If The Kids Are United

This picture from the kid’s TV quiz show Top of The Form is like a snapshot of English society and the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s. On the top row are pupils from an Aberdeen grammar school with their smart blazers and ties and neat, shiny hair (probably with shiny shoes too) who look like they’ll grow up to be Tory cabinet ministers. On the bottom are long-haired kids from the (in)famous Holland Park Comprehensive which at the time symbolized modern liberal ideas in education about doing away with the stuffy old grammar schools and replacing them with a supposedly more egalitarian system — and obviously a more relaxed attitude toward uniforms and hair. You can almost feel the class tension between the two rows of kids, though in this case it’s the smartly turned-out grammar schoolers who were more likely to be working class than their counterparts from that particular comprehensive.

Located in a very swanky part of west London, Holland Park Comp was the sort of place that sent Daily Mail readers into a rage about trendy lefties. While the student body included plenty of kids from the poorer parts of nearby Notting Hill (it had some back then), its location near the centres of London bohemia and progressive politics meant it also had more than it’s fair share of the offspring of the arts, media, and political elite. Famous parents with kids there included John Mortimer, Ken Russell, Lady Antonia Fraser and, um, Bob Monkhouse (maybe not quite so “elite”). Tony Benn sent all his kids there (son Hilary is second from left above) as did several other prominent left-wingers which led to the school being called “the socialist Eton.” Anjelica Huston was a pupil as was Ari Up whose band The Slits played their first ever gig there on her last day at school in 1977. The teaching staff was no less celeb-studded, at one point two blokes by the names of Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay taught there (pottery and music respectively).

The school had such a reputation for being liberated and groovy that the joke at my rather more grubby comprehensive in west London was that the kids there were all doing drugs and having sex with each other. One year a kid transferred to our school from Holland Park and, even though he looked very normal, was immediately given the nickname “Junkie” which stuck to him for the rest of his school years.

I went to a summer school there one year to take some extra English classes and the teacher, predictably, had shoulder-length hair and all the Holland Park kids called him by his first name. One day he asked a girl to read a poem out and she did it so clearly and confidently it was like listening to professional actress (she might have been the daughter of one for all I knew), nothing like the embarrassed mumblings a teacher at my school got when they asked a kid to read something out loud, and I remember feeling more than a little inadequate and intimidated by the casual confidence of the moneyed class.

Not being an expert in education policy I have no idea if comprehensives were better than grammar schools or not, but I would think the son of a cabinet minister going to the same school as the son of a cab driver was a good thing. Though I sometimes wonder why it was that even though the pupils at my own school included plenty of kids who lived in equally-swanky and rich Chelsea they were all from the council estates with not a single son of a movie director or rock star among them. Guess we weren’t trendy enough.

Download: Show Biz Kids – Steely Dan (mp3)

New Monday

These days I usually find this sort of punky-garage band sound rather tired and been-there-done-that, but this is pretty damn good in a raunchy-Bangles kind of way and I’m always a sucker for girls with guitars.

Something for the Weekend

Not the best quality video but still great stuff, the big plants and satin dress adding an extra touch of 1970s Biba-esque ambience — not to mention the bloke with the enormous afro at the end.

Elkie does look rather fetching in it too, at the time I never placed her in the same “a bit tasty” category as a Debbie Harry or Kate Bush (though I do remember staring at her legs on this album sleeve quite a bit) because she made what I considered “mum’s music” and it didn’t seem quite right to think her fanciable. Or at least admit to it. But now I’m older than even my mum was back then I don’t mind thinking that, yes, she was a bit of alright. She had a great bluesy voice too, but like Kiki Dee record companies never seemed to know what to do with her so they put her in a frock and made her sing MoR ballads.

I had a very vague memory of a parody version called “Earl’s A Winger”, so vague I thought I might have only imagined it, but — hallelujah! – it does exist.

No Specials, Beat, or UB40 in 1981

This is a scan of an old flyer I have for an Anti-Nazi League rally in Fulham in 1981. If I remember correctly the National Front were going to march through the Broadway so the ANL were staging a counter-protest. I didn’t go to the rally because, for one, I thought it might get a bit violent (it did) and, secondly, it was on my birthday and getting a brick in the head from a skinhead wasn’t my idea of a good way to spend it.

The main reason I kept the flyer was because I loved the style of the ANL’s graphics. Their very bold and direct posters were the work of the great David King who in his time also designed The Sunday Times magazine, the covers of City Limits, and the sleeve of Electric Ladyland.

On the back is a polemical description of what the NF and British Movement are really all about and what life in England would be like with them in power, written in very simple language (“Don’t be conned, they’re all supporters of Hitler! And look what Hitler did!”) and obviously designed to appeal to the kids — the same ones the NF were also trying to recruit — especially bits like this:

Not sure if the musical part of that message would have worked though, I knew people (friends, even) who supported the NF and every single one of them loved reggae and soul music. Go figure. But I suppose you shouldn’t expect logic from a racist.

Download: (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing – Heaven 17 (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Smoke bombs! Remember the smell those things made? Smelled like…. rock and roll (also greasy hair, denim, and sweat).

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com