Skinheads in the 80s: Penny Newlove
Speaker: Penny Newlove
Running time: 6 minutes
[0:08] I used to hang around with punks in about 1980, mid-1980, at the Civic, and various other places, and I ran into an old friend who used to be a punk who said, ‘Oh come down to the Sussex.’ And of course we were quite daunted by this because you heard the Sussex had skinheads in it and it was really scary, even as a punk. It was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ And he dragged me down there and, I guess, virtually, I never left, I just clicked with everybody down there. There were a lot of mods. There were skinheads, there were rude boys and rude girls, so it was a bit of a mix of different cultures.
[0:45] And there was just a small group of us, skinheads, and we were just really good friends. It was just a very tight knit little group. There were probably 20 of us. And because we were sort of deemed by society, deemed misfits, it was us against the world kind of a situation. It makes you feel a lot closer to each other, and that was all through 81. We lived and died together. We would be at the Sussex just about every night of the week. Stella and Dennis, who were the owners back then. We used call them ‘Mum and Dad’. It was our little joke. And they used to always refer to us as their children.
[1:23] And they used to, you know, do things, like, if we were broke they’d lend us money. They became part of our family, too. In the original year, all the different groups mingled together. They started a lot of physical fighting and stuff like that, so Stella and Dennis thought it was best to give us our own bar, so they opened up the very, very top bar for us. And got us a jukebox, so we all brought our own music in, so our jukebox was full of all the songs that we liked. And it actually broke up because of a fight between a few friends and Stella and Dennis actually barred us, so we all got thrown out.
[2:00] And that was when our group first fraction-ised, it split into skaskins and oiskins. And in England skinheads were very much defined by music and politics. And as skinheads evolved here, that started happening here. But back then when we were first starting, we were the only skinheads at the Sussex. We were it, so it didn’t matter what music you liked. We listened to all different kinds of music. As I said, ska, oi, we even listened to some punk stuff, you know. Politics was immaterial; it didn’t matter what your political beliefs were.
[2:40] I think a typical skinhead look from my period of time was, blue denim jeans, Doc Martens, if you had cherry red Doc Martens you wore yellow laces. If you had black Doc Martens, you had red laces. You wore braces, the skinnier the better. A Harrington was the must-have jacket, that came in red or black with tartan inside. A Crombie was another one, which was like a big black, I guess, duffel coat I’d describe it as. You wore – oh, a band t-shirt of some sort. A ska band, or some band that you followed. If you were lucky enough to get a Fred Perry, you had a Fred Perry or a Lonsdale top or a Ben Sherman which was a button up shirt with a button down collar.
[3:27] You just had your hair cropped short. In my day the girls just had their hair cropped short all over. But as the scene moved on, the girls started getting the fringe at the front and the side burns and the tails, which I ended up having. But in those sort of 1980-1981 period, it was just basically, it was just cropped all over. If you wanted to wear a skirt, you’d usually wear a tartan type – like a kilt or something like that. We used to go to the Trade Union Club late at night, when all the pubs would shut, because they would all shut around 12 o’clock in those days.
[4:00] So we used to go to either the Graphic Arts or the Trade Union Club. But it all depended on whether we were barred or not at the time. We used to get banned from a lot of places, so it became, ‘OK, now where do we go? Oh, we’ll go to the Teacher’s Club’. And then we’d get banned from the Teachers Club so then it would be, ‘Let’s go to…’
We ended up at this disco called Bruno’s that was in Crown Street. It was the most unlikely place for a group of skinheads; it must have looked hilarious. It had the big Grecian statues out the front.
Penny: [4:33] It had the big lit-up discotheque flooring.
Penny: [4:36] And we used to go there every night and they used to think the song for us was ‘The Swingers’.
Penny: [4:43] Because it was punk.
Penny: [4:46] And we always felt obliged to get up and dance to it for them.
Penny: [4:50] It’s so funny. I think we were really weird, we didn’t give a damn what people thought, but we still felt obliged to dance for those people when they put that song on. And once again, you know, one night we trashed the toilets and we got barred from there. Next time we turned up, they were all out on the street with kitchen knives and cleavers and stuff like that.
Penny: [5:08] We got chased down the street. That kind of thing happened to us. So skinheads were portrayed in the media and it was us, like it was our group. And it was usually because of some fight or riot that we were involved in at the time. So, it would have been portrayed very negative. And we were portrayed as thugs and we were very indignant about it. But, looking back, we were, you know. So I think the media labeled us probably fairly correctly, actually. But at the time we were really indignant about it and we used to get picked on by police and that sort of thing.
[5:46] You’d walk down the street and you’d get hassled just simply because you were dressed a certain way, which we took great umbrage at that. But looking at it as an adult, it’s like, ‘Well, duh, you know?’
Penny: [5:57] Of course it’s going to happen. And I think that’s what a lot of it is, I think a lot of people who get involved in subcultures, whether they know this at the time, I think you do it so you can be identified and be an individual. It defines me, this is who I am, and I think it’s with maturity that you suddenly go, ‘I’m me; I don’t need a label or a thing to tell people who I am.’