Don Letts, DJ, Musician and Filmmaker
Hi Don, great to chat with you. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. You’ve done so much in your career but it really all started on the King’s Road in the early 1970s, didn’t it?
Well, I guess so. You could almost say it was a mecca for me. You see, you have to understand there wasn’t a lot of choice offered to a young black man like myself back in the early ’70s. What was presented to us at school wasn’t exactly, what you might call, inspiring or appealing. Seeing The Who play in 1971 when I was 14 years old was a real trigger for me. That just opened a door into this whole other world I just knew I wanted to be part of, and that led me to wandering up and down the King’s Road which back then was still reasonably hip. Somehow I managed to blag my way into a job working at a shop selling high-end Italian fashion, and then I ended up working at a shop called Jean Machine, which was where all the freaks hung out. This was about 1973; and I started going to clubs like Sombrero’s on Kensington High Street and meeting people like [singer] Ava Cherry and David Bowie’s tailor – a guy called Freddie.
What was your first introduction to the punk movement?
It was probably before it was even punk and definitely before it had a name, but at some point I wandered into Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s shop down the end of the King’s Road. Back then it was either called Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die or Let It Rock. I can’t remember which but before it became Sex. I got friendly with them both, and Malcolm made me see this counterculture stuff – that I was enamoured with – didn’t happen in insolation but that there was continuity to it all. So he was really the first person who made me realise I could be a part of it.
How did you first meet all the musicians who would go on to become the first punk rockers?
I was approached by a guy called John Krivine to manage his shop, Acme Attractions. And that was really my point of entry ’coz that’s where I became, I don’t know, “cock of the block” or something. I decked the shop out like my living room; sofa, TV, etc. And I was playing my reggae records on the stereo – loud! And then I began to see this – how would you describe them – disaffected youth, I guess, drifting in and out of the shop, attracted by the music. I soon struck up relationships with some of them; this was people like John Lydon, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer and members of the Slits and Siouxsie & the Banshees.