Interview: Sam Knee, author of 'A Scene in Between'

Following the exclusive photo of Shop Assistants we posted on Wednesday, we're delighted to present an interview with Sam Knee, author of 'A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music'. Sam kindly took the time to provide some insight into the genesis of the book and the scene it so lovingly documents to Erika Sella.

I originally come from a town that can easily be defined as a ‘provincial coffin’ and I came of age during the Britpop years: not a very lucky girl. Discovering ‘older’ music and 1950s/60s icons (mainly through Pulp and Belle and Sebastian) helped me form my identity and gave a feeling of ‘belonging’ and a sense of direction.  What did the 80s independent scene mean to you? How did you connect with other music fans?

When I look back at the 80's it seems almost in slow motion. The path to anything of worth was an arduous task of putting the puzzle pieces together, often failing and starting over again. The indie music scenes and fashions were something I lived and breathed quite organically after years of feeling detached from reality. When I was fifteen I ran into an old friend from junior school at a local gig in Southend by some awful turgid mod revival band, we were both wearing the same Cramps t-shirts and instantly became inseparable after a five year absence. It was cool to find someone to talk to other than myself.

The Pastels (with Strawberry Switchblade) , Glasgow, 1982. Photo by Peter McArthur.

The Pastels (with Strawberry Switchblade) , Glasgow, 1982. Photo by Peter McArthur.

Where did you shop at the time? What was your most treasured item of clothing? Any particular fashion icon?

I lived in charity shops, jumble sales rummaging for 60s treasures and scoured old man type shops for unworn 60's stock which back then was highly feasible as it was less than twenty years before. I developed a vast wardrobe of clothes for pennies, not all of it fitted perfectly soi'd attempt to alter things by hand sewing method often ending in disaster. I cultivated a long haired tramp like mod image. My most treasured item was a pair of brown suede Chelsea boots made by Denson shoes from the mid 60's I excavated from the local Army and Navy surplus store, carried all manner of bizarre old stock, mostly horrendous, but occasionally sublime. Style icon wise, I remember thinking Tony and Kim from the Scientists looked really cool around the Blood Red River phase, all long bowl haircuts, paisley shirts, skinny black jeans and pointy Chelsea boots. Their gigs were mind numbingly brilliant outings into repetitive fuzz dirge. I sorta think they were a big influence on some of the embryonic UK bands i.e. Spacemen 3 and MBV.

Music and fashion have always gone hand in hand, right from the very beginning. Why did you pick the 1980-1988 independent scene? Just personal reasons?

This era was my youth and I witnessed most of these bands live and experienced all of the youth fashion nuances as they morphed into one another first hand. It seemed like a subject I could approach with some genuine nous and compassion, also for some reason it had remained uncharted written territory. Which for a vastly fascinating chapter in UK youth fashion music history is an absolute crime of omission.The kids will have their say (SSD).

My Bloody Valentine. Photo by Ken Copsey.

My Bloody Valentine. Photo by Ken Copsey.

 I started following your blog, Leaders of Men, a while ago. How did the idea of the book come about? 

The blog was where i started gradually laying the books 60's/80's foundations down. I'd been planning A Scene In Between in my head for a couple of years before that at least. You could say I'm quite slow at getting my shit together.

I like what you say in your introduction – ‘It was fairly standard practice to sell for example, a Primal Scream or Pastels single, along with a Love or 13th Floor Elevator reissue LP and a Ramones or X Ray-Spex album all in the same transaction’. Do you think it was this diversity that made the music ‘scene’ so interesting, something worth revisiting?

For sure, Ii feel in many ways it was the last wave of the New Wave before the whole E thing came barging in lobotomising the youth into a sterile conformity. Caroline Coon mentions that somewhere in her book (1988) that punk rock tremors will be felt as far away as '88, her premonition was bang on. For a brief period between '84 - '87 all this rich sonic tapestry to feed from became the same thing. 60's folk rock and garage + 70's DIY punk and new wave = 80's indie fuzz jangle!

The photographs in the book really interesting because girls feature so heavily in them. Laddish attitudes tend to spoil any music scene for me (one of the reasons why Britpop never really convinced me).  Do you think the higher proportion of female musicians influenced the fashion and/or attitudes at the time?

Gina Davidson (Marine Girls), 1981. Photo by Paul Rosen.

Gina Davidson (Marine Girls), 1981. Photo by Paul Rosen.

The indie scenes then were a safe poetic haven away from the laddish majority. Girls were as involved in the scenes as much as boys and there was no macho bravado. All that crap started seeping back in with grunge and the return to rockism just like punk had never happened and it was 1972 all over again. Yuk.

And finally…..a perhaps obvious question. What happened to music sub-cultures and micro-scenes?  Has independent music lost some of its power or have things simply become more fragmented?

Sorry Erika I'm so out of the loop these days I can't really answer this one. I'm a genuine relic.

The Shop Assistants, 1985. Photo by Mark Flunder.

The Shop Assistants, 1985. Photo by Mark Flunder.

All photos courtesy of Sam Knee. His book, A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music, will be published in October by Cicada Books. A launch event will take place in Rough Trade East (London) on Thursday 03 October, featuring a DJ set by Stephen Pastel and a Q&A session with Sam, Stephen, Gina Davidson (Marine Girls) and Phil King (Felt). Mono (Glasgow) will host the Scottish launch on 07 October. 

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