Read All About The Wickedest Dancehall Footwear
What adidas shell toes are to hip-hop, Clarks are to reggae. From Little John’s Jammy’s classic “Clarks Booty” to Vybz Kartel & Popcaan’s smash hit “Clarks,” these shoes have been chronicled in endless dancehall tunes. And now there’s a book that tells the full story that’s a must have for all reggae lovers. We spoke to Al Fingers, the UK disc jockey and author to get the scoop on how he put the book together. Photo Gallery Above & Interview After The Jump…
When did you know you had to do a book on Clarks?
It was around April 2010, when Vybz Kartel released his Clarks tunes. I had just finished a book on the album cover artwork of Greensleeves Records and was talking about new projects with Pierre Bost from Special Delivery Music. The Kartel tunes had just come out, and that’s when we came up with the concept. But I’d known about the Jamaican obsession with Clarks for many years, because people in Jamaica had asked me to send them back Clarks from England. Plus I had heard Clarks being referenced within reggae and dancehall song lyrics. So it was always something that fascinated me, especially being from England where Clarks is generally perceived as a sensible shoe worn by children and pensioners. After initial research in London and Somerset (where Clarks is based) I eventually travelled to Jamaica in September 2011 with Bost and photographer Mark Read, to document the story.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching the book?
It was surprising to me that Clarks the company had no presence in Jamaica – no official Clarks shops, very few official stockists even, and absolutely no advertising, yet in Jamaica Clarks is loved like no other brand. Then there were the stories I heard about Clarks – everybody in Jamaica must have at least one story about them! Dennis Alcapone told me a story that many older Jamaicans seem to know, about Joe Williams, a famous “badman policeman”. He would go into dancehalls during the 1960s and ’70s with his men, cut off the sound, and order everybody wearing Clarks booties to get to one side of the dance. That was his way of rounding up the rudeboys, because back then, only rudeboys wore Clarks, more-or-less. He’d then lead them all down to the station for beatings and interrogations.
Worldwide sales of Clark’s spiked after the success of the Kartel tune but the shoe company seems reluctant to embrace reggae culture. Did they cooperate with you on this book in any way… Either before or after publication?
At the beginning I approached Clarks to support the project, and they gave me a load of shoes to give out to people while I was over in Jamaica – people who featured in or helped with the book. They also supported in other ways, like with press, but I think in general they have wanted to maintain a distance from the project. Before Kartel went to prison I was trying to encourage Clarks to do a shoe collaboration with him, but in hindsight I can see that could have been PR disaster for them to now be associated with a man who is awaiting trial for double murder. If the press had gotten a hold of a story like that, it has the potential to scare off some of Clarks’ core market. There are of course many other less controversial artists who have sung about Clarks over the years, and I would love to see the brand collaborating with some of these artists. A Clarks campaign focussing on Jamaica would be a great thing and I hope to see it happen one day.
Order the book Clarks In Jamaica