Tipton, 1983

In 1990, a local newspaper, the Midland Chronicle, selected the following correspondence in their ‘Letter of the Week’:

‘Many of our young people are now becoming ‘Environmentally conscious’, and rightly so. How curious then that they choose to ignore their own contribution to ‘Visual Pollution’ in dress and hair styles, bones through the noses and whatnots. Anything outrageous goes, and of course anything seen on television is a must, despite the obvious low mentality of the actors and the scriptwriters involved, especially those that ‘provide’ the scripts for so called ‘reality’ shows. To these addicts everything seen on the screen is real and must be aped.

Now we have burly bricklayers wearing pony tales, copying their screen idols. We have navvies wearing earrings and brandishing tattooes. Who is brainwashing our young? Those who do not have a brain to wash of course.

We read the our very clever medical scientists can now produce the predetermine sex of the child – how long will it be before they bring forth into the world the sociialists dream – a sexless creature?

Name and address supplied’

Although it was taken several years earlier, this photograph could have been from that year. In urban areas such as this, punk has proved evergreen and young people’s dress style continued to attract approbation, no matter what decade.

It was taken in the town centre of Tipton, near a relatively new precinct where there was a Co-op, a butcher, a betting shop, a library, a job centre, a fish’n’chip shop and a weekly open market, the one time it seemed busy. Things were not what they once were in these towns. As a borough, Sandwell consisted of several towns – West Bromwich, Tipton, Wednesbury, Smethwick, Oldbury, Blackheath, Cradley Heath, Bearwood – each with their own distinctive characteristics, affiliations and  idiosyncrasies. Here the Bus was an effective mobile resource reaching out to different communities and locales.

In 1983, parked up in Owen Street, Tipton, the Bus set up a self-portrait studio, held an exhibition of old photographs of the area, invited people to bring in and display their own personal photographs and share their stories. On the colder days, the Tipton punks found a warmer space to hang out and a welcome cup of tea. To the question, ‘What are you doing today?’ they replied: ‘Nothing. Waiting for the Christmas dole.’ Youth unemployment was particularly high in this area; in the past three years unemployment in Great Britain rose by 143 per cent, in the West Midlands by 192 per cent. Large companies were choosing to invest abroad and the older industrial areas were falling behind. Listening to bands like The Exploited, Discharge, GBH or the Anti Nowhere League made more sense than listening to the platitudes of politicians.

Derek Jones worked with Jubilee as an environmental artist in this period. It wasn’t the only thing he did. He recalls working on the Bus with these punks in Tipton. He recalls: “We got them on the Bus and did some portraiture with them in the darkroom and talked about their culture and identity and image. One lad said, ‘If I dress normally, in a suit for an interview or something, I don’t feel myself. Only when I’m wearing these clothes I feel like me.’ They were dressed in leathers and safety pins and their hair up here but underneath their facade of punkism, they were just teenagers and they were fine. They just preferred to be dressed up in that way. And they were pretty scary. People were looking at us, thinking what’s the heck’s going on there? They were glue sniffing as well. I remember when we had a show of their photographs in the Bus and took it round various people and the one woman said to us, ‘These lads are really nice, aren’t they? I’ve had a really good chat with them. If I’d have seen them walking down the road I’d have crossed over, but they’re actually nice lads’. You just think, well that illustrates what prejudice is really.”

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