Now we normally cover clothing in these things, as regular readers will know. But we also enjoy some more shall we say, cerebral, pursuits. With that in mind we’ve decided to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly of the books on offer for those of a similiar ilk. We promise not to disappoint.
First things first, so we can get it out of the way, is Spirit of ’69. You’ve more than likely seen this go for stupid prices with startling regularity. George Marshall’s book was, at one time, akin to a handbook for many in the dark ages before the internet. Nowadays it can be tracked down, periodically, online and downloaded for free.
It is indeed a “skinhead bible” if you will, at one time serving as a guide for many newcomers to the scene as to the origins of the cult as well as giving a good account of the later Oi scene. It also has an A-Z guide and a bit covering skinhead reggae labels. All the important stuff really.
But what was at one time so groundbreaking and informative has fallen, like so many other things, to the wayside. One can find much of this information online without paying an arm and a leg to own a paper copy. It’s a fantastic item if you’re a collector of skinhead memoribilia but by no means the neccesity it once was.
Skinhead Nation on the other hand is, in our opinion, a far more interesting read from the author. It came out of Marshall’s travels around the world while filming the World of Skinhead documentary. It covers style a bit deeper while also giving an intimate snapshot of skinhead scenes around the world.
If you’re going to splash out cash on one or the other, we say go with Skinhead Nation. It luckily tends to go for less money as well, so all the better. Moving on.
Skinhead by Nick Knight was one of the first books released covering the skinhead cult. Knight is now a world famous fashion photographer but he had his beginnings taking pictures of life around him. A great depecition of the times no doubt.
While the pictures are certainly interesting, much of what is written in the book is shit, coming off as written by someone who has no clue what it was all about. But it does have a nice bit on skinhead reggae tracks worth checking out, going by year. Oh, and Jim Ferguson’s fashion notebook.
That is the real reason to buy the book. Ferguson is a fashion illustrator nowadays and the illustrations he supplied in this book you’ve likely seen a million times. Very detailed breakdown of all the necessities, although he does say a couple of things that’ll have you scratching your head. Don’t let it deter you though, this one is cheap and widely available.
Add an “s” and we are now at Skinheads from John King of The Football Factory fame. The first fictional entry in this guide so far, this book is top notch just as one would expect from King. Football Factory it ain’t but King is an incredible story teller and his skills are put to good use.
The book covers three generations of the English family, Terry, Ray and Laurel. We’ve heard some complaints the book name drops too often, or that the story is a bit sappy. Forget all that. It’s a great portrayal of the scene through all it’s various guises throughout the years.
Our own personal favorite could very well be A Boy’s Story by yet another King, this time Martin. No relation. Martin was a skinhead right in the thick of it all at Chelsea in the late sixties. His book covers some of his memories from those heady days.
It’s a completely refreshing read. All too often skinhead or casual books have the author get bogged down in reminding you just how hard they are. Not Martin, he has no problem telling you when he didn’t want any part of bovver. His recounting of life in England and the friendship amongst mates adds even more to the book.
Speaking of Bovver, Chris Brown has put out two novels so far both riveting reads. Bovver was his first, recounting growing up in Bristol during the seventies. The detail to which he recalls the styles, music and aggro is fantastic. Recommended by a teacher years ago, its been a firm favorite since.
Booted and Suited was his second outing. It’s Bovver with a good chunk added on to the beggining, down to Brown trying to track down the birth of the skinhead scene in his city. His chats with members of the famed “Never On Sunday” crew a few decades after their heyday are great.
If you’re going to get one or the other, Booted and Suited is definitely the way to go. We’ve all heard tell of how the scene came about but to have the search to its beginnings become that thorough is fascinating.
Next up we have The Soul Stylists written by Paolo Hewitt but conceptualized by Paul Weller. Need we say more? Right. With the book Weller wanted to cover subcultures throughout the second half of the twentieth century in England, linking them together with a dedication to looking smart and a love of black music.
Well Hewitt did a great job putting it all together. Weller has an inspiring bit at the beginning of seeing suedeheads for the first time, then it’s straight into subculture coverage. Mod Jazzers, mods, skinheads, soulies and casuals are all covered.
Although every chapter is fascinating reading for any fan of subcultures, the skinhead chapter in particular stands out. Jim Cox, of The Reggae Train and British Style Genius fame, has the longest bit in this chapter. It’s one of the best reads on life as a skinhead during the late sixties on record. You absolutely need this book.
And nwo we come to The Paint House. Written by two English sociologists after studying an East End skinhead gang, the book is incredibly dry. That said, if you can wade through all the boring bits there is some insights. You also might know this book for starting the “white shirts” controversy.
Much like Spirit of ’69 this one is only for hardcore collectors. Speaking of collectors items the Skinhead series from Richard Allen, real name James Moffat, is some of the finest examples of pulp fiction one will read.
Classic literature they are not, but they certainly supply a fun and mindless read. If you go in expecting anymore than that you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re up for tales of aggro and sex you’ll quite enjoy it. And with titles ranging from Suedeheads to “Knuckle Girls” you’ll be reading for months before you can finish them all.
Joe Mitchell followed up in line with Allen’s best work when he put out Saturdays Heroes in the mid nineties on S.T. Publishing. This one might be even better than Allen’s best work.
Once more a fun and mindless read, the book is not short on all the exciting things. Aggro, sex and all nighters are all covered here. Tracking a copy down use to be a hassle but it has recently been reprinted so you should get yourself sorted rather easily.
A topic not offering up the same amount of titles, but supplying no shortage of interesting reads is that of skinhead reggae. We’ll start at the top of the mountain.
Boss Sounds and Boss Sounds 2 have to be the most indepth and informative books on the genre. Marc Griffiths original had become so scarce at one point that it was practically worth it’s weight in gold.
The original Boss Sounds was the most thorough guide to the skinhead reggae genre when it was first released. Upon reading it now one can tell just how different a world the internet has made things because even a novice collector will know about the vast majority of tunes that were one time considered scarce.
And the prices have gone up exponetially over the year, thanks to eBay and the like. You win some and lose some.
Boss Sounds 2 on the other hand, released this year, is practically a work of art. Only released in limited print runs depending on demand the book has been immensely updated since the last go round and with the help of Dave “Oldwah” Sanford the book is beautifully constructed.
Never mind the information regarding tunes, it’s great to simply look at. It also offers a bit on the history of the Jamaican music industry and a bit at the end for your wants list. All you could ask for.
If you’re just getting into collecting than Steve Barrow’s Rough Guide to Reggae is, simply put, a must have. You’re not likely to find a more in depth guide to the history of Jamaican music throughout all it’s various forms.
Barrow use to put together compilations and write linear notes for Trojan back in the day and his extensive knowledge of Jamaican music is on full display. Search this down if you want to know the roots of it all.
Another Trojan collabrator that has written two fine book is Michael de Koningh. First was Tighten Up with Boss Sounds author Marc Griffiths and that was followed with Young, Gifted and Black completed alongside Laurence Cane-Honeysett. The first is a history of reggae in the UK from two authorities on the subject.
The second is the most thorough book written on the history of the Trojan record label. If you’re a serious collector, chances are you own both already. If not, buy them. You won’t be disappointed.