The discussion was of communities, to which communities did the students consider they belonged?
The answers were many and various. Sports clubs, music and dance, families and neighbourhoods, Scouts and Guides, churches and cultural groups, the list was lengthy. The communities were formal and informal, structured and unregulated. Some communities identified were large: Cheltenham, a town of one hundred thousand people, was considered the home community by many of them. Other communities they named were very small, like the group named by one of the boys.
”Sir, I meet with some friends in Pittville Park. We call ourselves The Boyz, that’s Boyz with a Z.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask, “as in Cum On Feel the Noize?” Then I realised that the chances of an eleven year old being familiar with the lyrics of Slade hit from almost fifty years ago were so remote as to be considered impossible. Had he known the song he would have corrected me, while noize was spelt with a “Z,” the boys of the song were firmly spelt with an “S.”
Slade used spellings that might have prompted apoplexy among traditional teachers fifty years ago, other song titles included Coz I luv you and Skweeze me, pleeze me. On the other hand, perhaps teachers of the post-war era had become inured to youthful acts of rebellion.
Some historians may date the emergence of a distinct “youth” culture to Victorian times, some might suggest it emerged in the inter-war period, certainly by the time of the Teddy boys in the 1950s, there was a conscious decision by young people to mark themselves out as belonging to a culture that was strongly distinct from the culture of their elders.
By the time that Slade were topping the charts with their songs with idiosyncratic spellings, for a young person not to be different from the older generations would have been considered unconventional. The 1960s had brought long hair and loud clothes, and bands like Slade carried the trends to an extreme.
Perhaps what is surprising in 2020 is how conventional young people have again become. Given the choice, most of them go for the dull, unexciting fashion of the label companies. The loud, the outrageous and the esoteric have become rare things. Even the spelling of words with a “Z” has become the preserve of unadventurous pop artists.
The Slade era was followed by the punk rock years. Another similar cultural upheaval would be welcome to alleviate the dullness of these times.