Monday, 24 November 2008

Go Vest, Young Man

 “The Vest is Back.”  It was a headline in a Sunday Supplement.  Vests, it said, are cool.  Paradoxically, I suppose as warmth is their main intention.  The whole idea of vests being “back” feels a little odd.  For many men, vests, or singlets, never went away. And here let us pause to reflect on the link between singlet and doublet.  Are they perchance related?  The combination of gloriously colourful Royal Shakespeare Company Tudor doublet – historically accurate pre-trousers -   and grey M and S vests is  an odd one.  Not a good look, I’d guess. 

 But is/was the vest ever a good look?  Surely these are garments bought by mothers for sons, and their purpose is to spark family arguments before languishing for a long time at the bottom of a sock-drawer, only to be  torn up for  a new life as dusters. That was one way they came back. But this style article I skimmed recently was a celebration of the return of the classic retro Omo-white vest, as modelled by male er models, who’d look good in anything. The Omo-erotic vest, if you will.  The prodigal vest.

 Before dealing with that,   let us remember, briefly,  the string vest.  Hi tech!  The notion was that somehow, warmth was trapped in the holes. This amazingly slight garment, which could also double as a keep-net for anglers, was hailed as a thermic revolution in male underwear.  Never mind the tufts of tummy hair  protruding through those gaping  gaps, the unsightly unravelling, the inevitable greying  and the ghastly coloured versions.  Let us not dwell on their short lived counterparts, string pants  (yes they did exist).  In fact let us move swiftly on through vest-history:

 The vest’s nemesis was of course the T shirt.  Sporty, coloured, modern and often bearing a message, slogan or advertising copy.  For me, this garrulousness is just as bad as string.  I have one Jack Daniels (pyjamas only) two Mandolin Brothers (advertising a great musical instrument store on Staten Island, New York, mention my name for discount) and one United Nations model.  Khaki, small logo.  The rest are silent.  There are few statements I want to make that I can’t make with my mouth or word processor.  Jokes worn on T shirts (My mum went to London and all she bought me etc) wear thin. 

 And I put it to you that the T Shirt is essentially outer-wear and not a vest at all.  The benefit is that even worn as underwear, the T shirt can serve as instant outerwear when the weather changes for the better.  Just take your shirt off and you’re cool.  Literally and textually, depending on the message displayed. Whereas the vest is made not to be seen.  Sunbathe in a vest and you look like you belong on a building site or Margate beach.  

OK, agreed, that translucent nylon shirt n vest look is so seventies.  But vests fell out of favour, I’d say.  They didn’t go anywhere.  Shirts just got thicker, that’s all.  By the way,  I have just discovered that Omo has disappeared and is only available in Zambia and Sweden.  Sorry for any inconvenience caused.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Groovy Old Podcast

Editor of Saga magazine, Emma Soames and Nick Baker discuss Groovy Old Men - have a listen here:

Thursday, 28 August 2008


....Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Population Time Bomb

Good old fashioned panic. That’s how almost all the press greeted the latest report from the Office for National Statistics about “greying Britain.”

We’re all doomed! Prepare for a Britain in which pedal-powered ambulances roam the streets with “bring out your old!” sung through a megaphone to the tune of “bring out your dead” by latter-day Baldrick types. Not only will we have run out of oil. We’ll have run out of youth. The number of pensioners already exceeds those under 16. Prepare for the fall out from the explosion of the “population time bomb”.

The Age Concern boss demanded immediate improvement from the NHS in “mental health and foot care.” Imagine hoards of ancient, bewildered bunion-sufferers milling aimlessly in our city centres. Meanwhile young chiropodists – their youth and foot-care expertise prized for their rarity - grow rich on the laws of supply and demand. Elite squads of Para-psycho-feetcarers will be needed, licensed to trim hard-to-reach toenails and offer counselling, but without the credentials to tackle a full on verruca or prescribe valium.

The threat is something we need to deal with now. Old people. These limping crazed crones could destroy life as we know it. According to all the papers they will be forced to work on until their seventies, which means they will take our jobs and…Wait a minute. It’s not them. It’s us. And we’re modern, aren’t we? We grew up with youth culture. Better health care. So why all the fuss? The new old – or a lot of them - will know what they want and won’t be scared to ask for it. A lot will have jobs and a bit of money. And they - sorry we will be in the majority! So lets prepare for a new kind of old age. Ours. (Especially the men, who tended to die before they get old. See book.)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008


Great to see the book title on the front page of the Indie....

....but sad to see that they’ve got the wrong end of the stick about the whole idea. Maybe they should have read it first.

The Indie piece groans with brand names and references to hoity toity new rock bands, as well as the obligatory reference to Mick Jagger at 65. Groovy Old Men isn’t about that. The guys I spoke to over the past year or so are old enough and wise enough not to worry about labels or whether they are as fit as Mick. They may have a passing interest in the Stones but they’re old enough and wise enough not to see them as comparable to real people. Or to worry about brands. The real GOM treats brands and bands in the same way. If they like em, they’ll buy. They don’t give a stuff about what the Indie thinks is Groovy. Or what anyone else thinks, for that matter. Despite what the Indie claims, Groovy Old Men isn’t a “style bible.” It’s a spotter’s guide. Style bibles are so eighties.

Spotter’s guides are rather early-sixties. But unlike the old I-Spy books which encouraged kids like me, sitting in the back of the Ford Popular, to tick the boxes for a police box or a foreign motor car, the idea of Groovy Old Men is to get people to assess the older men they encounter. Treat them as real people with real histories and cultures. Work out how Groovy they are without too much reference to designer pants or name-drop rock.

The Indie also featured the obligatory online vote for the silverest fox, or some such nonsense. Entertaining, space-filling stuff, but nothing to do with Groovy Old Men. Vote for the punkiest punk, the gothiest goth or the rockiest rocker if you want, but the original conception of Groovy Old Men has nothing to do with top tens, lists of brand names, or celebrity haircuts. Groovy Old Men are too old (and too relaxed) to be swayed by upmarket shopping lists. That’s the whole point. For many, it’s a case of “When I am old I will listen to Deep Purple.”

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


Lets not forget the Bonzoes’ front-man stand-ins: Phil Jupitus, Ade Edmonson and occasionally Stephen Fry inhabit the role of Viv Stanshall, but make it their own. Younger guys who see it as a privilege to place their own Doughnut in Grandad’s Greenhouse, so to speak. Jupitus also “does” Ian Dury with the Blockheads, and he does it well. There may be a new career for Groovy Old and not so old Men. Taking over the careers of dead stars. But, to quote Dury’s song called This is What We Find: “A sense of humour is required, among the bacon rind”.

Compare and contrast with the anonymous sidemen drafted into other revived knackered old rock bands who take themselves a tad more seriously than this ancient crew.


Explosions can be funny. Nerve-wrackingly unpredictable. Once a fuse is lit, and you know it’s going to happen but you don’t know when, the only way successfully to deal with a big bang is to laugh. Even if the bang turns out to be an anticlimactic whimper, it’s funny. Never return to a lit explosive – unless of course you are in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, whose membership has always involved a certain amount of risk. Its leader, Viv Stanshall, accidentally and unpredictably died in a fire in Muswell Hill in 1995, don’t forget.

The Bonzoes are from the Big Bang era. No, they’re not that old, but they are all of an age when National Service was a predictable part of male growing up. When guns and bombs were still considered educational. Spike Milligan was the first to process his own explosive wartime history into comedy. Hell for him, great for us.

Watching the Bonzoes’ June gig I was struck by the similarity of the humour. Milligan-style anarchy in the UK. It was a group of mainly old men having a great and silly time, on and off stage. It was only when Roger Ruskin Spear’s explosive robotic device failed to blow up – and he foolhardily but funnily returned to try and fix it - that you saw the link between the post war humour of explosions, National Service and its demise, the Bonzoes and Groovy Old Men. Milligan, Spear and any other post war comedian that coaxed a laugh out of an explosion was relieving his and our post-war tension by laughing at destruction. (A doctor writes.)

Most official histories portray National Service as beneficial and worthy of revival. It licked men into shape. It taught discipline, and in some cases unarmed combat. It will knock some sense into today’s knife-wielding teenage youth. However, I would guess that most men who had to do it thought it a waste of time. The threat of orthodox warfare receded and an even bigger nuclear bang was being perfected in the wings, as they square-bashed, target-practiced and jumped out of aeroplanes. It was a big big bang that would make their service redundant. The irony wasn’t lost on many of these guys. In the later fifties, National Service became a joke, and quite a good one. It also pitched together men of all classes and backgrounds, perfect conditions for sharing the fun. What today’s youth lack is a sense of the absurd. Put ‘em in uniforms and show them how to blow stuff up, that’s what I say.

Saturday, 12 July 2008



Groovy Old Blog, you might call it, and here’s where you can read about more recent sightings of Groovy Old Men and related matters:

Shorts, tattooed legs, down-the-gym chests, nice tans, lined Golden-Virgina faces, cap sleeved t-shirts, number one headcuts. These two geezers in my local tobacconists look prime examples of a kind of Groovy Old Men not in the book. My guess is they’re former mods – aged twenty in 1965, so early sixties now. It’s a good look. But spoilt by their braying over a red-top headline about teenage stabbing.

“In our fuckin day we knew how to fuckin fight,” one protests. “Now it’s all knives.” The other agrees, aggressively: “Yeah, in our day we knew what a punch up fuckin was.” They’re building a head of steam. “Bloody stabbing – they want to have a good fight, like we did!” The trouble is, they keep agreeing with each other, so there’s nowhere for it to go. And the agreement seems to be getting louder. I get out of the shop before a hoody comes in and the ex-mods vent their agreement on him.

But not before clocking a headline which says that some thin faced Stone has run off with an eighteen year old girl. Now I’m home from the shops I can’t even remember which, without a Google. Here we are. It is Ronnie Wood, hard-drinking bad-painting former Small Face has run off with Russian 18 year old cocktail waitress. You couldn't make it up. (Well maybe you could) It gets worse. The Faces are to reform, according to the NME. And poor old Ronnie failed to sell his self-portrait (with Rod also pictured) on Ebay. “In my day we knew how to flog a self portrait wiv Rod Stewart!" “Yeah we fuckin did…” "And we never had ebay”. "Nah we never!"