Glam Rock had a major influence on my life as I was growing up – not that I fully realised it at the time. It formed my outlook on life as well as my taste in music and, I would argue, it influenced society as a whole. Whether you liked the music or not it helped kick start society into a more colourful state of dress and mind.
Walk through most towns nowadays and you will be exposed to a wide variety of fashions that have become incorporated into mainstream clothing. With the Goth line becoming a major seller at Top Shop, Jonathan Ross parading around in bondage trousers (amongst many other outfits), bare midriffs & short skirts regardless of weather, boxer shorts coupled with jeans worn below ass level it would be fair to say that we have become a society that allows us to demonstrate our, attempt at, individuality through our clothes. It’s the same with music. Following on from the deregulation of radio and the advent of the internet there is an outlet for every type of music from classical to rock, from death metal to soul, from trance to pop………….
It wasn’t always like this; my memories of growing up in the late sixties are monotone. Don’t get me wrong I had a perfect childhood, the Corona van used to come around once a week and we’d buy a bottle of lemonade (if we’d been good we might get cherryade or limeade), the knife man used to turn up and scare us as he sharpened our knives on the grind stone, the brush man always failed to sell us anything and on a Sunday we used to sit down as a family for lunch and listen to Family Favourites, hoping they might link up with the armed forces in Germany where my uncle was stationed, (I still can’t listen to Mary Hopkin singing “Those Were The Days” without remembering those lunchtimes).
A perfect childhood, but when there was no real example of rebellion on children’s TV and excitement came in the form of “The Flashing Blade”, “Champion, The Wonder Horse” and “Casey Jones” it would be fair to say that everything was safe there was no ‘edge’. Meanwhile in music, psychedelia, flower power and the hippy movement were all happening but they were always happening somewhere else, away from your average town in middle England. Interesting things seemed to happen, and belong, to other people – “long-haired layabouts, university dropouts and leftist weirdos” if you believed the grown ups. And that was the catch. The grown ups (who were younger than I am now) belonged to a generation that had first hand experience of Work War II, rationing and ‘making do’ but this didn’t fit with what I wanted. In fact I didn’t know what I wanted I just knew that life needed to be more colourful.
With this background it was inevitable that something would come along and fill the void.
The first I’d been aware of something happening that interested me in the pop world was with The Sweet playing “Co-Co” and “Little Willy”. It wasn’t the songs, even though “Little Willy” sounded a bit ‘rude’, and it wasn’t the image, wearing a red indian headdress around Berkshire was never going to catch on, it was just that they were having fun and didn’t seem to be taking themselves too seriously. I didn’t know it at the time but I was ready for the launch of Glam Rock, I liked the attitude I just needed the music and image to change.
And change they did. It seemed like it happened overnight, suddenly the charts were full of songs with a heavy beat and chantable lyrics coupled with fashion excess and a ‘we’re having a good time, are you?’ attitude. Glam Rock had arrived and, after years of watching monotone TV shows (both metaphorically and literally, we didn’t get a colour TV until the early 70s), I was catapulted into a world of colour, noise and, most importantly, fun. And while my parents still complained about the “weirdos” their complaints were less intense than those kept for “hippies”, after all this music came directly from what they enjoyed, Rock and Roll, it didn’t belong to other people it belonged to all of us.
I took to Glam Rock straight away, it made me feel alive, as if I was living in a country where life was ‘on the up’. I no longer felt that the UK was a second class citizen in comparison to the US. In retrospect I couldn’t have been more wrong about the state of the country, remember I was growing up I didn’t read the newspapers, but the music made me feel positive and, I believe, this was one of the reasons Glam took off like it did. For 3 minutes it didn’t matter about the state of the country or economy you just felt good, hopeful maybe.
Of course not everyone liked Glam Rock.
There were those serious thinkers in their late teens who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about (music was meant to be cerebral not dressing up, jumping around and shouting) and they just concentrated harder on understanding the meaning behind their Yes album or the latest Peter Sinfield lyrics.
But I didn’t care about them. So what if they thought that Glam Rock was for kids with no sense? They could keep contemplating their navels, I was having fun. With the rejuvenated Sweet borrowing Bowie rifts, Noddy Holder’s full on vocal, Suzi Quatro bringing much needed sex appeal, Alvin Stardust’s moody persona and Wizzard’s amazing image being only some of the highlights my love of music had well and truly been born.
While the music conquered the charts the fashions started to cascade down onto the streets albeit it a diluted form, glitter and glam may be alright at a concert but you’d still be asking for trouble if you wore it on a Saturday night in Slough! The style of clothes available to wear started to change, not to anything that we’d recognise as choice today but it was a seismic change for thirty years ago (my childhood was of the “you can wear long trousers to school when you’re 11, what do you think you are – Posh?” variety). C&A sold Jingler jeans, so called because they had bells attached to them, bright colours became the norm and heels for men became more the rage than they were for women.
And how did I show my support for Glam Rock? With the best pair of jeans I’ve ever owned. I’ve no photos of me wearing them but I remember them perfectly. They were flared brushed denim, purple at the front, pink at the back. My parents complained that I wore them too often, and my Dad was concerned that the colours weren’t really what his son should be wearing, but they couldn’t have minded too much as they paid for them! Coupled with my elasticated purple belt and my shirt sporting a loud Toulouse-Lautrec print I thought I really was the man about town.
It was this fashion sense (or lack of) that introduced me to the downside of any trend – those people that want to beat you up because of it. Approached by the local gang one summer afternoon I knew that I was in for a kicking if I didn’t think fast, but as the leader walked towards me I couldn’t think of anything. What saved me was my total lack of understanding when it came to sarcasm (the memory of this makes me smile even now), the conversation went something like this –
Gang Leader: “Nice outfit”
Gang Leader: “So these are the manly colours now are they?”
Me: “Yes, I always wear them”
Gang Leader: “Nice elasticated belt, must get myself one.”
(laughter from the rest of the gang)
Me: “It is good isn’t it. My mum bought it from Woolworths, if you want I’ll ask her to get you one. I’m sure she won’t mind.”
The gang collapse with laughter, even the gang leader smiles, and I see my opportunity to quickly walk away.
As with any fashion or trend, there had to be an end to the dominance of Glam Rock. For me it came when the music started to appear ‘samey’ and new groups would appear dressed, by their PR gurus, in a ‘glam’ style but without the attitude. While the stars at the top of the Glam Rock tree continued to shine they were very much let down by the supporting artists.
So Glam Rock disappeared from the charts and slowly from my record collection as I discovered heavy rock, punk and any number of different genres. Where it didn’t disappear from was my heart. It showed me that life didn’t have to be mundane, that music and fashion didn’t have to have a deep meaning, that life was colourful and there to be enjoyed.