Last year I went to an exhibition at Somerset House about Mod revival and the all-time greats, The Jam. There was a tiny quote hidden away on the wall from Graham Coxon that said "Listening to The Jam made me feel proud. I felt part of something others didn’t know about". I guess you can count on a lyricist to sum up, in two sentences, years of fierce loyalty and profound love to one thing.
As Shane Meadows’ masterpiece This is England celebrates its 10th anniversary, I've been thinking a lot about that quote and how subcultures can grab hold of you and make you feel like you’re part of something bigger, even if you're just a 17 year old sitting alone on your bedroom floor. Watching This is England for the first time and seeing the lives of Shaun, Lol, Woody and Milky playing out on screen gave me that feeling Graham was talking about. I was in on a secret, although none of my mates knew - or cared - what Trojan Records was. The only person I could fangirl over Paul Weller with was my mum (she's pretty cool) and, despite no one else at college sharing the longing for my first Fred Perry polo, suddenly I knew I wasn't the only one, there were other people who shared these obsessions.
I guess it's that feeling kids in the 90s got when they first read Harry Potter or soon to be punks had in 1976 when Anarchy in the UK came out, maybe even when Coco Chanel kicked off the flapper craze in the 20s. Realising there was another world under the surface and you were a part of it, even if you were on your own. I don’t know what today’s equivalent is, but maybe that’s the point.
For me, This Is England got me into skinhead culture. I might have been living in an oppressively dull town in Essex (hey, Dickens agreed with me), trying to get my A-S Level in Graphics. But underneath that I was swooning for Desmond Dekker and looking up how I could make the last train home if I went to a ‘Northern Soul All Nighter’ at the mecca that is Oxford Street’s 100 Club.
Like all good obsessions This is England has had an enduring life. The subsequent series that Warp Films has eked out over this last decade with unparalleled writing from theatre’s own Jack Thorne, fed fuel to my hallowed fire. No TV has filled me with such joy as Joe Gilgun’s rendition of The Stone Roses’ Fools Gold (warning: there’s some swears in there).
Skinhead subculture is why, when I walk down the street and see someone decked out in a Harrington and Dr Martens, we'll share a knowing smile or nod. Why, despite having zero interest in cycling, I feel a kinship with Bradley Wiggins. Why “Lol” will always be Vicky McClure before ‘laugh out loud’ and, I suspect, why I’ll spend most of my life falling short of her relationship with Woody. But I’ll keep on keeping on. I’ll knock on wood and dream that you can get it if you really want.
So Happy Birthday This is England and thank you Shane Meadows for introducing me to a subculture that made me feel part of something beyond my four walls.