In Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hank’s character has a curious ritual when he reaches a new country. He stoops to the ground, taking a sample of soil to put with his collection. Something similar used to happen at early 90’s indie gigs, evident by the scrum at the t-shirt stall.
You had to get a t-shirt. Often you would put it on immediately, placing it over the shirt you’d worn to the gig. Some bands survived on t-shirt sales alone, acts such as James selling far more garments than records. Occasionally you’d buy them ‘outside’ the venue, cheap t-shirts from the bootleg vendor in the street, but the real gems were found on the official stalls.
I bought dozens. Mostly, they were terrible. Black country noise merchants Neds Atomic Dustbin were the worst offenders, releasing countless awful designs, resplendent with their swirly logo. The worst t-shirt I ever wore came from a gig promoting their second album. Written on the front in big white letters was the phrase ‘Not Sleeping Around’, something made obvious by the miserable specimen clothed within. My father was not impressed. I think he’d have preferred it if I was sleeping around.
But some were wonderful, and my favourite was my Pop Kid design from the band Senseless Things. They were terrific, a glorious pop outfit with some of the greatest singles of the period, their records housed in wonderful sleeves designed by Jamie Hewlett. Evidence can be found here, here, and here. The last one contains lyrics not to be played in front of the children and is unlikely to get them any airplay on Pick of the Pops, but I think its incredible. The intro alone is enough to get my blood pumping.
What I liked about this shirt is that it didn’t mention the band, but was instantly recognisable to a fellow fan. I remember once stepping from a train and getting a nice thumbs-up from a stranger, all down to this shirt. It lifted my day immeasurably.
I wish I still had it. It would probably fit me better now than then. Other favourites included one by the band Curve, with lovely Spirograph prints on the chest and sleeves. I had at least a dozen Pop Will Eat Itself shirts, including a splendid black one with long printed sleeves. But I definitely had more bad ones than good ones. Other stinkers included one by the band Eat that placed a huge fruit machine melon on my tummy, and an awful one by sadly forgotten band Scorpio Rising that had a print of a pink hand grenade.
It was unique to this period. I went to a lot of concerts during Britpop and didn’t buy a thing, just lager. On the rare occasions we go to gigs my wife occasionally buys a tour shirt but I haven’t for a good 25 years.
The Senseless Things shirt cost me I’d guess about £10. Ebay currently has a second hand one retailing for £200. But if I still had it, I wouldn’t sell. I’d probably wear it.
Over the years, I think I bought upwards of 50 band t-shirts, so let’s say £500 on tatty garments. When I moved out of the family home I bagged them up and they went to charity, destined for African refugees. It amused me to think that somewhere out there an African farmer is toiling in a field, dressed in a shirt that has “You Fat Bastard” printed on the back.
Anyway, these girls put it far better than I ever could.