Monday, 6 June 2011

The Young Mod's Forgotten Story - Part 1

It’s Saturday, a chill spring evening in a suburban high street. It’s a while ago, years in fact. The early 80s. Another of those ‘low, dishonest decades’ as it turned out. So far it is a time unshaped by the media and not yet written off with lazy montages of riot police, blooded miners, city traders, yuppies and ubiquitous breeze-block mobiles. We're creating our own images.

Between the parade of shops set back from the high street is a broad sweep of pavement. Vespas and Lambrettas are parked up in front of the Wimpy. Some are vintage,  some custom paint jobs, a couple of DIY cut downs; others are more recent models, Vespa P-Ranges. None really subscribe to that ‘Chrome By Colin’ lights and mirrors shtick – way too slow and by now, a stereotype.

The lads, their mates and girlfriends hang around in small knots, smoking, chatting,  taking the piss.  A few of us nip into in the Wimpy for a cuppa, others emerge from the graffiti covered alleyway by the Commodore – the fleapit. Standing slightly apart are a group of younger kids, 14, 15 years old: ‘the smalls’ with Home & Wear Fred Perrys and parkas below their knees.

There’s an assortment of mod and scooter-boy clobber on show - Levi denim jackets, run-patch covered flight jackets, fishtail parkas, three button tonic jackets, boating blazers, sta-prest, combats, boxing boots, loafers, DMs, cycling shoes, jam shoes. The girls are in high-street mod or 60s charity shop retro; Saturday trips to Carnaby Flea Market, Flip in Covent Garden, Kensington Market. One or two in US Army trench-coats. A small group, those without scoots or rides, break off and make their way along the High Street. Some jump a bus up to the station, others walk, crossing the road by the war memorial. They go past the Fryer Tuck and head up Station Road to the Civic.

An old bill car cruises past, slows down, checks us out. It’s a matter of routine. Saturday night has its patterns, its own rehearsed choreography. Move on, before they move you on. They know us by name. We know them by reputation – they’d probably say the same. They know where we live. They know we’ve got somewhere to go and it’s about time we got there. They’ll be waiting outside later.

Twenty or so two-stroke engines kick over. Vespa 50 whines, throaty AF exhaust growls, revs and smoke. Some bump start – second gear, run to speed, open the clutch and wait for the catch, jump, close the clutch and rev. We get it together and ride out. Stop the traffic. Turn right for a 30mph drive down the high-street, a head-turner, a procession around the one-way system, past the Priory Grill and back. At the war memorial we break in ones and twos, opening the throttle, belting up Station Road, past The Maxwell, under the railway bridge and turn right into the Civic Hall car park.

Some songs only come into their own in a big room. It’s a right time, right place thing. No matter how often I hear There’s A Ghost In My House – in living rooms, on radios, car stereos, on record, cassette, CD, whatever – it carries with it a Civic Hall sized echo. Loaded with reminiscence, like The Night, Out on the Floor, Do I Love You or Mary Wells’ My Guy, or any one of a hundred other songs from Saturday nights past that carry the power of transformation. Songs of youth and certainty. Songs of once belonging that open the door to remembering with such clarity it is almost a sixth sense.
Dedicated to anyone who got bitten by the bug '79 - '84.