Tees Up

New t-shirt designs now on sale for only $14. Don’t forget hoodies, sweat shirts, tote bags, and now badges are available too. Buy! Buy! Buy!

Download: So Hip It Hurts – ABC (mp3)


Indie Chic

Originally published November 2013

We all know what Mods, Skins, and Punks dress like, but what is Indie style? This is a question the new book A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music 1980-1988 attempts to answer with a collection of photos from the years between Post-Punk and Acid House.

The word “Indie” has long since ceased to simply mean a band on an independent label – I wouldn’t really call New Order Indie – but instead came to describe a certain lo-fi scruffy amateurism, jangly guitars, and singers with fey voices who probably got beaten up a lot at school. The basic template was sketched out early on by Orange Juice and The Marine Girls, then coloured in (with crayons) by the bands on the NME’s C86 cassette.

The fresh-faced charm of the music was reflected in a charity shop-bought style that seemed raided from the band’s childhood wardrobes: anoraks, duffel coats, cardigans, v-neck jumpers, floral dresses, stripey t-shirts, sandals, and plimsolls. At the noisier end of the Indie spectrum where bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain lived the look was slightly more Velvet Underground, but generally the aesthetic was more Ladybird Books than CBGB’s, with a lot of Jean Seberg in Breathless thrown in for the girls.

I was never a full-blown Indie Kid myself, but in the early 80s I did have an anorak and wore those blue deck shoes from Millet’s that were all the rage for a while. At the time I was going out with a girl who dressed exactly like the one in the photo above (except her hair was a peroxide flat-top) whose best mate Eithne was even more Indie-stylish and later made the step from fan to starlet when she joined Twee popsters Talulah Gosh (she’s playing the tambourine in this video). We went to see her play live with them one night and backstage after the show I was amused to see Eithne and Amelia Fletcher surrounded by earnestly shy boys who obviously had major crushes on them. First time I’ve ever seen groupies wearing anoraks, though they were probably offering them mixtapes, not sex and drugs.

Though it’s easy to mock the music and the fashion as “Twee” – and a lot of it was a bit too wet and mopey for me — the Indie scene of the 80s was carrying on the DIY philosophy of Punk at a time when most pop music (and its accompanying fashions and videos) was very polished and materialistic, so in a way they were being quietly radical. Very quietly — while wearing anoraks.

Download: Velocity Girl – Primal Scream (mp3)
Download: Beatnik Boy – Talulah Gosh (mp3)

The Ace Face

Originally published June 2012. Now with added images.

There’s an excellent interview here with Nick Logan, the man who was editor of the NME during the punk late 70s (where he hired two unknown kids called Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons) and then went on to independently create Smash Hits and The Face which must be about as brilliant a track record you can get in the yoof culture business.

I was a keen NME reader when The Face first came out in 1980 and carried on reading them both for a few years, but increasingly it was the glossy newcomer I looked forward to getting the most. As a design student I ate up the influential, envelope-pushing layouts of Neville Brody and it’s slick production values which were a lot more attractive than a smudgy, inky newspaper. In comparison the latest weekly news about The Smiths wasn’t that interesting to me anymore and The Face just had it’s antenna and attitude better tuned to the new decade.

Looking at back issues now is like opening time capsules of the trends of the 1980s, and the contents of my own wardrobe too. The cover of the “Hard Times” issue below is exactly how I was dressing circa 1982: ripped 501s, studded belt, deck shoes, vintage 1950s shirt from Flip. Then a few years later, I (along with every hep young man in London) was wearing my 501s (always 501s) with chunky Doc Marten shoes and an MA-1 flying jacket, a look credited to the magazine’s fashion stylist Ray Petri. I still have the dark blue MA-1 jacket I bought 25 years ago, still in very good nick too.

I don’t know if Logan was a genius or just lucky, but The Face hit the streets at exactly the right zeitgeisty moment (Smash Hits too), catching the start of a style-obsessed decade when the word “designer” was applied to everything and a pop star’s haircut and trousers were considered worthy of serious notice. But the most inspiring thing I got from the interview was that The Face was never market-researched or focus-grouped or any of that bollocks. Logan just had an idea for a magazine he’d like to read himself and filled it with stuff he thought was interesting — that was the only criteria. As someone who’s suffered through hundreds of interminable and depressing marketing meetings that suck all the life out of any good idea, that seems like a dream come true and the only way anything great ever gets done.

Download: Look Sharp! – Joe Jackson (mp3)

Multimedia Bonus: I vaguely remember seeing this ad in the cinema at the time but don’t think it was ever on television, I can’t imagine they’d have the money for that.

Soul Shoes

I came across this photo on Pinterest recently and it sparked a lot of memories. I had a pair of these oxblood Dr. Marten tassel loafers in the mid-80s which I got from Shelly’s on the King’s Road. Dr. Marten’s have been making this style since 1980 and I’m happy to see that they still sell them.

A few years before that I had some black suede Chelsea Boots with buckles and zips like these — also from Shelly’s.

I’m a little amazed that I used to wear these, but they were part of my Post-Punk uniform along with the big overcoat and Ian McCulloch haircut. They look very “Goth” now but I swear I wasn’t one, though I probably wore them when I saw Siouxsie & The Banshees.

The switch to loafers marked not just a stylistic change but a musical one as well. I’d moved on from the grim and gloomy sounds of my late teens was listening to a lot of Northern Soul, so my look was a combo of Soul Boy and Hard Times. I always wore the loafers with white socks but they were usually paired with vintage 501s.

I had regular pair of DM shoes (everyone did) but the loafers were my “fancy” pair to go clubbing in or if I felt like looking particularly sharp. Back then I used to go to a Northern Soul night above The Alexandra pub in Clapham and I’m sure I danced to this in them.

Download: Just Walk In My Shoes – Gladys Knight & The Pips (mp3)

Blonde Ambition

I have a confession to make: My name is Lee and I bought the first two singles by Marilyn.

Not Monroe or Manson, I’m talking about the cross-dressing friend of Boy George and fellow Blitz Kid “face” who shared a squat with him in his pre-Culture Club days. That second-hand fame got him a record contract when labels went looking for another flamboyant and sexually ambiguous singer to follow the huge success George was having in the early 80s.

Because he was seen someone who was only famous because of who he knew and what he looked like, Marilyn was considered a bit of a joke and the ultimate in style over substance. But, surprisingly, he could actually sing and these first couple of singles from 1983 were pretty good if very much cut from the same cloth as Culture Club’s pop-soul. 

And I have to say he did look gorgeous.

Download: Calling Your Name (12″ Version) – Marilyn (mp3)
Download: Cry And Be Free – Marilyn (mp3)

The Filth and The Fury

These days the look and sound of Punk is so unthreatening it’s used in television commercials and kids with blue hair don’t even turn heads, but it was once considered a serious threat to the morals of England’s youth. Of course that’s why we liked it, anything that could get up the noses of grown ups had to be a good thing.

This 1977 episode of the BBC current affairs program Brass Tacks is a wonderful time capsule of that era. I remember seeing this at the time it was broadcast as we’d watch anything about Punk. It features some great footage of Punk kids in Manchester, a very young Pete Shelley, John Peel, and an hysterical parade of uptight councilors and clergy. Not surprisingly, Peel (who starts talking around the 34-minute mark) is about the only adult in the room who knows anything about it and doesn’t come across as a reactionary twerp.

Let’s have some of that nasty Punk Rock stuff. 

Download: Neat Neat Neat – The Damned (mp3)

We Got The Funk

I don’t know if the alternative culture program Twentieth Century Box was ever shown outside of London but it was essential viewing. Produced by Janet Street-Porter, it gave a very young Danny Baker his first TV gig and was on the air in the early 1980s during a golden age for British youth culture (and had a theme tune by John Foxx). It devoted episodes to the Rockabilly scene, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the Blitz Kids, often providing their first coverage on television.

At the time Danny Baker was at the NME where he’d been a champion of soul and dance music before it was trendy so he may have been the instigator behind this terrific episode about the British Jazz-Funk scene as he had just written a cover story about it for the paper.

As Danny says at the start of the program the scene wasn’t covered properly by the music press and even today it remains a mostly unknown story. The histories of Mods, Skins, and Punks have been chronicled down to the last shirt collar detail, but Soul Boys (and girls) have never received the same attention beyond the occasional joke about Essex boys and Escort XR3is with fluffy dice. Northern Soul gets far more respect despite being conservative and reactionary at heart — we don’t want now’t to do with that soft southern funk rubbish. Brit-Funk was a multi-racial, working class scene full of kids creating their own original styles but it was never as cool. Maybe it was too genuinely working class and non-elitist, you didn’t need the right trousers to join in. It really was all about the music which didn’t give music writers much of a hook.

The thing that strikes me the most watching the wonderful club footage in this show (which starts around the 13-minute mark) is how damn happy and joyous the atmosphere is. I’d forgotten all about that, and it brought a little lump to my throat. This was an era of violence between Punks and Teds, Mods and Rockers, and tense rock concerts where you had to be worried about being crushed by a pogoing mob or nutted by some skinhead, so the kids all saying “there’s no trouble” meant a lot more than it seems now.

My musical tastes were too varied to be 100% part of any scene back then (I liked Earth, Wind & Fire and Joy Division) but I often went to the Lyceum Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights when Steve Walsh, and Greg Edwards were DJ-ing. The place was always packed to the rafters with kids wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the names of their Tribes from different parts of London — Brixton Front Line, Dalston Soul Patrol — all blowing whistles and chanting along with the records.

The highpoint of the evening was usually the massive communal line-dance to the funky Latin groove of “Jingo” by Candido. Other big tunes from this time were the glittery “Casanova” and the anthemic “Love Has Come Around”. All these are the extended 12″ mixes so get ready for some big downloads, and some dancing.

Download: Jingo – Candido (mp3)
Download: Casanova – Coffee (mp3)
Download: Love Has Come Around – Donald Byrd (mp3)

The Tribes of Britain

Download: Love Of The Common People – Nicky Thomas (mp3)

Download: Ain’t No Soul Left In These Old Shoes – Major Lance (mp3)

Download: Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O – Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group (mp3)

Download: Sweet And Tender Hooligan – The Smiths (mp3)

Download: Tear The Whole Thing Down – The Higsons (mp3)