Down at the Vortex at midnight

40 years ago today, The Jam’s third album All Mod Cons hit the shelves.

The cover photograph saw Paul Weller sporting a French crop, white button-down shirt with sleeves turned up twice, steel grey cropped Sta Prest, white socks and chestnut brown monkey boots. A look that harked back to 1968 and screamed early skinhead — or ‘hard mod’ if you prefer that term.

Growing up in Woking just outside south-west London, Weller had been a young suedehead in the early 70s. In an interview with the Graun, he recalled:

“We were all post-skinheads – suedeheads. We were little peanuts, too young to be proper skinheads. But those styles permeated down to the kids anyway. The main strand that forged it together was that American-college look, the Brooks Brothers look: the cardigans and sleeveless jumpers and the buttoned-down shirts and the Sta-Prest trousers. That was the common ground. It was a way for people who haven’t got much to make a show.”

Image may contain: 5 people
Sham skins at the Vortex, January 1978

In 1978, though, the gap between original mod, skinhead and suedehead culture and the new breed was huge. Weller wasn’t keen on the skinhead kids populating the Vortex club. The lyric of ‘A-Bomb in Wardour Street’ betrays, let’s say, a sense of disconnect:

“I don’t know what I’m doing here
‘Cause it’s not my scene at all…
I’m stranded on the Vortex floor
My head’s been kicked in and blood’s started to pour
Through the haze I can see my girl
Fifteen geezers got her pinned to the door
I try to reach her but fall back to the floor
‘A’ bomb in Wardour Street
It’s blown up the West End, now it’s spreading throughout the city…
It’s Dr Marten’s apocalypse”

Elsewhere on the album, there was Weller’s famous tale of an encounter with NF thugs, ‘Down at the Tube Station at Midnight’, although “the smell of brown leather” certainly didn’t implicate skinheads of any stripe.


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