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Article by John Godfrey.
Originally appeared in iD magazine September 1988
The rise of anti-Nazi skinhead fanzines, aligned to a ska revival, is giving the skinhead a rejuvenated identity. The new skinhead moonstomp means trampling NF boneheads into the ground and taking a new train to skaville. All aboard.
They were "asked to leave" and haven't been back since. "I honestly believe you've got to wipe them off the streets," snarls McGinn. "We're not a reaction against The Front, they're a reaction against us, 'cos our roots are much deeper than theirs will ever be. The Front just happened to jump on skinheads at a time when skins were big. Skins were working class, mostly unemployed and easily influenced. It could have been anybody, it could have been the casuals."
"Lads will be lads," he smiles. The girls manage to find the public toilets, and I follow them with a skinhead who has travelled 500 miles from Dublin and decided he wants to pee in private. The reason for a dozen skinheads pissing in Jeffrey St in Edinburgh is that a living ska legend is playing in Scotland. Laurel Aitken is performing at the AWOL Club, a gig organised by the newly-formed Glasgow Rudeboy Society run by George Marshall from Zoot and Riki Hussain - an Asian skinhead who owns the only scooter shop in Glasgow. It is the first Scottish ska gig since Two Tone and probably the first authentic ska concert ever. And nobody on the minibus knows where the AWOL Club is. After an hour of stopping bewildered pedestrians, faced with McGinn brandishing a can of Pils and a dozen jeering skins, someone asks a policeman. Two minutes later the van empties outside the club and George greets the Glasgow contingent with the news that the local Edinburgh boneheads are inside. "We're on their turf so we knew they'd come. But we've had a word with them and at the first sign of trouble, they're out."
There are only 150 people at the gig, a handful of mod-cum-rudeboys and scooterists, an army of skinheads, and six boneheads gathered round the PA speaker at the front of the stage. It's an uneasy alliance that threatens to explode as the evening progresses. Skins mutter under their breath trying to hold on to their tempers when someone sieg heils, threats are swapped and warnings given. "They know they'll get battered if a fight starts, but they also know we can't afford any trouble," says Riki. It took months of searching and negotiation to find a venue that was prepared to put a ska gig on, and nobody wants to blow it. In the event, trouble is averted and the only violent exchanges are verbal, with one Glaswegian girl haranguing the boneheads at the end of the gig and stumping them with the question, "If you're into black music, why the fuck do you believe in white power?" They scratch their heads and rub their tattoos, replying with a string of expletives and puzzled looks. Three years ago they would have answered with a boot, knowing that they had the advantage of numbers. Four years ago nobody would have asked them. Ten minutes after they leave, Scott from the support band Capone & The Bullets discovers that his Harrington is missing. Someone remembers one of the boneheads picking up a jacket, and immediately ten skins pile into a van picking up the nearest available implement, and race off after "the bastards". An evening's worth of restraint is given vent as a Transit van of skinhead vengeance speeds through Edinburgh looking for anybody with a bald head, boots and a Harrington jacket that doesn' t belong to them. Stopping at a set of traffic lights, someone spots them over the road and Riki jumps out with a wooden baton followed by the rest of the van. A car load of casuals in the next lane panics and reverses at high speed, an instinctive manoeuvre whenever anybody is confronted with a pack of baton-wielding skinheads, and the Edinburgh boneheads freeze. "We bought it from a bloke at the gig," they claim, keeping half an eye on an approaching police car and trying to work out whether it's a baseball bat or cosh that is being thrust in their faces. In the end, they surrender the jacket and no blows are exchanged. "We're not into mindless violence," grins Riki later, "and the streets were crawling with coppers anyway."
Tim Wells is a London skin who used to follow Oi bands like Case and The 4 Skins, religiously reading the self-appointed champion of Oi, journalist Gary Bushell, in Sounds. "In the beginning it was okay. There were a few dodgy elements in it, who, if the media had left Oi alone, would have been dealt with. But things got out of hand. And anyway, there were no bands playing ska then." When Gary Bushell crossed the picket line to work for The Sun and The Potato Five started playing ska, Tim turned his back on Oi and started reading the new anti-NF skinzines that had sprung up in the wake of Hard As Nails. When he discovered Zoot, he wrote to George and asked if he could be their London correspondent. "That was 12 months ago, and even since then the scene has started to move places. You've got more ska bands, more zines and more sussed skinheads than ever before."
From the first of the new wave of ska bands like The Potato Five and The Deltones, to the more recent arrival of The Loafers and Capone & The Bullets, ska is being played by more young bands than ever before. Even during Two Tone's heyday there were never as many, and on an international scale you are talking about a major revival.
The link is the fanzines, a means of communication that few scenes have managed to spawn in the past, and a platform that has given The Ska Flames from Japan (see Playpen), The Toasters from New York, Skaos from Germany and Fun Addicts from Australia a world-wide audience. All evidence an enthusiasm for a music that everybody thought had died with Two Tone, providing a focal point for skinheads that gives the "spirit of '69" tangible meaning. And with the original skinhead reggae label Trojan Records currently releasing their back catalogue, repackaging previously garish record covers with extensive sleeve notes, ska music has received a new lease of life. In short, the ska and skinhead revivals are one and the same. "It's only in the last three years that there have been enough young musicians picking up on ska and going out and playing it, but it took until last year for the kids who you'd think would be automatically into it, the skins, to treat bands like The Potato Five as their own." Gaz Mayall has chaperoned ska in Britain for the last eight years at his Thursday night club Gaz's Rockin' Blues (Gossips, 69 Dean St, London W1), and has waited ten years for a revival in Live ska bands. "The Two Tone thing was never authentic enough for me, and what I like about all the new bands is the way they combine an authenticity with the spirit of today." The sheer range of styles adopted by the bands has meant that there is no single identifiable tag other than 'ska', no catchy marketing term like 'Two Tone', that gives major record companies the incentive to become involved. "After our initial burst of publicity a couple of years ago, nobody wanted to know. The media treated us as a novelty and gave us half page interviews after our third gig. Loads of record companies came to see us, and said basically because we were a ska band we wouldn't sell." Anna from The Deltones has learnt a lot in the last two years, including the existence of skinheads. "I wasn't aware that anti-NF skins existed until we started playing, and I met one of the Camden Syndicate skins who took me aside and explained the difference."
The Syndicate, virtually the only skins in London to listen to The Ethiopians when everybody else was listening to Skrewdriver, run the only skin ska dance in London. Once a month at the Penny Black in Clerkenwell they keep the Spirit of 69 alive, and with Gaz's Rocking Blues they provide the only ska vanguard in the capital. Because even though London now bas the pirate radio mod station Swinging Radio England 1611 AM with two ska shows (including the Zoot show by DJ Bilko),
"I come from an iron ore mining village near Middlesborough and a strong trade union background. A lot of my family were original skins and to us skinhead was a working class movement and fascism is totally opposed to that. The strong grounding in working class politics has given northern skinheads an abhorrence of the National Front that London skins never had." Barney is the rhythm guitarist of The Burial, probably the first skinhead band to ever play ska. They formed six years ago, emerging at the same time as The Redskins, but whereas the latter responded to the boneheads by moving into the student circuit, a strong feature of The Burial gigs was the Nazi-bashing. "They were the first band to stand up and say what a lot of people felt," says McGinn.
After splitting up in '85 The Burial have now reformed, and Barney is optimistic about the future. "There hasn't been such a positive movement in skinheads for nearly ten years," he says. One indication of a shift in emphasis are bands Like Skin Deep, a former Oi band who now play ska. and are learning, for the first time, what being a skinhead is all about. Skin Deep have an album out on Skank Records, one of a growing number of independent labels (along with Gaz's Rocking Records, Zoot's Phoenix City and Unicorn)
Loafers/Brogues (red or black) or eight hole DMs ('antiqued polishing')
Tonic suit (boys) or three-quarter length jacket and short skirt (girls)
Ben Sherman short sleeved shirts (Brutus good but hard to get)
Sta prest - plain, dog-tooth, tonik, checks or Prince of Wales
Levis 501s and red tag jacket (girls cut 501s into skirt)
Fred Perry short sleeved shirts, jumpers, cardigans or sleeveless jumpers.
Crombie - black or grey
Handkerchiefs - folded, pressed and with pocket stud
Braces - not motorways!
Cravat worn under shirt.
|INTERNATIONAL SKA BANDS
The Toasters - USA
Bim Skala Bim - USA
Skaos - West Germany
Donkey Show - USA
Fun Addicts - Australia
The Ska Flames - Japan
Baby Snake - Sweden
Spy Eye - Italy
Saxawhaman - France
Mr Review - Holland
Blue Chateau - West Germany
Kor Tatu - Basque Country
Fishbone - USA
Untouchables - USA
Allniters - Australia
Napoleon Solo - Denmark
Busters - West Germany
The Braces - West Germany
The Dots - Japan
Zoot - PO Box 202m Glasgow G12 8EQ Scotland
Spy Kids - 60 Bank Street, Glasgow PA1 1LN Scotland
Bovver Boot - 15 Brentwood Drive, Glasgow G53 7UJ Scotland
Chargesheet - 50 Gallus Square, Ferrier Estate, Kidbrooke London SE3
Empty Hours - Flat 4, Granite House, Heyworth St. Derby DE3 3DL
Backs Against The Wall - 86 Ninian St, Roath Cardiff CF2 5EP
Tell Us The Truth - 395 Levan Road, Keyham, Plymouth.
The Phoenix List - 191 Seven Sisters Road London N4 3NG
Bewitched - 43 York Road, Dunscroft, Doncaster South Yorkshire DN7 4LZ
|BRITISH SKA BANDS
The Forest Hillbillies
Capone and the Bullets
Roland Alphonso - El Pussycat
The Maytals - Dog War
Bob Marley and the Wailers - Put It On
Prince Buster - Wash All Your Troubles Away
The Skatalites - Ball O Fire
Sir Lord Comic - Great Wuga Wuga
Princess Buster - 10 Commandments (Woman to Man)
Derrick Morgan - Night At The Hop
Laurel Aitken - Skinhead Train
The Rulers - Copasetic
the current boom in ska bands. Their compilation 'City Skanking' includes a track by a group of 17 year old Newbury boys called The Loafers, a band that many pundits believe will eventually perform the same role for ska and skinheads as The Jam did for mods. "Funny you should say that 'cos although not a lot of mods would admit it, the lack of contemporary bands playing mod music has meant that they're getting into the ska bands," says Loafer keyboardist Sean Flowerdew. The mod label Unicorn's issue of Toaster albums and recent 'Skanking Around The World" compilation is testament to a shift in the Live emphasis of a mod's musical perspective, and if Unicorn boss Mark Johnson is adamant that this will have no effect on the mod scene he should bear in mind that skinheads were originally born from mods.
Whether or not the skinhead ska revival will ever become officially anointed by mainstream media and record company interest is still not clear. Perhaps the thin Line between fear and respect has been irrevocably crossed, and the public's prejudice about skinheads has turned them into an embodiment of everything that's gone wrong in the '80s that no amount of soap powder ads can reverse. Football violence, fascism...you name it, they look as though they could have done it. "Skinheads are so out of fashion that they're seen as pure thugs," says George from Zoot, "nobody will let you do anything, nobody wants you - it's not easy being a skinhead in the '80s you know." After the Laurel Aitken gig in Edinburgh, and the Glasgow date the following night, the two clubs said that they would have them back, an unprecedented invitation in recent skinhead history. Perhaps things are changing after all.