It is sales time and with a couple of days off work we need no encouragement to have a wander around, drop in some shops and grab a few beers. An early dart – or as early as it can be with such bad timekeepers as Graham, Trev and Adam in our gang but we manage to get everybody to the Dominion Theatre by 10.30am.
The usual meeting place, the usual faces and a myriad of shops to put our heads into. Browns on South Molton Street is a definite on sales days. Bang in the middle of all the other high-market designer shops down the paved road by Bond Street tube. Upstairs Mrs Burstein fusses over the ladies that not only lunch but also spend on clothes. Really spend. Downstairs is the menswear department where tall thin gay men preside over mainly Italian clothes. Most of the garments are mad and unwearable but in there are some gems and when the price drops to just above reasonable then it would be rude not to visit. But before that we nip to Nick Nacks and Woodhouse. There are too many kids going to Nick Nack nowadays. Queuing to get in! Time to move on in all senses of the word and to Quincy and Jones. Drop into Take 6, Cecil Gee’s and Benetton. Then of course you cannot leave the Regent Street Holy Trinity of Austin Reed, Burberry and Aquascutum. Down to Lilywhites and into The Scotch House. Window shopping in Jermyn Street, popping into Herbie Frogg’s before moving up Burlington Avenue to Edward Green’s to clock the shoes, check the new denim jeans in Tommy Nutter’s on Savile Row.
Then a tube over to the SW postcode for a look in Harrods and Harvey Nicks. Up to Kensington High Street, Sloane Square and the King’s Road. Then take the tube back to Covent Garden and Paul Smith, John Simons, American Classics, The Natural Shoe Store and S Fisher’s. Through the crowds searching for the seventy-five percent off bargains. The fashionable and the unfathomable searching for a bargain in this city that doesn’t swing quite as much as it used to but still has a myriad of clothes shops to investigate.
Always been this way and you’ll guess it always will be this way. The capital city has always had that dash of style and an abundance of clothes shops and tailors. From the days of Beau Brummel, through to Billy Bonds and after; clothes have obsessed the city’s young and young at heart. If the sixties started in 1956 as many say it would have been Edwardian drapes on one hand and imported OCBD shirts that interested the hipsters in town. From there through Carnaby Street and the King’s Road. Mods and skinheads that morphed into suedeheads and smooths and then into…
Well the great unwashed and unfashionable look of the seventies that was mocked by many. Yet the ‘look’ whatever that ‘look’ was lasted a good five years or so and it was during this time –or just a little before – that the boutiques began to flourish. Boutique – the French word for shop – and it was a French twist that was added to the mix for the seventies fashion look.
Immediately post-war it is fairly certain that the youth of Britain was looking across the Atlantic to America in general and Hollywood in particular. By the late fifties the kids at the cutting edge had shifted their gaze slightly closer to home, yet still far away, as New York jazz and New England threads took their fancy. However as that look developed the guys began to also look across to Europe and to Paris in particular. Breton fishermen’s jumpers were being worn with their sweet blue jeans, berets on their nodding heads while their cinematic heroes were Jean-Paul Belmondo in A Bout de Soufflé and Alain Delon in Plein Soleil. Kids smoking Gauloises cigarettes: Glamorous fuckers in those happening days. However a lot of what influenced them was closer to home. With tourism growing the casual clothes worn by French tourists, along with exchange students began to register on the locals minds. Well-cut casual clothes carried off with that certain French élan. The mods adopted the French crop and tight continental clothes but as the sixties ended – sometime in 1970 or 71 – the French continental influence came in to its own as boutiques such as Stanley Adams, Village Gate, Take 6 and Jones became ‘The’ places for ‘The In-crowd’ to go to. The skins, suedes and smoothies had let their hair grow longer, their crotch on their trousers get tighter while the ankle width got wider as the music got harder and rockier – but still with that gritty working-class solidarity. It was from this that Mott the Hoople became The Clash of their day and from which Cockney Rebel would soon come along.
Then in the summer of 1972 David Bowie went on Top of the Pops, sang Starman, put his arm around the guitarist Mick Ronson and everything changed. Everything changed everywhere whether it was northern industrial towns or this big city. We all went to school the next day and everybody talked about it. It was the young British working-class Elvis dropping his lower lip and wiggling his hips moment. Music changed, wardrobes changed, attitudes changed and our lives would never be the same. Of course we moved on with the music and those neat, neat rock fashions of the first few months of decade changed into something ugly and uncouth but the love of clothes stayed with a certain few. Then as it got too daft things began to get a bit better. As progressive and glam rock got out of hand it began to go a bit underground again. The folk started going ‘Up west’ to the discothèques of the day while those that were into the rockier side of things went to Kentish Town. For, at The Tally Ho pub something strange started to occur. An American band that had somehow found themselves in London – called Eggs over Easy – asked the guvnor of The Tally Ho pub if they could play some gigs there. Those random gigs turned into a residency as the crowds came to listen to their bluesy American rock. For no longer was a huge stage, lights, PA and pyrotechnics necessary to play a gig. Other people on the music scene came, liked what they say and when Eggs over Easy went back to the USA London band Brinsley Schwarz took over the residency with even more success and money going the pub’s way.
Other pubs, which had previously been old men’s drinking dens, seized on the opportunity. The Roebuck, The Cricketers, The Half Man at Putney, The Hope and Anchor, The Torrington, The Pinder of Wakefield and The Red Cow were just a few of the pubs that started putting on live bands. Many are still doing it – which shows what a success they have been. With the new openings came bands old and new that filled in the void. In general the music that worked best in these basic venues was basic classic rock and classic R & B, played very fast. Ducks Deluxe, Kursaal Flyers, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Hammersmith Gorillas, Bees Make Honey, 101ers, Kilburn and the High Roads and Dr Feelgood all fitted the bill. The Kilburns and The Feelgoods particularly fitted the bill. In their suits and drainpipe jeans, brothel creepers and battered suede boots they appealed to the young London rock and roll cognoscenti. The seeds were already set when The Ramones came to play the London Roundhouse in July 1976. They just helped push it forward. Almost four years to the day that Bowie changed everything The Ramones and others were almost ready to do it again. Of course four years is nothing and those glam sensibilities were still about but mix them with this fast R & B and threads from the Malcolm McLaren shop that was Too Fast to Live, then Sex and then Seditionaries – but always at the unfashionable end of the King’s Road at number 430 – then you could see it all coming together. Of course the soulboys also shopped at 430 and as London basked in that long hot summer of 1976 it all got very fucking exciting again. Like Bowie on Top of the Pops but now it was happening on the street and in the pubs and clubs of Britain. Then it went a bit daft. It went nationwide, music and the music business changed but just as it was getting a bit dull – splintering into various factions and fads – four years later it started up again as we all started looking for clothes, brightening up a bit. This time it wasn’t live music that kick-started it but music in clubs and good old-fashioned word of mouth in the pubs, clubs, classrooms and on the terraces.
That certain few… And all over the country some of those boys from that certain few that is getting more and more each day were out around the sales today. Those stylists and scenesters – and no doubt shoplifters – were out and about on that first day of the sales. Some bought loads of stuff, credit cards pushed to the maximum; some in our little gang bought loads. Me – I got a scarf. A nice plain grey cashmere scarf: From Woodhouse, mind.
Faded Lois Dreams