No Jeans! No Greens! No Casuals! London Scooter Clubs 1979-1985
Roger Allen, Old Dog Publishing 2020
Driving a scooter through London wearing a parka in 1980/81 was seen by other youth cults as a provocative gesture. It was seen as an invitation to violence by skinheads, casuals and bikers that roamed the same streets. Soon these scooter-riding mods banded together in clubs united by a shared interest in scooters, as well as fashion and music, to present a united front against their enemies.
After visits up North, on scooter runs to Scarborough, a lot of these clubs started to drop the mod fashion and picked up on the scooter boy look of the Northern clubs. Many London mods didn’t get it and banned scooter boys from their venues with signs proclaiming ‘No Jeans!, No Greens!, No Casuals!’ in other words no scooter boys.
Roger Allen spent two years interviewing over 60 members of the clubs that existed within the London area between 1979 and 1985. The A23 Crusaders and The Paddington, The Wasps and The Viceroys, The Nomads and the Virgin Soldiers and all the 80 scooter clubs that made up this scene. Andrew Stevens spoke to him about the 337-pages strong result.
You’d dabbled in suedehead but what was your own involvement in the scooter scene prior to the book?
Well I was too young for skinhead. In 1969 I was 10 but my secondary modern school in 71/72 was in the grip of the suedehead/smooth style and I was into that, although on a limited budget. There wasn’t a scooter scene in my part of South West London in the seventies. I mistakenly thought the growing pub rock/punk scene was going to be more mod-influenced than it did. I took heart from bands like Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods and The Jam and their fast R&B sets mixed with various sixties fashion bits and pieces. It was a musical upheaval but eventually, the biker jacket and spikey hair became the ‘look’ of that scene. But in 1976 I bought my first Lambretta and rattle-canned it black and yellow over the winter. I probably wasn’t the only person in London choosing this path but I didn’t see any others in 76/77 apart from once. I rode up to Praed St in Paddington to buy the Hot Rods’ ‘Wooly Bully’ from the only record shop that was selling it and there was another Lambretta outside! No sign of the owner. Years later somebody told me that Rat Scabies of The Damned had a Lambretta at that time and it was probably his.
You mention that seaside holidaying London mods began to take on the look of northern scooter boys and soul in 1979, becoming an off-shoot identity.
It’s important to remember that in 78/79 the standard fashion of the time for men was flared/baggy trousers. This isn’t some retro-hip look the northern mods were adopting. And they called themselves mods and their fanzine/bible was called ‘Northern Mod’. I know a lot of them like to say now that they always called themselves scooter boys, but at the time they called themselves ‘Mods’, but their dress was the standard fashion cut of trouser at the time, flares or bags. Their hair was much longer as well.
I encountered them at Great Yarmouth, Brighton, Clacton and Southend, all in 1979. The London mods were wearing straight-legged Levis and sta-prest and parkas. You wouldn’t see a London mod wearing flares or bags at this time. You could tell from 100 yards away whether someone was a London mod or a Northerner. Their scooters and the organisation of their clubs were far, far better than ours, though and they were generally older. Go forward a couple of years to 1981 and a lot of London mods were going further afield on their scooters. Easter at Scarborough was the place to be. A couple of dozen mods had made the trek up there in 1980 from London and now there was to be a couple of hundred.
A lot of dissatisfaction had been creeping in with the older London mods. Younger ‘moddy boys’ had infiltrated the London scene and drawn ridicule from the rival skinhead and casual factions. Scarborough became a turning point. By this time I was 21 and far from ready to settle down. I could go into a London venue and be one of the oldest people there but in Scarborough it was an older scene, 20-30-year-olds. The love of scooters became the unifying force. Fashion-wise — jackets covered in scooter club patches, jeans (not flares), greens, boots… that became the look we took away from it. Divert money away from clothes and towards scooters and strengthen our individual scooter clubs. Not all London mods felt the same way and that was the divide.
How many scooter clubs were there in London when you first started out?
In 1976 I wasn’t aware of any scooter clubs in London. The Lambretta Club of Great Britain was in mothballs. 1978, early 79 I was in Southend and the Southend Quadrophonics were already established. In London early on there were the Glory Boys. I remember seeing them pull away from a Secret Affair gig in very large numbers. They probably wouldn’t agree they were a scooter club though. 1979 was really the year a lot of the London clubs started. The first London club I really became aware of in terms of a club having a structure, meeting place, identity etc. were The Viceroys. Obviously in pre-internet days word spread a lot more slowly.
Eddie Piller mentions in the book how Woodford and Buckhurst Hill were mod but neighbouring suburbs like Loughton were either skinhead or ‘half mod’, leading to tension between the youth cults wherever scooterists gathered nearby, such as The Castle and the Horse and Well?
That’s true. Some areas were skinhead strongholds like Mitcham and Kingston, some were casual strongholds like the Old Kent Road. Some estates were mod, some skin. Very territorial. The West End didn’t belong to anyone so something like the Phoenix was a relatively trouble-free place to go. Going to the Thomas á Becket in the Old Kent Road was the opposite. It is worth saying that my main memory of those times was what a laugh everything was, but as soon as I interviewed anyone their main abiding memories seemed to be of the violence.
You catalogue a lot of London clubs but also go so far as to have a section on ‘Enemies’?
The way I saw it was like this… the skinheads were from the skinhead revival. Historically skinheads from 68-69 were derived from mods of earlier in that decade. By 68 mods either went hippy or skinhead. The skinhead revival skins adopted the same dress as the 69 skins, but by 1980 had decided that mods, rather than be a close ally of theirs, were in fact their enemy. A lot of skinheads would argue that these weren’t proper skinheads but glue sniffing ‘boneheads’ i.e. knuckle-dragging, tattoo on the face nazis. Whatever they were — they wore boots and braces and used to turn up at the coast to take on mods.
Casuals also shared a bloodline with mods/skinheads as well. Some could argue that they were the 80s version of mods — smart, clothes obsessed, etc. but they also viewed mods as their enemy. Throughout the book, there are references to ‘casuals’, ‘skinheads’ and ‘rockabillies’. I thought it was necessary to describe exactly who these ‘tribes’ were. If you were writing a book on the English Civil War you would need to describe to the reader who the Roundheads and who the Cavaliers were.
I am pretty much convinced that if mods hadn’t been picked on by these other youth cults then mods would have just cracked on doing what they were doing. We always seemed to be acting in retaliation. As the eighties progressed, most scooter clubs became less mod and more scooterboy and adopted fashions from skinheads, casuals, rockabillies, and even bikers!
You mention that rather than violence, your memories are more of fun. Is this why you chose to list so many venues in the book, to capture the ambiance?
Not really. As soon as you jot a few venues down people were adding others to it, “Don’t forget the Canterbury Arms!”, “Don’t forget the White Lion”. It was the same with Scooter Clubs. Inevitably you are going to miss some out.
The book has a scrappy, fanzine feel, with some typos, was this intentional?
It was just the way it progressed. A lot of the photos I was sent were fairly low-resolution snaps and the interviews I took were just in somebody’s normal conversation style. I didn’t want to polish it up or change people’s words for them so put it in warts and all. It took on a fanzine look, which is a background I came from so I chose a suitable font that looked like it had been bashed out on an old Remington typewriter. If there was a load of typos — good! Even better! It’s worth pointing out that all the profit from this book is going to the Poppy Appeal so there was a limit to how much time I was going to spend refining it.
You end the book in 1985 and have a final chapter on ‘Leaving the scene’?
Well I started the book with people’s reasons for joining the scootering scene so I thought it was only sensible to find out what made them leave it — bored with it, settled down, turned off by the way it was progressing. Funnily enough, I found most people who joined the scene in 1979 had left by 1985. Not all but most. Loads came back later on, ‘born again’ or enjoying a ‘mod life crisis’ with enough money to get a decent scooter and wear the clobber they couldn’t afford before.
It’s dedicated to Tony Class?
I had a lot of respect and affection for Tony. He organised things in London early on and took risks. He would open a venue, it would get smashed up/closed down and he would open another one! He opened something like 70 different venues with only a few lasting more than a few weeks. Most people would have given up! In books that came along later, he seemed to have been airbrushed out of it and I thought that was wrong as he was so important. His main aim was to create a party atmosphere and he would play anything to create that. I do miss him.