A Short History Of The World – In Several Pairs Of Jeans

This a tale of times long long ago – in the land that Levi Strauss forgot.

Of British boys and girls with – denim set on destruction.

Born in 1955 I was hurled into the turmoil of the Swinging Sixties, with little or no idea concerning style or fashion. Clothes were hand me down, home made accessories to a guileless life of pre-teen, jean-less hi-jinx.

The Beat Boom, that raging torrent that swamped the North West of England in a swirling vortex of raw R’n’B and indigo trousers changed all that forever.

I have no idea just here they came from, or any idea or where they eventually went, but my first pairs of jeans were Tek Sac and/or Jet.

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A thin copy of their American cousins, cut and stitched with a casual carelessness from the pale blue gossamer that was Empire Brand cotton, they were pre-worn out,  threadbare before you had actually worn them out. Designed to induce a distressed look in the wearer, years before the coming of the distressed look.

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Jet seemed to have survived into the 70s – rich in Disco Chic, even warranting their own TV ad – get into Jet Jeans get into Jet.

As I remember the first pair of serious branded jeans were local – for famous local people – they were Liverpool made Lybro of Mount Vernon. A slightly heavier denim, styled to suit and fit the lower half of the upwardly-mobile, mobile teenage tearaway.

 

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In 1963, a Liverpool jeans company, Lybro Limited, asked if The Beatles would advertise their jeans. The request may either have come through the group’s manager, Brian Epstein – or through their friend at the Cavern Club, DJ Bob Wooler. The advertising agency behind the campaign was Millican Advertising Limited, operating from Liverpool 3.

The original photos came to light in 2004, when photographer Richard Cooper unearthed the pictures in an old file and remembered the shoot on which he worked as a young 20-year-old apprentice at a photo studio in Liverpool’s African Chambers.

The photos formed the basis of drawings used on the final advertisements.

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Lybro Jeans Shoot

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Then along came came Brutus – possibly the first homegrown denim to challenge the American imports for distinctive style and quality.

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By now flares had flared up like an unwanted rash on the face of the mid-seventies, whilst I remained in a parallel omniverse – constant and true to the parallel cut.

Beloved of the boot-boy and rampaging teenage togger hooligan alike, Skinners ran counter to the ever widening gulf between toe cap and jean hem. I had several pairs in the Seventies, indigo, white and corduroy – we were out, straight and proud.

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1.Skinners - braces

Less enlightened times produced a rash of Skinner clad misdemeanours on the streets and terraces of this fair Isle.

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Manchester United fans in Cardiff 1974

As the Seventies began to collide with the Eighties the upper half of the UK embraced the widest and wildest styles they could find, the northern soul danced to Northern Soul, as jeans, skirts and trousers wrapped and embraced their flailing all-night limbs.

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John Bulmer – Manchester 1974

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Blues & Soul August 1976

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Blues & Soul January 1979

It couldn’t last, we had to take a narrower view in our strides.

The onset of Punk Rock heralded the inception of the skinnier jean – despatching the Hippy flare and Soul Boy bag, indigo to the bargain bins of history.

I then began to buy mine from Crazy Face – brainchild of Joe Moss, he had series of Stockport shops on Mealhouse Brow, Lower Hillgate and Tiviot Dale along with Chapel Walks in Manchester – Joe would later find fame managing Manchester pop sensations The Smiths.

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Stuart Lee of Stockport County at Mealhose Brow

For years I would wear a wide variety of wide and not so narrow Crazy Face denim – served by fresh-faced, soon to be superstar DJ Jason Boardman.

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Nothing last forever and my love affair with home grown denim eventually came to an end, Joe Bloggs, Hooch and Bench largely passed me by.

And so our story ends – a Storm Rider in a turn up, I began wearing Lee Jeans and I’ve never looked back, owning several pairs in various states of wash and wear loved, they are now no longer made.

So some ways down the line I’ll have to take a look at what’s shaking – shake down a pair of eBay Tek Sacs and start all over again.

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Poco a Poco – Stockport

There was a field – Ash Farm, farmhouse and field, at the junction of Manchester Road and Denby Lane, owned by one Harry Hitchen.

Harry Hitchen’s ambitious grandson reckoned that it was time that Heaton Chapel had a picture house, so on 6th May 1939 – where once there was a fertile farmer’s field, the seven hundred seat Empress Cinema opened.

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Opening with a screening of Alexander Korda’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

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It continued to trade as a cinema until 18th April 1959, whereafter it transformed at the end of that year, into a dance house opening as the Empress Club on the 9th December, run by Manchester City footballer, Keith Marsden.

Other parts of building were used for Flamingo Coffee Jive Club, from 1961 Empress Bingo club used the none-cabaret portion of the building.

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Empress Ballroom

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Keith Marsden

In many northern towns and cities at this time a thriving beat scene emerged, literally hundreds of local bands, playing a circuit of clubs large and small.

Further details can be found here at Manchester Beat and Lanky Beat.

One such band played at the Empress on 14th November 1964, formerly The Matadors, then becoming The Swinging Hangmen, later known as The Hangmen. With a now sound, slick suits, a business card and a swinging, dead, novelty teddy bear mascot, they had everything going for them.

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I too played in such bands during the late 60’s and early 70’s, piling in and out of assorted vans, cars and buses to arrive at a packed venue, sandwiched between the bingo and a top flight comedian.

December 1968, in a flurry of flags, the Poco a Poco Club and Casino is born, international cabaret and entertainment abounds from here on in, beginning a fashion for the American style supper club, boil in the bag dining, for the discerning chicken in a basket cases.

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As beat becomes mod, psych, prog and glam a new generation of bands adapt and mutate to suit the ever changing moods and modes of modern music.

One such were Toby Twirl.

They hailed from Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Formed in the 60’s and originally called ‘The Shades of Blue’. After being signed to Decca Records by Wayne Bickerton, a name change was called for, as there was a US group of the same name. The group released three singles on Decca – Back In Time, Toffee Apple Sunday and Movin In. Although critically acclaimed in later years, none of the singles charted due to lack of major radio play. The group concentrated on live work during the late 60’s and early 70’s and were a top draw around the North of England. The line up was Dave ‘Holly’ Holland vocals, Barrie Sewell keyboards, Stuart Somerville bass, Nick Thorburn guitar and John Reed drums. Stuart was replaced by Dave Robson after he was tragically drowned in Tynemouth and Holly was replaced by Steve Pickering.

Interest in 60’s psych has seen the recent release of a Toby Twirl LP, a long overdue compilation of their admirable singles – including Romeo and Juliet 1968.

Other Poco regulars included Wishful Thinking:

Prior to 1969, they were recording with ex-Shadows drummer and record producer TonyMeehan. Between 1965 and 1969 the group released 9 singles and a live album. There were some changes in personnel and some successes, most notably Step by Step, Count To ten, Cherry Cherry, It’s So Easy and Peanuts, the latter remaining in the Danish charts for 3 months and also reaching No 8 in Japan.

My personal choice would be their version of Clear White Light.

Famously  Mr David Laughing Gnome Bowie played there on the 27th April 1970, just a few days before receiving his Ivor Novello award at The Talk Of The Town in London, for Space Oddity, which had been voted the best original song of 1969.

The club traded on through the 70’s and 80’s, continuing to ride the trends in popular music, the emergence of the discotheque and the almost superstar local DJ. As interest in the live cabaret music scene waned, the club began hosting boxing matches in the 80’s. Changing its name to Chester’s in 1983 and finally closing in May 1987.

It had lasted almost 50 years as a rich source of entertainments for thousands of Stopfordians, from a flickering film to a flaming beat, sadly it all ended in demolition.

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The beat goes on.

Many thanks to Stephen for the essential facts and copyright images from his website.