As the rock’n’roll revival started to build up steam in the late 1970s, there was a marked tendency for rock’n’roll fans to go for authentic 1950s American wear and grooming (DAs and sideboards were out!). This can be most conspicuously seen in the looks adopted by two groups the Blue Cat Trio (1978-80) and the Stargazers (1980-).
Real rock’n’roll music only reached the British single charts in a short period between late 1979 and early 1982 (Matchbox, Shakin’ Stevens, Stray Cats, Coast to Coast, Polecats, The Jets ). This commercially successful period both reflected the growing fan base and helped swell its numbers with younger members and the inevitably the new input brought with it new trends and fads. Suddenly teds started feeling outnumbered at rockin’ venues, and now – added to the input of the rockabilly rebels of the last years of the 70s – appeared the authentic hepcats keen on recreating 50s American dress and style (and I for one don’t blame them even if I was always most proud of my ted look). Soon neo-rockabillies and psychobillies would come added to the mix and so definite centrifugal tendencies went to work at the scene tearing up what had been up till 1980 a more unified movement. No doubt the influence of punk, new wave and new romantic fashions each rubbed off and seeped into the rockin’ scene.
Traditional revival 70s style teds (or should we really say 60s style teds … ?) were still around – we always are – and would be strengthened by the growing input of visits by European teds, French and Scandinavian especially, since their rock’n’roll revival lasted a couple of years more into the mid 1980s than it did in Britain. However, the dominant type of rock’n’rollers in Britain by the early 1980s were the Hepcats although they didn’t actually manage to establish the strictly recreationist 50s look which was watered down by the easily availability of contemporary fashions associated with the current popular music trends. The result was that the mass of Hepcats adopted a strange hybrid style with elements from the American 50s and others picked up from God knows where. Typical features were (I’m sticking with the boys) :
- flat-top or crew-cut hairstyles with skin-short back and sides and a ‘hedge-hog’ top ;
- vaguely rock’n’rolly informal clothing sharing elements of the rockabillies and hepcats looks and – most mysterious element of all – what can only be described as patterned Christmas pullovers.
This collection of stills showing the rockin’ scene at the Black Bull, Doncaster, illustrates pretty well what the hepcat look was (teds are conspicuous by their absence).
Seeing a rockin’ scene in which they decreasingly recognised themselves, a set of rock’n’roll fans decided to react by both upholding ted values and embrace the ‘recreationist’ mania – held in common with many of the hepcats – and thus the ‘Tedwardians‘ were begotten, first appearing about 1983.
Tim Polecat confirms this transition from the Teddy Boy clubs of the 70s to the 80s Rockabilly clubs:
“I have to add that at the time the Polecats were out clubbing a massive revolution was in progress in the London clubs in as much as the young fans were breaking away from the Teddy Boys in both dress style and choice of music … but that’s a very long story.”
Presumably born in 1968, *40 yearold teenager described his take on what happened in the 1980s (from a post of 18.11.2008 on the discontinued forum of the Teddy Boy Federation) :
“Well when I got into RnR the Ted scene was massive. The marches, petitions, RnR on the national radio and even Top of the Pops (Jungle Rock). Well I dont think a march these days for a dedicated RnR show on national radio woud make any headway. / I was a (full Ted?) Ted for a few years but then got into bikes and wore a leather jacket most times, after that I went ‘billy’ for a few years.”
“Teds got slowly overtaken by the rockabilly’s, as others have pointed out by the American scene. All those clothing stores in London etc selling vintage American styles. Quite a few of the younger Teds went over to this style and by the mid 80s was firmly established. / One thing I noticed on this scene was how the youngsters on the scene looked at the music. It was similar to chart music, not the content or style but they would fill the dance floor for a particular song, but after a few weeks you would be ‘uncool’ if you still danced to that song. If there was a chart of rocking music it would be like top of the pops in the way tunes were, one week in the next week, out. The disc jocks at that time were forever having to find new tracks to play. / The older Teds seem to like their tunes and stick to them.”
“Well the rockabilly scene went through a few phases eventually merging with a 1940s scene. One thing to notice though is the 40s UK look is not as popular as the 40s American styles, though that usually concentrates on the Hollywood glamour side. / The UK 40s look would be more like the emerging (original 1950s) Teddy Boys. / All these looks, from the 70s Teds, rockabilly’s, hep cats, 40s etc all originate back to the late 60s Ted scene.”
Dingwalls’ club, London
William Jones. 2007. Rockabilly Underground: London 1980s. (London: Screen Idols International). pp `92 | £87 on Amazon
‘Thanks to Mark Pettifer for getting me into the Ted scene in 1981. / Thanks to Iain Havlin for getting me into the Rockabilly scene in 1984’
In 1981 “One day, aged 14, I was on a bus. A kid in front of me turned round and asked me ‘are you a Ted or a
Rockabilly’. Well, I didn’t really know. I knew what ‘Teddy Boys’ were.’ / By the time I was 17, none of the people I had started going to clubs with were still going. It was always easy to meet new people though. By the time I was 17, it was 1984 and I was old enough to go to gigs.
Before Tom [Ingram, DJ], there was Wild Wax and Fifties Flash:
‘I like them all. They all also had an impact on the scene. Wild Wax being part of the big Ted revival in the 70s. I think the Rockabilly scene owes a lot to 50s Flash. Without his clubs of the time (Bumbles & Bobby Sox) the Rockabilly scene would not have been as big. Then Mouse took the music in another direction, but still within the scene. We have all had our part in the success of the Rockabilly scene.’
[At the 2005 Dingwall Xmas RnR Party]
The average age was around 40. Not what I had hoped for. / Everyone I spoke to said there were few new recruits to Rockabilly land, just us old timers.
I couldn’t help but notice that the Rockabilly, Teddy Boy and Psychobilly scenes appeared to have merged. / I saw a lot of familiar faces from all three scenes. Back in the 80s these people wouldn’t have been seen dead in the same street together! / Everyone I spoke to was enthusiastic about the ‘scene’ and said it’s just a matter of time before it gets big again. / I was still struggling with the fact that the scenes had merged! Had anyone else noticed?