Of major bootboy interest was Neville Staple’s gig at a legendary Soho pisshole known and reviled as St. Moritz. By what right the Jamaican-born singer was advertised as “the original rudeboy” and “one of the undisputed forerunners of the ska movement” was unclear, so allow me to dispute the undisputed. For all I know, the ‘ska movement’ emerged in Jamaica at a time when lil Neville would have been four or five years of age, and the same is true of the rude boy subculture. Unless he was some exceptional child prodigy, he could have hardly been the ‘original’ anything, let alone a ‘forerunner’. I get that advertising language is about exaggeration, but it’s a bit like saying, ‘The Templars are the original skinheads and undisputed forerunners of the Oi! movement’.
So let’s stick to the facts: having cut his teeth on the 1970s British reggae scene, Neville Staple contributed to the ska revival known as Two Tone as one of the lead vocalists in The Specials. He is the one heard toasting “Bernie Rhodes knows don’t argue” at the beginning of ‘Gangsters’. Not to mention that The Specials infused the late 1970s skinhead revival with some sorely needed style and anti-racist cultural politics. Neville also had a less illustrious solo career following the band’s breakup, more on which can be learned from his fascinating sounding biography, Original Rude Boy: From Borstal to the Specials: A Life of Crime and Music.
Now, I was not looking forward to descending down the stairs of St. Moritz, which still reeks of raw sewage as it always has. Nor was I happy to queue for ages to use one of two available toilet cubicles, where cholera and black death still flourish. The same goes for paying 15 quid to get in and then buying shamelessly overpriced beer. But in a time when gentrification has forced many preferable venues to close down, that’s London for you – this town is coming like a ghost town indeed.
A few decent enough suits were seen in the room, though it’s a shame that today’s cropheads have to resort to super slim, 1966 type mod suits with side vents because that’s all that companies such as Adam of London will churn out. Then, there were the sartorially challenged. Look, no one expects you to put ten miles of boot on display – but one good reason for sewing in turn-ups is to make sure the hems steers clear of your Dr Martens. If they slouch all over your boots despite half inch turn-ups, then your jeans are clearly too long. It looks sloppy as hell.
Why am I pointing out other people’s sartorial inadequacies? To cover up my own insecurities like everybody else, of course.
To return to music, Neville Staple kicked off with a cover of ‘Pressure Drop’, and in this the vein the evening continued: a selection of Specials hits such as ‘Do The Dog’ liberally interspersed with original skinhead reggae. The band was tight and well-rehearsed, though at times the slickness and non-stop happiness of it all resembled late 1980s third wave ska a little bit too much for my liking – I would have appreciated things a tad grittier here and there. What’s more, I was disappointed that Neville did not play the excellent ‘Roadblock’, which I thought was a logical progression for his brand of rude boy reggae both musically and lyrically: relevant without trying to be too trendy.
Since the event was co-presented by Merc, the long-standing mod and skinhead clobber shop in Carnaby Street, there were Merc stalls, and the band was decked out in Merc button-down shirts. Consequently, a review of the gig would be incomplete without a critique of Merc clothing.
It has to be said that I have very little experience with Merc gear to base my views on. Earlier this year, I bought a £15 pair of braces from said vendor, expecting they would last a little longer than cheaper models. Initially, they definitely looked and felt good quality. Alas, after a month or two, the clips began to loosen their grip and snap off my Levi’s quite easily. Perhaps that is just an inevitable fact of life. But if that’s the case, I’d rather get my braces from Warrior or Jump the Gun – five quid cheaper, skinnier, and about the same lifespan without any pretence to ‘quality’.Secondly, when investigating various Crombie style overcoats, I came across Merc’s ‘Lord John’ coat (pictured). Again, the generous pricing suggested this was something of a ‘mid range’ product a notch or two above cheaper fare. However, Merc’s crombie – now apparently discontinued – wasn’t even fly-fronted. Who on earth would want to buy such an abomination? Nobody, except perhaps this human billboard marching with the British Movement in 1980.
Again, cheaper product is available from the likes of Warrior – fly-fronted, with red lining, and ticking most other boxes. I can personally confirm that Warrior’s coat is rather neat and good quality too, so there is no shame whatsoever in getting one. Prepared to splash out a bit more? Try Adam of London’s black or navy overcoat – slimmer at the waist and longer than Warrior’s boxier cut, and with the additional benefit of a velvet collar and ticket pocket. In contrast to the Warrior crombie, though, Adam of London’s is most definitely not a warm winter coat. I recommend Warrior for the cold months and Adam of London for spring and autumn.
Of course, you might want to get a real Crombie – especially if you’re an MP, diplomat or KGB agent – but there’s nothing authentically ‘skinhead’ about it. Back in 1969, the originals had their crombie coats made to measure. From early 1970 onward, most skins bought affordable off the peg knock-offs from Petticoat Lane market very much like the Warrior model.
To sum up, I’m not too impressed with Merc clothing thus far, though obviously this may change if they send me a few items to review. Their Harringtons look rather neat, for instance (cough, cough). An entertaining enough evening with Neville Staple was had, and even the aforementioned lack of grittiness was partly made up for by his rendition of ‘Ghost Town’, which was as atmospheric, hard-hitting and accurate as ever.