One day long ago, I was walking down East Street in Brighton, where I lived for a decade. I was walking wiv me bird down the narrow street that leads to the sea front and the Palace Pier.
Suddenly, gor blimey, there was a sound of rioting from somewhere alarmingly nearby. We looked at each other with horror. The noise of an angry human throng came funnelling up the street, as if shot from some immense Bofors Gun. Where could we go? Where could we hide?
Then I saw the reassuring presence of the law in the form of a phalanx of Britain’s finest. They didn’t look in any way ruffled. I heard the sound of someone talking through a megaphone and realised that we had stumbled onto a film set. There were parkas and leathers everywhere. It was a re-enactment of the Bank Holiday battles between the Mods and the Rockers.
Some time later, I discovered that we had wandered into a scene from Quadrophenia – the movie! They showed it last week on some secondary ITV channel and Debs and I watched it on Thursday evening, after our visitors from Sheffield had taken the train back home. It had been so long since I last watched the film that all I could remember was that very realistic depiction of the notorious Bank Holiday bovver. Oh, and Sting’s be-mirrored Vespa parked outside the Grand Hotel. I had completely forgotten how the Phil Daniels character drives that scooter… No I mustn’t give the game away, in case you haven’t seen it.
When I were a lad… I used to read Fabulous magazine. I used to cut out the pin-ups and stick them to the yellow walls of my bedroom. Quite indiscriminately. The Stones and The Pretty Things vied for space with the likes of Richard Chamberlain (or Dr. Kildare as we knew him) and Trini Lopez (who earned his place for a lame version of ‘If I Were A Carpenter’).
One particular edition of Fabulous was devoted to a Mods v Rockers special. The playful editor playfully demanded what side you were on. Even at the age of nine or ten, I was on the side of the Mods. Those sharp suits, the thin ties, the winkle-picker Chelsea boots… Besides, they listened as I did to the Kinks, the Stones, the Pretties and the ‘Orrible ‘Oo. No contest. I knew even then that I would never ride a motorbike nor dress in leathers.
Quadrophenia was conceived as another Pete Townshend rock opera. Personally, I never succumbed to Tommy and found its successor even less convincing. The film, however, seemed – on second viewing, some 25 years or so later – quite another matter. It seems to have worn very well and its picture of tawdry norf Lunnon life in the early ‘60s looks depressingly accurate. The vicious battles between Mods and Rockers had little to do with kids’ pop magazines and much more to do with football hooligans, skinheads and the BNP.
What’s more, it was like watching a who’s who of British character actors of the day. The likes of John Standing, Hugh Lloyd, Michael Elphick, Tim Spall all popped up in minor parts. We failed to recognise Lesley Ash as ‘lead bird, she who married Lee Chapman of Sheffield Wednesday, which makes a rather unconvincing link between Brighton and Sheffield, where my wife and I got hitched prior to moving to France.
But enough of such inconsequential nonsense, because Arsenal are playing Birmingham City in the Carling Cup Final and I need to tune in to lend my support to the Gunners and their quest for some silverware.
However, I’m quite prepared to switch off if they haven’t scored a goal by half time. I’ll watch the recording of the Steve Winwood story instead. Now there’s a man. But kick-off is imminent, so that one will have to wait…