crombie overcoat (by this time showing its age and my sheepskin – which looked better and was now ten years old!)”

Circa 1973 – feather cut and Brutus shirt (long sleeved) and rolled high

 “This photo dates from late 1973 (?) – and you can see the Crombie overcoat is showing its age. There is a pink Ben Sherman shirt and the hankie and hold pocket stud. This must have been one of the last outings for this overcoat – it had a dull matt red lining. I have just found an almost exact vintage Crombie overcoat for my young son, Alex, who loves to wear it. There is a date in the coat of 1971 so Alex and I can date it exactly.”

Bryan wearing red socks and Topper shoes in black and brown contrasting shades

“My youngest son Alex in his VINTAGE 1971 dated Crombie overcoat!  What a vintage find.  Alex is already collecting vintage reggae records and is searching for more skinhead gear!  This was taken earlier this year :)”

QPR at home. Is that a disco ball?

Bryan is not so sure about the dates of the next pictures but probably early 1974

“We had taken over an old garage/lock-up to use as our meeting place. We had some great parties in there. That’s me on the far right of this photo – tartan scarf and cardigan worn with rolled up army surplus jungle greens and DM boots. Some of the other lads are wearing Southsea denims and Harrington jackets – the black lad is Norman Jay (now the world famous DJ – and still my best friend :)  The lad at the back is wearing some navy blue overalls which became popular around this time with football supporters – as well as white overalls influenced by the film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – the flag was a wall decoration and not to be confused with the right wing idiots who came to hijack our style in the 1980s. How I hate those racists! Grrr”

“Here’s one of the lads in the same location… Norman Jay again and a Chopper bicycle in the background! The flag has ‘RANGERS’ marked on it from our football terraces ‘Q P R’ – these photos were taken in Acton, West London.”

“By 1974, I was a soul boy and off to Wigan Casino (once!) and then in 1975 still with my passion for reggae, I saw the Sex Pistols! Wasn’t so keen on the music but loved the style… and that’s another story!”

“This is early 1974 – cropped hair and longer feather cut sides – Brutus check and Levi’s jacket with the tiny strings of love beads worn for a very short time as I remember…”

Nowadays, Bryan is in his 50’s and he is a real vintage fashion lover. He likes the Edwardian 1900-1914 period and then the 1930s as well. He gets to a few of the scooter events in the UK as he has a Vespa and often speaks on radio and television about fashion and music, apart from writing a few articles.

I would like to thank Bryan enormously for this contribution to The Ballroom Blitz. It has been fantastic to get to know all those details and I really appreciate it. Big up!

“We often say that the interest in vintage fashion is causing everyone to re-write history and it can’t happen. With you all working hard to get the style right it will be great.”

And as always in parting, a nice little tune… Reggae!

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Come Do The Reggae With Jimmy Cliff!

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another post on The Ballroom Blitz.

Today I would like to share with you an article taken from the Fabulous 208 magazine – December 1969. The cover of the magazine is quite popular I think: Jimmy Cliff with two skinhead girls, Don Powell (drummer of Slade) and Jim Lea (bass player of Slade). You will also learn ‘to do the Reggae’ following some simple instructions.

REGGAE, STEADY, GO!

If you don’t know the difference between Ska and Reggae, or if you weren’t even aware of the new Jamaican beat sound, then Jimmy Cliff will explain all!

He’s a great individualist, Jimmy Cliff. You can tell that by the way he dresses. Tight crushed velvet trousers, suede jacket with footlong fringing and a vest shirt that is both purple and red is hardly the gear you’d expect a quiet, mousy type to wear – and Jimmy Cliff, I’m delighted to say, is no mouse.

He’s been singing professionally now for many years and has the confidence to go with it.

“I used to sing at concerts when I was at school. At fourteen-and-a-half I went in for a talent competition and although I didn’t get through to the final, it made me decide what I wanted to do. so I went round looking for record producers and showed them the songs I’d written. I made my first record whilst I was still at school and when it took off I left. I was glad really because I didn’t like school. I was a trouble-maker I suppose – used to muck about and sing”.

If it seems stupid to you that Jimmy should leave school because of one record – then you’d be wrong, because his follow-up went to the top of the charts. In anyone’s books that’s quite a feat, when you consider Jimmy was just fifteen.

Jimmy, in case you didn’t know, was born and educated in Jamaica. Just to fill you in on facts he’s twenty-two, single, has two brothers, one sister and now lives in a flat in London’s Belgravia.

“After the hit record I had some more records in the charts, then someone offered me a contract to go to America with a band for a week. I went and then returned of course to Jamaica. I went to America once again before the Ministry of Welfare decided to promote Jamaican music abroad. Back again I went to America and this time I stayed for four months.”

After this trip to the States, Jimmy Cliff toured the West Indian islands for a few months, returned again to the States and then got the inclination to come to England. But once he got to England in ’65, his wanderings didn’t stop. He went out to Brazil, Argentina and Europe. Finally he ended up in Miami simply to relax and write some songs.

“It was whilst I was in Miami that I wrote Wonderful World. I hoped it would be a hit – it was my last effort at the charts. Before it was released I’d got to the stage that if it wasn’t a hit, I’d give it all up. A hit in Britain is more important in many ways that a hit in Jamaica. People look to Britain for trends in music – it’s one of the best places for a record to break.”

If Ska music sounds the same as the Reggae to you, then you are about to be told how it differs!

“The bass line is different. Reggae is much heavier than Ska music ever was. I really believe the Reggae is going to be the sound of the 70’s. All the record companies in the States are knocked out by the sound – they say it’s fresh, it has rhythm and it’s fantastic (Gabriela says: I totally agree!). This sort of music has been kept down for so long it’s got to be popular. The Reggae is really a progression from Ska and I think it’s more acceptable now.”

“What about the Reggae dance? Are there any set rules about how you would do that?”

“Basically it’s just body movement. There’s no set thing that you do – you just dig into the beat.”

Jimmy is one of the first people to get a hit with Reggae music – which should enable him to keep up his career as a singer and to buy some more clothes when he wants.

“I’d spend most of my money on clothes – I love them. Now I feel that the song has made it I feel I am on my way to achieving my ambiton, which is to entertain.”

Then, on reflection, Mr. Cliff had this to say: “It hasn’t been easy – in fact, sometimes it has been very rough. That’s why I decided this record was to be my last effort at the charts and, if it didn’t make it, then it wasn’t my scene.”

Fortunately, it is his scene. Hooreggae!

Julie Webb

And as always in parting, a nice little tune ;) What an artist, Mr. Cliff! But I agree with the first comment: “Where did they get that crowd from? The Graveyard? My God people… check for a pulse! I think they are all dead!” Ha, ha, ha!

‘People say we’re violent – and we are…’

(Taken from Valentine Magazine – November 1970)

We’ve got to work hard to keep up with Valentine birds – you’ve always got such a lot going around you! In last week’s issue, greaser girl, Sue, took us into the world of leather gear and bike boys. We came back and told you what we’d seen and heard and you asked for more. So this week we sent Jackie on the other side of the tracks – she came back with the Skinhead Saga! See what you think.

Skinheads according to the newspapers, are the Teddy boys of today – public enemy number 1AA… Where the Teddy boys were famed for their lethal winklepickers and gang fights, the skinheads are infamous for their ‘bovver’ boots and their football crowd aggro. Every day we hear more tales of skinhead violence, and every day the numbers of skinheads seem to grow. I decided to find out what skinheads themselves thought of their image: For the girl’s point of view I spoke to a reader, Lee Russell, of Stepney.

I met Lee and her boyfriend Graham on common ground in London’s West End. Everyone concerned thought it was safer. As Graham himself admitted, it might have proved difficult to interview them on their territory: “If you’d come out with hundreds of quids worth of camera equipment, you wouldn’t have got back with it…” he said.

Lee and Graham are both seventeen and are still at school in the East End of London. As soon as we met they informed me that this article was too late – that the old really close-cropped skinheads were a dying breed! “All the blokes are growing their hair a bit now”, Graham said. “The birds like it a bit longer…”

“The girls are all having that new cut with fluffy side-burns”, Lee told me. “My own’s just growing out… The original skinheads are growing older, that’s why things are changing.”

“But what made you become a skinhead in the first place?” I asked Lee to start the ball rolling…

“Because I fancied the blokes – I like short hair, I think it looks clean and smart. Skinhead blokes look very smart when they wear suits – a long haired bloke in a suit looks ridiculous. I like a bloke in a three-piece mohair suit with brogues. I’m not keen on the boots nowadays. I used to like them but now I think the brogues are smarter. Of course they’re not allowed in some pubs if they wear boots – people think they’re going to cause trouble…”

But what was it she liked about the boy’s characters?

“Well, skinheads are nicer than haires because they don’t take liberties. They are not so ‘handy’ and they stop when you tell them to. Skinhead boys are tough, but that’s the way I like boys to be. Mind you, if a bloke had a special reputation for being really hard, I’d steer clear of him. I wouldn’t want to go out with a ‘hairie’ though, because they’re often frightened of skinheads…”

Graham laughed. “If you’re at a bar and a ‘hairie’ type bumps into you he nearly drops his beer, he’s so scared. They look like women so they must act like women after all!”

Lee nodded in agreement. “I couldn’t go out with a hairie'”, she said, “I’d have nothing in common with them. I can’t understand their music for a start – it gives me a headache, and you can’t dance to it. Graham doesn’t like ‘hairie’ girls either – we went to a theatre last week and there were lots of hippie type girls there dressed in maxis and beads and things, and Graham thought they looked awful – messy and dirty”.

Did she never feel she was tired of the skinhead uniform and wanted to wear more fashionable, feminine clothes?

“Well, yes, sometimes. Skinhead girls always wear checks and plain dresses, although now a lot of them are wearing midi skirts with sweaters – the colours are red and black. I like mohair dresses and suits but sometimes I would like to wear different clothes. In Summer I saw a midi peasant dress with frills and I really liked it – I knew I couldn’t buy it though, because my boyfriend wouldn’t like it and all my friends would’ve laughed at me – but, it doesn’t really bother me at all that much – I like the way I dress…”

Next I asked Lee the big question – what did she think of greasers?

Well, there aren’t many around Stepney, but I don’t like them. They look so filthy and dirty – I couldn’t go out with a greaser bloke… Besides they think so much of their motor bikes – any bloke I go out with has to think of me first. I wouldn’t want to be a greaser girl!”

“I once took a greaser girl out”, Graham added. “She was too noisy and she swore all the time, she showed me up. She wasn’t used to going out to decent places. Let’s face it, skinhead girls are bound to enjoy themselves more than greasers beause they can go out to better places – a greaser would be thrown out of a really decent pub or dance hall”.

“Those Hell Angels girls must be really awful…”, Lee added. “They must have no feelings – some of the initiation ceremonies are terrible, I’ve heard. I think the whole thing is disgusting. Skinhead girls don’t have a bad reputation like that – they’re more individual…”

Did they feel that the skinhead violence bit was overplayed?

“Well”, Lee hesitated, “skinhead blokes do like to fight… Greasers can be just as violent as skinheads too, though you don’t hear too much about that now. Last year I was beaten up by greasers. There were about six of them and they attacked me and my mate, she managed to run away, but I was left with loads of bruises and two lovely black eyes!”

“If any of my mates beat a girl up, I’d have a go at them”, Graham said. “I’d draw the line at hitting a girl. We never get into fights without a reason. I know a gang of us might set on a bloke, but never without a reason… Take you for instance”, he said, looking at Mike, our daring photographer. “If me and my mates saw you walking along a road we’d probably whistle at you because you’ve got long hair – if you turned around and gave us a dirty look, we’d probably have you – you’d be asking for it – but if you took it as a joke, we’d leave you alone…”.

*If you turned around and gave us a dirty look, we’d have you*

“The blokes do get in fights a lot”, Lee said. “Graham goes to football matches and gets in fights because his mates do. If you look and dress like a skinhead, you’ve got to live up to the reputation, it seems. You can’t do anything to stop the boys fighting – naturally the girls don’t like it much, but we can’t show them up – it’s none of our business what they do, anyway”.

“Some of the girls are pretty tough too”, Graham added. “They fight amongst themselves and some of them can be worse than the blokes. I can remember once a mate of mine was larking around and he pulled a girl’s wig off – she pulled a razor on him!”.

“Not many of the girls are like that!”, Lee insisted, “but a lot of the blokes go out just looking for trouble when they’ve had a few drinks…”

“Yes”, Graham admitted, “we often get in fights even when we’re outnumbered, just because we’re all looking for a fight. We sometimes pick on fellas too big for us. If a bouncer at a club won’t let us in, we’ll wait for him after. Sometimes we’ll be beaten up – that’s how it goes. We don’t carry a lot of weapons like greasers – we’ve just got our boots usually and maybe a steel comb. Like this”, he said, producing a comb from his pocket. “I haven’t filed this down because it’d get me in trouble if I was nicked. The police are always stopping us and searching us. We’ll just be coming out of the late night movie and they’ll stop up for no reason and question us: ‘Where’ve you been, where are you going…’ I’m not frightened of them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get nicked!”

*If a bouncer at a club won’t let us in, we’ll wait for him after*

What did Lee’s parents think of her going around with the skinheads, I wondered?

“Oh, they don’t mind me going out with skinhead blokes as long as they’re respectable. They do get frightened by all the things they read about skinheads, but there’s not much they can do. I’m sure they wouldn’t like it if I went out with a bloke with long hair and satin trousers and that kind of thing. I don’t think they’d approve of that at all”.

Finally I asked Lee what she thought the future had in store for her:

“I’ll probably stay on at school for one more year for more ‘O’ levels and then I’d like to be a secretary or a teacher. As far as blokes are concerned, I’ll admit I’d like to get married one day. I’m in no rush though. I do like to go steady with just one bloke now, but I know most skinhead girls don’t – they mostly like to go around with different blokes.

The bloke I marry probably won’t be a skinhead, though I can’t say what type he’ll be… By then, though, I think the skinhead thing will be all over. Skinheads are just like the old style mods after all, and times change. There’ll be something different in fashion when I’m ready to get married. I’ll have outgrown that kind of thing.

Still I must admit I think I’ll always go for blokes like skinheads in some ways. I like tough boys. Skinhead blokes are mostly bigheads – there’s no denying that. They think something of themselves and so you think they’re someone too. I like a boy who can tell me what to do. I’ll always respect a boy if I can’t get him under my thumb – I like them to have me under their thumb – well, that’s really what every girl wants, isn’t it?”

Graham just smiled and said nothing…

Jackie Robb

TOTP goes Reggae

[Taken from the old The Ballroom Blitz blog on Blogspot]

I really like watching videos of Top Of The Pops on Youtube as it’s a good way to check out clothes and music from the period. Top of the Pops was a British music program that showed weekly performances of popular music artists, crowd dancing to tunes and also a rundown of the chart hits of the week.

TOTP 1971

The other day I was thinking about what to post and then I remembered some Reggae performances on this program, then looking for more information, I realised that there are already articles about this. Anyway, I’ll try to add some new things…

The program broadcast from 1964 until 2006, with several Jamaican music perfomances, especially in the 70’s. This time I would like to focus on the period from 1970 until 1975.

1970

I think that in this year there were no live performances of Reggae music. However, Reggae was popular and in this video you can watch two tiny extracts from two episodes where people dance to Elizabethan Reggae by Boris Gardiner (min. 0.56) and to You can get it if you really want by Desmond Dekker (min. 0.59). The first one is from 19th February and the second one is from 10th September.

1971

As Tony Blackburn would say “It’s quite nice to have a brand new number one record, particularly when it’s as good as this!”

This episode is from 29th April and in my opinion it’s the best. Top performance, I love the way they show off… And clothes were so beautiful in that year ♥! At the end of the video you’ll listen to Jig-a-Jig by East of Eden with some crazy chicks dancing to it… in knickers!

Later, in 1st July 1971, the reggae band Greyhound also performed their hit Black and White. Thanks to Del for reminding me this one.

1973

Moog Reggae in this live perfomance from 25th January. I love Dandy’s outfit. Prince of Wales suit and penny collar shirt, great style!

1974

Meowww… Ken wearing a catsuit! This was broadcast on Christmas and Ken Boothe’s gestures are definitely great. (Ignore the joke at the start of the video).

Jumpsuits rule!

1975

Although I don’t like this song too much, it is a nice perfomance from 10th April.

This woman was so pretty and her afro was lovely!

Another perfomance by a Jamaican artist in TOTP might be this one of Desmond Dekker. This seems to be part of a lost episode from 18th September.