Skinheads! Gavin Watson's photos of early-’80s England are incredible

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Has there ever been a more uniquely British subcutlure than skinhead? 

As mod split into two in the late-’60s – Small Faces-style psychedelia went one way, ‘harder’ lads the other – a look that combined Ivy League precision with Jamaican atttude and British workwear was born. This was skinhead. And the music that its adherents danced – or at least jumped about to – was ska. 

Fast-foward 15 years and on the back the success of the Coventry's 2Tone record label (and The Who's Quadrophenia film) everything mod or skin came back into fashion, with lads sporting crombies and Dr Marten's, while girls got their hair styled into that wispy-yet-brutal skin-girl cut.

Growing up in High Wycombe, young photographer Gavin Watson documented this scene, capturing his mates larking about in their uniform of DM boots, Harrington jackets and sheepskin coats. Despite skin's reputation for racism – and let's be clear, plenty of skins were racist despite the culture's West Indian influence – his mates were a multicucltural bunch from every background. What they had in common was a love of clothing, music and well, larking about on public transport. 

Watson’s work has been collated into a book called Skins, which features all his best photos from the period. Here are young people pre-smartphones and social media, driven by boredom to find something – anything – to do. And in early-’80s Britain, with its high unemployment and pubs shut during the day, this wasn't always easy. As well as providing a snapshot of a particular youth culture, the book also shows us how completely alien that era feels today.

If you'd like to see more, you'll find Skins on sale at the John Blake Books' website here.








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