I first got into music courtesy of my older sister who was a softcore
skinhead girl. She was 15, I was 11. We'd listen to Motown Chartbuster
and Tighten Up reggae compilations on the portable mono in the kitchen.
In the early '70s Trojan reggae was at its peak, as was the skinhead
thing, which was all around me in the shape of older kids in their
two-tone suits, crombies, etc. It was that or be a 'greaser', or a
nobody. I guess my developing taste for smarter clothes meant I'd
never be satisfied with just a leather jacket and jeans, so I became
a skin eventually. Skins were it. Me and my mates would hang around
outside the local disco watching them as they smoked, snogged, stood
around, sometimes fighting - doing all the things we longed to do
as soon as we had graduated. And the music that drifted out of the
hall... 'Moon River' by Greyhound, 'Young, Gifted and Black', Bob
and Marcia Griffiths... 'Monkey Man', Toots and the Maytals... dream
material - the soundtrack to the sexy, stylish, dangerous teenage
lives we longed to lead.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, other things were coming in - the
pop music of the day, like Suzy Quatro, T-Rex and Slade, whom we adopted
as the number one skinhead-boy-band because, before they went 'glam”,
they were just skins from Wolverhampton. And even when they hit the
big time they still made boot-stomping classics like 'Get Down And
Get With It'.
When I began buying records myself one of the first was Bowie's 'Ziggy
Stardust' album, the first to freak me out (man). The first with a
lyric sheet so we could sing along to cosmic lyrics which we didn't
understand. I guess my artistic side was developing, and I was writing
sci-fi short stories, so Bowie was perfect. Having said that, all
my friends loved him too, and none of them were 'creative”, so his
appeal obviously reached beyond the creatively aspirational.
Roxy Music and their first album had a major impact too, although
I was oblivious to their art school connections. It was 1972 and the
twin towers of Bowie and Roxy Music rose to match the mighty influence
of black pop. I had no problem with embracing art-rock and reggae.
Neither, it seemed, did anyone else that mattered, ie, those elders
I so idolised at secondary school. They were into Roxy Music, Stevie
Wonder and Toots and the Maytals - good enough for me.
Everyone seemed to be into Led Zepplin too - what an eclectic bunch
we were! The greasers had their self-imposed limited listening, but
to us, everything else that was good was up for grabs. The odd thing
is that, as early teenagers, we were all as fanatical as each other
about music. A couple of years later my friends were joining the Trojan
Appreciation Society, or sending money to mail-order addresses for
obscure Northern Soul 45s. Yet today those same friends have divorced
themselves from modern music. They're not buying drum'n'bass - they're
still basking in the 'golden era” described above. The mystery remains:
why do I know who Photek is and they don't? Is it simply because I
moved to London and they stayed in a Buckinghamshire village? And
the reasons I moved are the reasons that explain that difference?
Whatever the reason, I took music to heart, and it's stayed there
ever since those sessions in the kitchen of our council house.
Robin Tomens, editor Ego Magazine. 1995.