‘He reads on the brickwork: “NF FUCKS MEN”. And is not displeased.”
– Iain Sinclair, Suicide Bridge
As readers of my work will know, I have a long-standing interest in British subcultures, especially those that sprang from the original punk and skinhead movements in London. I read a lot of literature on the subject; anyone looking for books that deal well with this stuff, I would recommend Stewart Home’s mashups of genre theory and Richard Allen-style pulp (books like Defiant Pose and Red London), John King’s novels, Human Punk and Skinheads, Robert Sproat’s title story from the collection Stunning the Punters, and the work of Laura Oldfield Ford.
Despite being published in 2010, I only heard about Max Schaefer’s novel Children of the Sun (Granta) very recently, when I was re-reading a 2013 BBC article about the notorious and feared far-right skinhead Nicky Crane. The title of the piece was, The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi. A fascinating hypocrisy, and the core contradiction that fuels Schaefer’s intriguing, and at times brilliant, novel. To me, it’s glaringly obvious that the hyper-masculine world of far-right skinheads has a homoerotic component, but this is an idea that fascism necessarily cannot support.
Children of the Sun focuses on Tony, a closeted neo-Nazi skinhead and his life from 1970 up into the nineties – via racist attacks, prison stretches, Skrewdriver and Brutal Attack gigs, battles with AFA, and clandestine homosexual encounters in dank London toilets – and James, a middle-class gay guy in the mid-noughties fascinated by Nicky Crane and the fascist skin subculture, who gets sucked into the swamp of neo-Nazi imagery and the often bizarre occult theories running through it.
The novel spends a lot of time in dark and murky areas, and with unpleasant characters. Ian Stuart – founder of explicitly racist band Skrewdriver and the Blood & Honour group – appears frequently, as do politicians like Nick Griffin, and even Savitri Devi. Devi, for what it’s worth, is the woman who believed Hitler was an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu bringing on the Kali Yuga. Obviously.
I was aware of much of this history prior to reading the book, and am sadly all too aware of the legacy of fascist punk and skinhead bands that continues to this day. So the book isn’t for everyone, but essential for anybody interested in the hidden, violent and often strange history of the battles between the far-right and the anti-fascist movement in Britain.
For anyone interested in delving a bit deeper into this stuff, I would recommend reading Stewart Home’s analysis of the Oi! scene here: https://www.stewarthomesociety.org/cranked/street.htm
And the deeply unpleasant Skrewdriver here: https://www.stewarthomesociety.org/cranked/skrew.htm
Both are chapters from his book Cranked Up Really High: Punk Rock and Genre Theory, made available on his website.
For information on Savitri Devi and her batshit Nazi-Hindu beliefs, I’d recommend this radio documentary: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09b19y4
For a fascinating, fair and measured approach to skinhead culture, Don Letts’ BBC Four documentary is essential.