Since reminiscing about Skinheads in my post on The Business the other day I've been giving a lot of thought to that particular much maligned subculture.
It was a wet afternoon. My girlfriend lives 2000 miles away and I don't drink, so the obvious thing to do was to go to the library and read Vol. XV (Ser- Soosy) of the Second Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary.
Berry & Van Den Bark in The Thesaurus of American Slang (1954) acknowledge Skinhead as a slang for a bald headed man, but the first usage in the now familiar context comes from The Daily Mirror of September 3rd, 1969:
A group of teenagers wear tight and rather short jeans, collarless T-shirts, exposed braces, big steel toe-capped boots and hair erased almost to their scalps. The lack of hair is what gives them their generic names.. crop heads, skin-heads or peanuts. The boots are good for kicking.
I remember hearing as a small boy that my uncle had been beaten up by Skinheads. About this time my father was working in Warwick and he remembers a gang of Skinheads walking down the street and his first impression, that they must be inmates from an approved school. A mate of mine got a job circa 1970 (the one he still does now!) because his crop, brogues and tonic suit impressed the old ex army bosses far more than the foppish long hair of the other applicants .
Looking at images of Skinheads from this era their hair doesn't seem particularly short, but this has to be considered in the context of the prevailing fashions of the time.
The early Skinheads embraced soul music, ska and reggae (although Richard Allen's pulp hero Joe Hawkins cited Street Fightin' Man by the Rolling Stones as his fave record). The fashion soon became more mainstream (even Slade were skins for a while) and, unsurprisingly the look was very popular on the terraces as British football hooliganism entered its first golden age.
By the time I had reached adolescence in the late 70's Skinheads were still in evidence. The Two Tone scene revived interest in the fashion and the original ska records. The political compass was a bit of an issue though. I remember terraces of 'Rude Boys' and Skinheads chanting Seig Heil to the tune of the Birdy Song, and the skins were more interested in creating general mayhem than following any particular political agenda.
Then along came Oi! and the hybrid of Punk and Skinhead. At this time most skins weren't listening to ska, it was all flat out punk stuff.
At this time there were quite a few Skinheads in my town. I was fascinated by them, and despite my leanings towards love, peace and harmony, I had soon become one of those strange punk-skin mutations. I got friendly with a few skins- I admired their genuine don't give a fuck attitude and contempt for all authority.
As mentioned briefly in a previous post, one of the most exhilarating nights of my life came when I travelled with a minibus split 50/50 punks and skins from Merthyr to see a gig featuring Cardiff's The Oppressed . A pub full of conspicuously shortarsed Skinheads rumbled the fact that I was a 'Jack' and I spent the rest of the night dodging and literally running for my life. Later that year I went to a Crass gig with a couple of Chelsea casuals- that's a different story but neatly illustrates what a fucked up chameleon I was at the time!
I suppose that I harboured some romantic notion that here was the mobilised proletariat who really could bring down the system, the dispossessed for once prepared to fight back rather than mouth off, but in my heart of hearts, as smart as they look, if I saw a gang of Skinheads coming down the street today I'd probably shit myself.