Back in the bad old days, the gang mentality built up around particular looks went far beyond mere fashion or what band you were into. You were a Ted or a mod, never both. Your identity was a way of life, and you could get a kicking for having the wrong hairstyle in the wrong part of town. Now it's different, and as music mixes and samples to make new strands, so music fashion becomes diffused and plagiarises many old looks.
What is rather touching is the peacock behaviour that ripples beneath the macho hide. He may sing about making your heart bleed on stage, but off it, you can bet that he spent hours looking for just the right length jacket, that ruffled shirt, those stack-heeled shoes. "Let me give you every inch of my love," rasped the strapping members of Led Zeppelin in the Seventies. But they were wearing girlie shirts and customised embroidered pant suits that would not have looked out of place on The Nolan Sisters.
At 28, LIAM WATSON (below) is co-owner of Toe Rag Vintage Recording Studios, a veritable museum of authentic recording equipment from the Fifties and Sixties. It even boasts an old Abbey Road mixing desk. "Bands come here if they want a very particular sound, one which modern studios with their new technology can't give them," explains Watson, who also plays bass with two punk bands, Armitage Shanks, and Sexton Ming and the Diamond Gussets. Watson looks nothing like a punk and instead dresses - although he hates the moniker - more like a mod. His home bears no trace of the Nineties: just an old gramophone, tons of 45s and row upon row of dark-coloured woollen suits. It's like stepping back to the early Sixties and, though unintentionally, Watson has been meticulous with detail: even a piece of printed fabric hanging over the door is an original Sixties find. It's an exercise in pure nostalgia, with Watson sourcing his regulation three-buttoned single-breasted jackets, slit-pocket slim trousers and pointed lace-ups from second-hand shops and nearby Brick Lane market. He waxed lyrical about his latest acquisition (not an item that would normally gladden the heart of a punk band member): a Fair Isle tank-top.
JAKE VEGAS (right, leaning against pillar) and TYRONE play in the Jake Vegas group with 10 members and "a different line-up every time, depending on who's around." Jake sings and plays saxophone, while Tyrone plays "bass or drums, sometimes the maracas, castanets or tambourine". They play Forties and Fifties blues, although Tyrone also plays with a rock 'n' roll band called Rocky and The Rattlecats. Vegas's bedroom is like a Fifties timewarp and I got the feeling I was not the first female to have braved these hallowed walls. A collection of cat's eye sunglasses sat on the bedside cabinet and the walls and ceiling displayed a most healthy collection of retro ladies' underwear. The only item that spoilt this trip down memory lane was the very modern, if rudimentary, blow-up doll on the bed.
He might look tough, but Vegas is pedantic about his upper-body wear. He likes frilly shirts, although "you just can't find them anymore" (Marks & Spencer please note). He and Tyrone buy their clothes second-hand, for the reason that "new stuff just doesn't hang right, it doesn't have the right feel." But for special occasions, Vegas has a tailor, Ben in Stamford Hill who knocks him up the odd item.
Vegas dresses habitually in frill front shirt, smart trousers and jacket. For a more casual look he simply "takes the jacket off". Tyrone favours box jackets, peg pants, loud shirts and shoes - anything original. "If no one else has got it then I've got to have it," he explains. His favourite outfit of the moment is a pearly white silk jacket with side vents and big lapels, worn over grey peg-top trousers.
Now here is a man who knows a thing or two about clothes. JARREN (left of the picture, left) can list where he shops and make it sound like a guide to Bond Street. He produces and writes for his "rare groove- influenced" band, Mellotex. Jarren's particular thing is for trainers; he has dozens of pairs. He shops at Ralph Lauren, Cerruti, Calvin Klein, Yves Saint Laurent and from friends. His idea of casual is a pair of Calvin Klein jeans with a YSL shirt.
"Clothes are a mark of status, they show that you've got money, that you're successful - even if that isn't always the case," explains Jarren. Money was tight when he was growing up, so when he could make his own cash he graduated from "upper-class sportswear such as Lacoste and Tacchini" in his teens to the "classic and well-made stuff that doesn't date" that he wears now. Nearly everything he wears now has a "label", even his underwear (I am reliably informed) is CK or Polo Ralph Lauren. But Jarren does not buy something just because it has a particular design stamp on it. "I don't wear Versace's jeans because they're cut too tight."
In the hip-hop scene, a look that came from poverty-stricken ghettos, what you wear is very important. It is as close as you can come to wearing your success and showing your neighbours that you've made it.
CHRIS TURNER (left) plays drums with punk band Fabric. Turner is a vegan ("apart from my suede shoes"), doesn't drink, smoke or take drugs and works out at the gym, all a far cry from the stereotyped punks of old. Fabric's brand of punk is still noisy, "but there's more structure to it than old punk, sometimes you can even hear the lyrics." He works in a skate-boarding warehouse and wears labels associated with skating and work-wear such as X-tra Large, Carhartt, Inter-State and Duffs (suede trainers used by skate-boarders). "I like my clothes to be loose-fitting, comfortable and practical. This is how I dress on stage and off it. Two years ago I was wearing really oversized clothes, now they fit better." His big penchant is for T-shirts, mostly with the insignia of obscure American bands. "I've about 150 of them and can't bear to throw them out, even though some of them have shrunk."
NICK, TARA and MICHAEL (above) play with The All New Accelerators, making music that is "punk, rock, funk". All three (and Nicolette and Kieron, the other band members) borrow clothes from one another. Tara survives on hand-outs and models himself on a "Seventies yob"; Kieron likes "affordable stylish bargains with an American influence" for which he scours Porto- bello Market late on a Saturday afternoon "when the prices get knocked down". (Though when I met him he was wearing a £70 pair of boots, "a present from my mum".) Nick confesses to a bent for "Californian ranchwear", proudly displaying a tiny black sateen shirt with white piping and cuffs that barely graze his forearm. "Nicked from my auntie," he told me. "My auntie's Dolly Parton." According to the others, Michael nicks all their clothes, too, but at home in Chelsea he dresses in Ben Sherman shirts, tight trousers and army greens. "My style's changing now, I'm getting into a sort of mod-ish Sixties look."
KAISER MATT 1, KAISER JOHNNY, KAISER MATT 2 and KAISER GEORGE (left to right, above) make up The Kaisers, an early Sixties beat band that has been going for four years in Edinburgh, where they all live. Their stage look is tightly co-ordinated and usually second-hand, so they look similar but never the same. (Matt 1 wears a Sixties waistcoat from Cecil Gee that zips up the side la Captain Scarlet.) George has his suits made. "I asked for the tightest suit ever and I got it, dog-tooth check with a velvet collar. It was so tight I couldn't walk up the stairs." Their stage trousers are made with no pockets to give an even smoother line.
George is currently on the look-out for a pair of Anello & Davide pointed cuban-heeled dancing boots, though Matt 2 prefers creepers or biker boots for when he's on his BSA. Matt's fav- ourite outfit of the moment is black drainpipes with a (fake) leopard-skin jacket with black velvet collar. Last month, the band were lucky enough to go on tour in Paris, where they managed to find some new clothes that fitted their requirements. "Clothes just aren't made like they used to be, " Matt 1 says. "Now they fall apart in the wash." Johnny the drummer is the only one not to be too bothered about what he wears. "Most of them are 10 years old. When I do shop I just look for the cheapest pair of jeans."
He used to be a punk, and his offstage clothes are a testament to this. It took six months for him to get used to The Kaisers' way of dressing. "You should have seen the hassle they had getting me into winkle-pickers. I'd never worn anything that smart before; I though they were a bit effeminate with that high [stacked] heel." Happily, he is now a convert to The Kaisers' way of life, both musically and sartorially, on-stage at least. !Reuse content