Category Archives: skinhead

Take it or leave it (1981)

Tricky, a British musical treasure in his own right, summed up the early 80’s musical landscape perfectly, when he stated that The Specials & Madness were his generations Beatles & The Stones. They were also mine, as a pre-pubescent just getting the first rush from music. His comparison does not hold up to too much scrutiny (The Beatles & The Rolling Stones worldwide success and cultural impact are unmatched and never likely to be equalled). But in an era where there were other bands loosely affiliated post-punk, it is arguably Madness & The Specials who have the edge, having that star power, the presence, the tunes, over The Beat or The Selector or many of the other 2-Tone / sort-of-mod-sort-of-skinhead bands that emerged in their wake.
Following the success of their first 2 albums and a string of singles that, while never getting to number 1, regularly made the top 10, plus a strong visual identity boosted by their effective use of music videos, Madness did something that many great bands had done before – they made the band movie.

The Specials had their own movie (of sorts) out in 1981, called ‘Dance Craze’ (a celebration of the 2-Tone / Ska revival scene, the film was largely concert footage, including Madness). Madness were going to do a film that was more personal and all about Madness. Self-funding to the tune of 20,000 quid per band member, plus cash from their label, Stiff, they were unencumbered by expectations from movie studios or financiers. ‘Take it or leave it’ is a film about the origins of Madness, how they came to be, covering a relatively short period of time (1976 to the then present 1981).

The film covers the difficult early beginnings of the band, as wannabe pub band ‘The Invaders’, with their out of tune and out of sync takes on rock n roll standards. As the band comes together you get a feel for the trials and tribulations of bands as they search for the right configuration of players and personalities until the ‘chemistry’ is achieved. As far as the acting goes, it is safe to say that if you are uncomfortable with naturalistic performances this is one you need to miss. Or go in with an open mind.

There are varying degrees of nasally London accents, some of the time mumbling into their chests, and one or two of the actors are clearly embarrassed at the whole process. But i think this adds to the charm. Mike Barson (aka Monsieur Barso), the keyboard player and de facto leader and driving force comes across as belligerent and hard work. Apparently his characteristics were exaggerated for the film but it’s to his credit that he is willing to portray himself in an unflattering light. Suggs comes across as a bit cheeky, Lee as a bit of a loose cannon and a bit dodgy, Bedders looks and sounds about 12 and you are rooting for Chrissy, if only for the fact that he has a wife and baby in a flat to look after (in another bit of artistic licence, there was actually no baby, only a wife in Chrissy’s life at the time.)

There is some footage of the Dublin Castle venue, a crap fight with some skins (probably to put to bed any discusion that they were a band for bonehead-type skins), and some great scenes that are a validation of the fashion of that subculture and era (Harrington Jackets, Ben Sherman, Doc Marten Boots, that green bomber jacket that Woody loved to wear).

Personally, the big pay off is the footage of them playing live, when you get to see Madness at their jittery, bouncing best. All that pent-up, awkward energy, channelled into 3 minute mash-ups of ska and new wave and jerky, jumping bodies, it’s a reminder of why Madness were such a potent visual and audio force over 30 years ago. Their early years are where their potential was still being brought out, their youth and energy undimmed, and ‘Take it or leave it’ (thankfully) captures them before they started maturing into a better songwriting band, but with that maturity went some of the early teeth bared, fist clenched punk attitude.

As a document of how a thousand bands try to strive and evolve, it captures the frustrations and funny moments well. As a British social document, it gives some insight into a subculture in early 80s britain, as well as brief glimpses into life on the dole and the struggle of working class young men trying to achieve something more, something better. As a British film it has that early 80’s glom and greyness about it, that captures a mood and a time. As a portrayal of a well loved British band, it’s an honest and entertaining 90 minutes. When they finally emerge as Madness, and you hear ‘Bed and Breakfast Man’ or ‘One Step Beyond’ you will be reminded of why you loved them first time around.

Subbaculture Zine Issue 1

The Subbaculture site expands its horizons and pays respect to the true source of the blogging phenomena…

Out now, on a limited print run, is the first issue of the Subbaculture Zine. A proper zine (i.e. one you can hold in your hands), A5 size, packed with informative articles and enough visual style to put proper magazines to shame, it can be ordered here;

I highly recommend the Richard Allen / Skinhead / NEL article, and the piece on 2 Tone graphics. Good quality paper and printing as well, which for those of us who remember xeroxed music, science fiction or horror zines of the 80’s will be a bit of a culture shock. Highly recommended, as is the site;

Skinheads and Hippies, Piccadilly Circus, 1969 (photographed by Terry Spencer).

Photographed by Terry Spencer, these photos show ‘ a clash of 2 cultures’, though if there were any clashing to be done, my money would a) be on the skinheads starting it, and b) the skinheads finishing it as well. The hippies, wisely, avert their gaze from the passing Skins in the first picture. In the third picture a couple of brave hippie souls lift their heads up to check they are actually going past their group, as opposed to into it. This all happens around Piccadilly Circus (the hippies are sitting on the steps of the statue of Eros).

At this point, and staying broadly with this theme of youth subcultures, I would like to point you to the subbaculture site, operated by a man who I regard as a friend and scholar;

it is no cut and paste job either – there are some really inspired posts there. Please check it out.

Photos courtesy of;
Picture 1 –

Picture 2 –

Picture 3 –

Skin advert in Crisis issue 28 (1989)

Issue 28 of the adult oriented political comic (only in the late 80’s eh?) ‘Crisis’ has an advert for a forthcoming story. Nothing much unusual in that, except this was an advert for a story that never made it to print in Crisis;

The reason was this – the publisher Fleetway, pulled the story after objections from the printers, who refused to print Skin. The actual reason is harder to determine, but the accepted version of events is that this was due to the harsh language in the strip. The fact that Skin was eventuallt collected and published in graphic novel form by Tundra Publishing, to little or no outrage shows that Fleetway and Crisis missed out on one of the most powerful British comic strips. More here;

Richard Allen, New English Library, Skinhead, Suedehead & Sorts – the Seventies Penny Dreadfuls (1970s)

“As he stood in the dock, Joe Hawkins considered his situation with utter detachment.”
Opening line of ‘Suedehead’, by Richard Allen.

‘Richard Allen’ was the best-known pseudonym of James Moffat, and his series of books based on the Skinhead sub-culture are his best remembered works. Of those books, Skinhead, was the first, and is the best remembered. As you can see from the various book covers on this page, he wrote several sequels. These paperbacks (published by New English Library), had relatively few pages (generally more than 100 but less than 150) but a lot of sex and violence, and were squarely aimed at teenagers and young adults.

Skinhead was an immediate success, hence the raft of ‘Skinhead’ sequels from Allen. These books were marked by a predilection for casual violence, (including rape) which could easily be seen as a glorification / celebration of such behavior, though Allen was at pains to point out that that was not the case (or at least he did in the preface he wrote in his sequel to ‘Skinhead’, ‘Suedehead’). These books were cheap, fast fixes, true ‘exploitation’ books, especially when they began to ride the coat-tails of other contemporary fashions (like the Kung-Fu / Skinhead mash-up of ‘Dragon Skins’);

A more thorough explanation of who Richard Allen was, can be found below;

Richard Allen, The Charles Dickens of skinheads

James Moffat (1922-1993) was a Canadian-born writer who once published a magazine about bowling and who, under sundry pseudonyms, wrote hack fiction (westerns, children’s stories, mysteries). In 1970 he was asked because he was so versatile and prolific, to write a book for the New English Library about skinheads, the white working-class youths whose thuggery seemed, to some, an authentic cry of alienation and, to others, the decline of Western civilisation.

Allen’s first novel, Skinhead, uneasily combined self-righteous fascist rhetoric, nihilist indifference and the shocked voice of reason. But it succeed with its authentic portrayal of Joe Hawkins, the 16-year old gangster convinced the Cockneys had lost control of their patch, London, and whose life of rape, drink and hooliganism ends in a kind of triumph when he is jailed for beating a cop – a punishment which, he gloats, makes him king of the skinheads.

After that sold a million, the formula stayed pretty constant for 17 other novels – seven with the words “skin” or ‘Skinhead’ in the title. Allen bought to the task an enthusiasm for research, speed – he once completed a novel in less than a week – narrative drive and pulp fair. The opening line of Suedehead is masterful: “As he stood in the dock, Joe Hawkins considered the situation with a detachment”. Yet the author, uncomfortable with charges he encouraged violence, later blamed “leniency in courtrooms, catering to fads by mercenary-minded rage-trade merchants, a soft-peddling attitude by politicians who look for teenage votes and a overwhelming pandering by the media”.

Rediscovered in his seventies, Allen was planning a sequel Skinhead Return, when years of writing at short notice aided by tobacco and booze finally caught up with him. He died in 1993.

Influenced by: Pulp fiction, Harold Robbins.

Influence on: His success led to a plethora of books like Bill Buford’s Among The Thugs, in which intellectual types slummed it with violent oiks.

Essential reading: Skinhead and Suedehead stand apart.

Further reading: As Trudi Maxwell, Allen wrote the compellingly dire Diary of a Female Wrestler, unforgettably, ludicrously bad.

Taken from The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction,

What follows is a series of back page ‘copy’ found on Richard Allen paperbacks. Titles covered are Skinhead, Suedehead, Skinhead Escapes and Sorts;


SKINHEAD by Richard Allen
AGGRO – That’s what Joe Hawkins and his mates were looking for, with their shaven heads, big boots and braces.

Football matches, pub brawls, open-air pop concerts, hippies and Hell’s Angels all gave them chances to vent their sadistic violence.

SKINHEAD is a story straight from today’s headlines – portraying with horrifying vividness all the terror and brutality that has become the trademark of these vicious teenage malcontents.

First NEL Edition July 1970
This edition March 1972

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.


A young and brutal bovver boy called Joe Hawkins caused outrage when he was first introduced to the world in the NEL smash hit, Skinhead.
Now Joe has grown his hair and swapped his boots and braces for a velvet-collared Abercrombie coat. His aggro days are over … but his city-slicker days are just beginning.

© 1972 Richard Allen
First NEL Paperback Edition October 1971

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.

Skinhead Escapes

Joe Hawkins first made his shattering impact on readers in the best-selling novel, SKINHEAD.

For Joe, his exploits of violence and anti-social behaviour were to be cut short by a prison sentence.

But in SKINHEAD ESCAPES Joe Hawkins is on the loose again. With a vengeance to fulfill!

© 1972 Richard Allen
First NEL Paperback Edition July 1972
Reprinted May 1974

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.


SORTS by Richard Allen
‘Sorts’ are the Smoothy girls – they’re game if the price is right.

Terry Hurdy is running away – from her home, from her skinhead lover, and her memories. She teams up with Rose, who teaches her the ways of the road. Then the aggro starts, and Terry finds herself with “lay-by” problems, drop-outs and drugs – and murder.

This is a new kind of girl – first there were Skinheads and Boot Boys, then the Smoothies – and now there are Sorts, the female of the species.

© 1973 Richard Allen
First NEL Paperback Edition July 1973
Reprinted December 1974

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.

The complete list of Richard Allen books reads as follows – as you can see, he didn’t limit himself to the Skinhead movement, as he also documented (amongst others) Punk (Punk Rock),

Mods (Mod Rule) and Glam Rock (Glam);

Books by Richard Allen

Boot Boys
Dragon Skins
Knuckle Girls
Mod Rule
Punk Rock
Skinhead Escapes
Skinhead Farewell
Skinhead Girls
Teeny Bopper Idol
Terrace Terrors
Top-Gear For Skinhead
Trouble For Skinhead (originally to be titled Skinhead In Trouble)

A BBC TV documentary about his life, Skinhead Farewell, aired in 1996. This is a clip of that documentary;


By the way, ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ is a term I have probably incorrectly implied here (to a degree anyway). I like the term, and it does sum up the whole vibe of Skinhead etc. To understand what a penny dreadful really was, look here