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‘The Story of Skinhead’ is must-see TV
04:14 pm


Don Letts

My personal experience with skinheads—a “run in” you might call it—was brief, lasting mere minutes, but it was a memorable occasion…

The year was 1983 and I was a 17-year-old lovesick dickhead living in a south London squat who wanted to impress this super gorgeous goth chick I knew. My choice of attire has always been more to the preppy side, but I realized that if I was to have any chance with this beautifully morbid creature, I needed to switch up my look from Brooks Brothers to something a lil’ more Peter Murphy. So I hennaed my hair black and spiked it up with hairspray, wore eyeliner and makeup and donned a black trenchcoat. The object of my affections was not in the least impressed with my new look, but that’s beside the point.

Later that night, right after the pubs had shut, I was going home, alone, rejected and dejected, on the London subway, and feeling like an idiot. The goth look I’d worn for all of maybe five hours just wasn’t me. When the train stopped at Leicester Square, a massive rush of people crushed into the train, including a gang of eight very large, very fearsome, very mean and very fucking drunk skinheads. They were with their girlfriends, who were also wearing boots and braces. All had the “Chelsea cut” that female skins wore. The girls seemed even harder than their boyfriends, and just as ugly.

One of the female skins noticed me and pointed out the “goth poofter,” suggesting that her boyfriend and his pals should kick my faggoty ass. They jeered at me, brandished their fists at me and let me—and every other passenger in that subway car—know that they were going to beat me within an inch of my life. If I was lucky. Suffice to say that my life might’ve changed course dramatically that night had things turned out differently.

My first instinct was to piss in my pants or start crying like a baby begging them for mercy, but I decided that hoping for some cops to magically appear and save my quivering hide was probably a better strategy. Then the train conductor announced over the intercom system that we’d be stopping at the next station, and that the train we were on was being taken out of commission so all the passengers needed to exit and wait on the platform for the next train to arrive.

This was not necessarily good news, I thought.

I mentioned how crowded the train was. When this positively bursting-at-the-seams car cleared out a bit, I made to exit in the opposite direction from where the skinheads had been taunting me when the biggest and meanest one of them stomped right over and drew his arm back to wallop me with a haymaker. Had his punch connected, I’ve no doubt that he would have knocked me unconscious and probably broken several bones in my face. But he didn’t connect. He barely grazed my forehead and I felt his fist rush by me like a gust of wind as it just barely missed cracking my skull into several pieces.

The platform at the station was even more densely packed than the train had been. I needed to find some cops—and was frantically trying to push my way through the sardines, followed closely behind by this drunken, bloodthirsty skinhead wolfpack—but there were no London bobbies anywhere to be found. I kept moving, hoping something would happen when the train turned up. Standing still and waiting for them to catch up to me wasn’t an option, and there were several yards between us. I plowed onwards.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Socialist Skinhead Soul of The Redskins

This is a guest post from Jason Toon

Socialist skinhead soul outfit The Redskins were so conceptually perfect, that they seemed like something someone made up. And they sort of were. Head ‘skin Chris Dean wasn’t some snaggletoothed bootboy urchin from a cement skyscraper. Dean wrote for the NME, he was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, and he had a head full of ideas about youth culture, Trotskyism, and the power of the proper trousers. It was from those ideas, not from the “streets,” that The Redskins sprang.

But The Redskins were a real band, they did inspire a real (if small) left-wing skinhead movement, and most importantly, they did make real (and really great) records. Their 1982 debut single, “Lev Bronstein” b/w “Peasant Army”, paired a post-punk-soul A-side with a chugging Oi! B-side, all produced by Jon Langford of The Mekons and released on his CNT Records. Intriguing enough, especially considering the strident left-wing poetry of the lyrics, but The Redskins really caught fire with their second single, “Lean On Me,” a hyperfast take on ‘60s soul analogous to what the 2-Tone bands did with ‘60s ska. It hit #3 on the UK indie chart, and made The Redskins an electric presence in the ‘80s left-wing pop ferment. When the miner’s strike heated up in 1984, The Redskins’ socialist stance resonated like a brass section.

If you found Crass too tuneless, if Billy Bragg was too quiet, if The Style Council was too slick, The Redskins were your band. And Dean wasn’t afraid to call the others out for insufficient ideological rigour: “If there’s a tour organized by the Labour Party, one thing you can be sure of is that it’ll sell out,” he said about Red Wedge, Labour’s attempt to mount a travelling anti-Thatcher pop circus. And Dean called Bragg “Neil Kinnock’s publicity officer.”

Touche! But the people in those acts are still around, still doing something. Where’s Chris Dean now? It didn’t take long for his revolutionary fire to burn itself out. After a stack of classic singles and one great LP (Neither Washington nor Moscow), The Redskins fizzled out by the end of 1986. Dean was great at writing stirring anthems like “Keep On Keepin’ On!” and “It Can Be Done!”, but alas, failed to walk the walk. He reportedly retreated to a reclusive life in Paris, leaving the rest of us with a totally unique example of how to weave a handful of diverse cultural and political threads into a thrilling band. Whatever you think of The Redskins’ Trotskyist politics, music could use this kind of commitment, imagination, and style today.

The Redskins perform “Lean On Me” live:

Chris Dean and Martin Hewes talk about the band and show the video for “Keep On Keepin’ On!”:

More from The Redskins after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Equals: British Multiracial Soul

Before he went off to make a mint singing about the main market street in Brixton, Guyanese-born London resident Eddy Grant put together the Equals, one of England’s most stomping multi-racial soul-rock bands.

Before the Equals scored their first hit in the UK with “Baby Come Back,” it went #1 in Germany, from which the first clip below originates, featuring a rather bossy 19-year-old Grant. It would take Top of the Pops a full year until they booked the Equals to perform the same tune. Oh yeah, they tossed over the song in clip #2 to a bunch of punks a few years after they recorded it in ’69.

Original North London skinhead psychedelia!



Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment