Saturday, January 31, 2009

put your boots on your feet

TI 7050.

The history of Caribbean migration to the UK is well documented, but full of contradictions and convoluted misrepresentation.

Between the end of World War II in 1945 and 1960, Britain offered free entry to its shores for all Commonwealth citizens, including returning soldiers who fought for Queen and Country. The infrastructure and economy had been severely weakened by six years of pouring its resources into the war, and Britain - like the rest of Europe - was forced to rebuild. Restrictions were deliberated on in Parliament and broadly introduced in the summer of 1962, but despite growing concerns which were to culminate in Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968, there remained a real need to shoar up a vacuum in this burgeoning era of economic prosperity. In short, British workers could pick and choose.

As the direct result of a shortage of unskilled labour, the British government appealed for migrants from the Caribbean to fill those vacancies; jobs paying under the minimum wage. Many of those who responded were adults in their 50s perceiving a better standard of living awaited them. Indeed, there also existed no small demand for taxi and bus drivers offering a significantly higher wage.

Contrary to those advertisments placed in order to cultivate interest, those migrants were far from welcomed with open arms. Many of those new arrivals gravitated to areas offering the most inadequate housing then available, and - alienated by the indigenous white working class - became largely disintegrated from existing cultural mores.

Newcomers looking for short term lodgings were greeted with handwritten signs in windows declaring: ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’.

Skinhead culture, of course, originally had its origins in Jamaica, an off-shoot of the popular Rude Boy dance hall movement back in Kingston. It found a second home here in the UK, and was quickly adopted by disaffected white urban youth whose own roots lay in the Mod scene which had earlier embraced black soul and Tamla Motown.

By 1969, the release of Symarip's "Skinhead Moonstomp b/w Must Catch A Train" - as a 45 on the tiny Treasure Isle imprint - officially announced the skinhead's arrival. Written by Monty Neysmith and Roy Ellis, and produced by Graeme Goodal - loosely in celebration of the '69 NASA moon landing - the song is clearly Jamaican in origin; a command to "put your braces together and your boots on your feet." A call to arms as much as an entreaty to party. It would be naive, and quite unfounded, to suggest as others have done elsewhere that this adoption of West Indian culture on the part of young white working class youth had anything to do with with racial connection or parity. The movement was a very conscious rejection of the Summer of Love and what were perceived as very middle class aspirations. In the decade to follow, with its crippling union action and economic recession, tv sitcoms like "Love Thy Neighbour" would be considered legitemate fodder for family entertainment. Oh, and if you'd asked a Caribbean immigrant then if he considered it possible for a black man ever to be elected to the Whitehouse he might not have laughed out loud, but I'd comfortably wager his white counterpart would have.

Never feel obliged to romanticize the past.

In the late 1960s one could not set oneself more apart from the prevaiing cultural norm than by donning oversized military style boots and shaving one's head. Less than thirty years after the liberation of Aushwitz, and old wounds still open or infected with guilt, as a 'look' it was deliberately confrontational. Peace and Love was very obviously not on the agenda.

This was football; fighting; dancing; and fucking. In that order.

Encouraged by its success, Trojan re-released the 45, and subsequently released a full album by Symarip in 1970.

You may have noticed that the images illustrating this post appeared in a very recent piece including an audio link. Yet again, the threat of DMCA action has prompted another Blogger Takedown. Having found a wealth of written material on this very subject which bears little resemblence to the actuality of that first wave of skinheads so far as I recall, I made the decision to expand on that original post rather than simply republish it as a token of defiance. Unfortunately, you will have to forgo any relevant accompaniment.



Empire Hancock said...

Good post on the subject(s) at hand, but shame you had to lost the audio representation. Glad I grabbed it when I could. Either way, you just keep giving me more reasons to never stop keeping in touch with this here buhlog.

ib said...

Cheers, HM. I am determined to remain a minor thorn in the side.