When I was a kid, Clarks meant school shoes. The dreaded trip to have my feet measured for school shoes by a one-armed woman, who spent half an hour wrestling my tiny, twitchy feet into whatever nasty clodhoppers my mother had picked out was never going to be one of my happier memories.
But in Jamaica, Clarks are cool, coveted, and even rapped about. ‘Clarks in Jamaica’, a new book by DJ Al Fingers (born the rather less exciting Al Newman) chronicles Jamaica’s love affair with the Somerset based shoe company. Including photographs and stories from Jamaican musicians who sing and rap about Clarks like American artists rap about Louis Vuitton, including Vybz Kartel, who released the simply titled paean ‘Clarks’ in 2010.
Fingers, says of the book, “Being from England, I have always been intrigued by the Jamaican fascination with Clark’s shoes and the way they are referenced within Jamaican music. Whilst Vybz Kartel’s ‘Clarks’ brought the phenomenon to many people’s attention in 2010, the relationship goes back way further, and in compiling this book I wanted to bring attention to that, highlighting the work of artists such as Dillinger and Little John who had sung about Clarks many years before.
(available from triads.co.uk)
“It is kind of niche,” says Fingers, with some understatement. “But I thought – it’s such a colourful story, it’s about time someone documented this. I wanted to focus on the music and the Jamaican musicians who have sung about Clarks. Reggae and dancehall stars Dillinger, Trinity, Ranking Joe, Scorcher, Little John, Super Cat and countless others had sung about Clarks in the past. So I went there just over a year ago to interview and photograph musicians, as well as other people on the street wearing the shoes.”
Fingers quotes a report in 1967 from the head of Clarks’ West Indies distribution: “Our stockist, La Parisienne in Kingston, sold out a consignment of 400 pairs in five days. Although our boots are priced the highest, the young boys insist on Clarks.” Jamaican producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee goes one further, stating “From ever since, Clarks is a number one shoe inna Jamaica. Not just now, I’m talking from the Fifties come right up… Clarks stand the test of time inna Jamaica. All the other shoes come and bow right down at Clarks’ Foot.”
Written and compiled by Al Fingers, featuring new photographs by Mark Read, ‘Clarks in Jamaica’ is available fromt www.onelovebooks.com. Published by One Love Books.