The clip below, taken from an 80s student movie, was kindly forwarded to us by the filmmaker himself with the promise that there’s “more to come”. It features an interview with an early 70s skinhead at the first International Ska Festival, which took place at the Brixton Fridge in 1988. The skinhead isn’t wholly unknown: Steve ‘Grogger’ Goodman, editor of the 80s skinzine Chargesheet, author of the subculture novel England Belongs to Me (1994) and writer of the film script Pressure Drop (which is apparently still for sale if you fancy making an OG skinhead movie).
He became a skinhead round about 1972, he says in the interview, which strikes me as an odd year to become a skinhead in London. The accepted narrative, after all, confirmed by countless original skins through the ages, is that the style began shifting towards suedehead by 1970 and then smoothie and bootboy in the following years. By 1972, the original skinhead look would have been seen as hopelessly outmoded by most Greater London kids, who were probably Bowie boys/girls by then.
To complicate matters, some of the general populace continued to apply the term ‘skinhead’ casually to whoever looked a bit like a football fan in the 70s. So, if someone tells me they became a skinhead, say, in 1974 or 1975, I always wonder whether they actually looked like a member of Bay City Rollers.
There’s no rule without exceptions, though. Behold this Chelsea fan’s ticket for the 1975/76 football season, for example: clearly skinhead. Some argue that he might have used an old picture. But the lad was 15 at the time. His look would have been equally out of place in London in 1973 or even 71, and he certainly looks older than 11 or 12 in the photo. You do the math. By the way, Jeff Freeman is still a skinhead and still a Chelsea fan today.
But back to Steve Goodman. He remembers skinhead slowly coming back in 1975, when the Cactus record label – a subsidiary of Creole Records, which I think operated from Harlesden, west London – started “releasing a lot of commercial reggae” (including records by Judge Dread and re-issues such as Desmond Dekker’s Israelites). According to Goodman, after the ‘dead years’, when he saw only about two or three skinheads a year, there were about 15 of them in 1975. This is interesting since it would predate the small, early revival scene around people like Suggs, Gary Hodges and Gary Hitchcock, who remember it as starting in 1976 – and equally the Grove skins, who apparently began meeting by the Cowshed Pub in 355 Ladbroke Grove in 1976.
Goodman also remembers “bands like The Press, Mobsters and Headline” playing the London circuit together with early Madness, who I guess were probably still called North London Invaders, in the period before 2 Tone broke. I never heard these names before, but it does seem that in 1976-78 there was a small, pre-2 Tone ska/reggae revival scene of bands that largely disappeared into obscurity – not just in London, but also e.g. in the Spurs overspill town of Stevenage, where a band called The Paint House (named after the 1972 sociological book on skinheads) were doing the rounds.
Goodman says he doesn’t like politics and amusingly has no idea what the term ‘bonehead’ is supposed to mean: he has it explained to him by the interviewer. But enough talk from me – watch the short but fascinating interview. Apparently, there’s more skinhead documentary footage from 1984 to come from the same filmmaker, and we’re on tenterhooks.
Bloody excellent discovery. Nicely done.
Congratulations for your amazing blog! My name is Daniel and I am the author of the French fanzine ChériBibi. I have known Steve Goodman since 1998, but I haven’t heard from him for a year (August 2021 for our last conversation) when the project to release his first novel in French was about to be completed. Like I said, Steve is a very old friend and I’m really worried about his silence. If anyone is in contact with him today, please let me know through cheribibi(dot)net ! Thanks !