The Dawn of Moonstomp/Skinhead.
It was about 1970 or 1971. I was nine or ten at the time. I was on a school trip to France. We had been staying at a small seaside town called Wissant. Our school teachers had organised a trip to Boulogne-sur-Mer. We children were in the town centre when two tall skinhead youths walked out of a shop doorway. One was eating from a bag. They had checked Ben Sherman shirts rolled up Levi jeans and Doctor Marin boot. Not forgetting the braces, of course. One of the school children called out, "Are you English?"
"Yeah," they both replied and stopped in their tracks. They walked back and exchanged a few words. I can't remember exactly what was said but they indulged us with some light-hearted banter about a how great France was. We had been enjoying the holiday. I remember the two skinheads laughed and replied, "I know, that is why we came over here." Then they walked off with cocky cockney swagger. Along the bustling pavement of shoppers. They looked clean cut and very smart. But by then skinheads were developing an ominous reputation. This was not apparent among the two skinheads in Boulogne-sur-Mer on that day. They seemed like a couple of Jack the lads. But they did not seem intimidating or threatening.
The Exciting Times.
During the sixties decade, Britain went through a rapidly developing popular music phase. This gave rise to various trends and subcultures. All these dynamic and diverse things happened among the nation’s youth. One trend blossomed for a while and then transformed into something else. There were groups of youths who became Rockers. They travelled around on their treasured motorbikes and listened to fifties style Rock and Roll. There were Teddy boys and then there were the Mods who rode around on motor scooters. By 1968 a new culture began to appear.
The white working class of London saw changes through the 1950s and 1960s. Many Caribbean families came to London seeking work. There were social problems that have been widely reported. There were also other trends that entwined with the white youth outlook. There emerged a fascination with Jamaican Reggae music. Desmond Dekker, Symarip and others. There was not a particular name for all of this new emerging phase when it first started. Much of the fashion looked as though it came from the Mod phase. Fred Perry T-shirts were still the rage and Levi jeans were too. Though the jeans were rolled up to display the high raised lace holes of the Doctor Martin boots favoured by this new trend. The haircuts went in the opposite direction of the long-haired hippies. These working-class youths of London were having their hair cropped very short. I was only seven at the time, but I can remember seeing the teenage youth in Canning Town, Bow and Poplar districts of East London.
Keeping the Old Retro Image Alive.
Youths Enjoying the New Fashion.
Many of the fashionable Mod clothing shops were adapting to the new phase. Other items of clothing were also being favoured. Some of the youths called this new level, Moonstomp. This was because of the type of Jamaican music they enjoyed and danced to. It began to spread all across London. Many nightclubs began to cater for such trends. The word ‘skinhead’ was not used by the youth cult of this day, but often older people with a sense of humour would heckle the young lads as they walked through the district shopping centres of the city. People were heard to shout, “Skinhead,” jokingly. After a while, the name stuck.
The style began to take on a few new looks as well as the clothes I originally mentioned. The new working class youth were very much part of the new consumer society. This Moonstomp/skinhead group rejected the long-haired hippy fashion. Perhaps subconsciously, the hippy era was of the younger rebellious intelligencer. What many of the working class kids termed as student types. Maybe the more earthy kids did not identify with the ways of predominantly middle class, student type teenagers. Many of the Moonstomp/skinhead youth were working in manual jobs. Please do not think I’m trying to say these were thought out borderlines between the various trends and fads of the youth. I don’t think it was organised, but I think it was due to social influences of the time. It was a more sub-conscious development with the consumer society playing a strong role in the interesting trends of the time.
From my point of view, I thought some of the Moonstomp/skinhead fashion looked strikingly smart. The Mod style of tonic two-tone Mohair trousers was still to be seen. Also, the Stay Pressed Trousers looked exceptionally smart. Especially the cream colour. They also wore braces and button-down collared shirts. Ben Sherman and Brutus were very popular. There were black Crombie coats, bomber jackets and also a thin material lightweight jacket borrowed from a character in a U.S. TV series. It was very popular in Britain and was called Payton Place. An actor named Ryan O’Neal played this individual called Rodney Harrington. He wore such a jacket and a major fashion outlet in a trendy part of London nicknamed the coat, a Rodney Harrington Jacket. Many of the Moonstomp skinheads favoured the look with their neat cropped haircuts and stay pressed trouser look. After a time, the Rodney part of the jacket name was dropped and it is still known today, as the Harrington jacket.
London in the Sixties.
This decade was wonderful and vibrant in many ways. Especially living in London. There was music, the new freedoms of youth brought about by a recent and catastrophic war. There were all sorts of newfound liberties of expression from a young generation with better financial freedoms than age groups before had. I can remember my Grandmothers and Grandfathers bemoaning such ways that society was changing. I think there will always be such shock from elder generations. For it is the way of things in most human cultures.
I can remember the Moonstomp skinhead girls of the era. They also had cropped heads like the boys but with a feminine touch. They let the perimeter of their hairline remain long. They would have a fringe to the front. At the side, they would have the hairline long and combed neatly around the ears. The back of the head would have longer neatly combed hair growing from the back hairline. They often wore the button down collar shirts and braces but might sport a mini skirt with Doctor Martin shoes. Sometimes boots. Somehow they made it all look elegant and girlie. The whole expression was cool in my impressionable young opinion. There was a neatness about it.
In the clubs, the white working class youth and the Caribbean youth would dance to the Moonstomp sounds. For a brief moment, there was a fine intertwine with a common enjoyment of music. Then it all seemed to go wrong and change. By 1971, the skinhead cult began to be portrayed as intolerant and racist. It was a sad fact, but it developed into this more ugly culture. The original Moonstomp skinhead people may have moved on in life. For instance, getting married and having children, leaving the ways of our youth and coming of age. As we all do. The new up and coming youth were soiled by other outside and older cultures.
The Football Culture.
Britain has always had a traditional working class sport from the turn of the century. It is enjoyed and followed by millions of people up and down the country. This is our football league. It is very much a working-class sport. All of our major cities and towns have football teams. We support and follow them with tribal enthusiasm. When our teams play away in another part of the country, we follow and go to watch them in big organised groups. This is akin to a religion or cult as many working-class people love football as a God. I’ve heard reports that the Northern towns became fascinated by the London/Moonstomp look when visiting London football teams played in their Northern towns. Also when Northern teams travelled to London to see their teams play, they would observe the Moonstomp/skinhead culture around the London streets.
I don’t think this was an organised or intentional thing, but the fad spread north and skinhead fashions were worn across the country. However, the Moonstomp Caribbean music seemed to be lost during the adoption process. News reporting of football violence between travelling fans often portrayed skinheads in conflict with police and society. The reputation for violence began to be attributed to the cult. In many ways it was earned, but not by the original youth who enjoyed the Moonstomp music of the sixties decade. I think the group was labelled innocently at first. By this I mean the name skinhead being called out by casual observers. Then these fashionable groups intermingled with the football culture. A culture already there and enjoyed by all generations. In this case, the mixture was to be toxic. It spoilt an enjoyable trend and smart fashion in my opinion.
Today most of us are wary of the stigma that is attached to the fashion cult of the skinhead. Political racist groups often contain people in such attire. There are some older die-hard Moonstomp skinheads that have a little get together at Britain’s seaside resorts. Even deviant musical older rock bands that sport the retro look. By and large, the skinhead image is corrupted despite the good intentions of many older people of today who wish to remember the good old Moonstomp days of their youth. In many ways, it is a sad irony. I thought many of the clothes and the music was splendid.
I think I should mention that the corruption is not the fault of football because many generations enjoy the sport. It is just youthful elements of the team following that were to blame. They became more tribalistic and confrontational during this period when the fashion was to dress in such a way. There would have still been football violence and racial tension without the skinhead fashion. Perhaps it was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Kind Revival.
During the late 1970s to the early 1980s, there was a brief revival of the old Moonstomp style of music. There was another word called SKA which described the musical scene. This seemed to be used more with the emergence of bands like The Specials, the Beat and Madness. The old-style clothing was back, though the wearing of braces seemed to be abandoned. The cropped hair was still short though a little longer than an actual skinhead. Again the musical scene of this era was enjoyable. The band Madness become a household name and they went on to enjoy great popularity worldwide.