Well we’ve all seen them haven’t we? In fact we’ve all met them – people that wear a band’s t-shirt when they’ve clearly never heard a note from the act in question…
Crass were a punk band in every sense of the word, presenting an anti-establishment stance and promoting anarchy and freedom whilst living in Dial House, a commune in Epping Forest. They extended this ideology into every area of the band, including printing ‘pay no more than 45p’ on their singles at a time when they generally retailed at 90p (for the benefit of our younger readers a ‘single’ was a gramophone record that played at 45 revolutions per minute; they were a lot of fun) and handing out leaflets at their gigs instructing fans how to print their own t-shirts rather than buy them in shops. (Hmmm… not sure we like the sound of that!) They dressed in black military-style clothing and played in front of a blow-up of their iconic logo, which friend of the band Dave King had designed to be easy to make into a stencil and therefore could be spray-painted onto walls. I wonder how he and indeed the band felt when David Beckham and Angelina Jolie were both photographed wearing Crass logo t-shirts. Beckham’s one was allegedly diamond encrusted. Perhaps they’re both big fans, although it’s hard to imagine either of them playing ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’ or ‘Do They Owe Us A Living?’ in their mansions and limousines isn’t it? Beckham has also been spotted wearing a t-shirt with a photograph of beat poet Allen Ginsberg – maybe he sees himself as an ‘angel-headed hipster’?
So far so funny, but there’s a serious side to wearing a shirt that you don’t know the origins of. When rapper Plan B was photographed in 2012 wearing what appeared to be a Skrewdriver t-shirt. He had to clarify that he didn’t support the band’s notoriously extreme right-wing views but had made the t-shirt using a photograph from the book ‘Skins’ as he thought it was an interesting image that represented the ‘demonised youth of the past’. He also apologised for not knowing who the band were, and stressed that it wasn’t an official shirt produced by the band themselves.
The earliest example of a t-shirt related to a band or act seems to be an Elvis Presley shirt from 1956, although whether this was ever on sale or was a record company promotional item has been lost in the mists of time. Then in 1964 Beatles t-shirts appeared when they toured America – it’s reckoned that over one million were sold in the first three days of them being made available. The Monkees had tour shirts in 1967, but the idea of making a t-shirt specifically for a tour or an event is usually attributed to Bill Graham, promoter at The Fillmore East in New York City and The Fillmore West in San Francisco. When he promoted The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, New York on July 28th 1973 t-shirts were produced with a logo on the front representing the three bands on the bill and a back print of their names (who, in case you were wondering, were The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band.) 600,000 people turned up to the show and the idea of t-shirts at such events suddenly became a very attractive commercial proposition, with Graham’s Winterland Productions going on to become a hugely successful merchandising company.
With the advent of punk rock one of the most recognisable band t-shirts of them all came into being. Arturo Vega had already been making shirts for The Ramones by using iron-on red felt lettering to print the group’s name onto white shirts; he then made a banner for a New Year’s Eve show at CBGB’s in New York which lead to him designing the famous Ramones logo. This features the American eagle, a reference to their song ‘Beat On The Brat’ in the form of a baseball bat, ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Go’ from their anthem ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ on a scroll in the eagle’s beak (incidentally early versions had ‘Look Out Below’ instead) and the band’s first names (Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy – these of course could be changed as band members came and went) to give the iconic image that we know and love today. When the band made their first visit to Britain in 1976 the record company wouldn’t cover the fare for Arturo to accompany them so he printed up some t-shirts which he sold to pay his way. The rest, as they say, is history… but with the Ramones t-shirt becoming more and more of a fashion statement (as opposed to being worn by fans showing their allegiance to the band) it is perhaps inevitable that there are people wearing them that know little if anything about the music. One such incident occurred when actor Martin Freeman joined presenter Tim Lovejoy on The Football Ramble podcast – the exchange went something like this :-
Freeman: ‘Is that a Ramones T-shirt Tim?’
Lovejoy: ‘Er, yes.’
Freeman ; ‘Do you actually know any Ramones songs?’
Lovejoy: (awkward silence)
Freeman: ‘Can you name two albums?’
Lovejoy: ‘Er, no.’
Freeman: ‘Thought not.’
No doubt he’s wearing a Crass t-shirt now. When asked what he thought about non-fans wearing their shirts latterday drummer Marky Ramone commented ‘it gets them into the band, if they’re smart enough. As long as they wear it, it’s a cool thing for me and the other guys’.
If you’re in doubt about which retro-styled music-orientated t-shirt to get then why not buy yourself the Balcony Shirts Generic Band t-shirt – just the thing to wear if you don’t have any of their records…