Skinheads: The Journey from Mod to Political Soldier
Facts Not Fiction
“The Paint House” was the first and foremost book about skinheads and tells how the subculture began in London from those who led the way and how the scene reverted back to its roots after the eight month “fad of 69”. The Paint House was released by Penguin books in 1972, the authors followed one of the first skinhead gangs in Bethnal Green, East London.
“The Collinwood Gang, interviewed by Daniel and McGuire, were the original Skinheads who started a fad involving tens of thousands of British kids within a year. The “Fad of ’69” began the diversification of Skinhead. Today, there are White Power Skinheads, anti-racist, gay, and so-called “trads,” short for traditional, among others. The various groups operating beneath the Skinhead banner debate whether the original Skinheads were racist or listened to reggae. The Paint House, which precedes modern debate, definitively answers both questions: The original Skinheads were very racist and did not listen to reggae, because it was black music. The original Skinheads ranted mostly against blacks living in England, but also against “Pakis” and J**s. Skinheads were violently racist from the beginning. Anybody wanting to learn the origins of the worldwide racist Skinhead phenomenon, must read The Paint House.”
A Review of The Paint House by Lee Yates
“I remember these times as if they were yesterday, growing up in Stepney and being amongst the first “skinheads” we saw ourselves as the elite and relished in the name and notoriety that came with it.
The Paint House depicts a perfect picture of how it really was: I worked all week in a print shop in Stepney Green waiting for Friday night. Saturdays consisted of pub, football, pub then club if they let us in, we didn’t think much of the dancers or records collectors in the clubs and they didn’t like us but that’s where the girls were.
Reggae was the in music of the time for the in crowd, but we didn’t care what was playing or what we were dancing too it was just music. A few blacks went to our clubs like us to pick girls up no doubt and there was often confrontation, they stood in their bit and we in ours, but no white boys ever went to the black clubs. Only the odd white girl who was then deemed untouchable by everybody, but that was the norm all over London.
When the clubs finished the skinheads would go to fight the West Indians as they left their clubs in Bow, it was a weekly ritual that didn’t let up. We always went looking to fight the Pakistanis on a Sunday and they us. Paradoxically the West Indians who we had been fighting the previous evening would often join us to fight the Asians on a Sunday, but we still didn’t mix, those were the times.
Being in the print all of us were Labour party members, but that was when they stood for the working class and our values, abandoning us in the seventies for the immigrants, that was when the skinheads still around all moved to the National Front, we all did. I can only speak for the first skinheads in East London and how it was. We were racist and against everyone not English and not from our area to be honest, we were political in a sense that we were staunch Labour, but in those days, Labour was akin to the BNP today. We listened and danced to reggae, but it was uniformly dismissed as black man’s music period and listened and danced to mod bands just as much. Some might not like it but the Paint House tells it like it was and for others like myself the book brings back great memories and no regrets.”
A Review of The Paint House by Martin Stiles
“Great read and although telling the perspective from a different part of London to me, still describes my own experiences and feelings to the tee. Growing up in Pimlico and moving to skinhead from mod in the mid-sixties, I stayed skinhead or suede head (always had a number four) until the early eighties and enjoyed each new wave of skinheads for want of a better description. We had a great mob which revolved around Chelsea FC, something which hasn’t really changed except most of us can’t afford to go any more.
Skinhead from day one was all about working class pride, patriotism and standing for all that was good about our way of life. We believed the rich and middle class sneered down at us and we stuck two fingers up at them, it was a fashion but it was our fashion.
Skinhead was all about mates, clothes, football, aggro and girls, music didn’t come into it. Were we racist, yes 100 per cent, we often went ‘Paki bashing’ and fought the blacks as they started to come into our area but our main focus was queer bashing in Vauxhall which was an almost nightly occurrence.
Our generation were the witnesses to the start of London’s fall, our community’s betrayal and the end of the English working class, something I believe skinheads all over London consciously or sub consciously knew and stood against, the skinhead dress code was eventually adopted by the whole country and obviously meant different things to different people from different areas. But we were London and we represented a reaction to the changes being put on us and our way of life. A great book which really does capture the times, our life then and how we felt.”
A Review of The Paint House by Derek Norbury
From Mod to Skinhead
Mod started in the late 1950’s specifically in London and then spread throughout Great Britain. They listened to modern jazz combined with other elements of fashion, tailored suits and scooters i.e. Vespa and Lambretta.
By the mid 1960’s the Mod scene was splitting into different factions, the more middle-class adherents began adopting a very flamboyant look almost akin to the new romantic in some cases and began listening to rhythm and blues, freak beat and jazz: a journey which took them towards pop art and psychedelia.
At the same time working class Mods who found no affinity with psychedelia or the Hippy phenomenon started listening to power pop rock groups such as The Who, Small Faces, the Action, the Creation and possibly the first ever skinhead band The Neat Change, who dressed and called themselves skinhead in 1966. Who were also the first band to use pyrotechnics in their live sets.
The Defining Moment – 1964.
In May 1964 over the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend in what became known as the Battle of Brighton Beach, street Mods or hard Mods, both terms were used, fought pitched battles with Rockers, while Brighton saw the fiercest fighting other flare ups occurred in Margate and Southend.
Traditionally Brighton was the bank holiday coastal destination for Londoners living on the West side of town, East Londoners favoured Southend and South Londoners Margate.
Rivalry between the different segments of London has always been fierce, East Londoners or South Londoners would not go to Brighton on a Bank holiday unless looking for trouble or to make a statement, just as West Londoners wouldn’t go to Southend or Margate. Photos, newspaper articles and film of the battles show London youths in what would become standard issue skinhead attire of Fred Perry’s, Ben Sherman’s, Dr Martens etc. fighting with rockers and teddy boys at all three coastal towns.
During the violence and skirmishes afterwards, the street Mods chanted “We are the Mods” while the rockers would chant or shout back “Skinhead” at them, which was seen as a derisory term. Skinhead then became an insult aimed at any sharply dressed Mod all over London and as time went by across Great Britain.
Photos of street Mods wearing Oxblood Dr Martens, Ben Sherman’s and red braces outside Hounslow bus station West London 1966 and similarly dressed Mods in attendance at Who concerts specifically The Two Puddings in Stratford, East London January 15th lay testament that the dress code had been adopted in East and West London by this year, so skinhead was alive in all but the name by 1966.
One of the skinheads photographed outside Hounslow bus station in 1966 was Jimmy Edwards of the band Neat Exchange and later Sham 69. He later left Sham 69 before Jimmy Pursey pled guilty to Indecent Assault on underage girls. Pursey is now on the Registry of Sexual and Violent Offenders. So much for being a youth role model….
In 1967 the style of dress became more uniform with the hair shorter and London street Mods began embracing the term Skinhead. By 1968 the style was really catching on as was reggae, which is where the mis-association began.
“If one of these dress up muppets had told a skinhead or West Indian in Sixties London, that skinheads were anti-racist and came from Jamaica they would have got a slap off both for taking the piss”
Jamie Lee, Bethnal Green skin 1968 – 1984.
Skinheads Make the Headlines – 1968
Skinheads really began making columns in the national tabloids in this year and every single article mentions the racial element of the subculture when giving the readers a description of the new youth subculture. But two events of note really disprove the fashion skinhead narrative, that skinheads weren’t politicised in the beginning:
On 20 April 1968 after Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. It was widely reported that skinheads in Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham and all over London engaged in violent street battles with Asians and Blacks. Remarkably for the times, in Birmingham at some point the West Indians and skinheads were reported to have joined forces to fight the Asians. Something which also became not uncommon in late Seventies East London. All these communities were still divided from the nationwide race riots of 1958 and had suffered from massive enforced third world immigration and all boasted major skinhead gangs.
On 23 April 1968, three days after Powell’s speech, 6 to 7,000 dockers from the West India Dock in Poplar, East London struck in protest against Powell’s sacking from his position as shadow defence minister. Some of them marched from the East End to Westminster carrying placards saying, “Back Britain, Not Black Britain”. London’s newspapers widely reported on the march and that the marcher’s ranks were swelled with young skinheads.
The dockers march was quickly followed by a demonstration of 600 porters from London’s Smithfield meat market in support of Powell and against the Race Relations Bill, British papers again stated that the march was “supported by local gangs of short haired youth identifying themselves as skinheads”.
In 1968 and 1969 one of the most popular chants from Chelsea Football ground, particularly the Shed End where all the skinheads congregated was “Enoch, Enoch” and “Enoch was right”. By 1970 the skinheads were singing “Adolf Hitler he’s not dead, he’s the leader of the Shed” Despite constant tannoy announcements and threats in the match day programmes this song lasted into the 1990’s and was ceremoniously sung by the Chelsea Headhunters for the last time on 7 May 1994 against Sheffield United, after which the Shed was demolished.
By 1969 the skinhead way of dress had been adopted by youths all over Great Britain and as the subculture left its primary source of London it became more diluted the further afield it travelled. As stated by people in the music industry and journalists of the time, the powers that be set about harnessing this newfound street phenomena with the popular reggae sound emerging through West Indian immigrants, the Trojan label started in 1968. But the racial tension and violence continued unabated.
It’s true to say during the summer months of 1969 many followed the reggae sound, and it was played in all the London clubs, but no more than the power pop so loved by the original street Mods and playlists of all the London venues of the era show the major sounds were still The Who, Mott the Hoople, Small Faces etc.
By the latter months of 1969 the reggae craze was on the wane and Suede heads appeared in 1970, essentially skinheads who were growing their hair after their six-month skinhead fashion foray and being a skinhead meant aggravation, notoriety and banishment from most venues and pubs. Suede heads were the “in transit” from reggae to the new craze of Soul boy and then Smoothie.
By 1970, skinheads had returned to their musical roots and traditional hunting grounds of the pub and football terrace and became even more politicised to the right. In June 1970, it was widely reported in British newspapers and even in the German news weekly, Der Spiegel, about a 40 strong group of London skinheads offering Enoch Powell their services as a kind of Praetorian guard.
Benjamin Bowling’s book, Violent Racism: Victimisation, Policing and Social Context, notes that over a period of only three months in 1970 over 150 people were seriously injured in “Paki bashing” incidents by skinheads in the East End of London, culminating in the murder of Tosir Ali, who was stabbed in the St Leonards Street area of Tower Hamlets on the 6th April.
“No reason at all,” said the 16-year-old boy, when a police officer asked why he attacked Mr Ali. “If we saw a Paki we used to have a go at them,” he remarked. “We would ask for money and beat them up. I’ve beaten up Pakis on at least five occasions.” Reverend Ken Leech said the term “Paki bashing” was invented on Bethnal Green’s Collingwood Estate. The Observer newspaper wrote: “Any Asian careless enough to be walking the streets alone at night is a fool.”
As far as the tabloid newspapers and British public were concerned, selectively racist violence was always a defining characteristic of skinhead culture in general.
Even the reggae single, Claudette and the Corporation’s, ‘Skinhead a bash them’, main theme was the skinheads’ attitude to Asians and Paki bashing, if this single was meant to be tongue in cheek it certainly backfired, becoming the major favourite and floor filler both at Trojan nights and Rock Against Communism nights alike!
Why oh, why oh, oh why oh, why oh, oh why oh
skinhead a bash them
skinhead say Paki them can’t reggae
skinhead say Paki them can’t jeggae
Skinhead a bash them
Skinhead a bash them
skinhead a bash them
they’re ’bout to bash them
they’re sure to bash them
oh bash them
skinhead say Paki no live no way
skinhead say Paki no have no woman
Skinhead a bash them
From the Seventies hundreds of skinheads marching on right wing political events was a familiar sight all over Britain, the two main groups skinheads attached themselves to being the National Front (NF) and British Movement (BM) but there were many smaller right wing groups who pulled skinhead support.
The largest British Movement rally was in 1982 from Marble Arch to Oxford Street specifically to promote the BM and to highlight lies in the press about skinheads. The newspapers the next day ran the headlines “The March of the Skinheads” and “The Skinheads March” and stated the march was attended by 2,500 skinheads. Metropolitan Police stats released under the Freedom Of Information Act puts the march participants at 4,500 – 5,000.
The largest National Front march was historically the November Remembrance Day Parade to the Cenotaph, under the banner “No More Brothers Wars”. Met Police figures give the attendance stats as 1976 – 4,000 marchers, 1977 – 4,700 marchers and in 1978 – 3,400. Despite mass opposition the parade has continued to this day.
Although rivalry amongst the two political factions’ leadership was fierce, skinheads would support each other’s street activities and often switch main allegiance. Different RAC and Oi! bands aligned themselves with each of the groups and some both, but the fans and supporters freely mixed with little or no confrontation.
Chubby Chris Henderson of Combat 84 left his position as South London NF youth organiser and joined the British Movement when the NF White Noise label declined releasing their single Orders of the Day because of a difference in political ideology; official NF policy was the banning of nuclear missiles while the Combat 84 song Right To Choose, supported Cruise missiles and in fact called for bigger and better bombs!
Ian Stuart of Skrewdriver on the other hand left the British Movement and joined the National Front until leaving to form 28 and to support both groups as most skinheads did.
We can say original skinheads were overwhelmingly working class simply because they emerged from inner city London, whether initially from the East side or West both areas showing the dress code being adopted and worn in 1966.
Both communities were being ripped apart from racial divisions caused by mass immigration and the scars from the race riots had not healed.
It is no coincidence each new wave of skinheads in Great Britain from 1966 has emerged from the same white working-class demographic and each wave has coincided with another flood of imposed mass immigration, whether blacks, Asians or Eastern Europeans.
We can say skinheads emerged from mods, adapting mod dress code and refining it as time went by. As stated by West Indian Rude Boys of the day, they took inspiration from the English skinhead not the other way around.
To say skinheads and their way of dress emanated from Jamaica or the odd black American servicemen visiting a jazz club in Soho was more than likely dreamed up by some lefty journalist or music mogul as a way of sanitising the subculture for the middle class. This particular rubbish first began circulating in the mid to late 1980’s.
In the 1970’s the staunchly right-wing patriotic skinhead was firmly back in pole position coming with the shorter jeans and more militant “ready to ruck” style. The 1980’s gave us the paramilitary look, green and black MA1s and combat clothing: both emanating from the terraces and the politicised skinhead whether NF (National Front) or BM (British Movement). Fred Perry’s, Sherman’s, Brutus, Sta Press, Trucker jackets, G9s even Crombie’s and sheepskins are all street mod attire or more precisely traditional brands worn by the British working class, predating the Rude boy, Ska, Trojan and anyone else trying to jump on the bandwagon, it’s that simple.
Laces to identify affiliation amongst London skinheads first started in the mid to late Seventies, white laces denoting National Front support and red laces British Movement. Famously, Chelsea skins were NF as were Millwall but West Ham and Charlton were BM, so laces could identify your political allegiance, football team and part of town you were from.
Although skinheads famously stood together against everyone else when skinhead rivalry was at its height the wrong-coloured laces in the wrong part of town at the wrong time could land you in serious trouble.
Original skinheads always stress that in addition to class identity, skinheads stood for traditional values. Patriotism and family values were at the core of everything. Community was first and foremost, which led to the tribalism and belief in the staunch defence of all held dear. The first skinheads from London were undoubtedly what would be described as extreme right wing today, like everything the further from the source something gets the more pollution takes hold and as time goes by, the left, the liberal hand jobs, dress ups, foreigners and sexual deviants have all tried to rewrite our subcultures history to support their narrative, but the facts speak for themselves.
Skinhead firmly espoused and stood for the working-class values of the day, skinheads left school and worked. Colleges and universities were for the middle class and bastions of the left wing. Working class kids did not attend either, the odd fashionista in 1969 maybe as the dress code was universal but the vast majority no, it was very unusual for a working-class boy or girl to continue education after 16 until the mid to late 1980’s.
A working-class boy or girl of the 1960’s or 1970’s did not contemplate higher education, starting work at 16 and getting issued your first pair of Doctor Martens was a rite of passage.
Original skinheads emerged from Mod and followed the heavier power pop bands, and many continued to do so throughout the 1960’s, fact.
It was undoubtedly the fashion skins who took to reggae and Trojan and in the main it still wasn’t seen as accepting blacks in any way, certainly not in London, the South or Midlands and the majority of dress up skinheads lasted for the length of one haircut.
From 1970 and the mass exodus of the fashion skins to the next bandwagon, the originals reverted back or in many cases had never stopped following rock bands, which gave rise to bands like Slade who recorded their first album aimed at skinheads “Play It Loud” in 1969.
The first wave of skinhead Punk Front & Rock Against Communism (RAC) bands emerged in late 1977, from RAC we saw Oi! bands emerge a year or so later. While Trojan was very popular and the main stay of many in the summer of 1969, it is in no way the defining music of the skinhead, far from it.
The revisionist theory that skinheads accepted blacks because they listened and danced to reggae is outlandish in the extreme, once again the facts and any original skinhead or black from London will tell you this.
Skinhead reggae was just an off shoot the money men and dress ups like to push as its more sanitised and consequently more consumer friendly. RAC and Oi! isn’t an off shoot of the subculture it is the musical style that has stayed truest to the original skinheads.
The first incarnation of the feather cut, the hairstyle sported by skinhead girls originally derived from female street mods growing their Elfin or Pixie cuts out to a longer length. The feather cut with cropped crown was first seen in the early to mid 70’s worn by Chelsea skinhead girls specifically National Front supporters who stood in the Shed End of Chelsea Football Club. Hence the feather cut is also referred to as a Chelsea cut.
From 1970 the blokes began grading their hair shorter as did the girls to differentiate themselves from the dress ups and weekend warriors still infecting the scene and to show political allegiance to the right. The crew cut in Britain at that time was seen as an extremist statement representing racist ideology and was banned or frowned upon in the British military and many regional police forces until the 90’s.
As time went by the style was adopted by girls all over London and through travelling football supporters, right wing political events and RAC gigs spread all over England.
The way it’s got to be, from Mod rock to R.A.C