Skins: A Way of Life, Patrick Potter, 2018 (Carpet Bombing Culture)
Indefatigable is not a word to be thrown around lightly, unless perhaps you’re George Galloway bending a knee to the nearest tyrant. But is there any other for the sheer number of chroniclers of skinhead? It’s a rich and varied genre of texts, more often than not inches of girth in photography rather than analysis, as we’ve considered before, with its own standard-bearers and flops.
Where then does Skins: A Way of Life sit? Is it a Nick Knight, a George Marshall or a just a dud? I’m happy to report it’s none of the above, though it’s not going to win any prizes for analysis, that’s for sure. And why should it? Even before its release on Carpet Bombing Culture (who’ve already put out the likes of Derek Ridgers’ subcultural portraits), it managed to elicit its fair share of favourable coverage, though doubtless the upcoming Spirit of 69 anniversary played a part.
Much of the text forms a single-handed diatribe rather than an overview or potted history of skinhead since the days of 1969, not to mention being uneven in parts (plus don’t even get me started on the Adam and the Ants comment). Another coffee-table book perhaps, but as sure as Sweden gave us IKEA it also gave us Perkele. And like a copper’s knock on society’s windscreen when we shouldn’t be behind the wheel, Potter is one author reminding the publishing world that skinhead remains as worth talking about in print as well as ‘well-received’ BBC4 documentaries and the occasional Viceland feature.
As much as his last book Mods: A Way of Life documented that subculture as experienced on a thousand council estates, there are photos here you will have seen a million times and a satisfying number you may not have. Next year also sees the imprint put out former Scootering editor Martin ‘Sticky’ Round’s Scooter Boys, which should act as something of a triple-decker or proof of how the subcultures doubled up in the 1980s.
Slaughterhouse Prayer, John King, 2018 (London Books)
It’s fair to say that John King hasn’t remained on the same trajectory as others (publishers and readers) may have wanted, in terms of his last few novels being deeply immersed in topics closest to his heart rather than football or punk, though luckily both of these do receive a nod in Slaughterhouse Prayer.
And luckily enough for John, a regular reader of this zine (and occasional walk-on character on Garry Bushell’s always readable if sometimes politically suspect blog), he has his own publishing imprint in the form of the estimable London Books, who have for the past decade released a steady stream of classic London vernacular novels of the pre and inter-war eras.
As with the eerily prescient The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler last time around, John wears his beliefs firmly on the book sleeve and manages to carry what could be a plodding discourse on animal slaughter from beginning to end by interweaving a range of characters and, dare I say it, punk acts from The Business to the Subhumans (via Conflict as could perhaps be expected when dealing with vivisection), to deliver a story which challenges the reader against their own beliefs around food production and the nature of capitalism.
For King, a number of motifs which have been inherent in his output to date remain as constants, national identity, freedom and community, to name but three. Readers expecting an awayday ruck won’t find anything here, but for fans of The Prison House and even Human Punk, there will be much to come away with.
Re-Enter the Dragon, Stewart Home, 2018 (Leda Tape Organisation)
Don’t say you weren’t warned, but one-time skin and avant-pulp writer Stewart Home is back and this time it’s Bruceploitation rather than capitalism or catburglers under consideration.
Re-Enter the Dragon pores (and I mean pores) over shelf-loads of obscure, hidden and occasionally pointless martial arts movies to apply genre theory considerations to a genre you may not have even known existed. In itself, this provides an obvious and ample challenge to Home to catalogue, decipher and apply against the sheer weight of post-Bruce Lee flicks which have emanated from Asian studios since the actor’s death (with a taxonomy provided through concentric circles of core, peripheral and outer works).
Exploitation subgenres have provided a deep and satisfying range of titles and works to mine since Sleazoid Express was on newsstands and Quentin Tarantino was able to monetise his misspent youth via the studio system, with Home’s devout inquiry doubtless to form part of a future set text list.
But for readers of this zine, if you can pick up the likes of a Richard Allen or Mick Norman for their pounding heart, then Re-Enter the Dragon will more than satisfy, like a well-aimed kick to the privates of the nearest hippy or boss-man.
The definitive book on Brucesploitation! For someone like me whose focus in regards to martial arts movies has always been on Shaw Brothers productions, it’s great to have such a thorough investigation of a genre I previously knew little about. Director Joseph Velasco, previously unknown to me, gets much praise, and it was worth reading the book just to learn about him.
146 movies are divided up into four self-explanatory categories: core, semi-periphery, periphery and outer limits. The plots are summarised, and the movies are put into a critical/historical/personal context. Low-budget surrealism is favored over Hollywood structures and polish. Nationalism is condemned in favour of ‘proletarian internationalism’. That said, it’s miles away from the kind of dull ‘high brow’ writing on ‘film’ that clog up the shelves in university libraries.
Unlike a lot of people who apply ‘theory’ to genre movies, Home actually likes and knows a lot about these movies. He’s the author of Cranked Up Really High, the best and most original book on punk rock, and although the format of that book is very different to Re-Enter the Dragon, the spirit is similar. Home obviously likes stirring the pot and taking the piss, and you don’t have to agree with everything he says (I don’t!) to get a kick out of his chutzpah.
That said, if I was Bruce Li I’d be heading down to the next Flintlock reunion show with some serious Dim Mak ambush in mind! Betty Ting Pei’s honour, on the other hand, is staunchly defended. Nice one Stew.
Like all this publisher’s books, it’s a great price and super stylish in its cover design. Hell of an author photo n’ all. Buy it!