You may remember that we were less than impressed with Adewale Akkinouye-Agbaje’s phony skinhead flick Farming that was briefly seen on British screens last year. What’s more, the director refused to answer any questions we subsequently tried to ask him.
But hey, that’s no big deal – we found a more reliable interview subject with Dave Strickson, ex-guitarist and main songwriter of Tilbury Oi band Angela Rippon’s Bum. His distinct advantage: back then, Dave really was a Tilbury Skin.
That is also the reason why Dave began to investigate into Adewale’s life after watching the movie. You’ll be surprised to read what he managed to find out. Matt Crombieboy was all ears.
Last October, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s ostensibly autobiographical movie Farming came out. As a former Tilbury Skin, what did you think about the film’s portrayal of skinheads?
First of all, I don’t believe that skinheads all behaved in exactly the same way, so you’re never gonna get a portrayal that’ll please everybody. But the ones in the film were definitely not like anything I’ve ever experienced. They couldn’t even get the wardrobe right. Every one of them was wearing identical clothing, and as any credible former skin will tell you, the last thing you ever wanted when you went out was to look like somebody else.
But on the subject of why this film was made, it’s a tragic story that even I can sympathise with. After speaking to people both here in the UK, USA and Nigeria that knew him and his parents, here is what I’ve managed to piece together:
Agbaje’s parents conceived him for the purpose of being useful to their future prosperity. They didn’t go out and buy some goats and a donkey like most of them do, they gave birth to the poor little sod, Adewale. After placing him with foster parents in Tilbury they started to build up wealth, culminating in the creation of a legal practice in Nigeria that Adewale was earmarked to participate in. His parents had paid good money to send him to privately funded schools so that he could achieve the necessary qualifications to run the family business. But Adewale had a mind of his own and wanted to be involved in show business.
He went to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune and became an actor. But what he was about to find out left him emotionally scarred. His father passed away and he learned that he had been left out of the family will. Ma and Pa Agbaje hadn’t gone a bundle on seeing their investment go down the Suwannee. So, upset by this, Adewale now had a lot of soul-searching to do. In his view, he was worth no more to his parents than a pig bred for slaughter – the pig being shafted in the film is actually a reference to this – or a chicken for laying eggs.
So now you have a very angry man with a thirst to get revenge. Firstly, he wanted to prove that he could be wealthy and successful out of making his own decisions and secondly, he wanted to bring shame upon his family for what they did to him. So he came up with the idea of the film. But he knew he couldn’t pull it off all the time his foster parents were still alive, so he waited for the last one to die.
While he was filming the TV series Lost, he told the show’s producers that he had to fly to England to attend his stepmother’s funeral, which they weren’t happy about. Anyway, he attended the funeral but left early and travelled to the family home. Once there he pushed a person who lived there out of the door and locked them out. That person managed to get a glimpse of what he was doing. Apparently, he started a fire out in the back garden and presumably was burning some of the belongings of his foster parents. Probably things like letters and photos that didn’t sit well with his future story.
Having spent some time now living in America, he realised that you can say anything you like there and nobody will ever question it, research for details, and so on. No matter how far-fetched or ridiculous it appears to be to us, when you’re living in a country where half the population think E.T. was a true story, you’ve got to be on to a winner. The white skinheads, the black oppression, it was just the perfect storm for what he wanted to try and achieve.
Quite a few people tried to contact Adewale on Twitter, including yourself. How did he react?
As for me trying to contact him via Twitter, I never got the chance. He saw my comments on YouTube and figured that I might cause him a few problems if I tried to, so he blocked me preemptively.
He blocked us very quickly too when we asked a polite question… Watching the movie, it’s quite obvious that Adewale was never a skinhead, or at most for a couple of weeks. There are also unconfirmed rumours that he was actually a mod. Have you met anyone from Tilbury who remembers him?
The only people that knew him were the ones that were related to, or were friends with the foster parents. He wasn’t schooled in the area so any friends he might have had would have lived elsewhere. He may have worn clothes similar to mods, but that’s not unusual if it happens to be the fashion of the moment.
Do you reckon a good or accurate skinhead movie has ever been made?
My favourite film I suppose that came close to my experiences was Romper Stomper. Not necessarily the politics of it but the comradeship, the perceived loyalty they had for each other, and the fact that it’s also a love story. The girls were very important to the skinhead scene, probably more than they ever knew they were at the time. But history very much still overlooks their importance, I think.
In Britain at least, there are very few females at skinhead events today. What was the proportion back in the day?
Back in the day, I reckon that for every 10 male skins there were two females.
When I used to go out to clubs, the one thing on my mind was shagging a bird, not kicking the shit out of some bloke I don’t even know. Funny thing was, though, I always ending up going out with normal girls. A lot of them had a thing for skinheads for some reason.
I’m not surprised that most of the females did not end up born-again skinhead girls. Seems to be mainly a male thing. It’s an awkward thing for me to say without upsetting anyone, but I am not a fan of revivals. For me, skinhead was a teenage youth cult firmly placed in the seventies and eighties when we were all a bit stupid and had no brains. To want go back to your youth reminds me of that old Twilight Zone episode called ‘Kick the Can’.
When did you become a skinhead yourself?
I became a skinhead on Monday 30 January 1978. I bet not many can point to an actual specific date. The reason I can is because it was two days after I attended a gig at the London School of Economics. The band playing on the Saturday was Sham 69. One of the roadies was a Grays skinhead, and he got me and my mate into the backstage area, so we saw the whole performance from on stage. It was brilliant, but it done me ears in because it was so loud. I’d never heard music that loud before. I would say that night definitely inspired me to form my own band a couple of years later.
I stayed a skinhead up until I was 32.
What was your prehistory before you lot became skins?
A lot of people I know try to give the impression that they’ve always been cool. I know a lot of the girls were into Donny Osmond or David Essex, but they’re never going to admit it. A lot of blokes will say they were into Bowie, but I hated him. I liked 60s and 70s pop and soul, and I don’t mind admitting it.
Your mob was known as Tilbury Skins or Tilbury Trojan Skins, who are often portrayed as one of Britain’s most fearsome and violent mobs. George Marshall wrote in Skinhead Nation that they would ruck with “football supporters, foreign seamen, teddy boys, punks, mods, glue sniffers, students, queers and mobs from other towns”. What can you tell us about all this?
They are portrayed as a violent skinhead gang but that’s down to the media. I didn’t actually see it that way at the time and still don’t. Most of the people involved would probably be referred to by others as really nice blokes. Things don’t look the same as they did when you get older. You can have a real good laugh about it, it’s just teenagers acting badly. And when you’re making films you can really have a lot of fun and overplay things.
I’ll give you an example. There’s a scene in the film Rise of the Footsoldier where the coach breaks down on the way to a game, and in the film they’re supposedly on their way to Man United, meet up with a rival gang and a dramatic street fight ensues.
Well, I was on that coach and it weren’t going to Man United. There was no street fight either. It was 1978 and it was going to Burnley, it broke down just a few miles away from the ground. So we hijacked a bus and made the driver take us all straight to the ground. It was hilarious seeing the people’s faces as we went past the bus stops. It was just pure comedy, but the makers of the film weren’t making a comedy.
So, I would say that whenever you watch a film that’s supposed to be portraying real life or reading a book, don’t blow a gasket and get all upset, just take it with a pinch of salt.
Marshall also wrote: “The seamen often got more than they bargained for too, returning to their ships after being beaten up and robbed of their hard-earned cash, watches, and anything else of value [by Tilbury Skins].” Does this strike you as a truthful depiction?
I know from my time involved that seamen were beaten up in Tilbury, but that was their own fault. They would go in the pubs, get pissed and start acting a bit leery trying to get off with local women who had boyfriends and husbands. And it wasn’t only skinheads involved either. I don’t recall them being targeted just for being seamen or hearing that any them were being robbed. But who’s to say that it didn’t happen? I don’t know everything that went on, especially after I walked away from it all in late 83.
Tilbury Skins were framed by The Sun for a fairly lurid article in 1980, which portrayed them as National Front thugs and such. They credibly defended themselves in a BBC radio interview, denying anti-black racism. However, they did admit that they didn’t like Asians. According to some sources, there was even an ‘Anti-Paki League’, and George Marshall wrote in Skinhead Nation that Tilbury Skins regularly went down Brick Lane (London) for ‘Paki bashing’?
Some people are going to laugh when I say this, but I think that the Tilbury Skins were the least racist gang of all. They never tangled with anybody because of their race or skin colour. 90% of their violent activity was against rival white skinheads. To the Tilbury Skins, the Asians were seen as a gang in exactly the same way as teds or mods. They had their own gangs long before ISIS. Who do you think tried to kill the skinheads that were in the pub watching bands in Southall during the London riots? Imagine the outrage if skinheads had tried to burn down a pub full of Asians.
They used to mob up down Brick Lane as well, and they would shout things out like “fuck off back to where you come from, you fucking white scum”. Can you imagine how that would have been perceived if we had used similar language towards them? Unfortunately, though, we were no good at words so we just bashed them instead. I found the abuse quite amusing really, never upset me at all, I think as white people we have a responsibility to recognise that we are the adults in the room.
As for blacks and Rastas, it was never likely that we would ever tangle with them. That’s purely down to the fact that there were no black hooligan gangs and, more importantly, we shared the love for the same music scene, so we had a lot of common ground.
What were relations between skins and punks in Tilbury?
There were no punks in Tilbury, but if there had been, I couldn’t see there being a problem. And after, all I used to be one myself.
Marshall interviewed a Tilbury skin called Mick White for this book, who was the manager of your band, Angela Rippon’s Bum. Is it really true that Mick was an original skinhead from 1969 who had stayed one till skinheads came back?
Yes, Mick was a skin back from back then. He was in a BBC documentary talking about his collection of Richard Allen books. You can find his contribution near the end of the footage on YouTube.
Angela Rippon’s bum formed at the Riverside Youth Centre. Tell us a bit about the early days!
Angela Rippon’s Bum was my second attempt to form a band. My previous band was called the Beano, we did one gig and then split up. Two of the band members in Angela Rippon’s Bum were mods, so we played gigs to a mod audience.
Kevin Earland had been nominated to play bass even though he couldn’t. All the early songs were based on poems that he had written whilst at work. He worked in the parks department for the council, so when it rained, he spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for it to stop. I just made up some guitar riffs to go with his poems.
After Tony Barker came in as singer, Mick White got interested and became the manager. That’s when we adopted the skinhead following. One of our early gigs was at a youth club in Grays. We were supposed support this band from Harlow, but after they saw the size of our following they decided to play first. That band became better known as Roman Holiday who had some chart success appearing on Top of the Pops.
Another gig we were due to play was supporting UB40 at the local college, but it was cancelled a week before the gig after some idiot broke in and sprayed swastikas on the walls along with our name.
Another gig that nearly never happened was at the Clarendon in Hammersmith. We were supporting the Toy Dolls, and we got all the gear in only to find out that all the bar staff had gone on strike. The night before, trouble had broken out in the crowd, so the staff were upset about the health and safety arrangements. The manager told us we could play but he couldn’t pay us because he couldn’t charge people to come in without a bar. We didn’t care though about the money because we needed to practice and we’d just got a new drummer. The Toy Dolls though refused to play for free, which was a shame really. People had turned up from all over the country to see them. I think they let them down.
Still, they got to see us, and I’d imagine that will be an experience they’ll never forget. There were a few notable faces in the audience that night, Charlie Harper from UK Subs and Max Splodge were there I was told.
We supported The Exploited at the Zig Zag Club, and that nearly never happened. Tony Barker had got involved in a fight with police before our gig the night before, which got cancelled, and got arrested and beaten up in the cells. Mick had to learn the songs in just a few hours to replace him. It was crazy, we had more gigs cancelled than we actually played.
You played quite a few gigs with the likes of The Business, The Ejected, The Last Resort, The Accused and so on. But your most notorious gig was the one with Ovaltinees at the Red Lion in Gravesend. The band was British Movement, and so were their supporters. It kicked off big time…
Tony Fitzgerald, who was our new bass player, booked the Ovaltinees after seeing an advert in Sounds. We had no idea they had a firm following. We usually had The Accused playing with us, but I think they’d just split up. We were doing a soundcheck just before it flared up. The Ovaltinees and their following were extreme far-right, and that was the reason why it kicked off between our fans and theirs. I was just grateful that the equipment never got damaged.
The landlord told us there and then that he didn’t want us playing there again. I realised afterwards that we couldn’t continue playing under those circumstances, and I knew that if I wanted to keep Tony Fitz on board our gigs must be trouble free. So I changed the name of the band to Gateway To Hell and we played the remainder of our gigs without the Tilbury Skins knowing.
However, we were still blighted by the gig cancellation problem that was haunting us. We were playing the second gig on The Business tour as support band at the Norwich Gala Ballroom. We got halfway there and the Business tour van pulled over to the side of the road and Micky Fitz said they’d just been told on the phone that the gig’s been cancelled due to poor ticket sales.
Anyway, we played our last gig at Feltham Football Club and it was a blinder. It was the perfect ending to the Angela Rippon’s Bum gig story. We made hardly any mistakes, we was tight, and we had all the skinheads in the hall singing along to the songs and even skins getting up on stage joining in. My only regret was not taping it. Someone did because I saw them taping it but until now it has not surfaced on YouTube.
Apparently, Micky French from the Last Resort shop offered you a slot on the United Skins album. Surely a decent opportunity to get your stuff heard, so why did you decline the offer?
I did Micky French a big favour by refusing his request for us to appear on his album. He wanted us to record the song ‘Skinheads Run Berserk’ for his album. I hated that song because it was an anti-skinhead song. Kevin Earland wrote it, and it was originally called ‘Maniacs Run Berserk’. He was referring to skinheads that attacked mods on the bank holiday weekends. I never had a problem with it because I thought nobody would realise that’s what it was all about. But Tony Barker decided to have a bit of fun with it, so he changed the word maniac to skinhead and it ended up being a crowd favourite.
Somebody with a bit of intelligence would have eventually noticed that the song contained the line “so big in numbers but so small inside”. I just didn’t want this song to be analysed and pulled apart and found out. I’d just written ‘Living in England’, which was the best song so far and offered him that. He didn’t want to know, he said it’s either ‘Skinheads Run Berserk’ or nothing.
In hindsight, what was the main reason that the band called it a day?
The band broke up because being a spectator to mob violence and having to pay for the privilege was not my idea of fun. Going back to my days of following Sham 69, it was obvious to me that when you have a real skinhead following you have to accept them warts and all, but I had ideas of my own so there was a real conflict of interest.
You got fed up with Oi?
By that point I was the only skinhead in the band apart from the times when Mick covered Barker’s absences. I didn’t get fed up with Oi, I just matured as a songwriter, got better and tried to play the best music I could. I think as a songwriter you always try to better you last song.
Have you seen the TV play Oi For England? Angela Rippon’s Bum were originally going to play the part of the band after the production team visited us. But the rest of the band didn’t want to shave their heads when they found out that that was a condition.
It’s true that your songwriting matured quite a bit over time. I’m thinking of songs like ‘Foreign Nightmare’ and ‘Where Were You’. But you had also begun to sound more like a power-pop or mod revival band. Tell us a bit about that period!
After the Feltham gig, Barker and Hersham left the band by mutual consent. We auditioned a mate of Tony’s and recorded some tracks, and then we auditioned a girl singer, which I really liked the idea of because I was a big fan of Pauline Murray and her band Penetration. I had some great ideas for songs with female vocals. But her parents persuaded her not to get involved, so it came to nothing.
In the end, me and Tony Fitz formed a band with Micky and Steve from The Business called Chapter. I was the main songwriter in the band, and we spent all our time rehearsing and recording. We planned to gig once we had a full set to work with. Those songs were amongst four new ones I’d written and recorded in my home studio. I was looking forward to playing them to the band, and those songs would have brought us close to being able to gig.
Unfortunately, Mick and Steve wanted to reform The Business instead and called it a day. So, as Angela Rippon’s Bum was my band, I just added them to my repertoire.
What did your skinhead following make of the new musical direction?
The Tilbury Skins were long gone by then, so none of them ever heard the new stuff.
How involved are you with the skinhead or ex-skinhead thing today – have you attended the Skinhead Reunion Brighton before?
I’m done with all that skinhead stuff. I always refer to it now as juvenile nonsense. If I had to go to any sort of reunion, I think I’d choose a school one because I know that at least there, I wouldn’t be expected to turn up wearing shorts and a blazer.
Matt, I’d like to ask all the born-again skinheads a question. If you woke up and found that you’d gone back in time just before you’d become a skinhead – knowing everything you know now, would you really go and do it all again? Now wouldn’t that be an interesting question to ask.
What about yourself, Dave?
Definitely not, Matt. I wouldn’t have been a skinhead or a football hooligan. I’d have got more heavily involved in music because I think I’d have some very good ideas about what songs to write.
Thinking about it, I don’t recall anyone over the age of 25 ever becoming a skinhead. We were all mostly in our teens so it was an age-related thing.
Would you class the singer Judge Dread as skinhead? He never looked like one, yet in my opinion he always was. In 1969, Dread was 24 years old. Probably the reason why he never looked like one. I take the view that skinhead was a state of mind and not just a fashion. After all these years, I often still feel and think like one. Bet I’m not alone.