Saturday, February 13, 2016

From Docs to Kicks

When inner city youths rejected hippy music and heavy metal in the late 60s they created an alternative culture which was more utilitarian, unisex and affordable to out of work street kids. Bomber jackets, fitted shirts, Levis & braces with Doc Martens (DMs) boots were hip but dancing took second place to a good punch up. Skinheads (or suede heads) was a very machismo movement soon hijacked by racists and Neo-Nazis but initially they listened to Reggie music which was replaced later by racist, Oi music.

The once ultra-conservative Dr Martens shoes became the trademarks of urban youth excited by violence.

Dr Klause Martens of Munich invented his air trapped soles in 1945. The inspiration came had come from a personal injury he experienced when skiing and he wanted a more comfortable pair shoes. He started to produce the air sole in 1947 but it took until the mid to late 60s to peak. DMs became the essential accessory of youth harnessing the aggression of the storm trooper into the streets. European skinheads made it their own in the seventies and used their DMs (Bovver Boots) fierce weapons to shatter the complacency of the bourgeoisie. Skinheads were not the first to do this and in the seventeenth century young men called 'footpads' terrorised the highways and byways. DM's were readily adopted by all and became a youth phenomenon worn by women and gay men and not just as weapons of terror.

Into the 70s the generation of teenagers identified less with the sophisticated sounds of studio and disco but rediscovered simple rock music played live. All this took place at a time when the Western World was experiencing the beginning of economic hardship and aimless and unemployed street kids disinterested in finesse just wanted to be rocked.

Tapping into the movement came Malcolm McLaren and his girl friend Vivienne Westwood when in 1971, they took over the back part of the retail premises at 430 Kings Road in Chelsea, West London. Initially they sold rock n roll records, refurbished '50s radiograms and dead stock. Then they opened Let It Rock with Westwood repairing original clothing and making facsimiles. They designed clothing for theatrical and cinematic productions including as That'll Be The Day as well as catering for the brief fashion for all things Teddy Boy.

McLaren spent time in New York and was influenced by the New York Dolls what he saw at the notorious CBGB in New York City. He and Westwood opened SEX Boutique in the Kings Road and started to sell Westwood originals which appeared as simple clothing intended to shock. McLaren then decided to manage a makeshift band made up of SEX customers, John Lydon, John Ritchie, Paul Cook and Steve Jones with his shop assistant, Glen Matlock. The band were called The Sex Pistols and could scarcely play, no matter the Svengali, McLaren jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on their recording potential. The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle followed and the Sex Pistols became the front of a new teenage phenomenon called Punk Music.

Punk represented a return to more simplistic music and dancing to live music was back in small clubs and pubs. Crowed dance floors meant little room to do much more than pogo to the throbbing beat.

By the 80s, across Europe, groups of young men gathered on football terraces not to watch the games but to engage in fighting with rival fans.

Many were unemployed with no visible means of support yet wore extremely expensive designer clothes and shoes. Most were involved in crime and particular illicit drug trafficking.

Dubbed Soccer Casuals they joined the Chemical Generation who went clubbing) or frequented dance parties called Raves.

Acid house music parties started in Chicago but quickly spread and caught on in the UK within clubs, warehouses and free-parties. Activities were related to the party atmosphere of the hi-tech discos in Ibiza, a favorite holiday destination of British, Italian, Greek, Irish and German youth.

Looking good came with a new sartorial awareness. Shoes (kicks) needed to match the outfit and a hungry market was created.

To keep demand high, the giants like Adidas, Puma and Nike produced what were virtually fashion ranges of their popular sport shoes. Each season brought new design modifications, colour combinations (colourways) and logos, most of which were sales promotion ruses and had little to do with improving the efficiency of the shoe for exercise. The young enjoyed the exclusive designer element and cost was no barrier. A combination of clever marketing and the desire to rebel against conservatism assured the sneaker culture endured into the third millennium. Ravers danced ‘all-nighters’ and many took drugs like Ecstasy. This is a stimulant drug which contained methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Electronic music both recorded and live were favored in clubs like Manchester’s Hacienda

Reviewed 14/02/2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

Glam, glitter and disco foot: It's the 70s

The first discothèque to open was the Scotch Club in Aachen, Germany in 1959. The owner of a local dancehall refused to pay for live performers and used an amplified record player instead. Klaus Quirini became the first DJ when he commandeered the turntable and became master of ceremonies. His style was immediately popular and as DJ Heinrich, he organized other DJs into workers' union that made DJ an official (i.e. healthcare registered) profession. The first song Quirini played was Ein Schiff wird kommen by Lale Andersen.

The Scotch Club became a Mecca for young people but there was a dress code with bouncers refusing entrance to men not wearing a tie. By the time the first discos were opening in US and elsewhere there were 17 discos in Aachen. The Scotch-Club finally closed its doors in 1992.

By the late 60s and early 70s, high tech discothèques (discos) with light shows and glamorous settings replaced dance halls. Instead of dancing to live music played by cover artists night clubbers crammed into small licensed venues with a disc jockey (DJ) playing hifi vinyl records.

Jimmy Saville was considered the first DJ to use twin-turntables that played non-stop music.

Statuesque dancers (Go Go Dancers) needed to stand out as a focal point and were central to the layout of the dance floor. Elevated and caged the girls and boys, danced in a blaze of lights choreographing the latest dance moves.

The fashion for elevated or platform shoes also came to pass. The Cockney, Scottish football fan extraordinaire Rod Stewart had been a humble boot boy at Brentford Soccer Club long before he became gravel voiced lead singer of the post Mod band, Faces. Rod, unlike his musical chum (Sir) Elton John, wore platform shoes on stage to look tall and sexy.

Tiny Elton by contrast needed the extra leverage his boots gave him to reach the piano keys on his Steinway during live performances. Later Elton appeared in the film Tommy sporting the largest pair of DM boots ever seen.

In antiquity, Greek actors wore raised shoes to tower over their audience and the resulting swaggering gait was understood to send females into sexual ecstasy.

Platform shoes were first introduced in the Middle Ages and were worn by court ladies but the fashion was short lived and fell to the prerogative of the height challenged.

Paul Gadd (aka the disgraced Gary Glitter) was certainly the latter and used his glitter platforms to achieve the former. He was, in his heyday, an act to catch. His platforms were specially made for his feet and allowed him to achieve quite spectacular choreography during his live shows.

Young people began to dress in ambiguous ways, the style was called unisex. For the first time in hundreds of years’ men appeared in clothing modern society designated as female attire. The Thin White Duke aka David Bowie was certainly not stuck in the cupboard when it came to express his female side on stage. Ziggy (Stardust) definitely wore the boots and shoes to be seen in, in tights.

Whilst this was a zenith for excellent dance music, ironically the dance styles were remarkably bland. People did however, dance a lot and a common injury associated with "all-nighters" was a flat foot caused by ligamentous collapse. The condition was called "disco foot."

Then in 1977 something happened that put dance into disco and it was called Saturday Night Fever.

Reviewed 13/02/2016

The Faces The Marquee Club, London 7th December 1970

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Summer of Love and beyond

In the mid-sixties youth broke into two rival factions: the nouveaux moderns or mods who were followers of black music and designer clothes; and the macho rockers, or neo Ton-Up boys. Both styles had started in the fifties but now there were enough young people around to support a dual culture.

Mods evolved from the new moderns and had linage to the Skiffle movement of the 50s. Sixties Mods wore designer suits and shoes, or parkas with light dessert boots for their Italian scooters. They listened to black music from North America and gathered in discotheques.

Greasers continued the swashbuckling tradition of the earlier Ton Up boys with knee length leather boots, tight jeans, white T shirts, and leather jackets. They were rock’n’roll fans and congregated in the old dance halls preferring to maintain the dance steps of the previous decade.

Needless to say, these group did not enjoy each other's company and began to terrorise the English coastal towns by fighting each other. Mods and rockers fought over the beaches of south coast England wearing the trademarks of their generation, i.e. boots verses shoes.

Few in the fashion industry could predict Mod fashions and for a short time anyway chaos ruled within the rag trade. Whilst most young idealists followed the road to enlightenment and self-discovery many rejected materialism and dropping out. This was displayed symbolically by going barefoot. In the Era of the hippies the sandal (thong) became part of the accepted outfit along with kaftans, bells, loons and Afghan coats.

OPen air festivals became all the rage and dancing was more self-expression with little interaction between partners. The dance style of the time resembled folk dancing of ancient times. Experimentation with mind altering drugs meant less well co-ordinated movements were common and hence no need for supportive footwear.

When soldiers returned from Vietnam suffering battle fatigue some found themselves unable to adjust to civilian life. Alternative lifestyles such as nomadic bikers became more popular. Membership of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Clubs (1%' ‘rs) grew in vast numbers.

The teenage cult movie "Easy Rider" for once did not depict the standard adolescent fun and games at high school but instead dealt with real adult themes living in a country still divided by prejudice. 'Easy rider` also assured the urban cowboy image was legitimised and the Hollywood cowboy boots, a macho icon forever.

Reviewed 12/02/2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Sixties: Land of a 1000 dances

Between the years 1960-63 Tin Pan Alley moguls kept cash registers filled by adhering to the tried and tested musical tastes of the previous decade. Fearing a resurgence of Rock'n'Roll, and in particular Race Music, the industry dumbed-down the teenage market and commercially stifled originality. The revolution came when the beat generation metamorphosed into the new Mersey Beat.

Women's hemlines became shorter matching the length of men's jackets. Tight fitting bolero suits (or bum freezers) for men and two piece outfits for women were accompanied with trendy pointed slip-ons. Better off kids wore loafers which were the fashion of the US Ivy Leaguers. Court style shoes took on in the sixties when Jacky Kennedy made them the shoe. She bought her shoes from Rene Mancini in Paris. Her monthly order was 12 pairs every three months although this dropped to 8 pairs after her marriage to Onasis.

During the early days of the Beatles shoes took on a boot style and incorporated Cuban heels for men. Needless to say the fashion became ubiquitous before the toes began to widen and the Chelsea boot or chisel toe became vogue. A point of interest the Beatle Boot was less macho than the Rodeo boot preferred by cowboys, and resembled the style of boot favoured by Victorian ladies. Whilst not effeminate it was distinctly a softer less aggressive style that brothel creepers and winkle pickers from the previous era. Beatle boots incorporated a French seam or central stitch running from ankle to toe on the upper. In the convention of symbols this referred to the vulva opposite to the phallus of the long toes or winklepicker shoes.

If the Beatles were the conventional side of pop, then the Rolling Stones were definitely their nemesis. Anarchy ruled, or at least so it was portrayed, and the scruffy lads expressed their individualism on stage by wearing clothes that suited their personality. Perhaps the only physical link that united the five piece band was the sneakers they wore.

When most male singers were being groomed for cabaret, girl groups came on with a vengeance. Tights and miniskirts meant legs became the focus of attention and the longer the better.

Although definitely not the first girl group the Shangri-las captured the sultry look by wearing slacks and high heeled ankle boots. Only solo female artists had the confidence to appear in miniskirts with long high heeled boots.

Jim Proby will probably be best remembered for his trouser splitting performances on the ill-fated, English tour (1965). P.J Proby wrote the hit 'Clown Shoes' for Johnny Burnette and was reputed to sing demos for the King (Elvis).

However, his sartorial style was more a reflection of Henry Fielding's 'Tom Jones'. The bawdy adventures of the eighteenth century Jack the Lad was captured on film and Proby was quick to cash in.

Soon young men were wearing high heeled buckle shoes similar to those worn by the Sun King (Louis IVX).

As the Twist became passé it was replaced by a bunch of other dances which required little else other than to stand in one position and move the head, elbows, knees and hands.

Bandstand and Ready Steady Go were always ready to show the latest dance crazes and the Shake, the Dog and the Funky Chicken all were danced to the hits of Motown, Memphis Soul and other hits of the day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Twist

After the deeply sexual couplings of rock & roll, the '60's brought a very strange phenomenon i.e. a dance with absolutely no body contact. Permissive society had arrived and there was no need to simulate it on the dance floor. Instead adults adopted the music and style, and moved the 'in crowd' from dancehalls to small clubs or discos. In 1959, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters recorded a song called "Teardrops On Your Letter" with a B side called, "The Twist."

When it began to catch on Cameo-Parkway released a cover version by Ernest Evans under the name, Chubby Checker. The record was an enormous hit, twice in a space of two years (September, 1960 and January, 1962). The Twist became a national phenomenon spinning off countless twist records for Checker and others.

The twist was described as a dance, which required you to initially move the shoes in a left and right fashion as if stubbing out a cigarette, then to combine this with swinging the arms and hips as if an imaginary towel was drying the back. Clothes became more tailored and suits for men were the order of the day.

Wrinkle pickers or needlepoint shoes replaced the cumbersome crepe soled shoes. They were lightweight streamlined shoes with dandy looks yet menacingly dangerous. Winkle pickers were the second generation rockers and very much the property of the early sixties generation. The pointed toes were a reworking of the notorious poulaines of the Middle Ages. These were outrageously phallic and distinctly male.

Courtship took place on the dance floor and ability 'swing right' was caught in many of the contemporary lyrics e.g. Let's dance by Chris Montez and Twisting the Night Away by Sam Cooke.

The 1950's considered the heel of the female foot particularly erotic. Mules were all the rage, and attention was drawn to the naked heel by novel designs. The Stiletto heel was introduced in 1952 and was 4" in height. It was on a classic pump with a pointed toe. Known as the "Cobblers Delight" because the bottom tips needed frequent replacement. The heels pierced floors and were banned in aircraft and many public buildings. Despite their bad reputation by the end of the 50's stilettos were the only shoes a fashionable woman wore. High heels were considered symbols of playful defiance, and heightened sexuality; the shoes became the trademarks of the naughty girl. The height and size of shoes have erotic connotations.

High heels are considered to make even the average bottom look more pert, round and trim. According to experts buttocks protrude by 25% just by wearing ankle breakers. Effects on the posture have been studied and the change in the body's centre of mass causes the back to curve, breasts to project forward, the buttocks to hike up and the legs to look and sexy. The calves and ankles appear shapelier and the arches heave from the shoes. According to psychologist Lloyd-Elliott the length of the leg is an arousal signal. They were less concerned with what the shoe looked like than what it could do for their bodies. Later the advent of seamless stockings without heel reinforcement brought the sling back into fashion.

All at a time when the London-based designer Mary Quant, introduced the miniskirt.

Reviewed 10/02/2016

Ian (Lemmy) Kilmister (1945 – 2015)

Ian Fraser Kilmister was born in 1945 in Stoke-on-Trent and grew up in North Wales. At school he earned the nickname Lemmy, because of his persistent habit of asking friends for money and his favourite phrase, "lemmy (lend me} a quid till Friday.” After seeing the Beatles at the Cavern Club, he learned to play guitar and joined some local bands, including the Sundowners, the Rainmakers and then the Motown Sect. He got by working at menial jobs but then in 1965 he joined the Rockin' Vickers who released three singles on the CBS label. The records failed to attract any attention.

The Rockin' Vickers moved to London in 1967 where Lemmy shared a flat with Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix Experience). For a short time Lemmy became a roadie for the band. He joined Sam Gopal in 1968 and they recoreeded the album Escalator and the single "Horse".

He left to join Opal Butterfly but only stayed with the group for a couple of months before being asked to leave. In 1971 Lemmy joined Hawkwind, one of the earliest space rock groups in the UK. Although he was asked to play bass he was a complete novice but quickly developed a distinctive style using double stops and chords rather than the single note lines preferred by most bass players. His bass work was a fundamental part of the Hawkwind sound. He also provided the lead vocals on the band's biggest UK chart single, "Silver Machine", which reached No. 3 in 1972. By now, Lemmy had gained a reputation for his hard-living lifestyle and regular consumption of alcohol and amphetamines. After he was arrested for drugs possession on the North American Tour in 1975, he was fired from the group.

Lemmy teamed up with Larry Wallis (Pink Fairies and UFO) and drummer Lucas Fox to form "Bastard. “When the manager told them the name of the band would prevent them from appearing on Top of the Pops, Lemmy changed the band to "Motörhead" which was the title of the last song he had written for Hawkwind. When Wallis and Fox left they were replaced by "Fast" Eddie Clarke (guitar) and drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor. The band's success peaked in 1980 and 1981 with several UK chart hits, including the single "Ace of Spades", and the UK No. 1 live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. Motörhead became one of the most influential bands in heavy metal.

The band is often considered a precursor to, or one of the earliest members of, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which re-energised heavy metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Motörhead released 23 studio albums, 10 live recordings, 12 compilation albums, and five EPs over a career spanning 40 years. Lemmy's guttural vocals were unique in rock and have been copied many times with the rise of punk rock. Despite many changes to the band’s line up over the decade Lemmy/Clarke/Taylor is considered quintessential Motörhead. Lemmy continued to record and tour regularly with the band until his death.

His life style mellowed with age and laterally he suffered diabetes and hypertension. Four days after his 70th birthday, one of the wildest men in rock died at his home in Los Angeles from prostate cancer and heart failure