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My Mod memories… The Who, Rockers and scuffles with cops

10 May, 2019

John Waters

• I WENT to Brighton twice in the 60s (Mod Willie versus Rockers who wielded bicycle chains, May 3). One trip was on Bank Holiday Monday in June 1965, a weekend that was one of the most memorable in my life.

We spent most of the Sunday morning just mooching around our local coffee bar – DeMarco’s in Archway. I got some kip Sunday afternoon in the local Odeon (this was par for the course). Sunday evening was a big event – The Who were playing at St Joseph’s Hall on Highgate Hill.

Early evening found us ensconced in the lounge bar of “The Cat” on Highgate Hill. Most of the talk was of the following day and our “trip to the seaside”. We were building up in preparation for the event.

All of a sudden we found that we had been joined by Keith Moon and Pete Townshend. The trip to Brighton was mentioned several times. Moon said he was going down but we took that with a pinch of salt.

The hall was sold out and the band was… well, as you would pretty much expect. Loud, brash and full of energy. Lots of girls squealing and shouting.

We were mob handed as the event was on our manor and there were probably 50 or 60 of us in the hall. When someone spotted a small contin­gent of faces from another local firm words were exchanged and before long there was a fight. A right hook smack on my jaw sent me flying down the highly-polished dancefloor to end up in a heap under a table full of girls by the front of the stage.

The fight was broken up by the bouncers (all good local chaps), but the skirmish had whetted our appetite for the Bank Holiday.

The following morning found us meeting up at Victoria Station. There were around a dozen of us. A few paid for tickets, some even bought returns but I didn’t believe in paying for anything if I could avoid it so I just bundled my way through with the crowd (no turnstiles in those days).

The train was packed with Mods heading to the seaside. At one stage a ticket collector tried to make his way down the corridor checking tickets. I hid in the overhead luggage rack. I am sure he was well aware of what was going on but did not fancy getting involved.

We hit Brighton like a plague. Dozens of erstwhile hooligans disgorging onto Queens Road and heading to the beach. Along the promenade police were shepherding and cajoling Mods onto the beach where they could be kept under some kind of control.

Mr Waters in his Mod days

Most of the day was spent wandering up and down the beach/front catching up with others or trying to chat up the ladies. Rockers were few and far between. Every now and again a convoy of bikes would make its way along the front, but going fast enough to avoid direct con­frontation and keeping within sight of the police. The pebble beach made for some very handy missiles, ideal for pelting at the passing enemy.

Whenever boredom set in some bright spark would stand up and shout “Grease” or some such war cry. Immediately a large mob would rise as one and head off at speed chasing the ‘invisible’ enemy.

To be fair there were a few instances when Rockers were really being chased, but on most occasions it was simply an excuse to rampage through the town creating havoc.

The damage caused was mainly superficial and consisted of knocking over signs and litter bins, with the odd shop window being put through. There were a few minor cases of theft from shops, but again this was minimal. Most of the fighting consisted of scuffles with police. I was grabbed on a couple of occasions but managed to get away without having my collar felt (leaving one member of the constabulary with a sore shin). I saw at least one of our number dragged into the back of a paddywagon though.

We were hanging around the town centre trying to “get lucky” with some local girls with a view to finding somewhere to crash for the night but without much success. We decided to find somewhere to ‘kip’ once the pubs had closed. We eventually picked a spot in the grounds of the Pavilion and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. I drifted off to sleep only to be wakened by a copper’s size 10s in my ribs. We were told in no uncertain terms to “move on”, although the terminology was a little more blue in content.

We then settled under the pier with a dozen or so other sorry-looking Mods and spent a sleepless night, what with the breeze off the sea and the sound of the waves.

By morning we were damp and miserable. Whatever cash we had brought was just about gone and we decided to head back to London.

A quick check revealed I had enough cash to get a ticket to Redhill, just outside Brighton. Once on the train I would be away.

We showed our tickets and walked past the inspector towards the train when I felt two hands grab me by the shoulders. I spun round to be confronted by two coppers (of some considerable size).

“Going to Redhill, are we? There’s a special train just for you.”

They dragged me to the other side of the platform where a sorry-looking bunch of similar Mods were waiting “under guard” to be put on a slow local train that was only going a few stops.

Now I was sweating. I watched my mates get on the train and then the whistle sounded and she began to pull away. My mates were at the door and I made a decision and as the train began to build up a little speed I broke away and made a dash along the platform.

The lads had the door hanging open (no locks in those days) and I ran alongside until I made a grab and jumped aboard. James Bond would have been proud of me.

That was the last trip to the coast as Mods. The following year was the World Cup so our minds were on other things. We were a little older and wiser perhaps or simply a little less energetic.

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