Perrys

Concerning: ‘Perry Boys The Casual Gangs of Manchester and Salford’ by Ian Hough (2007)

In the late 70s and early 80s, the Perry youth sub-culture co-existed with New Romantics and 70s ‘Mod Revival’ Mods, but was ignored by the national media because it took hold in North-West England and not in London; this is Hough’s thesis and it seems completely plausible.

But Perrys were also overlooked because there were no Perry bands and no other forms of expression apart from their individual hair and clothes; they had a great image but they had no voice.

I bought Hough’s book because I remember the Perry look in Manchester but never understood the culture. In particular I wanted to understand more about their musical influences but in fact most of Hough’s book is about football culture and European sports clothing fashion, not music.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Perry Haircut

From around 1979 until about 1982, ‘Perry’ was the name of a hairstyle worn by boys and girls in Manchester. Ian Hough accurately describes the haircut on page 38 of his book:

“…side-partings and old-fashioned short-back-ands-sides became more popular. The hair at the nape of the neck became subject to a particularly intense work-up…” (it was layered) “…the fringe was grown low over one eye, and layered around the side, describing a horizontal line across the ear… An absolute lack of sideboards was a priority.”

Actually the Perry haircut looked very much like Mary Quant’s haircut in Summer 1964:

Mary Quant

Mary Quant

The unexpected popularity of this type of haircut amongst streetwise boys in northern England in the late seventies is difficult to decipher. At the time, the look was considered to be very cool and definitely seemed to signify something… but I could never work out what that was exactly. The Perry tribe had no leader, no figurehead, no voice, no spokesperson, no message, no propaganda… just superficial style and attitude. I always presumed there must be something more.

The styling of the hair made boys look more like girls, and girls look more like boys, but there never appeared to be a pro-gay or pro-bisexual agenda going on… in fact far from it… The Perrys seemed to be apolitical.

Hough quotes an explanation of the hairstyle’s origins from another writer, Liverpudlian Dave Hewitson.

In ‘The Liverpool Boys Are Back In Town’, Hewitson describes his first sighting of the haircut on August 13th 1977:

“We were playing Manchester United in the Charity Shield… Sitting on the steps close to the Liverpool turnstiles, were twenty or so Scousers, young lads, fifteen to seventeen years old… None of them wore scarves and some of them had a strange effeminate haircut. They wore straight jeans or cords and they had… and attitude, a confidence about themselves.”

Hewitson says that ‘the wedge’ haircut was pioneered by a Liverpool hairdresser, Herbert Howe, whose hairdressing salon is still going. Howe had other businesses too at the time, including clothes boutiques and The Hollywood nightclub.

Hairdresser Howe says:
“Although the wedge was a woman’s cut it could be done in a masculine way… I also introduced the perm to the Liverpool footballers. This was back when blokes used to wash their hair with soap… We became the first hairdressers to introduce a wash, cut and blow,… Men were now looking to their feminine side, and the wedge tied in very nicely with the times.”

No explanation of the style is offered other than that Herbert Howe liked to push the boundaries of what passed for masculine:

“Herbert… drove around in a pink car and owned a pink house…”

This raises the question: if Howe was cutting the hair of local celebrities, why did he choose a bunch of no-name teenagers for a pioneering new look? If he introduced Liverpool footballers to the perm, why not introduce them to the wedge as well?

The Liverpool squad around that time contains no obvious Perry haircuts – maybe Emlyn Hughes, but his hair just looks shorter and neater than the others really.

Liverpool Squad 1977-1978

Liverpool Squad 1977-1978

Liverpool Squad 1978-1979

Liverpool Squad 1978-1979

Howe’s comments about men’s fashion in general don’t ring true for the late seventies either; men had been wearing their hair longer for a decade – this wasn’t a new development – not even in Liverpool. Howe is a successful entrepreneur with a flair for self-promotion – of course he’s going to take the credit for setting a trend given half a chance.

Hough mentions on page 35 that at first he thought boys with the Perry haircut were called ‘Ferry’ boys, because of their assumed fondness for Brian Ferry, and certainly the Perry haircut was similar to Bryan Ferry’s hair on record covers of the time; he has the side parting and ‘flick’, the long asymmetric fringe which had to be ‘flicked’ to one side.

Bryan Ferry - Let's Stick Together - 1976

Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together – 1976

Bryan Ferry - In Your Mind - 1977

Bryan Ferry – In Your Mind – 1977

Bridestrippedbare_ferry

However, Perrys’ layered wedge shape at the back and sides is more reminiscent of women’s haircuts, a classic example being Vidal Sassoon’s 5 Point Cut worn by Mary Quant in the mid-60s:

Vidal Sassoon cutting Mary Quant's hair

Vidal Sassoon cutting Mary Quant’s hair

It could also be argued that the Perry cut was related to the Beatles’ Mop Top, created by Len Lewis (Leonard of Mayfair) in the mid-60s; certainly the Beatles suddenly became big news amongst people of my age (born 1966) when John Lennon was murdered in 1980. But the Mop Top was intended to look a bit shapeless, while the Perry haircut was quite precise, and it was already popular before Lennon died so suddenly.

The exact motivation of the boys who adopted the Perry hairstyle remains an intriguing mystery. If anyone has the answer please let me know!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Northern Soul Boys

I was told at the time that Perry Boys called themselves ‘Northern Soul Boys’, not Perrys. I had no idea what Northern Soul was then (aged 13) so this wasn’t a very enlightening piece of information. (Years later, I heard a record collector on the radio define Northern Soul as Tamla/Motown B-Sides, which has proved a crude but useful definition.)

Hough describes an early sighting of Perry Boys in Manchester city centre in the late 1970s:

Page 28:
“This group was apparently obsessed with Northern Soul music…they wore their hair in an inexplicably feminine style… baggy cords and jeans with narrow belts, Fred Perry T-shirts and chunky-knit jumpers tucked into their pants, and black slip-on gym pumps.”

The ‘Northern Soul Boys’ were at least a couple of years older than Hough, and Hough isn’t able to offer any particular insights into the Northern Soul connection, other than to report that he knew it existed:

Page 30:
“Once in a blue moon, some Northern Soul would go on, and John Clucas would get up and dance, while virtually the entire place, hundreds of people, would stand transfixed and observe. John was a walking fashion barometer who led us all into the 80s with his trend-setting vision, and he often disappeared for the weekend, to some distant Lancashire outpost, where mysterious new styles were compared and coalesced by that rare and equally mysterious body of trendsetters.”

It’s such a shame he doesn’t describe John’s dance moves or remember any names of records.

As the Perry look developed it became more about sports clothes, especially rare new designs that were hard to find on the high street and had to be bought in continental Europe. The Fred Perry shirt was soon jetisonned and replaced by more elite and cool brands, for instance Sergio Tacchini and Peter Werth.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Football Fashion

Hough is much more at home with the subject of football than music. He describes how the European success of North-West football teams introduced Liverpool and Manchester football fans to high quality European sportswear via their forrays abroad. The fans brought these clothes back to North-West England, by-passing London completely. Liverpool led the way in this.

Hough describes variations of the Perry look on numerous occasions. He has a photographic memory for clothing detail, but I often found myself wishing heartily for a photograph or illustration, which would spare me from ploughing through many hundreds of words.

He goes into exquisite detail about various types of trainers and seam-details while simultaneously describing adrenalin-fuelled clashes between rival football fans. I must confess that I found these accounts quite boring on the whole, probably because I’m female, and this is definitely a boy’s book for boys.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The 70s Mod Revival

The Perrys co-incided with the 70s Mod Revival in Britain, which is interesting because the Mods were the ones who were supposed to be into Northern Soul all along. However, it was post-punk bands like The Jam and The Police, and ska bands on the 2 Tone label that were most closely associated with Mod Revival Mods at the time.

Northern Soul was certainly never mentioned by the ‘Mods’ that I knew then, although as young teenagers they were hardly well-placed to know about this esoteric, nightclub-based movement. They all claimed to have seen Quadrophenia, but as we were all 13 at the time, they were probably lying.

Hough describes friction and violence between the Perrys and the Mods in Manchester city centre, with the Perrys labelling the Mods ‘divvie mods’ and referring to themselves as ‘the real mods’. He admits confusion as to why this was:

Page 41:
“…maybe these lads (the Perrys) were calling themselves mods in the absence of something else to call themselves at that time, as they clearly hated mods or anyone who even vaguely resembled one,…”

I reckon they called themselves ‘the real Mods’ because of the Northern Soul connection, because many of the 70s Mod Revival Mods were clueless about Northern Soul, having come across from punk.

However this Perry Northern Soul connection was obviously soon lost because Hough and his age-group didn’t seem to know much about it either. Again, their age was an obstacle in this respect because they were too young to go clubbing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The New Romantics

When he does mention music, Hough often cites the influence of Bowie and Bryan Ferry, who were also major inspirations of the New Romantic movement. One chapter is tantalisingly called ‘Who Cut Bowie’s Hair?’ but the question doesn’t really lead anywhere (page 120.)

Perry-like cuts were favoured by bands like Japan, The Human League and Spandau Ballet. These ‘New Romantics’ used more hair products, wore eye liner, and took to wearing their hair longer and longer, but initially they seemed to be working from the same basic blueprint. Their taste in clothes was different, though, and tended towards theatrical costume – the complete opposite of the sports labels and basic, every-day, high-quality items favoured by the Perrys.

On page 141:
“…Danny Barton, AKA Scorpo, who began travelling to Germany, France and Holland in search of designer gear as early as I977. An old Bowie disciple, Scorpo is credited with being the ‘first of the Perry Boys’… he was sporting a Northern Soul-style ‘French wedge’, Adidas tracksuit bottoms and training shoes long before anybody else… hair… cut in a wedge, with an auburn rinse and blond streaks, in late I977, and the fringe was massive, almost as long as Phil Oakey of the Human League.’

So the Perrys and the New Romantics shared a love of Bowie and Roxy Music… and Northern Soul. Japan’s cover of ‘I Second That Emotion’ in 1980 and Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ in 1981 were obvious examples of white ‘New Romantic’ synth-pop bands harking back to Northern Soul quite self-consciously, but this wasn’t really explored much by the media at the time, as far as I know.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So why did the Perrys have no voice?

Hough puts it down to excessive drug taking (page 202.)

Page 196:
“anyone not drinking or taking enough drugs, especially acid, was punished severely.”

He also characterises Madchester ten years later as a delayed response to the Perry movement (page 217.)

Perhaps there were Perry bands, but they never got anywhere because all the Perrys thought they were ‘snide’ and refused to support them!

Or maybe Perrys could only express themselves through clothes! If someone had thought of writing songs about Adidas Easy, Peter Werth polo shirts, raglan sleeves, Fila Borgs and Kio Riders, the creative floodgates might have opened!

There were no prizes for true individualism amongst the Perrys; it was a tribal culture… all about being part of a group… being accepted and being respected… and perhaps this is another reason why the Perrys never found a voice:

Page 40:
“You would be fairly confident of having bought a decent pair of jeans or shoes or sweater, but it wasn’t until the older lads gave their approval that you were able to breathe.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Other Nonsense

Hough is described on his website thenamelessthing.com as a lover of nonsense and he does indulge in long passages of pseudo-philosophy, sweeping generalisation and dubious comparisons; the Ice Age, the Industrial Revolution, DNA and the primeval sludge on the Mersey river bed all feature heavily in vaguely coherent ramblings throughout his first book.

His use of language is sometimes very striking, and some of his more down-to-earth anecdotes are enjoyable, but he has a tendency to greatly over-egg the cake… especially when on the subject of the ‘amazing achievements’ of the Perrys and of Manchester and Salford in general. The main achievement of the Perrys, incidentally, was looking really cool on the terraces, if I’ve understood the book correctly… also being able to recognise true quality, i.e. never being fooled by ‘jekyll’ (snide) gear.

There are some weird moments of glaring inconsistency in the book, for instance, on page 99:

“I was wearing my Adidas Easy, a pair of bleached FUs, a light blue Jaeger cashmere round-necked jumper…. Both myself and Kenny sported long, Argentinian-style perms…”

This came as a shock… the book so far is devoted to gangs of boys with Perry haircuts. Where did the Argentinian-style perms spring from? And what were they exactly? There’s no explanation and they’re never mentioned again.

After pages of label name-dropping, the author announces on page 69 that, unlike the Scousers, Mancs “ignored labels and focussed on quality.” He repeats this claim elsewhere in the book, but the statement is very much at odds with most of the text.

On page 198, the author brags:
“You could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with the booze I walked with…. If the shop was open, I swept in and did my magic trick, making goods disappear under even the flimsiest of shirts… One night myself and a lad… steamed an off license in full view of about twenty people queuing at a bus-stop.”

But then on page 200, he claims:
“They (his parents) are as honest as the day is long, and so am I, believe it or not.”

Well no actually I don’t believe it. (At this point, reading the book started to feel like being locked in a train compartment with a nutter, feeling obliged to nod in agreement with everything said in order to avoid being battered.)

Hough makes outrageous, overblown claims for Manchester and Salford, but actions speak louder than words and guess what? He lives in America; yet another Mancunian/Salfordian who’s jumped ship and now spends his time irritating people on behalf of the rest of us who still have to live here.

He devotes a particularly entertaining few pages to satirising the self-importance of Londoners (pages 148-153) but these words could just aswell be adapted to describe the ludicrous self-importance of Mancunians… as demonstrated by himself in other chapters of his book.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Postscript

In 1982 I went to Sixth Form College and the Perrys disappeared from view. The hairstyle was still around but it had gone mainstream, and there were lots of other sub-cultures to contend with: Heavy Metal girls from Withington and Didsbury who went to UMIST nights at the Phoenix (p173, p191); Rockabilly-look boys and girls who were into guitar bands and independent label music; and Punk-inspired Goths who wore lots of make-up, had wildly back-combed hair dyed all colours and were into bands like Bauhaus, The Cure and The Cramps.

The Rockabilly-types and Goths shopped for clothes in Afflecks Palace… these were often second-hand clothes; sports labels and trainers became a distant memory. Did the Perrys disappear, or did they just become invisible?

← Previous post

Next post →

5 Comments

  1. I was living in didsbury and gorton around 1982 I was a rockabilly then and went to the gorton brook and the Mid in didsbury and I remember many of the perrysknocking about gorton especially they were into simple minds and haircut 100 stuff like that I do remember they were a bit younger than me I was 18 19 at the time and they seemed about 15.

  2. Hi, came across this by chance! Great to read about Perry Boys as so little is written about this little remembered style.
    I lived in Stockport in the early 80s and attended Stockport School (Mile End). I first became aware of Perries in the summer of 1982 and subsequently adopted the entire look consisting of the asymmetrical hair style of thick wedge at the back, swept back on one side with the long flick over the opposite eye. This look was directly connected to music, not politics of football. It was a tamer version of the more extreme new romantic look. Clothing was bought from specific shops in the Mersey Way precinct in Stockport from drainpipe bleached jeans to ‘Bowie’ trousers with their tapered wide upper and narrow bottom. Music would have been the then ultra modern new wave bands especially simple minds (Kerr had the look in 1981) human league, visage, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran etc. School days almost became a fashion competition with the Perries being considered ultra cool with numerous badges of bands pinned to our blazer lapels. The fashion died out around 1984 when many Perries discovered Joy Division and The Cure and went down the road of goth, as I did, an easy transition as the long fringe ala Robert Smith was already in place!
    Happy Days indeed!
    Hope this insight helps
    James

  3. Thanks Ian… What a relief to receive a comment from a real person… there’s so much spam. And a big bonus that you’re the author of the book in question. If you have any thoughts about the lost Northern Soul connection I’d be really interested… I’ve spoken to a couple of Northern Soul people and they don’t remember Perrys. (I think the name confuses people because of the Fred Perry shirt.)
    Thanks again for your encouragement and you’re right, I do need to lighten up a bit!
    Urs

  4. Thanks for all this info Ian. And thanks for remembering ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ by R. Dean Taylor… I must look it up! And yes, having older siblings with access to arcane information, or a great record collection, was gold-dust in the eighties… unfortunately I was the eldest so I depended on the music press and the radio for my information; I was doomed to play constant catch-up.

  5. Thanks Ian – nice to hear from you again! No I’ve never heard of Norm Bergrun but I promise I’ll look him up! And thanks for the story about The Kersal Perms!
    I was in Salford on Friday night at Islington Mill… the centre of this area’s renaissance by all accounts… It is a great place! I saw Andrew Weatherall not weathering well… Is music really worth knackering yourself for? I felt guilty for having bought a ticket, thereby egging him on.

Leave a Reply

Confirm that you are not a bot - select a man with raised hand: