‘The ‘I got the I can’t quite work out what being a ted is all about’ blues’
Of course, rock’n’roll is not known for its intellectualism, or even – come to think of it – for simply thinking about things: it’s simply the spirit, you gotta dash, the blood is boiling, go man go!
But lately I got to thinking about what it is to be a teddy boy. This has a lot to do with the fact that I’m far from any rockin’ concerts in Ireland as compared to you lucky chaps and chappettes in mainland Britain.
Why is it that I’m thinking about being a teddy boy? Don’t worry, no change of heart here, just a growing realisation that my idea of a being a rock’n’rolling teddy boy is probably not shared by everyone who’s into fifties music or into ‘Edwardianism’ (if I can call it that). And that shouldn’t be a problem for, as much as I want our sartorial style and music to become more popular, I’m quite happily reconciled to the fact that we need ‘squares’ to make us feel special. They have their uses!
OK, I’ll get to the actual points that got me thinking on this subject. Apart from my hermetical (almost hermitic) existence on a windswept peninsula in Ireland which has been rather sunny of late, my ruminations set in after attending three different rock’n’roll events this summer.
- Los Straightjackets and Big Sandy on Friday 30th May 2014 at the Roadrunner’s Paradise Rock & Motor Club, Berlin.
- Crazy Cavan on Friday 18th July 2014 at Rodney Park Rugby Club, Newport.
- The Teddy Boy Stomp on Friday 25th to Sunday 27th July 2014 at Skegness’s Grand Central .
I’m not going to describe the acts, rather the different crowds and atmosphere in all three places (I actually wrote a lengthy review of the Berlin gig after I returned home but the new set-up on our forum lost it! because I think of a damned time-out feature!). Basically the three places served different crowds of rock’n’rollers.
It so happens that the Teddy Boy Stomp was my favourite crowd (more teds!) but it’s such an extravaganza that it’s unfair to expect single rockin’ nights to compare in their scope and pulling power.
In Berlin, there were no teddy boys although they happened to be mentioned by the MC; it was definitely a rockabilly night. Some black-leathered types, many Hawaiian shirt wearers and what I call American ‘authentics’ (close-shaved back and sides, and American rural dress style best answering 1945–54, rather than rock’n’roll teenagers). No knocking their love of rock’n’roll, they are right there with us, but nothing British, all authentic Americana. I dressed as I usually do, with turned-up black jeans and winklepickers, but I had not taken my drape because of the inconvenience of a Ryanair flight and travels in Germany without a car.
In Newport there were not that many people, about 100 in the end, some problems with publicity. I was surprised that it was actually the first time in 20 years that Crazy Cavan had played in their home town. As in Berlin, I was the only teddy boy there. There were a few younger (in their 30s) ‘authentics’, a number of jeaned or black-leathered rock’n’rollers, some jive bunnies, quite a number of squares and a friendly cool ‘hippy’, all from the local area and some people from the West Wales Rock’n’Roll Club situated at Whitland whom I recognised because they had sheep on the back of their club jackets!?!
Now its almost certain that at a local level in Britain you’re hardly gonna find a regular venue where teds are anywhere near dominant (of course, there may be some exceptions that I don’t know about) so I suppose that the Newport night was fairly representative of a local crowd who are into rock’n’roll, more representative than the Skegness bash which is annual and has pulling power. Now I don’t have a quiff so I have to content myself with being a ‘rockabaldy’, but what was nice was that a number of the older men (I mean those who were teenagers in the 60s and 70s) shook my hand, gave a nod or a thumbs up of approval because I was dressed in my teddy boy finery (minus quiff). No acknowledgement from women which is fine because I’m happily married and more importantly because I’m never trying to impress the women. I suppose many of these men had at one time or another donned the gear and it certainly confirms my suspicion that the ted style is appreciated by a far wider spectrum of men than those who wear it. And who can blame them for not wearing ted gear? It not only costs more than a bob or two but also these clothes are very difficult to find.
I think the ted style is the best (classic or seventies) but I have got a lot of respect for other kinds of rock’n’rollers such as a guy at Newport who was dressed wholly in denim and had winklepickers. Could he dance! He did it so well and effortlessly that I just had to admire him. I suppose, as much as I like the clothing style, it is the music that’s the most important me to. For others it may be the sartorial style, and for others both equally.
The one thing that I didn’t like at Newport was a punky boy-girl freak (it was difficult to make out what sex he was) who was dancing like a prat. Some might have thought he was high on something, I thought he was high on himself, whatever flavour that is … That’s my view, don’t get me wrong I am tolerant – it’s really the best way to be – but in esthetics I don’t see why we have to please one another. So he danced as if the music could have been anything and worst of all at one point he started to try to mirror my moves! For God’s sake!!!! That put me off not a little. To me it was obvious that this character would dance the same whatever music was playing which is emphatically not my case. To be honest, while not thinking much of his ‘look’, it’s the ‘carefree’ dancing that got to me; in Skegness there was a guy who I suppose could be described as a suede-head who nevertheless bopped very well and that got a lot of brownie points from me.
So I suppose there are people who come to rock’n’roll dances who don’t seem so serious with our music as we are (jive bunnies, vintage authentics, squares etc etc). But there’s no point complaining it is they who help the rockin’ scene to be as alive as it is. Pitiable teddy boys, almost always in a minority! Always walking down dark lonely streets!
To give you an idea what challenging phenomena you come across if you frequent the rockin’ scene, I came across a combination that I did not think possible in Newport. A diehard Crazy Cavan fan who told me he was looking forward to see Showaddy-waddy the following month! I dutifully told him I didn’t like Sh********* but fair play to him if that’s what he wants to see … No point being intolerant but how weird! …
Newport – apart from the freak, the handful of authentics and some younger people brought in by their family and friends – probably showed a good cross-section of the kind of people who were active in the rocking scene back in the day but who are no longer so active (actually who is?). Definitely less jive bunnies than in most rock’n’roll clubs.
Berlin, from both the night I attended the Roadrunner’s Paradise and the ‘rockabilly’ shops I visited seemed a vintage Americana theme park, but many are serious with their music. I suspect the big Hemsby bash which I have not yet attended is rockabilly/vintage dominated; that I would find allright but less congenial than Skegness whose mix I feel are ‘my people’ (despite the impenetrable Yorkshire accents!).
At Skegness I met a rock’n’roller in jeans and Hawaiian shirt who was ‘shirty’ about being a rockabilly and not a ted and how he’d moved on from being a ted in 1978 to becoming a rockabilly. Esthetically I don’t agree with him, but I liked his set attitude and he is a brother-in-arms rock’n’roller.
And this, maybe, is the biggest point, I would make about my own adhesion to being a teddy boy. For me it is part of a wider family of rock’n’rollers (rockers, rockabillies, cats and even – sigh – psychobillies) but not so much swingsters, country aficionados or jazzy blues cool dudes (although some jazz with beat – be-bop – is part of what I identify with, think of all those films from the fifties and sixties we presumably liked which had such sound-tracks).
So what makes a teddy boy? – apart from the inner flame which no-one can see at first glance. I used to think it was basically a quiff, a drape jacket and velvet sleeves and collars.
Some of us have lost our quiffs but we’re not blamed for that since that’s Mother Nature’s doing and we are accepted as teds, even if we have lost our crowning glory (I don’t mind the bald look I have, but I’d much prefer almost any kind of quiff).
Historians of the teddy boys tell us that velvet trimmings were not necessarily part of the teddy boy style in the early 1950s and the number of original pictures of teddy boys from that time and through the 1950s without velvet trimmings seems to be something in the order of 5-to-1. I can accept they may be right, but I wonder if it is the fact that any kind of male juvenile who was deemed a hooligan or improperly dressed and hung around in groups was labelled a ‘teddy boy’ in the 1950s. It seems inconceivable that what was originally termed the Edwardian style did not have velvet trimmings around the collar at the very least. So despite the fact that Brian Rushgrove’s magazine established in 1997 was named ‘The Velvet Collar’ for a reason, it seems that the importance of velvet trimmings is questioned by some nowadays – count me out!
If quiffs are no longer de rigueur for unfortunate older teds, and the importance of velvet trimmings are disputed, what is left? Answer: the finger-to-knee length drape jacket.
The minimum outward qualification for being a ted is a long drape jacket. Velvet trimmings optional, baldness tolerated but hairstyles which are longer in the back than the front are not. I think that the drape is non-negotiable yet I can imagine a late kind of 50s ted with bum-freezer jacket, jeans and winklepickers. For an idea of what these ‘tail-end teds’ looked like, see here; you’ll see that the illustrator of a 1960 novel is spot on with his depictions for he also shows a more traditional teds (one winkle-pickered the other brothel-creepered) as well as a winkle-pickered rocker in some of the other illustrations.
Some might accept any old style for being a ted, I don’t, but whilst I don’t expect every ted to agree with the definitions I have put above I suppose that many do.
Perhaps, like many things, being a ted does not reduce itself to a ticking box exercise which finally defines the phenomenon. Perhaps we shouldn’t take our definitions too seriously as we are likely to be flummoxed by reality round the next corner like I was with the bloke who liked Crazy Cavan and Showaddywaddy equally; still it’s also fun to think about things.
[I talked here about the look of the teds, but I hardly mentioned the appreciation of the music, said nothing about teddy the dancing styles nor how often should a ted wear his drapes (can it ever be always?)]
Sorry for the inordinate length of this post. I just had to get it off my chest.
Any views on where being a ted or a rock’n’roller begins and where it ends?
POSTED by Iwan Wmffre on the Long Jacket Forum January 2015