The Way We Woz


Some time ago, Mr Greedy referred to a very interesting account of (male) fashion back in the day by Robert Elms. It’s called The Way We Wore: a Life in Threads

In it he describes how in the late 1960s, “the mod movement was moving in two very polarized directions” –  the “arty, psychedelic end had gone all hippy-trippy” whereas the “younger hard nuts from the council estates … shaved their nuts and sharpened their wardrobes”. Elms lived on a large council estate on the outskirts of London where he says “it was fighting and football not peace and love”.

I’m writing quite a lot about this in the new book – and not just about fashion, but about music, drugs and the whole counter-cultural thing (politics, brown rice, Hare Krishna etc).

I want to suggest one crucial difference between Portsmouth and the London estates and that is the size and ‘tightness’ of our island which meant that most of us knew each other (or knew someone who did) so there was a constant exchange of ideas and influences which meant that Pompey people were perhaps a bit less tribal. I was very definitely ‘hippy’ back then but still went to Fratton Park regularly!

The musical point might apply mostly to those of us who were playing in bands and here’s an example: I went from playing soul/Tamla covers in Harlem Speakeasy to covering newer stuff, and then writing all our own songs in Rosemary. In HS we were ok and I still love the originals of our choices dearly, but there seemed to be a limit to how much musically we could do beyond trying to replicate black Americans. In Rosemary, by contrast, very quickly we were writing/performing our own stuff and experimenting with the sound, length of songs, improvisation etc. That will always be my favourite band, constantly exciting and challenging and I wouldn’t have missed that opportunity for the world – although it did limit the potential audience.

I don’t think it applies only to the musos though – for example ‘Oscar’ is still obviously an ex-Birdcage boy and he remarked recently on here about his fondness for the soulful Alan Bown Set but less so for their ‘trippy’ stuff as the Alan Bown! But he (understandably) loves Leonard Cohen and still seeks out new sounds.

So, any comments most welcome – and you might end up in the book …



Author: pompeypop

University lecturer, longtime local musician and recently historian of popular music - especially in and around Portsmouth. My blog is entirely about that topic

2 thoughts on “The Way We Woz

  1. I agree with the point made about Alan Bown. The band were a great outfit musically in their original state. I remember seeing them at the old Savoy and both their act and their stage clothing were slick and smooth. However, I think there was a feeling foisted upon bands at the end of the 60s to change into heavier, louder, rockier acts and it didn’t always work in the transition. This could be said of The Alan Bown. Mind you, I do like their version of “All Along the Watchtower” that I believe came out on their album before Jimi Hendrix had his successful and more widely known single version success. Nonetheless, in the main, an audience will be more likely to accept and respond to the music they already know than throw their enthusiasm at the unknown and untried. I think I’ve found this to be true in the different bands I’ve played in, whether in pop, rock, middle-of-the-road or even country genres.

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