Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Career 3

Free as a bird

June 1978-February 1979

Independent PR is hard work with no expenses.

The hours are anywhere towards the latter end of 10 a.m.− 6 a.m. because you have to be about, to be part of the scene. You also have to constantly convince people to have confidence in you. Tricky when you’ve got no confidence in yourself.

As a music journalist I only had to do that once, maybe twice, a week in a one-to-one interview. But an independent music publicist has to deal with a lot of shit from a lot of people and deal with it swiftly and competently. That’s hard. You have to be made of the right stuff and, frankly, I’m not.

I want to be a journalist again.

Each morning I wake up from a dreamless sleep in a dreamless world stripped of all desire. This is no way to live. So I resign.

A week later the phone rings and I’m trying to focus on the sound, y’know, scheme it’s a dream. But it’s for real. The clock says 11:10 and it’s light outside so I figure it must be a.m., unless I’m still in Iceland.

I’m home alone, both the parents are at work, so I get out of bed and limp to the phone in the hallway. My ankle still aches.

‘Hello Barry, it’s Alf.’ Alf Martin is the editor of Record Mirror. ‘Fancy doing some stuff for us?’

‘Absolutely,’ I say the next morning in his office, face to face. He offers me a fifty quid a week retainer.

Yeah, I can be a freelance writer. I can do that.

Next day. ‘Barry, Roz here.’ Ros Russell is the deputy editor of Record Mirror. ‘The Daily Record in Glasgow is looking for a pop writer and I’ve recommended you. They want a piece on Bob Dylan and include something on his love life.’

I didn’t know he had one.

‘Dylan’s doing a UK tour shortly so I suggest you write something and get it over to the Daily Mirror pretty damn quick.’ The Mirror is the Record’s sister paper and drop-off point for London-based hard copy and photos heading north.

I know absolutely nothing about Bob’s bedroom antics but cobble together a few old press cuttings and pump up the volume a little. My very first piece of tabloid freelance journalism and amazingly I get the gig. Freelance. The Daily Record is the second biggest selling paper in Britain after the Mirror, and here I am with my own twice-weekly column. Pop is hot stuff and getting hotter. In a perverse way, punk has made the music scene more glamorous, more exciting and, shit, am I excited! I get another hundred quid a week for keeping it that way.

‘Is that Barry?’

‘Yes.’ Don’t recognise the voice. One p.m. That’s fine.

‘Hi, it’s John Blake here, from AdLib on the London Evening News.’ A soft-lights, sweet-music voice.

‘I wondered if you wanted to fill in for someone next week.’ AdLib is a nightly entertainment/gossip column heavily slanted towards music.

‘Absolutely,’ I say, the next morning in his office, face to face, in Fleet Street. A hundred quid for a week’s work plus expenses – and, boy, what expenses. That’ll do nicely.

I start to write gossip on a regular basis for the Evening News, no by-line but the drinks are free. Every Saturday there are AdLib specials across the centrespread and I tentatively mention an idea for a feature – the re-emergence of the skinhead.

Two days later I’m in a pub in Canning Town, interviewing ten-year-down-the-line skinheads braced and booted and hot to talk.

Light and bitter was the drink, the complexion and the attitude of that unique sixties animal − the skinhead. He appeared quite suddenly on the street − a mod derivative but more violent and classier than the marauding Margate model. The hobnail hobo was the personification of working-class youth with time on its hands. A youth that could no more identify with flower power than the House of Lords.

The bootloose and fancy-free summer of 68 was the skinhead sartorial peak. Daylight hours required spotless Ben Shermans (tapered natu­rally), clip-on braces, Levi’s or Sta-Prest that wavered nervously a clear two inches above the demon black Dr Martens, which seemed to pulsate with a life of their own.

The night demanded an infinitely more elegant approach. The Mecca machos pulled during dream-time wearing two-tone mohair suits (all made to measure, off-the-peg whistles had the perpetual piss taken out of them), scrupulously polished brogues, college ties and the customary Sherman.

I, for my sins, was one − or more accurately, an unsuccessful one. I never possessed as much bottle as my mates, my braces used to fly up my back every five minutes, which was distinctly uncool, and I couldn't afford Dr Martens be­cause I was the only skin on the block who still went to school after sixteen.

But that whole era was doomed.

Sheepskins and Crombies shot up in price. Flared bottom strides became fashionable because music dictated it and somehow they just didn't go with boots. 'Django’s Theme' and Desmond Dekker didn’t seem to matter much anymore.

Fashion goes in cycles and now the Rabelaisian rabble-rousers are pedalling back.

But this time the circumstances are a little different. Most of the skinheads you see today are ex-punks dis­enchanted with the middle-class infiltration of that particular cult.

The spokesmen are Gary Dickie, a twenty-year - old labourer who became a skinhead to avoid authority, and his mate Vince Riordan, a nineteen year-old roadie for a rock band (and later bassist with Cockney Rejects), who wanted to identify with something.

Both are dressed like their ghostly sixties ancestors − with the addition of two-tone Slazenger jackets which weren't around then.

‘We get most of our clothes from Oxfam shops and stalls down Brick Lane market,’ says Vince. ‘I bought a pair of loafers the other day for three quid. I reckon you can look like a skin for twenty-five.’

The compulsory crop is now 70p. ‘It's merely a question of telling the barber whether you want a number one, two, three or four cut. Number one is the shortest − the Kojak cut,’ says Vince. Gary maintains the new breed of skinhead is not as violent as his sixties predecessor.

‘We're just working-class geezers looking for a good time. But I guess we’ve got something to prove − we're not scum. People think cos you come from the East End you're a gangster. Birds won't let you take them home from a dance when you tell them where you live, so that limits your choice cos there ain't many skinhead birds around and the soulies just don't wanna know.’

Skin girls are recogni­sable by their gypsy-cut hairstyles and monkey boots or astronauts.

Vince says his parents prefer him being a skinhead to a punk. ‘They even give me money to buy clothes now cos they realise it's a lot smarter.’

‘People think we're either National Front or Marxists,’ says Gary, ‘and that's shit. I'm fed up with being asked if I was involved in that racist riot down Brick Lane the other day. I just don't want to know about any of that crap. I don't get taxed any lower for being a skinhead, do I?’

Jimmy Pursey, darling of the skin world, has been accused of spearheading the crop-top revival and of being responsible for perpetu­ating rock-gig violence.

‘Sham 69 were the first band to really appeal to the skins,’ says Vince. ‘I suppose it's the equivalent of going to a football match when you see them play. As for the violence, you can get that anywhere. Like we said before, we go for a good time and nothing more.’

Jimmy himself seems to be feeling the strain.  ‘The reason I welcome all the skinheads to our gigs is because I preach peace not violence. If they didn't have me telling them how stupid it is to be violent then, well . . .  But I'm alone and it's about time somebody gave me some help.

‘They're a nice bunch of geezers though. Most of them had never been to a rock gig in their life until Sham came along. But I want to make it absolutely clear − Sham 69 is a punk band, not a skinhead one.’

Vince and Gary have both been in trouble with the police, mainly after football-terrace rucks.

‘At one time the police picked on you for being a punk − now it's for being a skinhead,’ says Vince, who once had five jobs in five months. ‘I just couldn't take authority on any level − I still can't. I don't ever want to work for anyone. I guess that's why I became a skinhead.

‘The future looks pretty bleak. I can see us all ending up as suedeheads wearing suits and going to discos. Not much look forward to when you're 25 is it?’

The following Saturday I pick up the Evening News in my local newsagent and open it in the shop. There, under the headline ‘Skinheads Rule OK’, is my name, which I quickly point out to Steve, the owner’s son. He’s a printer at night and a black-cab driver by day and earns a fortune. He also doesn’t sleep much.

‘Great,’ he says, wide-eyed and couldn’t really care-legless.

So, later that week I’m sitting at my Fleet Street desk when suddenly a photographer pops up, takes my picture and voila! it appears beside my name in the following Saturday’s column.

I buy the paper in the same shop and open it up like a woman’s legs. 

‘Great,’ says Steve, bleary-eyed and couldn’t give a toss.

I’m in seventh heaven. I look mean, moody, magnificent ... and bearded. Well, you can’t have everything.

Next episode – Iggy Pop and Mink DeVille

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry's debut novel Wet Dreams Dry Lives www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY

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