“We originals are still the greatest!”
DOBIE GRAY “The In Crowd”
“There will be moments in your life when you suddenly realise that you have taken another step towards the departure lounge.”
KELVIN HENDRIE - a friend
In 1964 I was a Mod. I wore a two-vent madras cotton jacket over an arrow point Ben Sherman shirt, hipster trousers and shoes by Ravel. My hair was backcombed and I rode a Lambretta Li150 scooter with chrome side panels. My music was soul and my attitudes were hip. I truly thought that I was one of the “In Crowd”.
According to the press our arch enemies were ‘The Rockers’, leather clad, greasy haired, unwashed and unhip motorcycle riding Bikers who were into old style rock ‘n’ roll, transport cafes and girls called Doreen with bouffant hair … according to the press.
On the Whitsun weekend of that year, May 17-18 1964, I rode my scooter down to Brighton along with Mods from all over Southern England for some sun, fun and a rumoured confrontation with the ‘Rockers’, which according to the press apparently happened, although I must have missed it. Certainly the two tribes shouted at each other, chased each other up and down the beach and threw the odd deck chair about but my memory of what was later to be called “The Battle of Brighton” never really happened the way the newspapers described it. These was a bit of pushing and shoving and I did see a fight when a scooter was pushed over but my only firm memories of the day are Mods and Rockers crowding onto the pier and riding their bikes/scooters up and down Marine Drive laughing at each other. Afterwards the police reported that they had made no more arrests that bank holiday weekend, May 17-18 1964, than on any other.
I went back to Marine Drive last month to play at “Brightona” - the 11th annual ‘Biker’ event organised by ‘Brightona Charity Riders’ on behalf of the Sussex Heart Charity. This year 30,000 people attended, most of them on the back of a motorcycle - and together they raised £26,500.
My Mod days have passed. Now I play old style rock ‘n’ roll myself and wear a Teddy Boy drape jacket on stage, happy to play for charity to any audience that appreciates it - but Bikers? Hmmm. My Mod soul has never been totally sure about Bikers. Although most of them now are accountants, lawyers and dentists, these being the only people who can afford to buy today’s gleaming machines, they still wear leather and patches, they still carry tattoos and they still have that mean ‘look’, the one that says, “What are you gawping at, numb nuts?”
The best Biker jacket I saw at Brightona 2014 had a patch on the back saying “If you can read this my old lady has fallen off!”
At Brightona I tried to explain my slight unease - ex Mod surrounded by 30,000 bikers - to a chatty group of Angels, or were they the Orthodontist Outlaw Brotherhood? I said “The last time I came down here, in 1964, I was a Mod on the back of a Lambretta Scooter!” Silence. No rain of bottles. No shouts of “What are you gawping at, numb nuts?”
You know, the ‘Battle of Hastings’? Mods and Rockers?” I added. Still no reaction. Nothing. Goodnight Charlie.
I asked one of the older bikers if he remembered the ‘Battle of Hastings’. He said, “I do - just, but they don’t. Most of them weren’t even born in 1964. What you’re talking about is ancient history. I don’t know why you keep rattling on about it. The Mods lost, didn’t they?” And so I took one more step towards the departure lounge.
The In Crowd
A mod anthem by Dobie Gray. This clip features scenes from ‘Quadrophenia.’
– from Martyn Day