Monday, June 03, 2024

Skinheads at the Savoy Rooms in Catford

The original skinheads in Britain were quite distinct from the neo-nazi affiliated boneheads that became dominant in the 1980s. The style emerged as a shorter haired and tougher looking development from the mod scene, and was characterised by a love of reggae and soul. It would be oversimplifying things to pretend that there was no racism in this scene, but there were black as well as white skins.

One of the early skinheads was Paul Thompson who for a while in 1969-70 helped put together a regular skinhead column for the underground paper The International Times, more usually associated with those of a long hair persuasion.  Paul was attending Goldsmtihs College at the time, and one of his haunts was The Savoy Rooms in Catford, as he discussed in a fascinating interview ' Swimming in the right pond' with Maciej Zurowski in the Weekly Worker back in  2016. Here's a couple of extracts:

'Music and clothes were the two most important things to me. I was over the moon when I found a West Indian record shop in Deptford 10 minutes walk from my college. The reggae vinyl they had on sale had literally come off the boat that afternoon. When I came to London, rocksteady was still going, but shortly after, reggae arrived - that’s what I was mainly picking up at the record store in Deptford. Otherwise, it depended on the DJs. At the Savoy Rooms, they played the latest Tamla Motown singles, but they also kept playing older crowd-pleasers. ‘Same old song’ by the Four Tops was a favourite, as was ‘The clapping song’ by Shirley Ellis, to which we would chant our own rude lyrics.

My most important gig was Desmond Dekker live at the Daylight Inn in Petts Wood on the day that ‘Israelites’ got to number one in the charts. But generally, skinhead culture was more record-oriented. Sometimes, they had live bands playing at the Savoy Rooms, but people quickly got bored watching them. We found it much more fun to have DJs, who could change the music and respond to our moods.

... At the height of the skinhead time, there was always a bunch of West Indian lads at the Savoy Rooms in Catford, which for us was the south-east London place to go....  In terms of fashion, the West Indian skinheads largely imitated the British skinhead style, not the other way round. The other West Indian guys who hung out at the Savoy Rooms - the so-called rudeboys - had their own fashions, which were somewhat different to ours'.

For the International Times column, Paul recalled, 'We also got Steve Maxted involved, who, although not a skin himself, was the skins’ favourite DJ in south London and reviewed the latest reggae vinyl for us'

Maxted was resident DJ at the Savoy Rooms at this time, a larger than life character, who entertained with acrobatics and stunts. He also DJ'd for a while on SE London pirate Radio Sheila. The Savoy Rooms at 75 Rushey Green, SE6 had also been known as The Witchdoctor. The excellent Garage Hangover site has put together a list of bands who played there including in 1969 The Pyramids who under the name Symarip put out the classic Skinhead Moonstomp single that year

Steve Maxted in action - photo by Jozef Maxted from SMART

Pyramids at Savoy Rooms, 1969 (from Garage Hangover)

One of Steve Maxted's reggae review columns from International Times, no, 69, 5 December 1969

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