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Not half as Hard as a Doc Marten Boot

The Independent - Monday 23rd January 1989
Photograph: Howard Barlow

"Most skinheads drink hot milk with their mothers at night, you know. We're not half as hard as we look," says Bill Pegg, lacing up a big, brown, eight-hole Doc Marten boot.

At first glance, Bill is the sort of skinhead sensitive people would avoid sitting close to on buses. he has the bulk of a minor Alexei Sayle, the traditional braces, fore-shortened jeans, black bomber jacket, checked shirt and a shorn head that might be more used to butting than thinking. But your average headbutting National Front rioter would seem distinctly out of place among the leather coasers and plants in Bill's mum's living room on Saturday night in Stockport. Bill doesn't - at least once he opens his mouth.

"See, there are two kinds of skinheads, Original Skins like me who're into ska and bluebeat and northern soul and scooters; and Oi skins, who're mostly into being Nazis and kicking people's heads in.

"We like to look smart - I mean skins originally grew out of the Mod movement - so we wear things like crombies and brogues and three-button suits and Ben Sherman shirts, as well as the boots and braces. And you stitch down your jeans turn-ups so that they're just over the top of your boots."

"Now Oi boys are quite different. you get the ones down south in the 18-hole Docs and jeans nearly up to their knees. The point is you can't bend your ankles at all in those boots for the two months it takes to wear them in. And like everything else, we've got a bit of a North-South divide on this one, with a lot of scooter clubs and Original skins and your racist Blood and Honour lot down in London. In fact I was even considering ressurecting the League of Socialist Skins, but I'm not keen enough on politics."

Politics is still lurking on the agenda when we got on the coach with the rest of the Stockport Crusaders Scooter Club and assorted hangers-on to go to the ska gig in Bradford.

"I'm going to wear one of those 'I love the British Forces' T-shirts when we go on our scooter rally to Ireland," boasts Pete, a friend, or perhaps more of an acquaintance of Mr. Pegg. the skinheads in the front of the coach laugh cruelly at Pete and explain the risks of getting his head kicked in there. He gets slapped on the forehead. "Uh, maybe not then", he muses.

The back of the coach is a different kettle of Nazis, however, which shows its delight at having a reporter along bygiving little squeaks of "Seig heil" and drawing a giant swastika on the steamed up back window. This is swiftly followed by NF and the words 'Blood and Honour'. Cars give us a wide berth.

"That really gets up my nose, that behaviour. They give us a bad name, and everyone passing thinks thatwe're all Nazi thugs when most of us aren't," says Mr. Pegg. The rest at the front agree. Some of them seem suspiciously old to be proper skinheads and indeed one or two are turnout to be married with kids. Mr. Pegg, who is 19, promises he will show me the first skinhead chartered accountant at the gig. There seem to be a lot of brains beneath the number four cuts on top, with a number two or three on the sides. The boneheads (number one all over at the barber's, or DIY) seem a bit slower. The smart guys are disappointed that it's not Sunday Sport doing the interviewing: "You could do 'Skinhead Ate My Mother' for them," says one.

It is only later, in the club, that leaving them and making up the rest of the story begins to seem a sensible option after a little fat man with not-quite-dry bloody stitches in his forehead offers to show me what a face looks like after a skinhead has done it over. Fortunately someone larger says: "Not much point in that, is there mate, seeing as we can just look at yours instead."

There isn't a lot of aggression about, and what there is is only verbal. In the end, scooter clubs like Huddersfield, Yorkshire Frogmonsters and the Lincolnshire Skins, are here for is a good dance. Or a good stomp, as the traditional skinhead running-on-the-spot movement is called. The floorboards are heaving under the pressure. Girls with feather cuts (skinhead on top and long at the sides) and boys with Weston-Super-Mare Scooter Rally 1998 badges sewn on their jackets are stomping away to The Deltones, in hwat looks like a revival of the Two-Tone movement of 10 years ago.

"It's not a revival. The whole point of being a skinhead was that you were into early reggae and black music. Ska has always been here since it came from Jamaicain the late 1960s. It's just been more of a cult thatn the crap in th charts," says a skinhead in a porkpie hat who is Tim of Zoot skazine - "fanzine to you".

Ska bands like Bad Manners, with their lead singer Buster Bloodvessel, have an enormous following amongst skinheads. "And new guys coming up like Capone and the Bullets from Glasgow and The Loafers, here tonight," says Tim, 22 from East London, who has been a skin for 10 years. In the pages of Zoot he is predicting the rise of a new craze that will make Acid House seem but a blip. It is Lager House, a cult which involves having very short hair, dancing to ska, sweating and drinking a lot.

"We are about to be discovered. The Train to Skaville is now firmly back on the tracksfor summer 89," says Tim. "The thing about being a skinhead and being into ska, is you can ride out all these crazes. When Lager House, or the ska revival or whatever it's called has gone, we'll still be here, because being a skinhead is about being working class. It came from the streets, not down from above. That's why we've lasted so long".

"We get all the studentsand trendies cutting their hair and it'll be very popular for a few months." (This prophecy is later confirmed by Steve Goodman, 27, serving behind the counter in Daddy Kool's record shop, Soho: "I'm selling some original ska albums for 30 to 50 quid now," He pauses to chew gum and smoke a cigarette at the same time. "There's about to be big resurgence.") Dave Hadgraft, 25, a skinhead chartered accountant and father of one, is nursing his vast ska and bluebeat record collection whcih he plays in between bands at the gig.

"I used to be in the scooter club, but left around '84 when things began to get violent. It was the last straw when skinheads started petrol-bombing police in Keswick, of all places. I just went to bands and rallies by myself for a while. I could never give up though. You don't know what it's like until you get your first pair of boots and walk down the street. You feel brilliant."

Mr. Hadgraft has perhaps a number three all over, but says there have been no problems with dressing for work, since he doesn't overdo it or have a Union Jack or anything unpleasant tattooed across his forehead.

"Guys like that", he says, nodding at two nasty specimens with tattoos, are just punks with short hair cuts. They're not into the music or travelling to scooter rallies. They're just into the Blood and Honour thing and being racist. I keep out of all that stuff.

The specimens are happily listening to a band, half of whom are black. Perhaps they have not noticed this. On closer inspection, as they try to focus, it appears they might have been sniffing glue for most of their 16 and 17 years respectively. They say they have come from Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith, two previously innocent villages on the railway line to Buxton. They are keen to show me their various facial scars, white power and English nationalist badges. They like Skrewdriver, Brutal Attack and No Remorse, heavy metal bands related to the Blood and Honour movement. Blood and Honour was set up a few years ago by Skrewdriver for it supporters after the National Front decided to clean up its act and keep skinheads more in the background. It contains hardcore Oi boys, and is opposed, even hounded by a group called Red Action, which has the opposite politics. In its magazine it abuses, it abuses gays, blacks and the National Front under a badge with a white fist.

Badges are popular. A skinhead called Raff has a tricolour, a black power badge, an English flag and a TwoTone logo. He's either eclectic or confused.

"Politics just aren't that important for 90 per cent of skinheads" he says. "And you're more likely to get violence from the Casuals at football matches than any of us."

Indeed there is a deep contempt for Casuals and Mr Burton or Top Man types, as they are referrred to by the skins. We see a lot of Mr Burtons with ties, white socks, slip-on shoes and matching girlfriends when we arrive back in Stockport at two, just as the discos are emptying.

As we stomp down the taxi queue you begin to see the fun of being a skinhead as the whole row of Mr Burtons shuffles nervously to one side.

"Yeh. I've stopped noticing that now," says Darren, examining his 14-hole boots with reinforced sole.

"I mean people will stand for hours on trains to avoid sitting next to me. But I wash and things. I'm quite safe."

Kate Muir.

First published in The Independent - Monday 23rd January 1989

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