In modern parlance, there is few greater terms one can use to describe someone than that of icon. They, the representative symbol of whatever it may be that so many regard them as the embodiment as.
Those familiar with this site will know that although icon is indeed a title to be bestowed only with greatest of care, a phrase reserved for the likes of “Sugar” Ray Robinson and Bobby Moore, there is another very sacred phrase in our own particular collective vocabularies.
Face. You won’t find our definition of the word in the dictionary. But like so many things this site covers, that’s half the fun. What is so important to us isn’t necessarily so important to others.
So while we strut around like peacocks when the title is given to us, as it has to be for it’s a title given and not taken yourself, others might not quite understand the allure the title holds.
One man who certainly does, and whom certainly has earned a title earnestly bestowed upon him time and time again, is “Hoxton” Tom McCourt. One of the first skinhead revivalists in the late seventies, the man who perhaps kick started a suedehead revival of his own, renowned DJ and celebrated bassist of the 4-Skins, we could go on forever in the many ways he has permanently affected the scene we’re a part of.
Few have done more, and few have histories more celebrated. So when we were given the chance to chat with the man himself, needless to say we were honoured. That phrase is used without a hint of irony or hyperbole for it is not often you get the chance to talk to someone with the stories of Tom.
The fact the man doesn’t have a biography out is both shocking and criminal. You pick up bits and pieces from other books, but Tom deserves to have his story told. He may be the best to tell it. We’ve just tried to share a bit of it.
His journey into the subculture began by sheer chance, bumping into a skinhead dressed to the nines. Crombie, button down, sta prest, loafers. You get the picture, it could have very well been the look that attracted you towards the scene. It’s not surprising “The Look” has been doing the trick for years.
Although into punk since the earliest days of its London’s infancy, he had become disillusioned with it over time. He had known a few skinheads for a period of time, names like Terry Madden and Mickey Joyce are brought up, but this different breed of skinhead, suited and booted, did the trick.
Brick Lane was a popular meeting spot on Sunday’s, skinheads from areas like Becontree, Archway and Kilburn getting along and sharing a common bond as skinheads. This was before the days of skinheads fighting skinheads due to politics, football or territory.
Suppose it makes sense when there’s so few of you. This mob was around before the punks started getting into it full bore for the shock, and Tom figures its down to the fact him and the others he hung around with were a bit older. The influence from 1969 through to 1971 was evident and something kids a few years later may not have been exposed too.
One part of the scene back then that Tom recalls fondly was the “foppish” nature of it all. One upmanship was the name of the game, outdoing each other the goal. With that being said, Tom assured us that when there was aggro you could count on your mates no matter what.
About this foppishness that was being constantly exhibited, Tom had some help in the clothing stakes. An uncle who was away left a stash of both records and clothing in his old room, leaving Tom to discover a number of original Ben Sherman’s and pairs of sta prest.
When that source was run dry it was off to the charity shops, old tailors and occasionally the Army surplus. All could be counted on to provide some good finds, the ever changing fashions of the day meaning the clothes that really mattered had been left behind to collect dust.
Deals were to be found in the early days but shopkeepers eventually caught on to this new clientele. What they once couldn’t get rid of they now were marking up. Typical.
One story Tom shared reverberated across the years. Apparently there was a fashionable soul boy shop around the corner from The Angel. Tom popped in one day asking after some button downs. He was promptly taken to the back of the shop.
Inside? Boxes and boxes of them. Not than any of his mob knew mind you, these sort of things you had to keep a secret. Didn’t need anyone popping up in matching kit. Something we’ve surely all done.
This need to be the best dressed began the crossover into suedehead. Finding himself preferring the suited look as time went on and the Jam harkening the arrival of what would become the mod revival scene, Tom went towards a look that was more his own. It has inspired ever since.
He recalls some of his favourite gear being a new wool lightweight Mac, the raglan sleeves being a standout feature. He also recalled thin striped Ben Sherman’s as standing out as favourite shirts, and a old Aquascutum Prince of Wales suit being his favourite. He, as many others have, questions why Levi’s never bothered remaking proper sta prest. A question for the ages, surely.
Many of his friends from the skinhead scene had moved into the mod scene in the preceding years, but the mod scene provided access to loads of new bands and exciting club nights. He recalls the burgeoning scene was much the same as the skinhead revival in its early days, everyone getting along for the most part.
His record collection at the time was growing ever bigger, landing LP’s from an Uncle. Classics from labels like Stax and Motown being the start of it all. Club nights and their various DJ’s led to suggestions on what to pick up, which Tom would dutifully do.
Family also played a role, various aunts and uncles offering their own suggestions for what was big with the original mods and skinheads.
Another big find around this time was a record store around the corner from the Barge Around, a big mod pub between 1979 and 1980. Although a discount shop normally selling cheapies, Tom ventured in one day to find a treasure trove.
Unplayed Motown, Stax and Trojan LPs abound. Tom would return religiously to pick up new albums as money would allow. As you might have guessed it was soon found out though, the stock quickly depleting once everyone found out.
He also spoke of his involvement in the Oi scene. Originally a bassist for Barney and the Rubbles, he soon became involved in a band that would become the 4-Skins after Hodges suggested getting a band together like everyone else seemed to be.
It wasn’t long before a rehearsal space in Waterloo was booked, the band writing classics like ACAB, Jealousy and Chaos over a few beers. Turned out no one thought to bring instruments.
The original lineup consisted mainly of the Cockney Rejects road crew minus Binnsy and Wellsy. He had become involved with the Rejects after starting to hang around the Bridgehouse, which also led to hanging around a lot of his West Ham supporting mates.
One night the suggestion to go see former Sham roadie Vince Riordan’s new band was brought up. Tom went along and got to chatting to Mickey and Jeff and that was that. Fast friends, they began meeting up regularly over beers. Soon regular trips to West Ham were on the cards and Tom became part of the road crew.
Back to the 4-Skins. Their first gig was supporting The Rejects and The Damned at the Bridgehouse, one which Tom recalls being one of his favourite down to a jam packed venue and great atmosphere. Mickey Geggus played drums after their original drummer never showed up.
The other standout gig was again at the Bridgehouse, their last gig to a record crowd and another great atmosphere. One begins to understand what a special venue it was through the affectionate memories Tom has of it.
One gets the feeling Tom could go on for hours, he has no shortage of stories. We were just lucky enough to have him share a few with us.