As initiator of this website, you might as well want to know a little about me. Nothing extraordinary, just one individual’s journey into becoming a ted.
What to say about myself? Well, first my surname will probably flummox anybody who’s not Welsh although a seller at Brown’s of Chester said to his perplexed colleague “It’s Oomphrey, just like we say it!” I was born in 1964 and brought up in a pleasant little Welsh university town of Lampeter (think Trumpton) until in my early teens I moved to a nearby even smaller market town of Tregaron. That was in 1975. The following July at the Coop in Lampeter I bought my first two LPs, one ‘Hail Scotia!’ was excellent Scottish schmaltz, the other a UK compilation of Bill Haley and his Comets’ hits released by MCA Coral in October 1974 as ‘Rock around the Clock’ and which remains to this day the best single LP I have ever heard (years later I discovered it was a beefed-up version of the original US LP of the same name released by Decca in December 1955 to which was added 4 later songs: ‘you hit the wrong note (billy goat)’, ‘tonight’s the night’, ‘rockin’ rollin’ Rover’, ‘hide and seek’ – none of them ‘see you later, alligator’! – and I can only congratulate whoever decided on this particular compilation). I remember I’d clicked to the song ‘rock around the clock’ a few years earlier, about 1974 when I was ten and that’s what had led me on that day to buy this album with some birthday money. The only records I had before then were by Pinky & Perky and one containing assorted cartoon characters like Rupert the Bear, Wacky Races and the Hair Bear Bunch. The record hooked me on to rock’n’roll and I never looked back.
Incidentally, the bumph on the back of the record includes interviews with Haley and his Comets during their first tour of Britain in 1957 and Billy Williamson’s explanation of rock’n’roll there – despite it seeming so short and unsatisfying at the time – proved itself to be one of the best one-sentence description of what that music was all about: “Man, it’s just music with a beat for people who WANT music with a beat. That’s all!’
Because I was an only a young boy living in a remote little rural town of about 1,000 souls (you don’t go through Tregaron to get anywhere) my interest in rock’n’roll began just as a musical taste, yet something of the hairstyle and sartorial style of the 50s was also appealing and the many older black-and-white films which were shown on tv allowed you to compare against the long hair, floppy shirt collars, ties, trousers which were all the rage in the mid 1970s. I had hated such styles immediately from an early age and associated them with football hooligans of which there were many in those days (remember, I witnessed Shrewsbury fans one shopping Saturday!). My mother had engineered to grow my hair long when I was 8 until I looked like a young Mick Jagger. It didn’t last more than a year as I absolutely despised it! Thereafter the older people would always compliment me on my non-straggly hair which I took as the compliment it is. Not much to make you think I would become a ‘rebel’ although not having dishevelled hair in the 1970s was a form of rebellion.
I began buying records with pocket money and later from savings from forgoing school dinners (don’t laugh, I fainted once!). Some were a bit disappointing and in particular the double LP Elvis compilation by Arcade entitled ‘Elvis’ 40 Greatest Hits’ (also released in October 1974) in which the second LP contained Elvis’s 60s dross and even the first contained ‘old Shep’, ‘love me tender’, ‘don’t, ‘one night’, ‘a fool such as I’ which I, for one, don’t consider as proper rock’n’roll. This did a disservice to Elvis as far as I was concerned as a result I’ve never been able to adore Elvis like most of the other kings of rock’n’roll – he was, of course, better than that particular release as I would later discover.
Shortly after I bought the Bill Haley record they started broadcasting ‘Happy Days’ that year and I don’t know if I may have caught the first episodes whilst on holidays in France since it was aired on tv there from the 22nd of August 1976, almost two months before it aired in Britain. I definitely saw it later in France where it was named ‘Les Jours Heureux’. Like many, I suppose, it was an education in American youth styles from the 50s and we loved it! Within a few years I aspired to dress in a 50s style whether as in ‘Happy Days’ or more elegantly as one of the Comets but these only remained aspirations my miserable pocket money and the remoteness of West Wales ensured I couldn’t make much progress there so the style was what could be described as home-made rockabilly (although we didn’t use the term then) turn-up jeans, chequered shirt and a fake leather jacket of sorts. My hair had been short at the back and sides since my early teens but looking back at old photos I’m surprised at how long it took to get my quiff as I wanted it, probably not until about 1980 when I was approaching 16 (there’s this terrible period for boys after puberty when your growth spurt leaves you looking gangly and I think this and funny facial hair had to do with it). These rough sketches from art class give some idea of how my hairstyle was coming along:
I wasn’t alone in liking the 50s, by chance my best friend lived in the neighbouring village of Llanddewi Brefi (made famous since) where I discovered ‘I wasn’t the only ted in the village’. There were the Davies boys who were half Welsh and half Italian and were into the rock’n’roll and the quiffs. These were Carmin, Jerry (not forgetting little brother Gareth) and we were joined by Phil from the same village and later by James who was from the sea coast but who stayed with his grandparents every week-end. By about 1979 I had begun attending the local Saturday night dance at Tregaron regularly and we were there dressed up as well we could in a rock’n’roll fashion. We’d be in by about 7:30 and we asked the resident DJ Eifion ‘Body Shaker’. He was ok, but unfortunately he played mostly the hits of the day and we had to wait over 40 minutes for any request and when they were played we got a chance to do some serious bopping. When we began asking for more obscure rock’n’roll numbers we had to bring our own records into the dance with us. The dance floor was pretty empty, only starting to fill up after 10 pm and then after 11 the pubs emptied and all the non-dancers came in. It was a little bit on the aggressive side at that point which always reminds of the line in Johnny Legend’s ‘rockabilly bastard’: “while you folks gettin’ aggressive, I’m gettin’ ready to dance”. Looking back especially – but actually even at the time – they were shit nights out but we didn’t have a choice, that’s all there was on offer for miles around. We had other friends who liked rock’n’roll and would even join in a bop but they were not so serious about it and never got into the look. My feeling is that the kind of rock’n’roll we liked was appreciated by many boys at the time but not everyone’s a music lover. The first event I went to see was a screening of the film ‘The Wanderers’ at Aberystwyth, probably late 1979, enjoyed it, inspiring fun; the second event was around 1982 when Matchbox played at the old Kings Hall, Aberystwyth. Again I enjoyed, but even at the time they were not at all my favourite rock’n’rollers; I just thought their music had too many country and pop tendencies.
There wasn’t much going on in the media for rock’n’roll lovers in the late 70s. Granted there was the hard-won weekly hour-long broadcast ‘It’s rock’n’roll!’ which started in late 1976 (funny thing is I don’t remember although I would have loved to have listened and I doubt any one else of us knew otherwise there would have been a grapevine effect). TV also was dire, the only real ray of light was ‘Oh Boy!’ which only lasted just about 6 months in 1979-80 had great musicians, had a great pace but somewhat unconvincing dancers as far as genuine-ness was concerned (the follow-up series ‘Let’s Rock!’ seemed to have a ted audience but, if my memory is correct, was never broadcast in Wales). Two great one-off programmes were the Arena ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ broadcast on BBC 2 in 1982 and the documentary film ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ which I saw late one night, maybe not long after its cinema release (which was not successful). Plenty of teds on both these programmes, but by then I already had my drape suit.
Some UK rock’n’roll fanzines had existed since the 1960s but I knew nothing about them, the only thing of the kind I managed to get sent by mail from the Netherlands was ‘The Fireball Mail’, the magazine of the International Jerry Lee Lewis fan club which was three-quarters written in Dutch! Among other things I was lucky to learn from a geeky Swedish fan who had researched Jerry Lee’s ancestors that the Lewises had originally came to America in the 17th or 18th century from Wales, more specifically Monmouthshire, Cavan and the Rhythmrockers’ home county. I also learned some of his closer ancestors were nutters of the same ilk as Jerry taking pot shots at their slaves for the fun of it. Wish I had kept those numbers of the magazine! While I love Jerry Lee’s rockin’ music, he’s not my all-time favourite rocker, I haver between Bill Haley and Gene Vincent. but in those far off days in the 1970s you couldn’t get any poster of great 50s artists (only of Elvis, of which there were plenty, as well as a few of Buddy Holly). The only concept we had of our artists came from record covers so I traced one such record and made my own poster of Bill Haley. You can’t compare the situation then with nowadays with just about every image and tune available over the net.
I knew nothing next to nothing about teddy boys. A book that definitely made an impression on me – and many others besides – was ‘The Teds’ by the photographer Chris Steele-Perkins published in 1979. The new edition is in hardback and quite a bit smaller than the tatty softcover one I got from James through a swap for a record about 1981, I think. My first impression was how seedy were many of the teds pictured in the book, some scary, at times definitely off-putting as far as personal looks were concerned. But they did have great hairstyles and drapes. I favoured a clean-cut look which was part of how I was rebelling against 70s dress fashions.
How did I look at the time? Like the picture below. The hair had by now become as I had wanted but the clothes still left much to be desired. I remember some bomber jacket I liked and a beige peg-leg trousers at some points during this time, but the rest was approximation of the style.
How did I acquire a drape? Back at home, Carmin was some years older than the rest of us and actually had a blue drape and I suppose he was the one who gave me the inspiration, but it was on a shopping trip in Plymouth with my mother, returning from holidays in Brittany, that the occasion presented itself. I think it was September 1981 . There were a number of teds peppered in the midst of the shopping crowd that Saturday and as much as I wanted to I was too shy to ask them where they got their gear, my mother bless her, with her French accent accosted two teds who were walking just in front of us and we got the answer that there was a shop in Newton Abbott, just inland from Torquay, which sold drapes and creepers. That very afternoon on our way back to Wales we stopped at that shop and I got my drape, an elegant off-the-peg burgundy drape with black roll collar. My mum, was good enough to pay for it so I was lucky and I increasingly appreciate her thoughtfulness and support for the teenager I was as the years go by.
For the next two years I was a proper ted and soon both Jerry and Phil were bedraped with me. Three of us and a few other mates. Nothing much otherwise had changed, we’d go to the Tregaron Saturday dance and bopped as much as we could, sometimes meeting beforehand but we were now much smarter. There was a punk or two also but no hard feelings, just scorn for their kind of music (and everybody else’s music for that matter!). It’s at the Matchbox concert in Aberystwyth’s King’s Hall around 1982 that we Llanddewi teds met ‘Blue’, an elegant red-haired Aberystwyth ted who fronted his own band Chevy 55, we would soon learn that they recorded some tracks in Holland, but Blue soon went on to become the singer of the better-known rock’n’roll band Chevrolet for a short while. I regret there are not more surviving photos of us as we were, we were hardly thinking about posterity. But this leads me on to another little story of the time some French tourists accosted us at the Saturday dance and asked us if we would be willing to come back bedraped for a group photo the next morning (Sunday), this we did and at 11 o’clock imagine our surprise and horror when we saw two punks standing on the square in Tregaron. The French tourist had obviously asked them the same favour, FH! We nevertheless were happy to have our picture taken and although I gave the man my address and he promised to send a copy, we never received it. Perhaps he couldn’t care less, perhaps the paper with my address was lost, who knows? The only remaining hope for a picture of the Llanddewi teds circa 1982 to surface is the internet. I conduct a search every now and then, but I’ve got to admit, it is a rather forlone hope. Just makes you think what gets lost and how many other teds from that time are obscured from the present view.
The next picture of me was taken at a photographer’s studio located on Boulevard Foch, one of the main streets of the city of Angers, a week before I went to work on the vinyards in September 1982. The shirt I was wearing was my grandfather’s and was quite old, possibly from the 1950s or the 1960s. I liked the whole look. I definitely don’t recommend drapes as ordinary wear for the summer in France.
In the spring of 1983 I bought my first ever non-rock’n’roll record ‘Luxury Gap’ by Heaven 17 (I had money to burn that day and was not looking forward to a long wait of a month or more for the arrival of an order). Thereafter – I’m ashamed to admit – I acquired a soft spot for Heaven 17 but never became interested in other New Romantic music. The late summer of 1983 was also the last rock’n’roll record of that period of my life: ‘Rant ‘n’ Rave with the Stray Cats’. Good album, better than their first.
In the autumn of 1983 my life changed as I moved to university, all 15 miles away to Aberystwyth to study history. Great night outs, no more shitty Saturday dance-halls, eventually girls and a life so busy that I never watched a TV programme for four years. The student population, I saw, were not particularly into rock’n’roll, as I found out to my cost when I dee-jayed with rock’n’roll for a live Welsh band at the Student Union. My drape didn’t come out to college with me (I actually don’t know why) but I was often wearing a black bolero jacket with a Texas longhorn bootlace tie (so much so I acquired the nickname Matador by some). However, it so happened that by my second year my quiff was receding so much that I didn’t feel I could sustain a rocking look. I would soon be going out with a girlfriend who was more into punk and other non-mainstream musical trends and in this environment my rocking tendencies took a back seat. I never changed my taste but … et puis la vie … as French people would say (‘and then life…’), life simply took its course and I drifted with it. On some levels I regret I never ventured out of West Wales because I missed a rocking scene whose vitality I’d only discover many years later. Be that as it may, like many, I returned ‘in force’ to my lifelong interest but by now more interested in the fans than in the stars, those that have kept the flag flying without flagging against all tides and currents. It may sound corny, but it is these ordinary fans of this much maligned music who are my main heroes.
I can’t tell you for sure why my interest in rock’n’roll fans grew, but it certainly was sparked by two episodes, one in Galway around 2000 when I found myself and some friends sipping hot chocolates in a coffee bar in Lower Dominick Street after a night out at about 1am in the morning only when we were roused from our lethargy by someone singing ‘blue suede shoes’ accapela, we and everyone else in the bar turned to look at where the singing was coming from only to see a ted with a black leather jacket and jeans belting it out standing at the counter. He stopped and everyone broke out into a spontaneous applause. Apparently he had walked in and stood by the counter to sing and immediately left after the ‘performance’. I know every town of some size seems to have a loner who is nicknamed ‘Elvis’ but this man set me thinking a lot about why an individual like this kept the faith despite being ‘the only ted in town’. In my eyes he is a hero of sorts and I hope he’s still haunting the pavements of Galway or wherever he finds himself. Another catalyst which set my mind going in being interested in the fans themselves was a chance conversation with *Rick, an original 50s ted, with whom I would happen to have conversations in a cafe in Aberystwyth. I relate *Rick’s experience as a 1950s ted somewhere else (he didn’t fancy his name being made public) and all I can say is I was primed to be interested in the subject of teds in my own home patch, so to speak, and it was made all the more entrancing by the liveliness and detail of his memories (I just hope I have captured some of the magic of his conversations). The meetings with *Rick occurred in the years preceding and around 2010, so when I discovered John Facer’s teddy-boy forum in 2011, I wallowed in the information about the ted movement in other parts of Britain which was uncannily reminiscent of my own experience and feelings about the music and learnt about all the sartorial details to which I had never previously paid that much attention despite loving the look. I contributed some posts in the form of articles to inform and entertain my fellow teds but after the last devastating hack of 2014 most members never returned and I was forced to conclude that what I was writing was hardly reaching anyone.1The forum suffered at least three destructive hacks in the years 2011-14 and only limped onwards thereafter and is, surprisingly perhaps, still living a life of sorts at an address no longer linked to John Facer’s ‘Great British Teddy Boy’ site. Some of the forum members might remember some of the posts in ‘The Lone Lamp’ as having originated on the forum.
This is my story as far as my involvement with rock’n’roll goes. Nothing of any importance for the annals of rock, many others would have better stories to tell, but I thought it might be of interest to give an example of how the rock’n’roll revival of the 1970s ‘flourished’ in provincial Britain, out in the country, far from the built-up areas.
The one thing I would like to emphasise from all this is that at the time I never stopped to think about why I became a ted. I never knew of a ‘scene’ and my only regret at the time was that I didn’t manage to see Bill Haley in 1979 although I had known about the tour. Another thing I never even stopped to wonder about was where had the teds come from? Obviously they were connected to rock’n’roll and to the 1950s (I first learnt of the Edwardian origins of the Teds from the Steele-Perkins book and for a while after that I supposed that since rock’n’roll was American the term ted probably came from the American president Teddy Roosevelt, after all didn’t Carl Perkins sing about getting “dressed up like a teddy” before going out [that’s how, for years, I misunderstood the actual word in the song, the americanism ‘dilly’]). There were no older teds to ‘educate’ us and so we followed our own course in our own school of rock’n’roll. I’ve said it elsewhere, ‘ted’ was employed at the time for anyone who sported a quiff, liked the music and dressed rock’n’roll: of course, this didn’t mean that we had no concept of the proper ted, one with a drape, but acquiring one was just a matter of money and ability to find a bloody shop that would sell one, not a life-changing transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Unlike London and some other metropolises where there was a rock’n’roll scene I don’t think we knew of ‘rockabilly’ as another category of rock’n’roller, for us it was just another term for rock’n’roll that cropped up on some of our records. As for hep-cat authentics and psychobillies, these were not realities which had reached West Wales by 1983. When I got my drapes, I was still a rock’n’roller, like the aspiring ted I had been for the previous couple of years – the terms were not mutually exclusive. In 1983 my life began to take another turn, and despite the fact I lost my quiff early on, I remained a complete ted in my heart if not in my hair. So I keep on rockin’ – what better choice is there?
POSTED October 2017.
‘Rockabilly Dynamite’ 1979 Warwick’ by exchange.