November 19, 2013
Band t-shirts, once the hipster equivalent of the masonic handshake, have been shamefully debased in recent years. Airhead celebs sport ‘cool’ t-shirts chosen by their stylists – from Rachel wearing an MC5 t-shirt in Friends to the debacle of Harry Styles in an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt, band t-shirts are no longer the signifier of hipness they once were. Urban Outfitters has a lot to answer for – with their floor to ceiling collection of Joy Division/New Order and Sonic Youth t-shirts. My painfully cool 17 year old daughter recently had to explain to an equally uncool classmate who the band on the front of her t-shirt actually were (Primal Scream!).
In response to this defilement BBC 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq has his annual Wear Your Old Band T-shirt to Work Day coming up this Friday – a great opportunity to flaunt your former/current hipness. Except I’ve realised I no-longer actually own any. How could this possibly have come to pass, when I spent most of my waking days (and many of my sleeping nights) with my favourite bands emblazoned across my chest.
It started with The Clash – a simple white number with the stencilled logo from the Complete Control cover emblazoned in red. I bought it mail order from an ad in Record Mirror. I wore it until it fell apart. I had a Sid Vicious one around the same time,bought from an iron-on transfer stall in Newcastle’s Eldon Arcade. I have no idea what happened to that (this will become a common theme).
My first Joy Division t-shirt was made by my arty pal Paul who hand painted the band name in Germanic typeface onto an old cap sleeved tee. These Days (no pun intended) I wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘call me Dave’ Cameron in the ubiquitous Unknown Pleasure t-shirt. Back then to see someone in a JD tshirt was somewhat rarer – I still remember the mix of pride and awkward teen embarrassment when a ultra cool girl with an asymmetrical haircut stopped me to ask where I got my t-shirt from. Later I managed to buy a t-shirt printed with the Ideal For Living cover in Leeds but was always a bit wary of the Hitler Youth drummer boy image. I much preferred the New Order t-shirt I wore for years with the photo of Barney playing his melodica.
A rare trip to London led me to a Carnaby Street and a Killing Joke Pope and Nazis shirt. A less glamourous day out in the god-sorsaken wasteland of Doncaster led me to an Iggy and the Stooges top. A trip to Sheffield, of course, meant a Cabaret Voltaire Red Mecca t-shirt.
In later years I loved my New Order/A Certain Ratio/Happy Mondays t-shirt circa 1986. The last band shirt I remember buying was Nick Cave Henry’s Dream when I was so blown away by a Brixton Academy gig. The mystery is, where they are now. Surely I didn’t give them away to a charity shop? I’ve kept every piece of vinyl, every cassette, every ticket stub, but have no idea what happened to any of those t-shirts.