How many skingirl vocalists can you think of? There were certainly not very many in the 1980s. But in Italy, Lorena Plescia was singing for the original Roman Oi band FUN as early as in 1982. Our new correspondent Francesca Chiari spoke to her about the early Roman skinhead scene.
This is the first of several articles dedicated to women who have left a mark on the skinhead scene of Italy.
Hi Lorena, thanks for your availability. Let’s start with the fundamental question: how did you become aware of skinhead culture?
I got to know this beautiful culture thanks to my uncle, who is seven years older than me. He took me to the Uonna Club [an important club in the north of Rome for skins, punks and goths] one night in 1980 or maybe 81, where I met skinheads who lived near my school in the Monteverde neighbourhood of Rome. The next few times, I went to the Uonna Club with them.
Were there many skinheads in Rome in those days?
Not that many. Let’s say that in those years there was a certain stereotype linked to politics. Most young people were either right-wing pariolini [snobbish middle-class youngsters, often from the Parioli district of Rome] – or left-wing ‘autonomists’. People like skinheads and punks weren’t well regarded, so everybody tended to stick together.
What were the places in Rome where you all hung out?
From 1980-82, our meeting places were the Birreria Peroni and the Bibo bar in Piazza dei Santi Apostoli, then Santa Maria in the Trastevere neighbourhood. Piazza Capranica belonged to the mods, above all.
These were all neighbourhoods in central Rome, though. On weekends, those who lived in the working-class suburbs would mainly go to these places to sponge a couple of beers before going to the Uonna Club. During the week, people stayed in their own neighbourhoods. It wasn’t until much later that the Sally Brown opened in the San Lorenzo district – a ‘rude pub’ that is still open today [‘rude pub’ is an Italian term for a skin and mod pub]. It’s a legendary place managed by Mariano and Beppe [Beppe was the drummer of Banda Bassotti and Mariano is a skinhead from Catanzaro] and musically looked after by the equally legendary DJ Nembokid Selecta Ruderoma, who collaborates with various Jamaican DJs from the British scene.
I lived in Trionfale, a semi-central neighbourhood near the Vatican. During the so-called ‘Years of Lead’, specifically in 1977, it was the stage of violent clashes between autonomists and fascists who were coming in from neighbouring areas, but also of reprisals against the headquarters of the Christian-Democratic party and executions carried out by the Red Brigades. I lived in the same neighbourhood as poor little Angelo, better known as Sigaro of Banda Bassotti – rest in peace – and his woman Francesca Ceccaroni, a skingirl. We were very close friends, of course.
And then there was Centocelle… [a popular neighbourhood in Rome that was important for punks and skinheads]
Yes, Centocelle was a separate story. It became part of my life later on, when I came back to Rome after my stay in England. Centocelle was at the heart of this subculture. Various groups would pass through and converge here, including those from outside Rome. All under the common label ‘100celle City Rockers’, which also gave its name to a piece by Klaxon [a punk/Oi band formed in Rome in the early 80s].
In 1982 you lived in London for three months, where left-wing skinheads had split from National Front supporting skins by then. What was the situation in Italy?
Almost all of us came from a left-wing political background, but paradoxically, we weren’t well regarded in left-wing circles, particularly the autonomist ones. They were not accustomed to boots, shaved heads, black jackets or in the case of punks, all dressed in black with Iron Crosses. In fact, fights often broke out at concerts. But it was a moment of transition that would give way to a new way of doing politics. For some at least, this meant no more militant politics, but instead a message of protest expressed through music. Even groups that considered themselves apolitical, anarchist or nihilist, in my opinion, still expressed a political message of sorts. In the end, this brought even those who had previously regarded us with hostility on our side.
So was it through music that the ‘subdivision’ of the subculture occurred?
Not really, there has never been a subdivision here in Italy, but this development made those who thought differently come out into the open. Having said that, some right-wing skins continued to attend gigs, including Desmond Dekker and Toots & The Maytals shows…
In any case, the historical meeting took place in Certaldo in 1983, where we played with Nabat, Rough, Dioxina and Rip Off. When Rip Off went on, two skinheads were stood on stage – one to the left, the other to the right of the band – and raised their arms to display the Roman salute. All hell broke loose. It was also a shock when the guitarist of Nabat left the band to move to London and join Skrewdriver…
Back to music, then…
Well, in those years we had a Communist Party (PCI) local government in Rome. That administration was very active in social and cultural politics and became famous for the so-called ‘Roman summer’. In that period, from 1979-84, there were beautiful concerts: Madness, Selecter, The Clash, Peter Tosh, Talking Heads, Devo, Dead Kennedys. It was also a period during which several centri sociali [political squats/cultural centres] were launched: some of the most famous were Forte Prenestino, Blitz and Corto Circuito.
How did your band FUN come about?
When I got back from London, I met Sergio and married him. One day he took me to a garage in the Via Pisino, where he was playing with Tubo, Valter, Emilio and Pesce. Then we left the garage and moved to Via delle Robinie in Centocelle, where a room was made available to us by Fioz, also known as ‘Languido’. He was our friend and ‘manager”, and this is where FUN was born: Tubo on drums, Sergio on vocals and bass, Carlo on the guitar, Valter on the second guitar, Italo on sax, and me on vocals. Unlike the other bands, we had many people in our line-up, and we did a variety of genres: Oi, ska and reggae. At the time, we were the only band to do that. It was only later that Banda Bassotti came along and mixed these genres in their own, divine fashion.
The most famous and amusing FUN piece of I sang was ‘Uonna Club’ – a ska number that made FUN of weekend skins and punks, and a real anthem. Another ska song I sang was ‘Sole che brucia’ (The burning sun). And the Oi songs were really powerful street Oi songs like ‘100Celle’, or ‘Come voi’ (Like you), which is part of the Quelli che urlano ancora compilation released in 1985. There was also a punk song ‘La tua libertà (Your freedom), which was a very tight and fast number – I sang all the words in one go, hardly taking a breath. We even printed a fanzine, or rather, Funzine.
In those years there were many events, although Certaldo in 1983 was without a doubt the most famous one. In Rome, we played with Nabat, Shotgun Solution, Bloody Riot, Klaxon and others in a school called l’Armellini and at the Alfieri cinema. Needless to say, it all ended in a brawl every time. We also played gigs in the various centri sociali and at the Uonna Club.
Unfortunately, in 1985 Sergio and I had to leave the group for personal reasons. So the line-up had new additions, and it was logical that it turned into a different band in the end, first Downtowners and then Mobsters.
But there was a reunion?
In 2012-2013. Sergio, whom I had in the meantime divorced, Emilio – may he rest in peace – and Carlo from the first line-up decided to start the band again. They were motivated by a great and unexpected popularity of our songs among kids of every generation, even after 35 years. Over the years, many bands have played our songs at their live gigs. Emilio was doing a blog called Ludwilio, which helped to keep people interested in FUN.
I was invited to join the band again, but because of the geographical distance – I now live in Trieste – it was not possible for me to do, and I would add: with great regret. After another six or seven years of activity, FUN called it quits for good with a concert at the 360°in San Lorenzo on 28 December 2019. I was obviously there, and Klaxon and Cocks In The Hole also played that night.
The band also released a new album called La tua libertà in 2019, which contained re-recordings of some of our old songs, plus some new ones. My songs were entrusted to Silvia’s voice for the reasons I have already explained. Well, after all, I had already done my job… The songs were also greatly modified. For ‘Sole che brucia’, for example, they had to change the lyrics because they no longer had the original – apart from a makeshift tape recorded in the garage, where they couldn’t make out the words.
Anyway, I’ll tell you that I’m surprised by the ‘notoriety’ of FUN. I didn’t imagine that so many people would continue to follow us for all these years, or that bands would cover our songs over time. It filled me with great joy.
What do you think of the current scene?
Actually, I’m not that well-informed. I’m not a live performer for obvious reasons. But I did hear some new bands with a very powerful sound. Pinta Facile, Bull Brigade, RedSka, Tacita, Dalton and Gozzilla & Le tre bambine coi baffi are some of the newer bands I like.
What has certainly changed is the recording quality. Now the sounds are much cleaner, because they are mixed in recording studios with state-of-the-art equipment, whereas we used to record in the basement, with microphones connected directly to the speakers.
Other than that, I’m not really well-informed. Surely, we skinheads aren’t as new as we were then. The only risk you run is to be politically confused with others, and I have to point out every time the meaning of being a skinhead, the roots of the movement, and where it all comes from. However, one certainty that always remains is the Sally Brown ‘rude pub’. It’s definitely worth visiting…
Last question, then I’ll let you go. In those days, it was very unusual for a girl to sing in an Oi band… How did the skinhead audience react?
Very well, I would say – also because they were already used to female vocalists from punk bands such as Vice Squad. But now that you made me think about it, it’s true… even in Italy, there were no female voices in pure Oi groups. But it all seemed natural to us. It was definitely a good thing. A skingirl who was singing and dancing on stage in an Oi band… I’ll go down in history! (laughs)
Well, for me you already have. Thank you so much, Lorena – for everything!