A barber’s shop with a mission to rid the streets of V cuts and mullets is at the cutting edge of a new ‘golden era’ for men’s grooming
WEE Mark Andrew shakes out the gown with a matador flourish, wraps it around his customer, tips back his pork-pie hat and gets on with the thing he feels he was born to do: cutting hair. His tattoos blur as his scissors work. Mark Divers, the guy in the barber’s chair, is having a trim for his work’s night out. He’s in his early twenties and favours a longish feather cut. “I’ve got a big nose,” he warns, asking for his fringe to be spared. “If I get it cut too short I look like Nosferatu.”
Welcome to Rebel Rebel, a barber’s shop in Glasgow which, right now, is hoaching with punters and punteresses getting smartened up for Christmas. Bang next door to Central Station on Union Street, they get all sorts in here, businessmen and DJs; bus drivers and posties; footballers and artists, all drawn by Rebel Rebel’s growing reputation – this summer it was named Scotland’s best barber’s – and by the fact that the staff are, to say the least, colourful.
Take London Ross. He won’t say whether or not London is his real name (“Admit nothing!” Mark advises him, when I ask) but it suits him, somehow, even though he’s from Rutherglen. Aged 25, sooking on a big can of Red Bull, he is tall, lanky and handsome, a perfect genetic splice of Hen Broon and Johnny Depp, towering over his clients, as they sit in the chair, like the sword above Damocles. He is wearing eyeliner, has a small waxed moustache, and there is a tiny black cross drawn next to his left eye. He is dressed down today in a Sarah Lund-ish cardy and tight grey jeans; it is not unknown for him to wear a top hat to work, and he promises to do so if I return again.
“I know this sounds dead, dead cheesy, but to me this isn’t a job it’s a lifestyle,” says London. “Everything I do revolves around my job. I live with Mark, and Jen...” here he points across to the receptionist, a young woman with pink hair, a Nirvana T-shirt and a pleasantly filthy laugh, “...is my girlfriend. It’s a family, know what I mean? It’s not work.
“This is where I come to hang out with mates and do something I love. It becomes who you are. It saved me in a way. I started hairdressing when I was 15. Came straight out of school. Never done an exam. I got expelled from two high schools.”
London feels that cutting hair is a buzz, a performance. He has vowed to never, ever ask that classic barber question, “What are we doing with your hair today?”, because it means relinquishing control. There’s a great belief here in creativity and talent; more than one person tells me that cutting hair is about skill not tools – “I believe,” they say, “that you can cut hair with a butter knife.”
For most of today, London has in his chair Mary-Anne Jones, a 34-year-old store manager from Coatbridge, getting her hair cut and coloured purple for her work’s night out. “All I need now is a bit of green tinsel round my neck and I’ll be ready for Christmas,” she jokes, admiring London’s handiwork as he moves around, applying highlights to the rhythms of Run DMC. Mary-Anne’s husband, Mark, has also popped in, for a hot-towel shave with a cut-throat razor, and the air fills with the smell of lavender as his cheeks are scraped clean.
Rebel Rebel is quite a big place, with exposed brick walls and ten bright work stations. On the back wall is a spray-painting of a Vespa scooter and mod roundel. There’s a small photo-studio set up in one corner. When the barbers are especially pleased with a particular style they’ve cut, they will take a photo and upload it to Instagram. The idea is that they or a customer can pull out a phone and point to a picture of what they like. It’s a far cry from bringing in a photo of Frank McAvennie torn out of the Daily Record.
First thing in the morning, the barbers spend some time preening themselves. They are staring in those mirrors all day and want to look good for themselves as well as the customers. It’s noisy in here, with the whoosh of hairdryers and music playing, but the barbers seem to be able to hear each other fine, and there is plenty of banter back and forth. I only catch a bit of it, though I do overhear one stylist – Stephen Cambridge, a chic geek with a sleek rockabilly quiff, who looks as though he gets by on fag smoke and hummus, telling a customer, breathlessly, about a recent meal of spaghetti bolognese: “First I et aw mine’s and then I et aw his and then I et the garlic breid and then I had three Weetabix efter it. And then some onion rings.” Stephen, originally from Irvine, is a blether, a gab, as well as a gannet. That’s one reason he loves the job. “I get tae talk aw day.”
This place, with its patter and its 80 per cent male clientele, is most definitely a barber’s shop, not a salon, albeit one which is a cut above and a bit salon-ish. You can come here for a short back and sides, of course, and many do. They seem to get plenty of office workers at lunchtime, intent on getting Don Draper’s barnet if not his lifestyle. Equally, though, you could get something quite radical, for instance the face of Al Pacino (gurning in Scarface pose) shaved into the back of your head. Or Marilyn Monroe. Or Michael Jackson. Such designs are the speciality of Alan Findlay, the boss, who is 40, hails from Larkhall, and is dressed today in a manner that one might describe as “hipster laird” – bunnet and tweed waistcoat.
“I’m trying to rebrand barbering and make it a bit cool again,” he says. “A lot of hairdressers look down on us, but there’s a lot more art and skill involved in barbering than there’s ever been. Barbering is entering a golden era right now.”
He is a great student of barbering history and knows that styles are cyclical so that, for instance, the Paleolithic men who kept their hair and beards in trim using sharpened flints were not dissimilar in appearance from those great hairdressing icons of the disco era, the Bee Gees. Would he, though, with the referendum coming up, consider shaving Alex Salmond into someone’s hair? “I don’t think we’d find anyone with a big enough head,” he laughs.
I join Alan while he cuts the hair of Billy, a middle-aged leatherworker and biker from Arran, who has a great face, full of experience, John-Hurt-in-waiting. Billy used to have a 14-inch mohican, but what he’s come in with today is a sort of ginger Flock of Seagulls and a problem – he doesn’t like it. “Aye,” he sighs. “The auld barber I’ve been going to for years, as soon as you get him talking, that’s him. You end up with two different haircuts.” He has come to Rebel Rebel looking to get it fixed. The solution? A quiff you could roll coins down.
While he cuts Billy’s hair, Alan reminisces. “I did my first haircut when I was 13. My grandfather had a wee holiday home down in Rothesay. One day he grabbed me, gave me a pair of orange-handled kitchen scissors and told me to give my wee cousin a haircut. I gave him a pretty good flat-top, so I think the old man must have had an eye for talent.”
Alan’s wee cousin had a mullet. At Rebel Rebel they love getting rid of mullets. Also, the V haircut which was all the rage a few years back when David Beckham had one. There is talk of installing a bell in the shop and ringing it every time someone gets their mullet or V removed. Lorraine McGregor, in particular, is keen on this. She’s “the mammy of the shop”, has been cutting hair for 30 years, and is an ardent dispenser of hugs, as I discover on the way out. It’s a thoroughly pleasant way to break a few ribs.
For Lorraine, the barber’s chair is a confessional and she is chuffed to think of herself as a priest-cum-psychologist. “What’s said in the barber’s chair stays in the barber’s chair,” she says. “They can sometimes open up and tell you stuff about trouble in their relationships. Some guys have told me about taking anti-depressants because they’re having a tough time. That’s a wee pat on the back for me that they feel comfortable enough to talk about that. But it’s a two-way street because I’m no’ shy in telling them what’s going on in my life.”
The last barber I meet, Gemma Willock-Smith is a 26-year-old Londoner who dresses like a b-girl in black biker jacket and back-to-front Yankees cap. She moved to Glasgow six years ago. “I thought I was only coming up for six months. But I met my wife and we just recently got married.” One thing she enjoys about working in the shop is that it’s competitive. Everyone wants to be making the most money, the most tips. It drives you forward. Keeps you creative and motivated. She much prefers the atmosphere to that of a salon. “Customers love it here. The women that come in here feel relaxed and confident. They don’t feel that we have to pussyfoot about them, making cups of tea.”
Gemma grins. “It’s such a relaxed atmosphere in here,” she says. “And everybody’s mental.”