Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

1978… Cultural revolution

Until I was seventeen, I had short hair, and listened to the classical records my dad bought, and which we played on Sundays, while we ate lunch.


Led Zeppelin at Chicago Stadium – Wikimedia Commons

Steve Latham


Then I changed. My hair grew, my jeans became blue, sporting the widest flairs imaginable – and my musical tests went ‘heavy’:

Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy, still my favourite album), Wishbone Ash (long wittering guitar solos), and Tubular Bells (hippy noodling at its best).

At university, the hair continued to grow, eventually to my shoulders; and the music stayed loud. Eventually, after my final year, I embarked on that rite of passage, an interrail card tour of Europe. All went well: Greece (the culture trip rather than the beaches), Yugoslavia (where my hair marked me out as a potential drug dealer, and I was approached by several, soon disappointed, hopefuls).

Photo: Pixabay

Then into Italy: Venice and Florence, and young attractive girls – my hair (still a marker of identity) joined by a red neckerchief, to give me a rakish air.

Until Rome, where (in an anecdote, now infamously boring to my family), I was robbed; on my final day, on my way by bus to visit the Vatican.

In those days, before internet banking (the internet, even), it took a long time for money to be sent out and a travel document to be issued, for my ignominious return to the motherland.

When I arrived in Britain, I was in for a surprise. A cultural revolution had occurred – Punk. Immediately, my hair was cut, gelled up into spikes, my jeans tightened, and I dug out an old 60s leather tie of my father’s, to complete the ensemble.

This was ’78. I had heard, dimly, about the Sex Pistols, of course. But in my northern lair, at a provincial university, this metropolitan tide had passed me by.

Photo: Pixabay

Out went the long, meandering, self-indulgent (we had thought them ‘artistic’), guitar solos; in came short, two minute songs, played at break-neck speed – still loud.

My record collection was now augmented by Stiff Little Fingers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Elvis Costello (not the crooner he later became, but he of “My aim is true”).

What had been gestating, quietly underground, had become mainstream, and we Johnny-come-lately had finally caught up with the zeitgeist.

This is how cultural change happens. The subterranean streams, which flowed hidden for long ages, now emerge into the daylight, hailed as a ‘new thing’.

What is being formed today, in our urban, or suburban, fastnesses? Punk was the last great wave of white British teenage rebellion: following on from teds, skins, mods, rockers, and hippies.

Thomas Dellert and the Sex Pistols 1978 – Photo: Wikimedia

Their energy is gone. Now the flame is carried by the black teenage underclass: continuing the heritage of Soulboys and Rastafarians, into rap, hip hop, grime, afrobeats, bashment, and drill.

Where will the next development arise? Very probably from where we least expect it. So, if we want to play soothsayer, we need to ask: where is the unlikeliest place teen revolt could emerge. Maybe there?

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