Skinheads Ahoy: A Love Letter To The Seventies

They were the anti-heroes of a generation, like Vikings compared to the timid punks, and they gave me my first taste of what it was like to challenge authority...
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They were the anti-heroes of a generation, like Vikings compared to the timid punks, and they gave me my first taste of what it was like to challenge authority...

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'No mess. No fuss. Just pure impact the last resort.'

I remember staring confused at a bald headed man in a Crombie spraying that slogan on a pub wall when I was a kid. He didn't seem to care as I parked my chopper bike and stared at him. He just carried on regardless, arching out his slogan in surprisingly neat neon green letters. I didn't really know what it meant at the time but other people walking past seemed genuinely disgusted. Soon a crowd had gathered and then inevitably the wah wah of a police siren zoomed into view. The man didn't seem to care. He just stood his ground. Even when they charged towards him, he just assumed the position, arching the back of his Doc Marten boots into the pavement for leverage.Then he charged back. Things were a little bit more violent back then.

In the resulting melee, a policeman's hat got knocked off. There's nothing in the world quite as funny to a seven year old as a policeman losing his hat. I nearly fell off my bike laughing. It was my first taste of what it was like to challenge authority. I watched fascinated as they struggled to get him in the back of the van. His black Crombie flapped like the wings of a demented bat behind him in the epic disturbance.They rained truncheon blows down on him, but he didn't seem to care. His head seemed to be made of iron ore. Even when they got him in the back of the van he continued to head butt the locked doors like an angry lunatic. One woman who I didn't like fainted at the scene. It was absolutely brilliant.

It was great being a kid, back then. Amongst the endless games of football and Panini stickers all these weird aliens of the counter culture had began turning up everywhere. It was like being invaded. I can distinctly remember being sat on my own one tea time watching Grange Hill when my mam walked in the room with a look of deep concern on her face.

'Whatever you do, don't go near the bus stop,' she said. 'There's punk rockers in there.'

Whilst the punks had great hair they didn't really resonate with me the way the skinheads did. They were forever stumbling about like Chorlton and the wheelies and sniffing stuff out of tins. Like cartoon characters. When the police turned up they tended to go quietly too. Nice boys really. The skinheads were like Vikings in comparison. They were a proper gang too. All boys really want to be part of when they're growing up at a certain age is to be part of a gang. Girls and their weird mystery come later. Me and friends formed a Chopper gang. Our parents thought it was cute and innocent but it was a ruse really. We wanted to ride out and find out what the skinheads were up to. Invariably you would always find them in the town centre. You could spot their heads like angry baked beans a mile away. Sometimes when you couldn't, the sound of breaking glass was a clue. Skinheads were a wrecking ball to consumerism in my home town. Not in a political or intellectual way, just in the fact that they liked to knick and smash things.

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All of this of course had began to have a determined influence on my friends and me. The more the skinheads were vilified in the local press and the more  our parents were disgusted by them, the more they became Jesse James figures to us. Anti heroes on the edges of society. We began to get closer to them a little bit and as they found our Chopper gang hilarious,hang out with them more and more. We discovered that they weren't the nihilistic characters we'd first figured but actually pretty cool individuals who just wanted to express themselves with different clothes and haircuts. The fact that the rest of society marched on them like the villagers going to Frankensteins castle with lit torches wasn't their fault. It probably made them kick back a little bit harder if the truth be told. Hysterical reactions can do that when you're young.

They introduced us to reggae and although all the songs seemed be about big women's arses, I bought into the music wholeheartedly. It became part of a bigger scene for me. An obsession. Even when my friends eventually dropped off and went back to their flat footballs and Pannini stickers, I still was fascinated by their exciting sub culture. Finally in fact I could take no more. I needed a protest I figured. Something to express my young bones as an individual. I'd been saving my pocket money for months and when I had enough, I marched instantly down to the army store in town. By the time I came out I was walking ten foot high. The world seemed a edgier place suddenly as there were two pieces of glorious English heritage now shining on my feet.

I can still picture my Mam's face as I strode into the house in a pair of fuck off red Doctor Martens. She froze and dropped a pan of boiled potatoes into the sink and made a weird howling sound. Dad came rushing out to see what all the fuss was about and was incredulous at first. He just pointed to the boots and couldn't get his words out, gasping for air as he did so. I decided to beat him to punch and swear my allegiance anyway. I puffed my chest out as I did so.

'Yes dad,' I smiled. 'I'm going to be a skinhead'

He lunged at my lapels immediately and before I knew it I was being yanked upstairs like a crash test dummy. I knew what was coming. As I bent over and heard the release of a heavy belt buckle, I stared down at my boots with pride and they seemed to accept me.

'Have you anything to say our Craig?' Dad roared.

'Yes. No mess. No fuss.  Just pure impact the last resort,' I whispered.

And with that I gripped my young fists and waited for my punishment.