Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Hoolies

Book Review: 'Hoolies' by Gary Bushell

4 / 5 Stars

‘Hoolies’ (289 pp) was published in 2010 by John Blake Publishing Ltd (UK).

Bushell (b. 1955) first began writing in the 1970s, for the ‘Socialist Worker’ newspaper, and the rock magazine ‘Sounds’, before branching out into multiple roles as a member of the punk band ‘Gonads’, a manager for the band ‘Cockney Rejects’, and stints as a late-night TV show host, newspaper columnist, and author of crime novels. A full listing of his endeavors can be accessed at his website.

‘Hoolies’ is misleadingly subtitled ‘True Stories of Britain’s Biggest Street Battles’. Only a fraction of the book’s content deals with actual battles involving ‘hooligans’; the bulk of ‘Hoolies’ is in fact a history of music, and pop culture, in Britain from the mid-70s to the early-90s.

The book’s chapters are organized in a loosely chronological order, and recount the rise of the ‘Teds’ in the 1950s, moving on to the Mods in the 60s, the Punks in the 70s, and New Romantics in the 80s. 

Like most rock critics of his era (i.e., the late 70s – early 80s), Bushell wrote not to inform readers about music, but rather, to impress them with his matchless erudition regarding obscure bands, obscure sub-sub-sub categories of music, and – last but not least – his Profound Observations On Society. 

I suspect most American readers of ‘Hoolies’ are going to be nonplussed by Bushell’s meticulous recitations of bands, music halls, fashion, and personalities…..all related in a sort of faux-UK Hipster argot that can make the book a real chore to wade through at times. 

Some idea of Bushell’s writing style is communicated in this (my own) pastiche:

Later that August, I caught the Snotty Youth’s first on-stage gig when they appeared at the Ridgely Pub, a dire hole in the East End. Showing up for support were members of the Hamish Street suedeheads, led by ‘Pilchard’ Watt-Evens, Micky G., Daft Donald, Jeff Symes, and the ever-beloved ‘Shrimps’ Comberly. Despite audio troubles, a truly hellish khazi, and continuous streams of remarks from some truculent Skinheads looking to start a ruck, the abrasive, withering music of the Youth left even the most dedicated, oh-so-bored posers impressed.

US readers also will have to endure Bushell's tendency throughout the text to continuously insert self - references to his status as a fighter against racism, fascism, an ardent supporter of the working class against rapacious capitalism, etc., etc. Whether Bushell's posturings reflect a deeply-held moral solidarity with the Oppressed Proletariat, or were simply contrived efforts at Radical Chic, will be up to the reader to determine.

Where ‘Hoolies’ will appeal to U.S. readers is in its 'insider', I-was-there coverage of the music movements of the 70s and 80. Where else will you learn that, if you went to the Blitz Club in Covent Garden in 1979, you would see among the patrons such future MTV stalwarts as: Helen Folasade Adu, aka Sade; the late Steve Strange of the group 'Visage'; Stuart Leslie Goddard, aka Adam Ant; Midge Ure of 'Ultravox'; 'Boy' George O’Dowd; and the members of (what would become) Spandau Ballet ?

‘Hoolies’ is also of value for providing information on a host of bands that are (likely) new and unexplored to U.S. readers. 

For example, I’d never heard of the punk band Sham69, but after listening to their great song ‘Hurry Up Harry’, I have begun searching out their other works. Throughout the pages of ‘Hoolies’, Bushell describes a whole ecology of underground bands from the late 70s to early 90s: Secret Affair, Purple Hearts, the Killermeters, Bad Manners, Selector, the Blood, Crass, Peter Hooton's 'Farm'….Not all are worth listening too, but one can spend hours looking up these bands on the web. 

The tales of street fighting, when they do make their rare appearances, are entertaining; possibly the best in the book is the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ brawl that took place in 1992 at the eponymous rail station. 

A coalition of communists and Marxists (or, as Bushell piously refers to them, ‘anti-fascists’), hoping to force the cancellation of a major skinhead concert, attacked and badly beat a smaller force of skinheads, after which the communists loitered around the station grounds in poses of triumph. 

But what the commies didn’t know was that the small force of bruised skinheads was but a sacrificial lure.....and trainloads of football hooligans would soon be arriving.........!

The penultimate chapter in 'Hoolies', titled 'Blowing in the Wind: Youth Cult Politics' is probably the best in the book. In this chapter, an older and wiser Bushell looks back on the youthful idealism that permeated many of the movements in fashion, music, and politics of the 70s and 80s, and comes to conclusions heavily tinged with cynicism.

Summing up, 'Hoolies', despite giving only marginal attention to street battles per se, is a worthwhile overview of a very creative and entertaining era in British popular culture. If you are over 40, and remember the 70s and 80s with fondness, then this book is worth getting.

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