Peek inside a treasure trove of previously unseen photographs of the UK’s most exciting youth subcultures spanning 1960 to 1990
This article is not the place to debate over which side of the Atlantic did music better. In America, yeah, you had blues and jazz, doo wop, disco and, like London, punk. And in the UK, everything from glam to shoe gaze, northern soul and space rock. Perhaps best of all these amazing scenes is the ‘style’ cultures that came with them. Chronicled in fashion historian and archivist Sam Knee’s latest book The Bag I'm In – with a foreword from Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie – Knee documents 36 (that’s all the book could fit) of the best music scenes in the UK during 1960-1990, because, as he writes in the book, “this is where I feel that the pioneering British indie youth cultures reached full circle”.
Beginning in the 60s with ‘Leatherboy/Rocker’ and ending in the late 80s with ‘Baggy’, The Bag I’m In reads more like a treasured family album with notes – and illustrations by Florence Bamberger – than a documentary, with Knee keen to roughen up the glamorised memories that are often recounted. “Through the years, the past can become distorted and rewritten, soaked in dumbed down irony, that it’s crucial the truth remains, warts and all – that’s the book’s purpose,” he muses.
A process that unearthered over 2,000 previously unseen youth scene pictures from 1960-1990, he says, "I became possessed and spent day and night contacting old band members, scenesters, bugging them for period snaps. Slowly the material started trickling through, word got around. It was a testing process but well worth it. I refuse to submit some complacent half-baked pile of crap on the public, I hope that comes across.”
Admitting that The Cramps are ‘probably’ his favourite; “I loved them the moment I heard them. At the time they seemed like they were from another world, the bassless twin guitar fuzz lead thing really appealed too. I’ve never been into bass heavy music, it’s too ‘rock’, turn the treble right up and bass right down. Their guitar scuzz decapitated my skull,” he explains, revealing that Psychedelic Jungle was the first LP he ever heard – most likely responsible for kickstarting his love affair with music.
“For 1981, it was the supremest thing around. I was so detached from of all that grim reality, second wave political punk and the tight-arsed mod revival conservatism at the time. None of it spoke to me, I needed escapism – The Cramps led me to a better place.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s discounting the rest of Britain’s rich subcultural history as any less important, revealing the extent of his fascination he adds, “It’s what created me, who I am, the universe I inhabit. I feel strangely legitimate approaching the subject, having spent the past 30 plus years obsessing over old clothes and records, working in the vintage clothing trade, traipsing the country for deadstock garms, what else is there anyway?”
The Bag I’m In – published by Cicada – is available now