Happy days up North: Gerry speaks

It’s always interesting to read the first-hand recollections of original skinheads. It’s like taking a time machine and go back to a period most of us try to “preserve” 40+ years after.

This time, Gerry speaks about his days as a skinhead: Football, music, clothes… Those things we all like. Let’s read what he has shared with us:

“The skinhead fashion was a natural transgression from the mods era arriving in the East End of London 1968-69. My first ever recollection of seeing skinheads was in London in the summer of 1969 on a visit to Wembley to see my local team North Shields in the amateur cup as a skinny 15 year old!

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A very young Gerry. Scotland ca. 1967

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Gerry, Dickie and Bill. Scotland 1967

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Scotland ca. 1967

A couple of months later I went to my first ever away game to see Newcastle at West Ham witnessing skinheads en masse. The North Bank was heaving with kids in Dr. Martens, Jungle greens, Sta Prest, braces, Ben Shermans, cardigans and the obligatory “razor partings”! …. And a steady procession of them being ejected from the North Bank.

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Plymouth ca. 1968

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Scotland ca. 1968

Football was instrumental in the skinhead culture and it rapidly spread throughout the land. I remember Chelsea coming up to Sunderland in 1969 lead by the legends Danny “Eccles” and “Chiefy” Greenaway (who hardly fitted the skinhead role!). We came over from Newcastle and tagged on with them as they casually strolled into the Fulwell End unopposed. Later that year Chelsea came up to Newcastle which was the subject of a brilliant Man Alive documentary at the time focussing on Chelsea skinheads and Danny “Eccles” Harkins in particular. A legendary Leazes End skinhead at Newcastle at the time, Colin Proud, appears on the clip (Colin sadly died a few years ago as did Micky Greenaway of Chelsea… Mr Zigger Zagger!). The first Skinhead I ever saw at Newcastle was Johnny Dodds, “Doddsy”, self proclaimed “King of the Leazes End”!

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Eccles and Proudy 1969

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Leazes End Boot Boys

Around about this time Newcastle had a small band of about 20-30 skinheads: the original Leazes End Boot Boys. These numbers rapidly swelled as the fashion swept through the UK.

I remember buying my dark blue full length Burberry mac from a second hand shop for the pricely sum of 2 shillings! (10 pence!) Amazingly Dr. Martens/Air Ware were not available in the frozen tundras of the Northern out post of Newcastle and we had to go to London to buy them or get Monkey Boots from the local Army and Navy Stores. There was a lack of very really good clothes shops in Newcastle then (apart from Marcus Price where I bought my first ever Levi’s, Ben Sherman and Italian leather jacket in 1968). Someone with a business sense would have made a killing as 6 months later when they did become available, they were selling out straight away!

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Monkey boots. Gerry, Tyer and Dickie ca. 1969

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Marcus Price. Mod shop, Newcastle

The skinhead fashion was not just boots and braces but they were meticulous in their dress code. Mohair suits by Dormueil, Weejun loafers, Loakes Royals, Crombies, Prince of Wales check, Doogtooth, Ben Shermans, Brutus, Jaytex shirts, Fred Perry, Slazenger cardigans… never took to the red socks thing!!). The Harrington jacket was essential and Danny Eccles is seen sporting a nice green number on the clip!

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Butlins ca. 1970

The music scene embraced the reggae culture after the mods’ soul/ R&B preference. There was a healthy soul scene for years previous, the forerunners of Northern soul at the Torch, Twisted Wheel, Va Va’s and later Wigan Casino and that fashion “black hole” period of flares and vests! The Marquee club in London and the Club A GO GO in Newcastle attracted “mod bands” popular at the time: Geno Washington, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Alan Bown set (an LP which captured the mod scene in 1966 was “London swings: live at the Marquee Club… A classic!). Georgie Fame and the Blueflames, John Mayall, Chris Farlowe, Cream were popular R&B bands.

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Butlins ca. 1970

Mowtown/Soul was always popular with the skinhead movement but gave way to Reggae for a while. The Oxford Galleries at Newcastle used to play reggae: The Pioneers, The Upsetters and the legendary Harry J Allstars, still played at Chelsea!

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Butlins ca. 1971

Alas, amazingly the skinhead fashion scene was very brief for must of us, only lasting a year. Our friends down South led the way in growing their hair, Suedeheads and then Smooths rapidly gave way to bright patterned shirts, flares and the beginning of a fashion disaster period! The sight of football fans scrapping in platform shoes, tank tops, flares, etc, was surreal! There were pockets of skinheads in rural UK which had the fashion lingering on but, in the main, by 1970 it was gone for us.

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Butlins ca. 1971

HAPPY DAYS!!!”

Thanks to Gerry for sharing all his pictures and stories with The Ballroom Blitz! For more articles on original skinheads/suedeheads/smooths, please check out:

From Mod to Skinhead: Jan Speaks

Smooths playing it cool: Bryan speaks

I hope you have liked this article. Will be back soon with more nice posts.

And as always in parting, a nice little tune: One of the most popular tunes back in the day! Take care! x

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From Mod to Skinhead: Jan speaks

Hi, everybody! Welcome to another post.

Last year I uploaded a picture on The Ballroom Blitz FB page of four very stylish ladies. Usually, we come across photos of lovely skinhead girls but quite young (13-14-year-old girls) but this was different because they looked a bit older.

Jan, one of the girls found her photo there, commented on it and so did two of the other girls who appeared in the pic. Knowing that founding original skinhead girls willing to share their experiences is a bit of a mission impossible sometimes, I got in contact with her. She doesn’t live in England anymore but remembers everything pretty well and gladly shared some pictures and stories. Hope you like them!

To start, if the title of the article is ‘From Mod to Skinhead’, I think it is fair to post a picture of Mods, isn’t it? ;) From left to right appear: Jan’s sister called Chris aged 15, two girls they met on holiday, Jan herself aged 14, and her 16-year-old sister called Barb. They were all mods back then, very young ones with their suits and kitten heel shoes, very trendy at the time!

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Second picture is of the transition from Mod to Skinhead. Jan is the girl with the longer hair, next to her is her boyfriend back then Bobby. The other couple is Roger with his girlfriend; Jan can’t remember her name but remembers her face well. She is still in touch with Bobby and a little bit with Roger.

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Next picture was taken at the Top Rank and you can see the transition already. From left to right they are: Pam, Trevor, she can’t remember the guy at back, Brian (the boy with the drink, it’s his picture), John and she can’t remember the girl at the end. Jan is still in touch with Brian and John.

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While she was sending me the pictures, she also shared a lot of her memories; for example, music. She comes from South England, Hampshire, but she worked in London and her case is very interesting because she wasn’t that much into Reggae apart from the well-known tunes such as Red Red Wine, Swan Lake and Israelites. She gave those records to a younger cousin of hers as she was far more interested in Soul music and she still is to this day.

She says the music they played around the time was definitely mainly Soul. It was played at all the clubs and it is what she would buy everytime she got paid. She used to go straight to the record department and often went through their huge music catalogue and order an import. She still has the records today, all her singles and LPs.

As a curiosity, she says that you either liked The Temptations or Four Tops, it was almost like you could not like them both. Her husband is a Four Tops fan but she loves The Temptations. Some of the other main artists of the day were Aretha Franklin, Dion Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Al Green, Tyrone Davies, Otis Reading, Gino Washington, Stevie Wonder, Stylistics, Impressions and Smokey Robinson, to name just a few. All the artists were black American, apart from Dusty. For her, racism did not come into the picture; if anything, the blacker the better, as this is where the soulful voices came from.

Her favourite group: The Temptations

Next photos show already the proper skinhead style. When I asked her if they called themselves skinheads, she said they did class themselves as such but that it was to do with the style of clothing, haircut and music taste, not to be known as belonging to a culture that was racist, went around in gangs intimidating others and acting tough. She says it’s a shame that this happened to the second wave of skinheads because it could not have been more different, and that this is why some skinheads from the early days would rather not be grouped together in the same basket as the second wave.

In this photo appears: Cristina in the front row with short dark hair next to the girl with the cardigan, Jan with her hair pulled back and then plaited and tucked under leaving strands of hair to the sides, a very popular hairstyle in the late 60’s and early 70’s in her area, and next to her Carole with a similar hairstyle. The guy standing behind Carole with his hands in pocket is Graham (who has also got in contact via The Ballroom Blitz FB Page), the guy with the girl standing behind Cristina is Roger, the girl with short blond hair is Janice and the memory has gone for any other names. They are all in their late 50’s or just turned 60 so they were all 18 or 19 in the picture.

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Next one is my favourite and the one Jan first commented on. They are her friends and her at the Top Rank in Reading in 1969 or 1970. From left to right: Carole, Joanne, Janet and Cristina, from Mytchett near Farnborough, Hampshire.

When we talked about shoes, she pointed out that the shoes in those days did not have to be a certain make, just a certain style. I will update the post very soon and will let you know more about it. Very interesting!

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Last photo is of Cristina and Jan, taken in a booth. Jan would have been 19 and Cris 18. I notice both of them are wearing girls’ shirts as buttons are on the left… I wonder which make would they have been?

Here, I asked her about make-up and eyebrows because I knew they used to wear them thin but never imagined SO thin! She told me they even used to pluck them out and then pencil them back in; crazy really but good at the time. And the makeup… They wore loads of it! False eyelashes top and bottom, she used to put them on in a couple of minutes. I wish I could do that, it takes me ages!

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Regarding more experiences, Jan and Carole went to the Rolling Stones Concert in Hyde Park in 5th July 1969 we have already talked about before and they got told to get down from the tree! Brian Jones had literally just died and they released butterflies in Remembrance. It was sad but a great day, she says.

She didn’t know that nowadays there are a lot of young (and not so young) people interested in the skinhead thing either, so when I told her my age, it came as a surprise because she thought I was in my 50’s lol. She couldn’t believe what an interest we have on the subject but she is very pleased to hear we are interested in the early days as they really were so good and it is such a shame that the name skinhead became so tainted.

Of course, I couldn’t miss this great opportunity to ask her what she thought about my style and to ask her for a couple of tips as she was a very smart skinhead girl. As I have mentioned before, she came from South England but worked in London, so she guesses she got the style from those two places; maybe different areas dressed slightly different. I sent her some pictures and I am glad to know that I was quite spot on, particularly in the ones with suits and silk pocket hankies, or with shirts, skirts, light coloured tights, etc, and the hair, with the arched fringe and longer sides. Some things I wear and love were not worn back then in her area though.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Jan for all her valuable information. I found it fantastic and I appreciate it a lot! THANKS!

And as always in parting… A nice little tune! Everybody knows that I am Reggae crazy but this one is beautiful!

P.S.: I recommend to listen to the tunes Jan uploaded on The Ballroom Blitz on Facebook. Most of them are the ones that they would have heard around the clubs so they probably never made the Top 10 but she thinks they are great and they bring back good memories. Oh and she has never heard about punk and oi, there you go… ;)

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!