Two-stroke in your veins and two fingers up at the law – Martin ‘Sticky’ Round

Dubbing yourself a “terrorist” of any sort may not strike many as particularly wise in the current climate, but for the ‘two-stroke terrorists’ of the 80s scooterboy movement, recognition of any kind would be welcome. Former Scootering magazine editor Martin ‘Sticky’ Round has made a living for himself documenting the scooter scene globally since those days. In his book Scooterboys: The Lost Tribe (Carpet Bombing Culture), he has set out to capture the hallmarks of one of Britain’s last truly working class subcultures which defies pigeon-holing on any other level.

Andrew Stevens (Vespa PX125) sat down with Sticky to discuss police harassment, flight jackets and the suedehead roots of 80s cut-down scooters.

Scooterboys-the-lost-tribe-66-67-800The book shines a light on the scene for the benefit of outsiders, many of whom often ask why it’s intertwined with Northern Soul?

Northern Soul is as tightly intertwined with the scooterboy scene as a noose. As a term it might not have existed until after the first mod explosion in the 60s, but the two are linked by recreational speed use, and four-to-the-floor danceable soul from the 60s. During the 70s most scooter riders I’ve talked to were either into Northern Soul or ska and reggae, but scooterboys of the 70s era will also have listened to contemporary music as well. Unlike being a soulie or a skinhead, scooterboys have a much wider gamut of music played on the rallies, but Northern Soul often gets its own room. Some of this will have been down to the fact that successful promoters of many big scooter events of the 80s – such as Chris Burton – came from the Northern Soul scene. 1980s scooterboys – many of whom came from being school-age mods – were weaned on a diet of Motown and Stax, so up-tempo soul worked just as well for us as it did for teenagers in the 70s.

How come Mani of the Stone Roses wrote the foreword?

My target with the book is to get scooterboys the wider cultural recognition we deserve, specifically as distinctly separate to mod. In order for that to happen, the book has to appeal to a wider audience than just scooter riders; which is where Mani came in. He’s not only a respected character and well-known musician with both the Stone Roses and Primal Scream, but he grew up as a rally-going scooterboy and still rides a Lambretta. Having him explain about his experiences in the early 80s lends weight to the fact that we were a breed apart; specifically, when it comes to non-scooterists understanding. I’ve not met Mani in person, but his mate Kaiser put us in touch and he was hilarious on the phone. His foreword was everything I could have asked for.

91SENV4mYsLHe also mentions the convergence of skins, soulies and casuals on the scene as being distinct from ‘mod’.

Exactly. That’s why there’s never been a scooterboy exhibition at the V&A. We aren’t easy to pinpoint or define. The scooter scene has always been a melting pot of every style and fashion. For many clubs, scooter ownership and a love of this lifestyle is the only unifying factor. In every other respect, your lifestyle choices are free. That’s very different from mod; which demands a fair degree of conformity.

As you also point out, psychobilly morphed in at some point.

Again, when psychobilly exploded in the mid-80s the cultural magpie element of the scooterboy scene embraced it for its insanity and hedonism.  It’s a long way from Northern Soul to King Kurt’s ‘Zulu Beat’ or even Spear of Destiny’s ‘Liberator’, but they were anthemic tracks of the incredibly diverse mid-80s rally scene. Anyone who tells you otherwise wasn’t there. The only thing about psychobilly that didn’t suit the scooter scene was the haircuts. It’s bloody hard to maintain a good quiff or flat-top when you keep putting a crash helmet on and off.

Scooterboys-the-lost-tribe-18-19-800And a shared fondness for MA1s with the scooter skins?

Scooter skins were all part of the scene I joined, which is why the outside world finds both skinhead and scooterboys so confusing.  As a school-age mod, my first copies of Scootermania were bought from Carnaby Street market after running the gauntlet of glue-sniffing boneheads. From the early 80s, I naturally considered skinheads as the enemy because they were the only people to give me a kicking for no reason. As a result, when I went on the Nationals and found skins mixed with the scooterboys I was initially very wary.

What you learn as you grow up is that everything is about allegiances.  I had no interest in skinhead culture so I had to learn what the difference was between traditional skins and boneheads, between SHARP and Blood & Honour. You have to take people as you find them because nothing in life is a black and white as a 2-Tone album.  I now have many scooter skins as friends because they will naturally side with scooterists. Scooters are what binds us. It’s all our lifestyle no matter how you have your hair.

A young pre-Stone Roses Ian Brown

Scooters are what binds, but so does not being a mod, as you point out with the change of title of the first magazine of the cult from Northern Mod Scene to Scootermania.

The first section of the book deals with the difference between mods and scooterboys. Becoming a scooterboy felt liberating because it meant shaking-off the relatively restrictive and retrospective rules imposed on the mod scene in terms of style, music and expression. In the 80s, scooterboy was a new and contemporary scene – looking forwards and sideways, not only backwards into the past. Scooterboy was like a top-shelf cocktail with a bit of every other cult poured in for good measure, but that made it hard for society to swallow because they didn’t know what to make of us. So they usually just called us mods…

Self-aware mods had certain precepts, whereas with scooterboys it was more just two-stroke in your veins and two fingers up at the law?

There was definitely a liberating lack of rules making it very anarchic as a movement. The way we were treated by normal society made us stick together. I’ve always put the welfare of my scooter tribe ahead of everyone except my family, but even then scooterists still stole off one another whether that be girlfriends or scooters. As Martin Dixon of Scootermania points out, he “naively expected better”. But it is naive to expect human nature to change within any tribe. Thieving scumbags exist everywhere.

Ayres Street Manchester
Ayres Street Manchester, circa 1983-84

The book has skinheads and suedeheads in the early 70s being the first to cut-down scooters in a form which looks more 80s scooterboy?

To be honest, for a long time I was unconvinced that 70s Lambretta skellies were really a ‘thing’ beyond a few people customising damaged scooters. The internet has since revealed, through the appearance of many historic images, that it was actually an established customising style in pockets all over the country. In my opinion, the skellies still show a heritage in mod ‘Christmas Tree’ scooters. Although the bodywork was stripped off, the ‘look’ was still all about what you added afterwards like grips, bars, exhausts, big carbs and Sidewinder seats.

In the 80s the objective was a little different. Cut-downs added speed and motorcycle-style choppers, with long extended forks, told the world you definitely weren’t a mod. Whether the world understood is another matter.  At the end of the day, whether skinhead skellies or full-on chops, it’s all about self-expression with what you had at hand and what you could afford.

And the clobber in the book?

For many, it meant green – acres of green: all covered in club and rally patches. MA1s, army surplus and boots. That was classic scooterboy clobber, but you weren’t obliged to follow that path. There were just as many baggy jumpers, jeans, grandad shirts and leather jackets. The photos tell the story better than words can.

violators sc lincoln
Violators SC Lincoln in Scarborough, 1980s

Did the clashes with police and magistrates you depict in the book threaten the scene or more embolden it?

Neither. I never knew of any occasion where scooterists set out to take on the police, councils, publicans or organisers. On the few occasions where it did kick off big time, this was always a spontaneous reaction to the way we had been treated rather than anything pre-meditated. At scootering’s core is a hedonistic scene far more than a confrontational one. What struck me when researching the book, though, was how much we were used as guinea pigs for new legislation by Thatcher’s government and new forms of crowd control by the police.

Beyond that research, there’s not really many books on the scene at all.

Gareth Brown’s book Scooterboys was the original one in the late 80s, and Iggy from ScooterLab.UK put out a good book on the whole scooterist scene as well called Scooter Lifestyle, but that’s a massive subject. Probably my favourite is Time Trouble and Money by Mark Brough, which is a very personal story of growing up as a northern scooterboy in the 70s and 80s – it’s out of print, but I believe he’s reprinting it soon. My angle was to concentrate only on scooterboys and girls. Any youth cult is driven by feelings and emotions. You have to understand the thought processes to understand the cult.  Equally, I didn’t want this to be an autobiography. It’s not my story; it’s the story of the tribe I’m part of.

DSC07102-800-2-1160x665You weren’t just a scooterist, though?

I’ve written for scooter publications since 1986 and my first official commission was the Isle of Wight when the riot took place. More than that, I’ve always been involved in a scooter club, going to rallies and attending to the ‘No1s meetings’ from 85 onwards. I know the internal politics of the scene pretty well.

I was actually commissioned to write the book by Carpet Bombing Culture, as part of their ‘Two Finger Salute’ series on youth cults.  The publisher Gary Shove gave me a pretty long leash to do what I wanted, though, as long as it fitted in the same ‘photo essay’ format as the Mods and Skins ones he’s recently published.  There are some cracking images from private collections in there and the text tells the skeleton story of the scooterboy movement. If this book proves popular then there’s room to follow it up with more fleshed-out scooterboy stories that I’ve got written or recorded already. There’s plenty more tales left to tell about our ‘Lost Tribe’.

How’s the scene nowadays?

Most of the 70s and 80s waves are too old to seriously call themselves any sort of ‘boy’ now, so they call themselves scooterists instead. The rebellious scooter-borne nature still exists in sons and daughters of originals, but also elsewhere in the world in places like Indonesia.

Finally, Vespa or Lambretta?

Both. I’ve written several manuals on Lambrettas (the Complete Spanners manual now on third edition), but I’ve got Vespas as well and a German Maicoletta scooter. Like thousands of us, I just grew up with two-stroke in my blood.


One thought on “Two-stroke in your veins and two fingers up at the law – Martin ‘Sticky’ Round

  1. Awesome really looking fwd to reading this book by sticky ,Ive always felt so thankful I had the chance to escape my stiff religious upbringing and become a rebellious scooter boy back in 86


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