Top Fellas: The Story of Melbourne’s Sharpie Cult (Review)

Gang wars! Rock ‘n’ roll! Fine knits! The two-fisted, two decade reign of Sharp!

Originally published in 2004, Top Fellas: The Story of Melbourne’s Sharpie Cult, was sold out in a few months. Luckily for our reading pleasure, there has been two re-prints, one in 2010 and another one in 2013, being this last one the copy I’ve got.

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The book was written by Tadhg Taylor, who was a skinhead in his teenage years in the mid/late eighties in Melbourne. Very often the topic of sharpies would arise and he and his friends started to take a real interest in this Australian youth subculture, an interest that increased rapidly. Years went by and they grew out of the skinhead thing but their interest in sharpies remained the same until Tadhg decided to set it down on paper.

Top Fellas is a real step into the world of sharpies. It is full of recollections of ex-sharpies who kindly shared their stories with Tadhg and it has more than fifty photos to illustrate them. The book is divided into 5 chapters: Chapter 1: 1964-1970, Chapter 2: 1970-1972, Chapter 3: 1972-1976, Chapter 4: 1976-1980 and Chapter 5: The eighties.

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As you might guess, my favourite two chapters are the first and the second because they show the roots of the Melbourne sharps. Melbourne could be defined as the homeland of the sharp movement which began sometime in 1964 with the so called “64 Rocker”, the opposite to the ’56 rockers’, inspired by the neat streamlined look of mod.

What I like the most about Top Fellas is the way Tadhg has given a full acount of this subculture throughout the years, not detracting from anyone who was a part of it and its different periods and guises. The language he uses is colloquial and makes the book fun and very entertaining to read. Once you start reading it, Top Fellas is a difficult book to put down.

The first-hand recollections of the former sharps are brilliant: “The point was to always look sharp, that’s why people started calling us sharpies, but we never called ourselves that, you were just one of the fellas or not one of the fellas”, says Dennis, one of those original sharpies.

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Chapter 1: 1964-1970

But what made you a “Top Fella”? To be a Top Fella you had to be good at fighting, a good dancer, confident with the “brushes” and really smart. You had to be known, connected and respected – a sharpies’ sharpie.

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Chapter 1: 1964-1970

Tadhg has done a great job and put a lot of effort in writing this book. With it, he has re-introduced the interest in the sharpie subculture not only in Australia but also all over the rest of the world. A good read and a perfect Christmas gift if you have an interest in youth subcultures, rock ‘n’ roll and smart clothes.

You can buy “Top Fellas: The Story of Melbourne’s Sharpie Cult” on Amazon here. Or if you really want a bargain get if off Book Depository here for only £6 including free worldwide shipping!

More pictures from Top Fellas:

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Chapter 2: 1970-1972

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Chapter 3: 1972-1976

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Chapter 4: 1976-1980

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Chapter 5: The eighties

And a very cool video of Melbourne Sharpies from 1974!:

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Where were you? Dublin Youth Culture & Street Style 1950-2000

“You won’t be alone… at least you’re in” David Bowie wrote in his lyrics for Join The Gang and in those lines you have the essence of the need for like-minded souls to celebrate the music they love and its related style of dress. It was a means of expression, of identity, of inclusion and individuality – even when the overall look had a distinct similarity. It was all a part of belonging to a particular tribe. A dress code that brought you a sense of being ‘in’, of being a part of something that was oftern larger than the numbers in your own group.

This is how the foreword of the book “Where were you? Dublin Youth Culture & Street Style 1950-2000” starts. These words by Steve Averill couldn’t be truer. It is that feeling of belonging to something and being different that makes us feel proud of who and what we are.

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Where were you?, published in November 2011, is a photographic celebration of Dublin’s youth culture. street style and teen life, from the 1950s to the 1990s. From a pool of over 5,000 images, this fascinating visual record features over 800 photographs, taken from a huge range of sources. Included is the work of established photographers such as Tony O’Shea, Derek Speirs, Bill Doyle and Fergus Bourke, alongside an incredibly diverse and eclectic mix of snapshots, photobooth and Polaroid photos contributed by the public. A selection of ticket stubs, badges, flyers, adverts, quotes and newspaper clippings complement the photographs and enhance this unique social document of an often overlooked aspect of Dublin’s past.

I would like to thank Garry O’Neill, the man behind this fantastic book, as I got in contact with him to use the pictures for this post and Garry kindly agreed. As this blog is focused on the late 60’s and early 70’s, that’s the period from the book that I would like to cover today.

  • O’Connell street, 1969

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  • Spotlight Magazine, Ocotober 1969

“Music and love is the message and anyone who digs the Pioneers and Desmond Dekker is their mate…”

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There are other interesting pictures from the late 60’s but as I don’t have a scanner, I can’t show them to you ;)

Moving on to the 70’s, here we can see how the Skinhead thing was in Ireland. Skinheads didn’t take long to apread across the Irish sea, with various newspaper articles relating to Skinhead activity in the city appearing as early as October 1969 (see photo above).

Some early Skinheads bought their clothes while on holiday or on work trips to England. After returning home, some were approached by shop owners, aware of the popularity of the new trend and eager to copy the cut and style of certain brands not available in Ireland.

  • Spotlight Magazine, 10 april, 1970

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  • Middle Abbey Street, 1970

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  • Trip to Kilkenny beer festival, 1970

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  • Sunday Independent, 19 April 1970

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  • O’Connell Street, 1972

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  • Weaver Square, Cork Street, 1974

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  • O’Connell Street, 1973

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  • O’Connell Street, 1972

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  • O’Connell Street, 1973

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  • Johnny Eagle’s Tattoo Shop, Capel Street, ca. 1975

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  • O’Connell Street, 1974

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I find this book brilliant and I bought it when it came out. As you can see, Where were you? has loads and loads of great photos, most of them unknown to us before the book was released; therefore, I highly recommend it. Moreover, if you are a fan of youth cults in general, you will love it as it is quite complete. You can purchase the book through their Webpage and you can also follow the updates on their Facebook Page.

Hope you have liked the post. Remember you can also follow TBB on Facebook, and Instagram.

And as always in parting, a nice little tune. So the Irish skinheads liked The Pioneers, me too!

The Emergence of the Skinheads

Good afternoon, everyone!

I was really  doubting what to post today and in the end I have decided to share with you an article take from a book called ‘Rock File’ dated 1972 and edited by Charlie Gillett, a polifacetic entertainer (radio presenter, journalist, writer…) devoted to music. The article was written by Pete Fowler and I have to say that I do not agree with some of the things he says; however, I do find them interesting, particularly his reflections on racial issues and music.

The Emergence of the Skinheads

In 1969, the blacklash started. It had to happen sometime: once the star idea was reborn, once the gaps arose between artist and performer, once the focal point of the new culture became rooted in the States, the time was ripe for change. The Skinheads came from the same areas that had witnessed the rise of the Mods – the East End of London and the outer ring of suburbs. But whereas the Mod had seen his ‘enemy’ as the Rocker, and had rationalised his life style accordingly (Cleanliness vs. Grease; Scooter vs. Motor Bike; Pills vs. Booze), the new Skinheads reacted against the Hippies. Their hair was short to the point of absurdity, they were togh and went around in their ‘bovver boots’ for the express purpose of beating hell out of any deviants, and they wore braces. Braces! For God’s sake, some sort of weird throwback to the thirties.

At Hyde Park in July 1969, they showed their strength. According to Geoffrey Cannon’s report on the event, a free concert given by the Stones, it was ‘A Nice Day in the Park’. It was things ‘nice’ that the Skins objected to. John Peel and the other beautiful people saw everything as being ‘really nice’ – the Skins wanted others to see them as really horrible.

(The Ballroom Blitz’s note: While I was reading this, I remembered that I had read something about this concert before. It was on the IT Magazine from January 1970, here is what the YELL crew said:

‘DISGUSTING!’: That’s one word for us, according to people who write in to us and to IT. Neil, of Kennington, asks us ‘If you get bored with Hairy music, what the f*ck are you doing at Hyde Park anyway?’. Well, Neil, seing as you go on to say that you try to see our point of view, we think we can tell you the obvious answer. We go there because there is nothing else to do, because it is free, because it is better than nothing. But there could be something better for us, because we’re human too. Quite a lot of the Hyde Park music seems pseudo to us, true, but you’ve got your taste, we’ve got ours…)

TBB!

IT Magazine – Jan 1969

The concert was odd. Here were the Rolling Stones, the old Mod idols, being defended by the Hells Angels, the descendants of the old Rockers, and the whole scene was laughed at by the new Skinheads, who were the true descendants of the old Mods. After all, it seems likely that most of their elder brothers and sisters had spent their teens down Soho getting blocked on a Saturday night. The wheel had come full circle.

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Rockers and their stupid dance at Hyde Park 1969

Since that concert, we’ve learnt to live with the Skinheads. They have the same austerity of style as the early Mods, and they hunt in packs like the Mods tracked down the Rockers on the beaches of Margate and Clacton.

Though their style has been determinated to a large extent by their opposition to the Hippies, other factors have played an important role and, in particular, the impact of the West Indian community. Many of the Skins gangs have West Indians not only in the group but actually leading them, the short hair style having been, without doubt, lifted from the old Blue Beat days in the London clubs.

In Birmingham, a city with a large inmigrant community, the pattern is specially evident. The Skins will still profess to hate the niggers, but by ‘niggers’ they generally mean the Pakistanis. Their hatred of the Pakkis might appear crazily illogical in the light of their friendship with the West Indians, but there is a certain, cruel logic about it. Take the story of Des, a garage worker and a Skin of three years standing:

‘I’ll tell you why I hate the bl**dy Paks. I’ll tell you a story. A week or so ago I was walking down the street with a couple of mates. I wanted a light for my fag, so I walk up to this Pakki git and ask him, “You got a light, mate?” And what do you think the f*cker did? I’ll tell you. He walks – no, runs – into this shop and buys me a box of matches! Now, I ask you! What the f*ck could I do with a bleeder like that but hit him? And another thing. Have you ever been in their restaurants? Have you seen the way they grovel round you, the way they’re always trying to please you? I hate them, that’s all’

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Skinheads interviewed because of a fight with Asians in 1970

The next time you go in and Indian restaurant, think of Des’ story – and look around the clientele. You’ll find an almost straight middle class content. Des and his mates just go in there for the occasional giggle – all pissed and raring for trouble.

The logic of their hatred is this: the West Indian kids are mixing, and their influence is taking hold. They are beginning to see this country as their home. The Indians and the Pakistanis keep themselves to themselves and in Birmingham interaction between white working class and Asian is non-existent. To put it another way, the Indians and the Pakistanis are aspiring (if they are aspiring towards anything whilst they’re living here) towards a middle class set of values. They dress in carefully tailord suits, they are polite, they are nice. The West Indian kids on the other hard are more ‘normal’ in the Skins eyes. They get drunk, they like dancing, they like dressing up in Skingear. They are willing to join forces.

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Reggae brings unity between black and white. Screenshots from a BBC documentary

There’s nothing nice about the Skins. And likewise there’s nothing nice about their taste in music. They completely reject the music of the counter-culture. Nothing is more loathsome to them that the junk of Progressive Rock. Music is for dancing to. Music is for getting off with birds to. And the best music for that, they have decided, is Reggae and Tamla Motown. Their love of this twin spearhead is, of course, a direct legacy of the impact of the West Indians in the late 60’s. But their idolisation of this should not be mixed up with the Mods relationship to their Faces – it’s something quite different. For the new relationship is essentially impersonal, whereas the Mods related to a set of individual Faces, like Steve Marriot or Rod the Mod Stewart. The Skins relate to types of music, like Motown. The Four Tops, to take an example, are not revered for being The Four Tops; they are simply one aspect of the Motown machine. If T-Rex has any appeal with this audience; it’s on the same impersonal level, a brand name for formula-produced dance records.

(The Ballroom Blitz’ note: I have talked about this many, many times with original skinheads and skinheads from nowadays and it might be sad for some people but it’s true. It was the ‘beat’ what caught the skinheads, music only meant something if you could dance to it. Not all the skinheads listened to Reggae and certainly not all the skinheads bought records either. A friend of mine had a nice thought about this – Mind you, the majority of skinheads were too young to enter discos where the really big Jamaican tunes would be played. If you were young and you could only go to Youth Clubs, then you listened to what it sounded there… Of course, if you listened to a real belter of a tune like ‘Sufferer’, you would go crazy)

-What makes you like it? -It is the beat I suppose (Talking about Reggae)

Moreover, there’s the question of distancing. A group like the Kinks could be seen ‘live’ every week somewhere round the country because the central factor of the Mod-music scene was the live club appearance. The Skins tend more towards discos, mainly because there are so few British groups they like.

The result of this has been important. Music is still important to the Skins, but it’s not of such overriding importance as it was for the Mods. Music, it has been argued, was central to the Mod experience. It dictated style. For the Skinheads, music has become peripheral: style is in no way determined by it. If the Skins do have Faces, they are elsewhere and, usually, they are out their playing on the football field.

Hope you have had a good read! Sorry for the pictures and their bad quality, most of them have been taken from my archive on the ‘Skins, suedes, smooths – The Real Deal!‘ album on Facebook. Don’t forget to suscribe to receive all the new posts by e-mail and to ‘like’ The Ballroom Blitz on Facebook ;)

As as always in parting, a nice little tune. In the IT magazine mentioned before, Steve, the one in charge of the Reggae Reviews, stands out this song: