Late 1986. I was 15, living in Leeds, and already growing out of ‘dresser’ style, the local vernacular for casuals. I’d been traveling the pre-Hillsborough, second division hellholes with LUFC since I was 13, and was a home and away ever-present for a full season, witnessing all 40-something league and cup matches played with a shadow of perpetual violence and destruction before I was even old enough to take my O-levels.
Always going with older mates, never relatives. Looking back the mind boggles. What were my folks
The golden age of touring bands, Italian scooters, then Japanese motorcycles took my attention away from football for a good few years (just prior to the team escaping the second tier as champions and winning the league the next season. Timing, right?).
And I’d found a new style pole star to set my course: Big Audio Dynamite leader, Mick Jones. It seems barely comprehensible now, but it was BAD that introduced me to The Clash, not vice versa. The venerated punks had fizzled out in such a disappointing way that while Jones was shaping the future, Joe Strummer was wandering in the wilderness, the odd guest slot and unheralded solo project here and there, until forming his touring band, The Mescaleros in 1999, a full 15 years after Big Audio Dynamite dropped E-MC 2 . Strummer, now some perma-quoted, near-mythical alt-Llama, was old news in the mid-80s. It was a world not yet obsessed with retro and revivalism and the kind of petty collectors’ point scoring that now passes for style. You had to earn your relevance. Bands formed and broke up, even the greatest, offering a churn of new and fresh. Now groups lurk around for decades. Yeah you, Elbow.
While Strummer’s star faded, in strode snaggle-toothed Mick. Centre stage, hip cocked, a carbon-fibre Bond Electraglide six-string slung behind his back. This is it. This is the moment that changed things. 32 years old, and looking every day of it, Jones was that most awkward of oxymorons, punk royalty, but he never fit the stereotype. Now he’d found a style of his own. White Levi’s with turn-ups, black engineer boots, thick leather belt with a custom BAD buckle from NYC, white denim shirt, flat brim, high-crown trucker cap, juju bead necklace. The black Schott biker jacket remained.
1986 was so long ago, Leeds so provincial, that when I bought a black corduroy baseball cap from the live show’s merch table, with brushed felt BAD, in red old English font, on the front, I had to gird my loins to wear it in public. And this was after I’d happily walked into the away end of Ayresome Park in a deerstalker and a waxed jacket. Baseball caps just weren’t seen in Proper circles at the time. Don’t believe me? Look back at photos of football crowds from that exact era. Not a snapback in sight.
Jones right-hand man, Don Letts, and band member Dan Donavan were creating an image to accompany a music that is now regarded as more pioneering than The Clash’s. BAD used cut-up samples and lifted film dialogue, mixed with pop, keyboard, guitars and cross-cultural references, before anyone else.
The look was an intoxicating mix of pre-crack New York, Ladbroke Grove dealer, Spaghetti Western hero, and a dash of Illya Kuryakin. Later, Shawn Stüssy was kitting out the band and lettering their record sleeves with his distinctive Caribbean-inflected street scrawl. I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy I saw on stage at Leeds Uni Refectory and Bradford St George’s Hall played so well, with the lop-sided smile of someone who was loving their second chance, and just the perfect amount of swagger, because he’d headlined to 70,000 at Shea Stadium with his previous outfit.
While London visits were rare for the teen me, no friends or family to stay with, and not enough money for a hotel, Futura 2000’s Brooklyn, that was also being mined for inspiration, may as well have been in a different galaxy. Yet, Jones’ BAD look could be acquired. This was still the dawn of modern street style. BAD weren’t displaying pop peackockery or performative stage wear. The freshest of green shoots that excite Proper
readers now can trace many of their roots back what BAD was cooking with. White 501s were easy, so was a second-hand baseball jacket and a monochorome, long-sleeve polo – though I couldn’t stretch to a Smedley. I can’t remember the shop I bought my engineer boots from, perhaps Ace, on Duncan Street, Leeds. They weren’t Red Wings, I didn’t even know what Red Wings were back then, but they looked like Mick’s and I wore them to death.
I’d still happily wear most of Mick’s BAD-era clothing now, nearly 40 years later, but if there is one element of his good look that I adopted and never let go, it was his finger-width, ear-
So, Mr Jones, I love your music, and I adored your style.
Gary Inman is an editor, journalist and author, living in Lincolnshire (don’t judge). He had a
long-running column for GQ Italia and Rolling Stone, Italy. He runs motorcycle magazine