The post uploaded tonight is specifically dedicated to myself, on my birthday, also to Carl who shares my birthdate (no doubt to the minute, I was 09.00 am by the way.
Mott The Hoople. A band helped along by the original early 1960’s ‘uber mod’ Guy Stevens. A band whose fan club was presided over by a young Kris Needs who later was to write the first punk articles for Zig Zag magazine in 1976. Also a band followed around gig to gig by, soon to be Clash City Rocker, Mick Jones, as well as a host of other 1976 punk luminaries.
One of my favourite Mott The Hoople albums that also shares a link (however tenuously) with the Suedehead movement of the 1970’s.
Penguin ‘picks’ would be the Stones-like tracks ‘Death May Be Your Santa Claus’ and ‘The Moon Upstairs’. Great snotty riffed up tracks. This was the final release by Mott The Hoople on Island Records, the band were in limbo somewhat after the release until David Bowie helped the band out with a track he wanted them to record ‘All The Young Dudes’ which was finally released in 1973 on CBS records to critical acclaim, as were the follow up albums for that label, ‘Mott’ and ‘The Hoople’ released in 1974 and 1975. All great material if you can search it out…
Text below refering to ‘Brain Capers’ ripped from gloriousnoise.com site, text refering to Suedeheads courtesy of (and ripped from) filmnoirbuff.com.
The story goes that Mott The Hoople, who by 1971 had released three albums that were overlooked and underwhelming, were about to be dropped by their record company if the label didn’t see some sales results. Most bands would approach their forth album with an increased awareness of having to make that leap towards financial independence.
From the sounds of it, ‘Brain Capers’ doesn’t put too much consideration into giving their record company, or their own bank accounts, a much-needed lift. Instead, it is a middle finger to anyone projecting higher expectations, and they do it with fuck-all rock arrangements and Ian Hunter’s burgeoning growth as a songwriter.
It should come as no surprise that the record ultimately did nothing to fatten their wallets, but it sure sounds like those that were listening, specifically one David Bowie, used ‘Brain Capers’ as their own model of excellence.
The album remains such an incredible document that once you’ve stumbled on to it, you’ll wonder how you could have overlooked it for so long.
It starts with quite possibly one of the best song titles ever, “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” a number so rollicking that Mott just stokes a rhythmic fire for a half minute before they actually get around to playing the song. “How long before you realize what you missed? How long before we get out and may get pissed?” Shame on you, Hunter sneers, for missing the boat the first time around, but rest assured, once you do discover it, you’ll wish you’d gotten on board sooner. And if the band gets dropped, Hunter and company would merely go out and get drunk to celebrate.
“Santa Claus” ends with so much energy that Mott drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin begins to accidently hit the drumsticks together during the end drum rolls. Such technical mistakes don’t stop him from finishing out his task, letting out a defiant “Whooo!!” at the end.
The obvious starting point to explain the haphazard performances on “Brain Capers” would be the producer Guy Stevens, a British music wizard who shows up at the conception of a lot of disparate “big bang” (and seemingly inevitable) moments in the UK’s musical history. The story goes that he supplied the Stones with cover song ideas before they started writing their own material, he named the album ’Sticky Fingers’, he produced ‘London Calling’ for The Clash, and he produced ‘Mad Shadows’, the only Mott album that resembles the ambition of ‘Capers’.
It should also be said that Guy Stevens was instrumental in forming the band and named them after a book (Mott the Hoople by Willard Manus) he read in prison serving time for a drug related charge.
Guy Stevens and engineer Andy Johns arrived for the first day of the recording session dressed as highwaymen with black Zorro-style eye masks. That this black mask makes an appearance on the transcendentally terrible album cover got me thinking its significance in the wider palette of the band’s story. Zorro is an outlaw who defends the common folks against the oppressive status quo. He also enjoys publicly humiliating the oppressors. OK. Lyrically throughout ‘Brain Capers’ Ian Hunter rails against people who just don’t understand him (and the band by extension). In the first track “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” Hunter screams “How long? How long? Until you realize that I’m strange?”
Guy Stevens pays a large part in this lack of discipline. His bizarre antics were well documented with his work on The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, so it should come as no surprise that his unstable approach was already in full force almost a decade before during the ‘Brain Capers’ sessions. While generally supportive of his aberrant methods, the band pleaded for a few do-overs, but were only met with Stevens’ “Right! That’s it! Next one…” The album was completed in five days.
The brevity doesn’t stop the album from containing a pair of certifiable epics, “Second Love” and “The Journey.” The latter originates from a bridge many people used to jump to their death. Hunter uses the tragedy to create one of the most stunning choruses you’ve never heard: “Well I guess he lost a little bit on the journey / For his mind was split by little things that didn’t fit on the way.”
Even during these moments of sensitivity, Mott loses none of the fire. This means that the songs where things are paced quicker, the band destroys. By the end, Mott is so full of piss, vinegar and wine that they’re threatening you with “I swear to you, before we’re through / You’re going to feel our every blow / We’re not bleeding you…we’re feeding you / But you’re all too fucking slow!”
It’s true, and the initial indifference is bewildering after you’ve heard how great this album is. It has all of the makings of a classic, and it’s arranged in such a way that you’ll question why it hasn’t become one of those albums that you’re positively sick of today.
Again, David Bowie took such an active interest in this album that he even submitted the demo of “Suffragette City” for consideration. The band declined, feeling that their own material was of equal caliber to the young man who was just beginning to create an alter ego known as “Ziggy Stardust.” They were right: their material was as good as his, but there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of Mott’s catalog other than the generous hit that Bowie bestowed on them later.
Not only will you understand why Bowie gave the band a second chance with “All The Young Dudes” eighteen months later (he had to: the arrangements and phrasing of his early ’70s material is suspiciously similar to Mott’s), you get the idea that much of punk rock’s own bile was created during the five-days it took to create ‘Brain Capers’.
And since it’s a vital predecessor to both of those critical pieces of rock history, its shameful that ‘Brain Capers’ hasn’t reached the mythical proportions that it’s rightfully owed.
The very word Suedehead refers to the grown-out crop i.e. a Skinhead haircut. The attire and the attitude that went with it were not very different from those of his immediate predecessor however; it was rather a variation on a theme. The Suedehead of the early Seventies wasn’t so much a separate entity as a continuation of the smart Skinhead who (in many cases anyway) had always worn his hair slightly longer than the ubiquitous number one of 1969.
One has to remember when the Skinhead was yet to be christened as such; Peanuts (as they were somewhat inaptly called) still wore their hair in a college-boy style. The neatly side-parted hair re-appeared at the tail-end of the movement when what basically still were Skins had their hair in that style, or indeed a grown-out crop which resembles the “French crew cut” of the early Mods.
Although a certain ‘Spartan branch’ of Mod was spotted in the London clubs by some as early as 1965, I’d say a change started to become more or less apparent when Mod started to die down in 1966. There will always be present a certain ‘hard case’ element among young males growing up and in this case the Hard, or Gang, Mod deserves a mention. For daywear he may have opted for desert boots, Levi 501s, a Ben Sherman button-down shirt or a Fred Perry topped off by a Harrington or an MA 1 flying jacket. Gradually the Hard Mod would change into the boots-and-braces Skinhead with his mean looking number one (electric hair razors have settings known by their numbers). Sideburns were optional and remained just that all the way through. Those that were young enough adapted the new look of the kids that were too young to have been Mods in a neat working class amalgamation.
Now this is obviously where the pared down version of The Look takes shape. Boots, worn for practical reasons, jeans with precision turn-ups, shirts mostly plain or striped at this stage and thin braces worn for show. This look has its place of course when we’re talking street smart. Add to it a nice cardigan or V-neck sweater and a nice casual jacket, replace the boots with smart shoes and it will have a somewhat different effect altogether.
Then there were those who’d gone flamboyant, student, hippy or had settled down by 1966 already, but I will further ignore all of them for obvious reasons (apart from the fact that people were expected to settle down pretty early in those days and often did so, which in itself is an important social factor). Finally there was the Conservative or Suit Mod type that had stayed ‘with it’; the former Mod.
This ‘new’ street smart look did appeal. Suits were for evening wear only now, but during the day he could be seen sporting loafers or brogues, Levi’s Sta-Pres trousers, a pristine button-down shirt and some nice casual jacket perhaps topped off with, say, a number three “crew cut”.
He wouldn’t have had his hair any shorter than that because it would have made him look suspicious in the eyes of young women, not to mention his employer. He would also be too mature to want to look like the younger kids and what’s more: the smartest dressers among these may have wanted to copy his more sophisticated look and in turn impress their mates.
Another ‘hair thing’ is that you would soon have grown tired of attracting attention from the police let alone not gaining access to nightclubs full stop. I think that one is called natural progression or common sense really.
One should furthermore be aware of the fact that smart Skins had always dressed in what became later known as a Suedehead manner. The idea was, once again, to look smart but not like a thug. The answer is to dress to impress and the Suedehead most certainly did just that!
Apart from the fact that Suedeheads resembled Mods in their overall smartness and colourful look, what should also be mentioned is that they borrowed some elements from the Rude Boy as well. Think shades, pork pie hats, cropped trousers, Crombies and the Rocksteady music. Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae and Soul meant a lot to them because it set them apart from the undiscerning. It was also a soundtrack they could dance to obviously. Some Suedeheads also listened to British glam rock bands, such as The Sweet, Slade and Mott The Hoople.
The Suedehead look consisted of smart shoes, mostly brogues and loafers like those made by Faith Royal, Grensons or Loakes, Sta-Pres trousers in all their various colours, check button-down shirts, Ben Sherman, Brutus or Jaytex were popular, a lesser known brand they wore was Arnold Palmer, plain coloured knitwear (bright red or pastel coloured V necks or mustard cardigans although the latter were arguably more Skinhead), Harrington jackets and the aforementioned Crombies or a sheepskin coat, and then maybe that porkpie hat and shades.
Suits were basically three button, narrow shouldered, high buttoning with narrow lapels and waisted, worn with parallel trousers (20” bottoms by 1971). Exact styles differed a lot because of fast changing fashions at the time, but were also regional. They often came in tans and bronzes or light and petrol blues (with red linings), tonik two-tone material, Prince of Wales checks or dogtooth patterns. Ties were fairly sober and narrowish. Pocket squares were all the rage.
Girls often wore boy’s shoes, loafers mostly, crepe soled lace-ups, clumpy nurses’ style shoes with a brogue pattern or plain, and other popular high street fashions such as sling-backs both with flared heels, suede and patent-leather, buckled shoes, in bright multi-colours towards the end.
Geometric patterned, plain and side patterned tights were popular with miniskirts (again preferably mohair or failing that the cheaper Trevira, styles, plain A-line, pleated often tartan checks etc, lots of buttons). Same shirts as the boys, off-the-peg suit jackets of varying lengths, although 3/4 length just above the knee was very popular in two-tone fabric, Prince of Wales checks, double breasted also. Crombies. Trevira two pieces and mohair, Mod-like shift dresses would be worn too, Maxi length dresses at the very end of this period, often backless halter-neck.
The hair was slightly longer than the boys’, it would be in a neat style, parted with lots of forehead, with the lengths razor cut, sometimes lacquered. Some girls would wear their hair just long as it happened, often in ponytails or off the face with an Alice-band or hair clips. Make up was eye heavy with pale lips, early-on sometimes no make-up at all; Skinny eyebrows-false eyelashes, perfume, Youth Dew was very popular.
So the foundations of this look were laid in 1966/67. The somewhat older dressers even went back to the roots of Modernism, may it have been perhaps not consciously so. The “Ivy Shop” and later “Squire” as well, catered for the former Mods that wanted to carry on looking sharp. Those two shops were totally Ivy League and both stocked beautiful knitwear, thick soled shoes (such as wingtips and plain cap brogues), button-down shirts, Harringtons, raincoats and Prince of Wales check suits to a collegiate cut.
Young men that didn’t think of themselves as Skins would be considered just that by today’s standards. Although some of them did become Suedeheads. The difference would have been unmistakable to those In The Know but it would have been a nuance that was subtle enough for the Suedeheads themselves.
The Modernist tradition of exclusivity and secrecy (some would call it elitism) carried on at any rate and the funny thing is youths began to wear suits again during the day in the early seventies. They were very likely a bit more daring colour-wise than they as Skinheads would have preferred and that’s basically another Mod trait.
Just previously to Suedeheads there’d been a short-lived fad to sport the city gent look, in this version; navy or black blazer, white cutaway collar shirt, striped tie, grey flannel parallels and black toe-capped Oxfords which had also taken place in 1962. Striped, waisted suits in this case, but also with the added bowler and umberella like their 1970’s counterparts. In other words: young men experimenting with traditional garments in order to create a look of their own, subverting the very thing in their playful sartorial rebellion.
Towards the end of 1972, Suedeheads hair grew longer, short on top, down to the collar at the back and sides, and they turned into “Smoothies”. Smoothies generally wore either very plain shoes or Norwegians (clumpy loafers with a basket-weave design), round collared shirts, Fair Isle yoke sweaters, tank-tops, loose cords etc. Towards the end of 1973 this fashion changed slightly again, feather cuts, Oxford bags, Budgie gear or back to denim and spray painted boots for some.
Others went on to become early “Soul Boys” that carried on shopping at the better shops on the Kings Road, if they were from London.
Although some Skins had stayed true to the cause there were not many left by 1976. When Punk came along people became very much aware again of the sense of belonging that is a big part of any youth culture, the attraction of that ‘community feeling’ was wearing on pretty heavily during that time. Many disillusioned Punks as well as those who disliked the scruffy image looked back to the fifties and sixties for inspiration. Of course there were those who followed in the footsteps of older relatives too, because they recognized the simple beauty of a concept their elders had enthused them with.
Among various revivalists were some that wanted to be a little sharper and thought of themselves as Suedeheads. For many though, it was the idea of the sussed, “smart Skinhead” that proved appealing. The “smart Skinhead” went very much against the tide of the plastic Skins that had entered the scene and signaled a trend back to basics.
This post is dedicated to Mickey ‘Penguin’ who is enjoying his birthday today, the photograph below shows a very recently born ‘Penguin’ with his mother at home in Birmingham 1966. Happy Birthday to me…
Many happy returns also to Mr Carl Beaver, browser and regular commentator of Kill Your Pet Puppy who happens to have exactly the same birthdate as yours truely. Hoping your birthday was safe and sweet. Fuzzy style revival photograph of Carl above circa early 1968. All the best to you and yours on this day Carl…