The first time I met Mark Baxter? I remember it like yesterday, and will do for a thousand tomorrows. We were taking pictures of George Dyer’s tailoring shop on the Walworth Road, for Clare’s wonderful article in Issue 1. Then, as is often the case when you are in there, or Fred’s shoe-shop down the road. The bell goes, as a local character and a giant of a man walked in. That mans name was Mark Baxter. Fitting name that.
Mark looks after George on the Pr front and George looks after Mark, so much so that he doesn’t know his own waist size, he has been getting clothes made there for over 20 years. The thing that struck me about Mark that day was the way he was gliding round the shop, with a pair of bespoke George Dyer slacks sweeping above the tassels on his Bass Weejun loafers. Not a millimetre too high for these were made to measure and sat just right. Never had I seen a man with such presence move with such panache, to this day that remains the closest thing I’ve seen to an Ali Shuffle, always on his toes.
Mark is South London. Through his no-nonsense deep accent, combed through his hair and polished into his shoes. “In a way you just become part of it or it becomes part of you I suppose.” He was born in Camberwell in 1962. His mum and dad were born there and it’s where he first met his lovely lady Lou, a local girl, when he was 17.
Whilst Mark was growing up although it was present, the bang of the mod look had began to burn out, but by the time he was 8 or 9 the new breed were moving in. “I remember the skinheads on my estate. They were fucking sharp as razors, tough boys. That sharpness image burnt on my brain.”
“When I was Growing up, to fit in you had to wear a certain thing. You could go outside a little bit, not too far out otherwise you become a target. You’re standing out too much, and I’m from a really tough area, estates and stuff, which are really fucking clicky. If you don’t fit in with that you are the oddball and you don’t want to be an oddball round my way, not at fucking 16 you don’t.”
So Mark started dressing to be part of a crowd, but always with his own spin, he had too, he had his own interests and that was young Bax, that was him. In the 80s when the football casuals took to the terraces in their logos and labels Mark did the same, but he always preferred to have more of a mod edge because he always loved that period. From the 60’s pop, to Paul Weller, the Style Council and the way they dressed.
In 1991 Mark had his first bespoke made, it cost him “two an half hundred quid” and was a brown three-button number like Jimmy’s, the London mod and top of the scooters in the film Quadrophenia. At first, Archie the Greek tailor who ran the shop before George, refused to cut it, because that style was twenty years out of fashion and he didn’t think Mark would come back. It was a statement on the braver side of bold, but when he finally got it he wore it to death.
“Some of the places I went into, definitely brave. Cos we’re talking, I’d go in there, pair of loafers, no socks, really thin Smedley underneath it like a roll neck or turtle neck. “What’s he fucking look like”, you could hear em saying as you walked in. These other geezers were wearing, premiums and all that stuff at the time. “What’s all that about, where’s he from?” Number 2 buzz cut, with parting shaved in, I was a ten stone stick, long, long time ago.”
It was the not only the way that these clothes made Mark feel but also the reaction of others, which was absolutely obsessive, “once you’ve got that one, that’s it. Then you want one in black, Prince of Wales, you want one in blue, and one with slightly different detail.” At one stage he had around 30 suits with shoes to match, that’s before you get onto the roll in the collar and into the sock drawer.
Another big influence on Mark was his dad, Sid ‘Sid boy’ Baxter, and his friends like Fred the shoe. Sid was born in 1934 so in 1954 he was 20, and that was Teddy Boy time. “My dad was a Teddy Boy and always very precise in what he wore, he wouldn’t just wear anything he would spend hours and hours trying to find a fucking pair of socks, mental really, but Fred’s like that. Fred tells me the story, where he goes into the shop, three hours in he says, “These socks aren’t working with these trousers.” He goes home changes the socks and comes back into the shop. True story! Says “I’m 65 what am I doing”. It plays on your brain.” It was Sid who first took Mark down The Den to watch Millwall when he was 7. He had no option as his dad had been going since the late fifties, and apart from a season or so break when the violence got really nasty in the 70s and there were no guarantees you would come back safe. Mark has been going ever since, “There’s no real glory in Millwall but it’s the camaraderie down there I love, they go there for their own reasons it’s an old school club.”
Just as Mark had followed his dad to chant and chat and back The Lions. He followed him to work in the print on Fleet Street and then on to the marches as Rupert Murdoch candidly moved his News International empire to new Facilities in Wapping. Here they used new technology to streamline newspaper production and in the process streamlined the workforce, as thousands lost their jobs in what became known as the Wapping Dispute. “When I lost my job in the print, I couldn’t fucking believe it, I still can’t believe it sometimes. You are given a union card at 18 you’re there till 58 then you’re done.”
Mark and his brother decided to open a stall in Camden, their family were rag and bone men, his granddad a horse and cart man who could buy and sell anything, so it was in the genes. They started off selling clothing, but it went into brick-a-back, records, bits of old statue, furniture, anything they could get their hands on. “It was mad down there, its mad now, but in the mid 80’s, quarter of a million people down on a Sunday, pitch was 15 quid come home with fucking 10 grand sometimes seriously, used to take fucking van loads of gear there, me and my brother, we couldn’t believe how easy it was.” It wasn’t only the stall but their whole world that opened up, before then it was work, then South London boozers down the Old Kent Road. Now it was the hustle and bustle and buzz of the market and buzz off the nightclubs in the West End.
To Mark’s surprise he realised he had a good buying eye and went on to open his own shop, where he sold vintage clothing, big E Levis and button down shirts until they became really hard to source. So he started buying the new and in demand club wear, often going round the back of Oxford Circus megastores to see what was good and going off, “They called it ‘cabbage’, it’s stuff off the rails. They got stuff in the back that ain’t working, they’ve over ordered it, someone didn’t want it, it’s shit, its tatty, its torn, its dirty.” Like the scraps in a chip shop or the broken cake box, Mark was doing his bit for the environment and making sure nothing went to waste like a prequel to the sequel that is TK Max. You could get it cheap, Lou would sew it up, or dye it a new shade, then Mark would shift it in the shop and turn a tidy profit. Northern Soul was the soundtrack in the shop, which caught the attention of some like-minded individuals and before long he was playing records around town which evolved as these nights often do, into his own club called Mono Media, the name of his Pr company today. So Mark had the shop, he had the club, then in 2000 his best mate, Sid Boy died, and Mark and Lou lost a baby. The new millennium with all its promises would prove to be a testing time for them both. The wind was sapped from Marks sails and he had to take a step to the side, take stock and plot how to get it back. “I went through a sort of period thinking, I fucking keep talking about doing stuff – you’ve just got to fucking do it. I mean I had this job where I was just sort of breezing through life, nice few bob, load of clothes, lovely lifestyle. All of a sudden these various things kept happening, and I’m thinking work ain’t enough, moneys not enough, there’s something else I want to do.”
Mark wanted to do something around his interests, which were of course football, fashion and music. That’s where the idea came from to write a book about the links between fashion and football, about players who dressed like they played, from 1962 to Beckham. Once Mark has an idea he grabs it by the scruff and takes it for a walk. He tried to get it published for 2 or 3 years before by luck meeting the writer Paolo Hewitt. Mark new of Paolo’s work, because he was mad on music and used to read Paolo’s articles in the NME.
“What I have always done is I don’t just say “how you doing?” and then walk away. I say, “I’ve got this idea”, and then 9 times out of ten they say, “fuck off” – don’t want to know, not interested. Paolo was a bit like that to start with but I just kept going back with this idea.” A bit like Archie and the 3-button suit fiasco, when Paolo realised that Mark wasn’t going to go away he finally gave in and helped Mark to write it. Thank goodness he did. It’s a great book, freely written and gives you a real education on the players that helped shape the fashionable side to the game. From Gordon Smith and the legendary Hibernian team of the 50s, whose front line nicknamed the ‘famous 5’ were said to have influenced the great Brazilian team of the 70s. To Bobby Keetch a Fulham player in the early 60s who wore so much bling, he would clank when jogging over to take a corner and Alan Hudson a Chelsea icon in the 70s who was the first player to model the shorter Vidal Sassoon cut. They talk about the beautiful ensemble of the American Ivy League look, which was brought over to London by the revolutionary stylist John Simons. How Bobby Moore was so obsessed with detail that is mum used to iron his laces and so slick he would get out the bath dry, and why George Best changed the way the game was played forever and by doing so, he was to football what The Beatles were to pop music. This was the first book that Paolo and Mark would work on and it was published in 2004.
Mark did a lot of growing up in The Flying Dutchman pub on a Sunday, where he would go to listen to his dad’s crowd sing a song over pints of pale ale and share their latest stories. “I always loved that, Sunday lunch time, in the days of opening hours – not all day drinking. So you know half two, three o’clock its done. So they were cramming in stories for two hours they had to get it out.” Mark was writing it down in his head, the tales of Saturdays result, chasing girls and discovered rolls of cloth were passed around like the prawns and pint of winkles that the seafood guy would drop off wrapped in a newspaper.
It’s a world he had always wanted to document, and after the success of ‘The Fashion of Football’, which was named in ‘FourFourTwo’ magazines top 50 sports books of all time. Young Bax had his confidence back with renewed vigor and a belief in his ideas. Mark hadn’t done any real writing since leaving school, and when he asked the publishers how many words were needed, 80,000 was their cry. With his new friend Paolo by his side, Mark wrote ‘The Mumper’ in two and a half years. It’s a lovable insight into a bygone era that’s fading with the décor of The Dutchman, full of the most charming anecdotes written by the hand that heard the stories.
The book has just been made into a feature film called ‘Outside bet’, starring Bob Hoskins, Jenny Agutter, Adam Deacon and Calum MacNab as young Bax. LAW went to watch it at The Odeon on Leicester Square, and as we were leaving Mark and Lou were taking their seats to watch the final screening. I thought to myself, how many people would get the chance to sit back and watch a film on the characters that have influenced their life, based on a book they had written? My tutor Jane Shepherd always said take your ideas as far as you can possibly take them, otherwise you will never know where they may have gone. This is what we are trying to do with LAW and Mark is an inspiration, living proof that if you believe in something, you can make it happen.
“That’s where the name mumper comes from because mumper means a ponce, or beggar or scrounger. I was the little mumper, you would leave something there, and I would say, “Do you want that?” I’d sell it on Sunday, I could literally sell anything.”
After meeting Mark and David for this Issue, Jack and I felt like opening our door, letting our wardrobes walk out, and starting again. I’ve just brought a pair of black wingtip Loake Royals from Fred, my first steps on a long road.