It was probably the girls (and reggae) that almost got me on the dance floor seven years earlier.The places were school discos and the under-18 discos at the Orrell British Legion and Billinge Higher End Labour Club. Billinge was on a Monday night and I think the Legion was on a Friday.We’d all get dressed up and get up to the club. On entering you only heard black music. It was either soul music that very soon afterwards we’d know as Northern Soul or reggae music, which I absolutely loved. They’d play all the sounds of the day ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’,‘Long Shot Kick the Bucket’,‘Wet Dreams’,‘Double Barrel’,‘Israelites’,‘Monkey Spanner’ (Known to all as Spunky Manner) and all the rest. Fantastic! We’d stand there nestling our bottles of shandy (always shandy, always pretending it was beer) watching the older lads and girls dancing while shuffling our feet on the edge of the dance floor.
At home I’d buy all the Reggae Chartbusters LPs that were released and the ‘Tighten Up’ volumes that had the best sleeves known to man if not my mam! My Dad said:“What is this?You better not let your mum see it.”That was ten minutes after he’d “studied the tracks” and glanced at the cover of a beautiful naked black girl.You didn’t find many of those inWigan.There were no black kids in our year but one lad, Pey Woods, had lived in Jamaica and he gave me all these Blue Beat records. Prince Buster and the like – I was enthralled. It helped that I absolutely loved cricket back then and the West Indies and Clive Lloyd at Lancashire were my heroes. I embraced everything that was Jamaican (or Guyanan in Clive’s case). Many around were looking to Detroit for their black music of choice but for me there could only be Kingston, Jamaica. Being a clever bugger back in those days, in 1969, I sat and passed my 11 plus and awaiting me was a place at Upholland Grammar and life was about to change. Here I was just out of short pants when I was transported to the big bad world of senior school and the new uniform.The novelty of the school uniform quickly wore off but by Christmas and the 1st year Christmas Disco a new uniform had emerged that would last for the next couple of years and would dominate the whole of Wigan Youth Culture. The movement that the media christened the Skinheads and boy did we all embrace it.And there wasn’t just the aforementioned music.There were the clothes. I obviously can’t remember actual dates that I bought the clothes but I can remember almost every item of clothes that I wore. From the moment you bought that Ben Sherman, resplendent in it’s own box, neatly folded and smelling just perfect you were hooked.We basically thought we looked the ‘dogs bollocks’ and to be honest we probably did. Even though we didn’t know it the Ben Sherman shirt was a direct copy of an American shirt. However the Bens came it superb Gingham checks.To have a red and white checked shirt was brilliant.With it we’d wear two-tone parallel trousers.These were made in a tonik material that would gently change colour as you moved.They were mainly in a green/blue or red/blue combination.They were probably eight inches wide at the bottom with an inch turn up and sat proudly on top of your Royals or Como shoes. Royals were a heavy black brogue, made of cordovan (horse leather) and were shone to perfection. I bought mine from a little shoe shop at Orrell Post that has long since gone. My dad took me and before we left the shop we had to have the obligatory ‘blakeys’ metal tips banged into the heels. I bought my Frank Wright Comos from the same shop.These were generally in an oxblood colour and were sometimes known as Smooths and that basically described them. Again ‘blakeys’ were hammered into the heels and these were our “going out” shoes. I personally tended to wear my Royals with that other great classic trouser of the time the “Prince of Wales” parallel. Speaking of trousers they were of course kept on with a pair of one-inch wide braces that you play with all the time. If it were cold you’d wear an argyle patterned sleeveless sweater (tank top) and on top of that a tonik jacket or that other Wigan Classic the barathea Blazer.
The barathea blazer was usually worn with the Prince of Wales kecks and would always have an Ancient and Loyal town badge sewn on the breast pocket. I remember Pey Halliwell’s mum sent his Upholland Sec school blazer to the dry cleaners and it came back minus the school badge but complete with an Ancient and Loyal badge on it. He was elated! It did seem at the time that every youth in Wigan had one of these blazers and some lads would put piping around the edges of the blazer to tart it up a bit.As I said earlier these were basically our going out clothes. When we went to the football or
elsewhere we’d have our daytime clothes on. These comprised of the aforementioned Ben Shermans and tank tops but matched withWrangler jeans (always Wrangler in Wigan never Levis), Doc Martens Boots and if it wasn’t too cold a Wrangler jean jacket. On the Jean jacket you’d stitch the badge off the back of the jeans onto it.The more badges you had the better you looked. Some lads had hundreds sewn on there. It was obvious that they didn’t own so many pairs of jeans so you had to assume that they were hard bastards and had simply taxed some young urchin like me for them.Winter however was when we came into our own as it gave us a chance to wear that magnificent Crombie overcoat that we all owned. Now Crombie is an old English tailoring firm and to buy a proper Crombie overcoat would today cost you something like £700. Needless to say ours cost much, much less and were bought like all our clothes from Slaters Menswear Shop in the Makinson Arcade. The Crombie was a black or navy woollen overcoat, single breasted that hung on the knee. The buttons were concealed the pockets slanted and the breast pocket would often be adorned with a red handkerchief to match the lining. In Wigan we also would sew on a Lancashire Red Rose badge.
Everybody I knew in those first couple of years at school were skinheads, then later suedeheads, and of course while we were all dressed up for it we had to go out didn’t we. Back then for young 12 and 13 year-olds in Orrell there were certain places that you had to be. Firstly there were the school discos both at Upholland Grammar and Upholland Secondary schools.These were usually either for just your year or for the whole school. For us lads at the Grammar we had to have an invite from one of the kids at the Sec for their do’s and vice versa for ours. It has to be said there was no animosity between the two schools. This was probably due to the fact that both schools had pretty awesome reputations on the hardness stakes and there was a certain respect between the 2 schools. There was always talk of the ‘cocks’ of the schools having a go but it rarely happened.The Grammar had a great reputation for Rugby Union and some right tough lads went there.You had to be with H.B. Ellis as headmaster! His own son went to the school and he could handle himself as well.
There was never any trouble at the under-18’s discos, as everybody knew who the cocks were. Every so often though we’d be all in the Higher End Club when someone would announce that ‘The Dammers’ were waiting for us on Billinge Hill and we’d all leave the club and yomp up to Billinge Hill to do battle. ‘The Dammers’ were from the Carr Mill Dam Estate in St. Helens and were apparently all greasers – something us Skins and Suedes detested. I say apparently because of course they were never there. We also, on a couple of occasions, walked all the way to Windy Harbour to meet up with Ashton who of course never turned up. I doubt if there was ever any chance it was going to go off and it’s strange that all these fights were about to take place during the summer months and never in the depths of winter. However to a young 13-year old it was quite an impressive sight to be with all these older (16-year plus) lads walking down the street.
Other places we’d go would be SLYG (St Lukes Youth Group) on Church Street Orrell. Again we’d doss around listening to The Drifters on the old Dansette and at times we’d venture to Billinge Lower End (Over t’hill and officially Saints Country) to a disco in a borstal called Sloopies! What was going on there! I never used to miss due to fancying a girl that lived around the corner from there and used to frequent the place.That was a strange place! Of course at Weekends we used to go to the football or (whisper it) the rugby and hang around outside Woollies waiting for Saints.
During the summer months we used to wait for Orrell Carnival with a relish.This was at Edge Hall Road and we use to love going there simply to watch the fights between the local hardnuts and the Gypsies. Of course other lads around town would go to their own school dances and their own youth clubs, get up to their own tricks and have their own stories. However I’ll bet the stories are all similar.
So how long did it last? I can’t really remember it all got a bit daft as everyone slowly began growing their hair into feather-cuts and the Skinners Jeans we were all sporting got wider and wider. It was however great while it lasted – 2 years maybe 3.