Reclaiming the skinhead tradition - review of "Spirit of '69" by George Marshall

Reclaiming the skinhead tradition - review of "Spirit of '69" by George Marshall

Review of a book about Skinhead culture, taken from issue 2 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.

The fascist skinhead has become part of the left's mythology. Cable Street Beat [AFA's music and culture section] takes a look at a new book by George Marshall, which cuts through the myths to give a more balanced account of skinhead culture.

"Spirit of '69" is about working class youth, having a crack. It's also about what happens when the left fails to identify its interests with working class youth, and about how the space that opens up gets filled. The book's purpose is to reclaim the skinhead tradition from the hands of the far right and the gutter press. As George Marshall puts it:

Quote:
"Here in Britain, we are slotted in nicely somewhere between devil dogs, England fans and serial killers in the tabloid scare story league, and things aren't much different in any other country."

Along the way, Marshall gives us some brilliantly written portraits of the '60s skinhead scene, and of a skin's eye view of the Summer of Love, where:

Quote:
"middle class youngsters everywhere said goodbye to the real world and started turning on, tuning in and dropping out (man). Well, at least until Daddy found them a plum job at the office anyway."

Marshall pinpoints the real birth of the skinhead style in the emergence of gang mods or hard mods, who replaced smart suits with shirt, jeans and boots, and whose hair "proceeded to go down the barber's scale from four to one." What happened next gives the lie to the "skinheads are racist" bullshit which is accepted from the News of the World to Ian Stuart Donaldson:

Quote:
"Young white mods soon became regular visitors to the blues parties and illegal drinking holes that could be found in North Kent, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol and areas of London like Notting Hill and Brixton. It gave them a chance to hear the very latest sounds and this in turn brought them into regular contact with black youths."

The best of Marshall's book is his description of early skin styles — the Charlie George style mutton chops, steel toe-capped boots with the metal tip exposed, and "eight or ten hole boats and none of this boots up to your armpits nonsense that caught on after punk." The joys of terrace rucks are touched on as well, with Marshall nailing the hypocrisy of the media:

Quote:
"Most of the answers to the trouble at football from a supposedly caring society were more violent than the problem itself. Whip them. Bring back National Service, get some discipline back into their lives. Great stuff. Not on the terraces please bays. Save it for the trenches."

Marshall takes us rapidly through the seventies, with bands like Slade jumping on the skin bandwagon, and the "Clockwork Orange" cults, which led to "small armies of droogs who turned up in white boiler suits." It’s the late '70 that cause Marshall problems, though. He's clear enough about the bullshit and hype which was "punk":

Quote:
"Punk was never any spontaneous street rebellion made good . . . More like a weekend exercise in shock, courtesy of the oh so trendy fashion and art colleges. And all this a million miles away from the snotty nosed kids in their snorkel coats, too busy booting a ball about a sprawling council estate to lead a charge of the punk brigade."

He's clear also that what he calls street punk, bands like Sham 69, Cock Sparrer and Menace, were a positive alternative. The problem for the scene at this time was simple:

Quote:
"A lot of the skinheads who followed Sham and the other street punks bands supported the National Front and the British Movement."

Marshall suggests that Sharn 69 were wrong to play a Rock Against Racism gig as a response to the growth of far-right activity amongst their following. The fact that Sham tied their colours "to the RAR flagpole" led directly, according to Marshall, to the British Movement-led attack on their farewell gig at the Rainbow.

Marshall repeats this analysis later, when he looks at the Oi movement. He recognises the importance of Oi: "For probably the first time ever, the people on the stage really were the same as the people on the dancefloor." Working class bands addressing a working class audience, "havin' a laugh and havin' a say."

Most of the bands had little or no connection with the far right. Their songs were about issues which any socialist could (or should) agree with - The Gonads' "Jobs not Jails", the Business' "Employers Blacklist" - but the far right were in the area, and bands like Last Resort, with songs like "Britain's Not Dead" and Combat 84, whose singer Chubby Chris was on open fascist, were prepared to pave the way.

When the Business, the Last Resort and the 4-Skins played the Hamborough Tavern in Southall in July '81, local Asian youth, facing on influx of Sieg-Heiling thugs, burned the pub to the ground. Marshall's problem is that he treats the forces involved with Oi as political innocents and blames the Asian community for overreacting. But the facts speak for themselves. Bands like The Elite and Combat 84 were openly Nazi. The 4-Skins' manager Gary Hitchcock was an ex-British Movement member. Leading light of the BM, Nicky Crane, was on the cover of the "Strength Thru' Oi" LP. In dealing with Oi, and with the far right's attempts to infiltrate the skin scene in general, George Marshall is never more than half right, but the fault isn't his.

When Sham played for Rock Against Racism, the Socialist Workers Party said "thanks" and left the band to face the backlash on their own. So Marshall concludes that Sham were wrong to run the risk at all. The truth is that Sham were right to follow the courage of their convictions, and the left was guilty of turning a blind eye to the consequences.

With Oi, things took a turn for the worse - faced with a movement of working class youth, the left opted out of the battle for their hearts and minds, concluding that Oi was "mindless music for an equally mindless audience, and everyone remotely connected with the movement was branded a racist", which let the fascists make all the running. Marshall tells us that "Oi ended up being daubed with a massive big swastika and the music industry couldn't distance itself quick enough." He's correct, and he's right also when he details the extent to which the best of the bands fought against this, with Info Riot and the Business playing Oi Against Racism gigs, and the 4-Skins offering to arrange an anti-racist gig in Southall.

Marshall's analysis of the strength of the far-right amongst sections of the working class youth is spot-on:

Quote:
"While virtually everyone else was condemning football hooliganism and other skinhead pastimes, the Young National Front hailed them as terrace warriors and published a regular League of Louts feature in Bulldog. Here was a party that didn't talk at you, but talked to you, and didn't look down at you, but treated you as the cream of British youth."

Marshall's analysis is flawed despite this because he's been let down by a gutless, middle class left so often he ends up thinking it's wrong even when it's been right, and blaming it for sins it's not guilty of. He tells us that Skrewdriver turned to the right because anti-fascists kept on getting their gigs cancelled: "With nowhere to go and no media publicity, Skrewdriver turned to the only friends they had left, the National Front."

He's sickened by the growth of the White Noise and Blood and Honour movements, and glad for the brief alternative posed by the Hard As Nails fanzine, the ska revival and the burgeoning scooter scene. When he talks of the attack on a Desmond Dekker gig at Great Yarmouth by 30 NF skins as showing "how far sections of the skinhead cult had drifted from their roots. If the original skinheads had had their way, Desmond Dekker's birthday would have been a national holiday," you know that Marshall is on the side of the angels. His problem, and the problem of both the Spirit of '69 and his regular Skinhead Times, is that the failure of the left to deliver the goods has left him with little but the hope that

Quote:
"maybe the day will come when skinheads will once again leave politics outside when they go to gigs and dances, and maybe petty politicians who do all the mouthing and then lead from the back, will find some other mugs to fight their battles."

The trouble is, these days the politics which gels injected into the skin scene all too often comes from the right. What's necessary is the forging of a working class anti-fascist left that won't buck the battles ahead, that won't put up with bands like Skrewdriver performing shit like "White Power", and will lead from the front in every battle, big or small, whether it be driving Nazis out of ska gigs or fighting for the rights of the unemployed, stopping Blood and Honour gigs or resisting anti-union laws.

"Spirit of '69" is in many ways a great book. It is a tribute to the creativity of generations of working class kids, from the hard mods, through Sham, the Two-Tone scene to the scooter kids of today. Marshall tells us that "Skinhead has always stood for pride in yourself, pride in your town, pride in your class."

What we can't forget is that "pride in your class" means taking on those like Ian Stuart Donaldson and those like Tyndall and Edmonds who stand behind them, because their loyalties are to another class, the bosses who shit on us everyday. "Pride in your doss" is nothing unless it means fighting for the real interests of your class against those who'd sell those interests out.

Comments

Red Marriott
Feb 6 2019 17:31

For critical comments on rose-tinted revisionist views of skinheads see comments below this article; http://libcom.org/history/1960-today-skinhead-culture

Ed
Feb 6 2019 21:03
Red Marriott wrote:
For critical comments on rose-tinted revisionist views of skinheads see comments below this article; http://libcom.org/history/1960-today-skinhead-culture

After the comments below that article we actually decided to unpublish it. It's only visible to you because you've got particular permissions. Most users and anyone not logged in won't be able to read it (hopefully, anyway!).

Fozzie
Feb 6 2019 21:34

I’m logged in and I can’t read it. Which is a pity because I think a critique of the romanticised history of skinhead culture would be cool.

Ed
Feb 7 2019 10:29

Yeah, that was one discussion we had internally at the time. I'd assumed we'd deleted the article (and thus lost the comments) but as we just unpublished it, here are the comments that were below it (which themselves could probably be put together into a decent article tbh).

faraldo wrote:
The above article should be renamed WHITEWASH.

I grew up in Slough, S.England in a working class area and remember that time vividly. Because there was the Trading Estate and the Ford Car Works there was work in the area and consequently increased immigration - initially west indian then from Pakistan - which records show between 1961 and 1971 went from 25,000 to 119,000 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Pakistanis#Population

The things I saw, heard and witnessed were both first hand because we were on the streets and we saw such events and through Asian friends whose brothers and fathers were attacked - and here we are talking about from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. Initially there were skinheads who talked about - and did - 'hippy bashing' which then went on to 'paki bashing' - and we knew people who had been caught by skin gangs and given a kicking.. The idea that because the skins were into Trojan and ska - which a lot of us working class liked because of Prince Buster and Blue Beat that therefore they or west indians could not be racist is a complete LIE - it is insidious and completely misleading - just as it is misleading to say that it was 'multi cultural. Give it a break. It wasnt.

Go to google images. Type in skinheads 1960 - see how 'multi-cultural' those images are.

The initial affiliation with RUDE BOY was ok, but the self styled bovver boys - a term which definitely was around in 1969/70 referred specifically to the idea of going out and giving people 'bovver' which meant giving them a doc martin kicking. These gangs became notorious in the Asian community as racist attacks by these gangs would escalate. Because of their own expeience of that kind of racism West Indians generally did not get involved in violent attacks but they could be just as racist/against the 'Pakis' - I heard this on several occasions.
I also saw these gangs threaten and assault Asians

Not all skinheads were racist - I know it isnt fair to tar everyone with the same brush - but I know what I witnessed - and the early gangs of the late 1960's and early 1970's definitely were. A lot of them went into the National Front.

You dont have to dig far to find this link;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Adair

And let me tell you this ideological affiliatiobn definitely WAS the standard

faraldo wrote:
ps - when I say 'these gangs' I mean white skinheads. The kind who went into the NF and now support Stormfront and groups like that. Back then they had far more of a street presence and because of their thuggery were feared by many people.

Serge Forward wrote:
Faraldo is correct and the skinheads of the past definitely are viewed today with rose-tinted specs and a shitload of wishful thinking. Sure, they were into ska and all that but non-racist skins were still the exception. Multi-racial unity? My arse.

Red Marriott wrote:
faraldo wrote:
The above article should be renamed WHITEWASH.

Serge Forward wrote:
Faraldo is correct and the skinheads of the past definitely are viewed today with rose-tinted specs and a shitload of wishful thinking. Sure, they were into ska and all that but non-racist skins were still the exception. Multi-racial unity? My arse.

Correct. This piece of fiction reads like some poorly researched sociology (and is probably based on the same). So much is wrong with the article historically - really, delete it, it's romanticised lefty crap.

article wrote:
Skinhead culture emerged as a result of two shifts in British culture and society in the early/mid 1960s.

This is as misleading as the article's title (there were no skins in 1960) - skinheads appeared at earliest in the mid-late 60s (67?) - only becoming a nationally visible trend in late 60s.

article wrote:
Firstly, the Mod scene which had been so popular amongst British youth had begun to split into different factions. While the middle class Mods were able to carry on pursuing the latest Carnaby Street clothes and fashionable haircuts, this was out of reach to most working class Mods. In a scene so heavily based on consumerism, this undermined the working class Mods' status and ability to take part in the scene.

Way too simplistic. (And ironic for an article signed 'libcom', considering the normal 2 classist libcom view of the "middle class" supposedly having no socio-economic distinction). The emergence of post-war teen culture was linked to increased consumerism/spending for teens - working class mods spent plenty of money on clothes, scooters, records, pills, gigs, guitars etc. The split was more who followed trends in the rock music/culture and the associated lifestyle and choice of drugs - eg working class mod bands like the Small Faces, the Who, Kinks etc went hip(pyish). Some of those who weren't into that probably got more into the skin thing a bit later.

article wrote:
This led to the emergence of "hard Mods", who marked themselves off from their peers with shaved hair, tight jeans, braces (suspenders), and work boots. This style, based on the typical style of British workingmen at the time, served to separate them from the old Mods and the middle class hippies of their generation. It served as "a conscious attempt by working class youth to dramatise and resolve their marginal status in a class-based society."

!! No, this is plain daft. "the typical style of British workingmen" (whatever that is?) in the 60s was not to commonly dress like skinheads! Duh... And by the time skins came along mods were really over.

article wrote:
At the same time, there was an influx of Jamaican immigration to London. They brought with them Jamaican rude boy culture, reggae and ska.

Er no, the influx (not only to London) had begun in the late 40s-early 50s (the Windrush docked in 1948): years before skins - or reggae - emerged.

article wrote:
As a result of living so close to one another, the ‘native’ hard Mods mingled with the Jamaican rude boys, swapping mannerisms, slang words and dancing together in West Indian dancehalls to all the latest ska, reggae and soul records.
Out of this, the Skinheads were born, a multi-racial, working class youth subculture with a clearly defined hostility to the police, government and bosses as well as being an expression of the discontent that many young people felt at the time. This culture would only flourish for a short while, peaking in 1969 and fizzling out in the early 1970s amidst internal violence and media hysteria.

There may have been the odd very rare non-white skinhead but "a multi-racial, working class youth subculture with a clearly defined hostility to the police, government and bosses as well as being an expression of the discontent that many young people felt at the time"? This is utter bollocks - as already pointed out by Faraldo & Serge. Skinheads were well known for aggression and gang attacks of hippy-bashing, gay-bashing, paki-bashing etc. That doesn't mean all shared that attitude - but that behaviour was very much associated with the original skinhead wave and with those who had that image, as anyone who became a skin knew. That someone can write an article and gloss over all that and how central it was (or not even be aware of it and claim to write a 'history') just shows how crap the article is and makes you wonder what the motive for writing was. And I don't see any evidence to suggest skins had any more of a "clearly defined hostility to the police, government and bosses" than your average football gangs who fought each other and the cops, and who were often skins and often (but not always) racist.

Maybe all this bullshit history is partly motivated by the fact that 'skinhead' now is partly a retro fashion thing based on like of a certain style and music - and some feel the need to 'cleanse' the history to feel comfortable? Whatever, articles like this are misleading fantasy and an embarassing waste of space.

Iskra wrote:
Yeah, this article is quite bullshit. I mean skinheads earned their name when gang of hard-mods chased some hippies screaming "Enoch! Enoch! Enoch!". Yeah, that the same Enoch which is held responsible for "Rivers of Blood" speech.

When it comes to 60's skinhead culture and whole this "Spirit of 69" thing I think that it's important to make certain points, especially when we compare it to present day situation. First, skinheads in 60's were popular working class subculture. A lot of youth were skinheads. Unlike today politics wasn't important for subculture as whole, but of course, gangs had their own belifs. For example there were gangs which were into "Paki bashing", but also there were gangs which were not or which had "leftist" members. Secondly, todays skinheads make myths about 60's, just like anarchists, for example, make myths out of Spanish "Revolution". Traditional (trojan) skinehads, SHARP & RASH try to make like subculture has nothing to do with racisim and fascism, which is true, but you can't erase history and this whole development of bonehead and RAC shit has it roots in political situation of 80's.

As a skinhead I think that todays situation in the worlds skinhead scene is quite different than it was in 60's, 80's or 90's. It more intenrational and more "trad"/SHARP, but also there's really big problem of patriotism/nationalism which skins think of something positive. Also whole this RASH subculture is fucking joke....

Serge Forward wrote:
Red Marriott wrote:
Maybe all this bullshit history is partly motivated by the fact that 'skinhead' now is partly a retro fashion thing based on like of a certain style and music - and some feel the need to 'cleanse' the history to feel comfortable? Whatever, articles like this are misleading fantasy and an embarassing waste of space.

That's exactly the point. It's historical revisionism, and shoddily done revisionism at that. Those of us who were around in the 60s and 70s (including the ex- mods, skinheads, suedeheads, crombie boys, bovver boys, yobbos and assorted aggro merchants) are laughing our arses off at this shining example of the "wouldn't it be nice" school of historical research.

Zero out of 10. Must do better.

Fozzie
Feb 7 2019 12:39

Yep that's a good discussion, thanks for reposting it here, Ed.

I'd say this sort of revisionism also applies to punk and the idea of the "punky reggae party" which centres things like Rock Against Racism etc but ignores the fact that some punks were clearly racist - even ideologically so when you consider things like the Punk Front in Leeds.

One problem is that you end up with very polarised positions as various factions try to claim things as their own - (Sharps vs Boneheads in the case of skinheads). Which means any nuance is removed.

Red Marriott
Feb 7 2019 14:22
Quote:
I'd say this sort of revisionism also applies to punk and the idea of the "punky reggae party"

For another angle on that and the revisionist sainthood projected onto Marley, see what Ari Up of the female punk band The Slits had to say;

Quote:
Interviewer - The story in the book which stuck with me was the one about Bob Marley removing the band's name from one of his songs [an early demo of 'Punky Reggae Party'] when he found out you were girls. That must have been quite hurtful.

AU: I was really, really hurt.

TP: Somewhere at home in my cassette collection, I've got the copy of it.

[...]

TP: As far as I can remember it went, "The Clash! The Slits! The Feelgoods will be there!" Maybe a couple of other names…

AU: Something like: "The Clash, The Damned, The Jam! The Slits, The Feelgoods will be there!" And he took out The Slits when he found out we were girls. https://thequietus.com/articles/03030-typical-girls-to-trapped-animals-t...

She also tells of visiting Marley's London hotel suite with the Rasta women segregated upstairs while downstairs the boys were doing coke & groupies;
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGvX8o_GHOY

Entdinglichung
Feb 7 2019 14:41

remember scumbag Garry Bushell admitting in an interview for a German TV programme in the 90ies that in his time in the skinhead movement in the 70ies the slogan "Black & White unite" often ment Black and White unite against Pakistanis and Indians

Fozzie
Feb 7 2019 16:44

A friend posted this yesterday on Marley's birthday...

Serge Forward
Feb 7 2019 20:31

I remember talking to a young spike-top punk in Stoke in about 1981. We just happened to be walking in the same direction. Anyway, he was going on about anarchy and all that and I was talking about the local Careless Talk group. At some point he told me he was also in the British Movement. Up to then he'd seemed like such a nice lad grin

R Totale
Feb 7 2019 21:33

Fwiw, I remember the White Riot anthology being pretty good at presenting the full complexity of the punk/race connection. Also includes a pretty unbeatable moment of pop-cultural historical revisionism in the form of an extract from some white power skinhead zine that tried to argue that rock'n'roll was actually an exclusively white musical form, invented by Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley who took all their inspiration from Scottish Presbyterian hymns, or something along those lines.

zugzwang
Feb 8 2019 04:39

I've been listening to some Buster since I discovered him in the Angry Brigade episode of the wch podcasts, pretty neat to hear what leftists/anarchists were listening to back then (before punk and everything). I'd be very much interested in a music blog/article as Ed suggested from people who were around during that time.