This year marks a couple of milestone anniverseries for Who fans to celebrate! Last month was the 50th anniversity of The Who’s masterpiece album Quadrophenia, which was released in October 1973, and this month we celebrated the birthday of Pete Townshend’s dear friend Irish Jack, who just turned 80 on November 6!
As many fans know, Pete based his story of Quadrophenia on Irish Jack and the gang of mods who followed The Who in the early 60’s, when the band was just getting their start playing tiny clubs around West London, like the Goldhawk Club in Shepherds Bush. Jack provided a clear mod character that Pete based Jimmy on, and was later called on to provide background scenarios of a 1960’s London mod to help the screen writers during the making of Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia movie in 1978.
Irish Jack has written a lot of stories about his early days with The Who over the years, and has some really interesting tales to tell about Quadrophenia. His writing is always a joy to read, as he lyrically describes slice of life moments from such an interesting period in history.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Quadrophenia, Irish Jack has very kindly sent us a few of his stories about the album and movie, including an excerpt from his 44 page story 'The World's Forgotten Mod'. To help illustrate his stories, he also provided some great article clippings and photos!
Many thanks to Irish Jack for dipping into his beloved archives for us. The stories are great fun to read, and we hope you enjoy them!
Pete and Irish Jack backstage after The Who concert at Bingley Hall, Stafford in 1979. Photo by Ross Halfin.
ROOTS OF QUADROPHENIA
by Irish Jack
In 1972 I was working as a bus conductor in Cork, married with our first child. I had returned to Ireland from London in 1968, met the girl of my wallet and settled down to family life and moderate social behavior. Although now back in Cork I had never lost touch with my old friend Pete Townshend. We wrote regularly to each other, swapping respective baby weights and telling each other what better men we had become because of our beautiful wives. Pete was amused to discover that I had become a bus conductor – a bit of a change from my job with the London Electricity Board's filing cabinets, having LSD for breakfast and Drynamil for lunch.
In one particular letter of mine, usually written on rainy Sunday afternoons, I think I used up thirteen or fourteen pages of handwriting to inform Pete that I had recently become the first bus conductor in Cork to wear Doctor Marten boots. I had bought them –size 7, eight hole– in a little shoe shop called Drummy's on Lavitt's Quay. Pete's response to this news was to tell me he was elated in the knowledge that one of his oldest friends had embraced 70s youth culture – even if I was 29 at the time and he only two years behind. The next letter from him was to tell me vaguely that my letter had set him thinking and it contained many comments on youth culture. I sent him my original Goldhawk Social Club membership card (the one that appears in the booklet in the Thirty Years of Maximum R&B box set)… the irony being I requested that he return it by registered post despite the fact I myself hadn't bothered! When the Goldhawk card came back to me through the genial auspices of my local post office there was a letter from him saying how great it was to hold on to something precious like that for so long – and that he was now thinking of writing a follow up to Tommy. God forbid, but I think he referred to it as a 'Mod Opera'.
In the next spasm of letters between us I started reminding him of some of the things we did and wore when we were mods down at the local Goldhawk Social Club in Shepherd's Bush and some of these letters formulated the root of what has become Quadrophenia. But it wasn't as simple as that; Pete just didn't sit down one dreamy afternoon and write Quadrophenia in a sudden muse. He had already written a song called Long Live Rock which later appeared on the Odds And Sods album, and it was this song that was to provide the genesis for Quadrophenia. Six lines which appear in the second verse typify the Who's 70s boisterous performing behavior and that of a certain individual of Celtic origin....'People walk in sideways pretending that they're leaving, We put on our make-up and practice all the lead-ins, Jack is in the alley selling tickets made in Hong Kong, Promoter's in the pay box wondering where the band's gone, Back in the pub the guvnor stops the clock, Rock is dead they say – Long live rock.'
Not long after in July 1973, I went to London for a holiday with my wife Maura who by now was heavily pregnant with our second child. Although we were staying at my old west London home my wife wanted to visit her auntie Emily in Dagenham overnight. Being a Shepherd's Bush boy this was the other side of the world for me. As soon as we arrived we discovered that at a particular time there was to be an immediate and unscheduled gap in the evening's conversation whereby nobody could speak for half an hour as dear old auntie Emily was a Coronation Street fanatic. We immediately searched for a gag for our daughter. At some point during the enforced television vigil I phoned my old friend Pete Townshend and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he too, much like me, wasn't too pushed about Coronation Street and we agreed to meet later that evening in the Ship Bar in Wardour Street just a few doors down from the old Marquee. We lofted a few beers and passed favorable comment on the state of our respective bell-bottoms and Edwardian locks. Then he took me down to a tiny little studio somewhere in Soho and to my great surprise played me the entire Quadrophenia tapes. We returned to the Ship after which, suitably inebriated, Townshend pushed me into a cab and stuck a twenty pound note into my pocket (a small fortune in those days!) for the taxi ride back to Dagenham.
The lights were out at auntie Emily's and it was pitch black inside. I crept around trying to remember the lie of the place, very gently, not wanting to disturb auntie Emily having one of her wet dreams about the Rover's Return. I opened a door and walked bang into a closet. The bump on my head wasn't too sore and I eventually found the right bedroom. I switched on the bedside lamp to find my wife fast asleep. I smiled to myself as I studied the face of the sleeping angel –as men do– I tucked in warm to her back –as men do– and thought back on the evening. It occurred to me that I had spent the last four or five hours with my idol talking about the old days, about when we were mods, pills, scooters, clothes and the fantastic music we listened to. He had taken me to a little studio to listen to his not-quite-finished-yet album he had once described to me in a letter as a Mod Opera.....months before anyone else would get to hear it – and the strange thing was that he had written this brilliant piece of music at the height of the progressive rock period. Progressive rock, as the music papers called it....Led Zeppelin, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Deep Purple – the very music that would give rise to heavy metal. AND as I lay in bed thinking, it hit me with the force of a hammer that in the four hours we'd been talking there hadn't been a single mod in sight all evening. Not one. They just didn't exist in 1973. Rock was populated by denim and long hair.
Later in October when the album was released Pete Townshend would do interviews telling the press that Quadrophenia was about me, Irish Jack. There's no Quadrophenia pension folks – life's not like that. I never took out a copyright on the name dear old Kit Lambert christened me with, Townshend stole my dance steps in the Goldhawk, and I never expected people to tell me I should be living in a house with fourteen bedrooms and driving around in a Saab. I work as a postman. I didn't drive the post office van that killed Jimmy's scooter. Those old Doctor Martens are long gone. I ride a Peugeot 49cc Vespa and I live in a council house. What a fucking life!!
Hit Parader article 1974
Irish Jack's Goldhawk Club card
KRU 251....and everything that went with it....
by Irish Jack
Back in August 1978 when I was re-installed in the windowless basement at Essex Music off Oxford Street to write typical Mod scenarios for the Quadrophenia director Franc Roddam, I got an unexpected call from the Who's manager Bill Curbishley asking me if I would accompany him and his then wife Jackie to a little forty-seater cinema in seedy Soho to take a look at a young actor being considered for the part of Jimmy in Quadrophenia.
Having gone along to the studio cinema and watching this guy in a 30-minute treatment called 'Hangin Around' by a sociological writer called Barry Keefe, what I liked about him was that he was a bit like me… speed-freak skinny, a born chatter-box, a bad listener and a catch in his voice. When the film was over I turned to Bill and asked his name… 'His name's Phil Daniels,' replied Bill with a note of satisfaction in his voice. As the three of us trooped out of the darkened dungeon back into afternoon sunlight I caught my reflection in a corridor mirror and couldn't stop smiling when I thought to myself... 'He even looks like me...'
A couple of days later I was sent down to Lee International Studios in Wembley to meet Phil Daniels. We met in the studio bar and we talked about mods which he readily admitted to me that he didn't really know very much about. He said he knew about punks but nothing about mods. He had one particular problem and was almost apologetic in its uttering in his nasal Cockney accent..."Jack, what I don't understand is am I going to be playing you or this geezer Jimmy Cooper?" It was, of course, an unexpected ego massage for me and I could've hugged him because in all honesty he hadn't a fucking clue. "I'm the man it's based on. So you're going to be playing the character called Jimmy Cooper," I told him. By the time we finished our second pint the sometimes complex machinations of Pete Townshend's 'Mod Opera' seemed to be making sense. "Oh right !!??"
As we sat and chatted and he wanted to know if I had ever (a) beaten up a rocker, (b) slapped a copper and (c) been inside, it occurred to me that his perception of what mods were actually about was a little wide of the mark. I should of course have told myself that this young boy was an actor and not a bloody peacocked historian like me. In any event, I was much older than him. I got the next pint in and told him I was just nipping out of the bar to go to see Simon Holland the head of costume production to remind him about something. When I looked into a neighbouring office I saw the most beautiful girl sitting nervously waiting to be auditioned. I'd have given her the part just for her eyes. She was Lesley Ash and men would've killed and conquered empires for her. –So, I'm back in the bar with young Phil Daniels and giving him the depressing news that 'no' I had never (a) beaten up a rocker, (b) slapped a copper and (c) well yes, as it happened I did spend a solitary night in a cell whilst being the suspect for stealing Christmas cakes from a shop on the 4th January!
With the third round of drinks over it was his round next and we deliberately stayed away from such mundane subjects as the early Berlin school of post modernism & film and concentrated on how did I manage to spend a night in a cell and did I get bail? He couldn't've told you the difference between Leadbelly and John Lee Hooker but he had an engaging natural innocence. Perfect for Pip in Great Expectations. As he drained his glass he stood up and looked at his watch, saying..."Fucking Ada, I gotta go!" He had to go? Where? And just when things were beginning to get interesting and I'd been storing up some tasty stories about Roger Daltrey's mates, Georgie Harding, Norman Foreman and Reggie Chaplin...the hardest men in Shepherd's Bush. And he had to go? "I thought you were here for the afternoon," I enquired, trying to hide the disappointment in my voice. "I gotta go, see. I got a driving lesson." I looked at him and couldn't believe what I was hearing. A driving lesson? Friends reading this and those tuned in to the present miseries of this sad old social media bullshit world –and those among us hankering to go back to the good old days– will realise that anyone going for a driving lesson in this day and age after three or four pints of beer would be well advised to stay far away from the wheel of a car lest they end up in prison. But back then in 1978, in a mobile-less, email-less and computer-less world surrounded by all that hippy shit, three or four pints was par for the course before a driving lesson. Indeed, they steadied the nerves and made a man of you...even if you happened to be a woman.
We shook hands a little reluctantly and he left. Not for the first time was I left hanging in mid-air with the untelling of a great story. I had another pint and thought about the cock sparrow Phil Daniels. I wondered how he was getting on with his driving lesson. As I drank, I looked out the window at the fleet of posh cars belonging to some of the production team at Lee International. I envied their wealth and smugness. What the fuck did they know about Quadrophenia? They'd never been inside the Goldhawk. I'd lived it as a Mod AND suffered for it with a four-inch steel comb in my back one night in Peter Rachmann's Discotheque on Wardour Street.
A midnight phone call to my Aunt & Uncle's flat. "Hello, Riverside Seven-Nine-Double-Nine?" –my aunt whispered nervously into the receiver, "Is that Mr. & Mrs. Sears? It's the West End Central police station here. It's about your young nephew Jack. I'm sorry to have to tell you but he's been set upon and stabbed in a Soho nightclub. He's not under arrest or anything but it's a serious stab wound and he's gone to hospital. He was lucky really because it's only an inch or two from his lung." My attackers? A gang who frequented the Goldhawk Social Club. My crime? I danced with one of their girls.
–So, I'm looking out the window of the Lee International Studios bar at the flash cars belonging to the well-heeled film producers...And what's this? What am I looking at? It's the jolly nasal cock sparrow himself taking a driving lesson. A driving lesson not in a car but on a scooter. Phil Daniels was at that very moment being chased around the car park by a worried driving instructor in a white coat and clip file while the cock sparrow struggled with the technique of putting a Lambretta into gear... not easy for a learner... and missing expensive cars by inches as he wobbled around the place in an embarrassing fit of starts and spurts. I watched with an amused pride at the boy actor who didn't know very much about Mods. So he got the part, he rode his Lambretta and without too much respect for mods he drove it into a post office van AND then he stole someone's Vespa GS and finally drove that over a cliff......
Phil Daniels and Irish Jack backstage at The Who show in New York, July 1996.
NME article 1979
by Irish Jack
No, I was never an assistant in the making of Quadrophenia but here's what happened: throughout August 1978 I helped spearhead a project called The Who Exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the Mall on Buckingham Palace Road. We ran throughout the month of August in 1978... at some stage a guy called Franc Roddam introduced himself as the director of the being-prepared film Quadrophenia. He said that Pete Townshend had suggested we get together as I had a myriad amount of memoir about the era. They hadn't started shooting yet and wouldn't until October. Franc wanted to take me to dinner to discuss Quadrophenia and he wanted me to write some typical mod scenarios that would have taken place in 1964. We had dinner and we got on very well. He was a quiet-spoken unassuming man from Stockton-on-Tees in the north of England and he knew his Mod.
At the time I was based in the basement of Essex Music, the father of Pete Townshend's licenced copyright. The company was run by David Platz and Essex Music oversaw the Exhibition. I was on a weekly salary – far more than my then window cleaning job back in Cork. After a few more meetings with Franc Roddam he invited me to his production office in Beak Street near Carnaby Street. By then I had typed up a few more typical scenarios from our Mod days in the Goldhawk Social Club in Shepherd's Bush. When these manuscripts were typed up by me I then handed them to the screen writer Dave Humphries who had an office at our Trinifold office at 114 Wardour Street, just across a tiny courtyard from the Ship Bar. I heard nothing back for a few days so I'm lolling about in the basement of Essex Music one afternoon and I suddenly thought..'I wonder how Dave Humphries is getting on with my typed up scenarios?..'
–Now, here we must digress for me to include a very important element to this little story... Two years previous in 1976, a year after I was repatriated with my wife after our year long split in 1975, Pete Townshend sent me a portable typewriter from his office at Oceanic with the message… 'Dear Jack, I hope this typewriter does two things: keep your marriage together and start writing..!' So armed with the completely unexpected typewriter I was typing all day and all night. I started typing up my own Quadrophenia story as how I remembered being a Shepherd's Bush mod at the Goldhawk Social Club, it ran to 44 pages and I called it 'The World's Forgotten Mod'.
When I had the 44 pages typed up I had a rarified brainwave… Instead of just storing the pages in a forgotten brown folder, why not make a mock up album and where the record should be insert the pages? It seemed to work. So I sent each member of the 1976 Who a copy... four albums with badly drawn art work and a small fortune in sellotape. The only one to respond was Pete who said he was delighted to read my "Mod lifestory" and glad I was being productive on the typewriter. –SO, here we are back in 1978 and I'm walking the short walk from Essex Music over to Trinifold, I'll be there in 10 minutes… I arrive and tell Yvonne the receptionist that I'm just popping in to see the screen writer Dave Humphries, along the way I give Mike Shaw a friendly wave as I pass his office. Knock-knock. Dave says humorously 'Enter'. I go in and I'm just about to ask him what he thought of my typed up scenarios and there's Dave Humphries the Quadrophenia screen writer typing with one hand and the index finger of his other hand running along the lines of what I had written in The World's Forgotten Mod! He looked at me a little embarrassed. I look at him and I'm kind of thrilled, amazed, confused and yes, let's be honest… shocked. It occurred to me like lightning that obviously Pete had lent Humphries my World's Forgotten Mod to help him know what it was like to be a Shepherd's Bush mod in 1964. Dave Humphries looks up at me and I'll never forget these words..."This is great stuff Jack – who is it about?"
Invoice from The Who Films Ltd for work Irish Jack did on Quadrophenia film in 1978.
Irish Jack's handwritten intro to The World's Forgotten Mod.
THE WORLD’S FORGOTTEN MOD
by Irish Jack
I decided to walk back to Hammersmith. It was dark now and had turned cold. I put the collar of my coat up, I chose to walk, I needed a lot of time to think. I walked in the direction of Shepherd's Bush Road where I knew I'd stand a chance of getting somewhere to sleep. When I got there, I knocked on a few doors and got a polite 'Full up, sorry!' from four or five places. I grew worried after that. I didn't really fancy sleeping on a bench on Brook Green. I turned off the main road into a side street. There was a house on the left displaying a vacancy card in the window.
I rang the bell and waited. I got a slight start when suddenly an intercom crackled right by my shoulder. I hadn't seen it. The box came alive: "Can I help you?" It was a voice not too unsimilar to Lenke's mother's voice. The foreign ring in the voice but every word in perfected English. I answered: "Sorry to ring so late. Have you got a single?" "Yes but share only." "No single for one?" "Sorry, single for share only." "How many?" "Ten pounds, sir.” "Ten pounds? -No. I mean, how many share?" "Three people share." There was a pause, then the voice continued: "Two in already. You are third person in room. "For ten pounds?" "Yes, for ten pounds. Do you want it?" "I'll take it."
The front door electronically clicked and I pushed it in. An old Pakistani gentleman was waiting to meet me in the hall. He studied me before giving me a courteous nod. He was old but he could have been a thousand years old. Back home he could have been a Lord, here in Britain he was nothing. I marvelled at his manners and gentleness. Here was a man who was extraordinary wrinkled with a white crop of hair on his head and a sharply cut snow-white beard. He was prepared to show me more respect than a prat like me deserved; all because I was a customer and my money was Lord over anything else. The old man stepped tiredly up the stairs to the first floor. He stopped at a door and turning raised his fingers to his lips, indicating the present incumbents were already asleep. I nodded back, indicating I understood he didn't want the light switched on.
He opened the door gently and I tip-toed into a half-lit box room. The window was fastened down by nails. The air hung thick with the smell of sweating bodies and discarded socks. In the corner two figures lay in various degrees of deep slumber one each to a bed. The bed in the centre lay empty. I high-stepped over the end of one of the beds to get to my own, and as I did its occupant suddenly writhed in a frenzy and turned over restlessly. I tried to make out their ages in the dim light but it was impossible. I sat on the edge of my bed and peeled off my socks and trousers. It was chilly so I put my socks back on again. I took paper money from the inside pocket of my jacket and slipped down the inside of my sock. The little hold-all I carried was light. I laid it at the bottom of my bed under the sheet and crooked my right leg through one of the handles. -It was that kind of room!
In the morning when I woke the sun poured through the window. I opened one eye to discover that one of the bed-occupants had already left. I moved my leg and felt my bag still there. He had left behind him a mangle of sheets and a dark impression of hair grease on the pillow. Over in the other bed its occupant was awake. I pulled the sheet a little more over my head leaving just enough room to watch the character. He sat up in a grubby underpants and string vest and choked on a cigarette while in the other hand he slugged from a bottle of whiskey. I wanted to throw up. The guy was in his fifties and unshaven like his entire body hadn't seen clean water in months. When I watched him again he looked like he might have been in his sixties, but truthfully the ravages of cigarettes and alcohol had killed his face so much that he could have been a lot older. The odour of lived-in, slept-in, dried-up sweat hit me from where he sat propped up by a pillow he had managed to balance vertically behind him.
I looked at my watch. It was near noon and I wanted to get up, but I felt embarrassed with this guy sitting there six feet from me. If I hung on, I thought, he might decide to get up and go to the bathroom. After waiting twenty minutes he began to shift about in the bed. Yes, I thought to myself, he's definitely making a move towards the bathroom. Hardly the bath though, I reckoned. He managed to rise from the shambles of sheets beneath him. I lay stiff for fear he'd suss I'd been watching him. He stood up and balanced on two white boney legs, they looked more like spindles than actual legs. Then he took four steps across the floor before dropping his underpants to his thighs and peeing to his heart's content into the sink. I felt like I wanted to puke. My insides rubbed together and I had to fight to keep it down. The old boy returned to the bed and plopped himself back against the pillow. He helped himself to another cigarette and washed the smoke back down his throat with a deep slug from the bottle. That was it for me. I suddenly leapt out of the bed and made a big deal out of looking at my watch as if I had awoken late for an important appointment. The bloke looked at me side-ways and grunted some kind of half acknowledgement. Then he carried on killing himself as if I didn't even exist. I tried not to look into the wash basin. I jumped into the legs of my trousers and grabbed the rest of my stuff. I finished dressing in the hall outside the bedroom door. I walked down the flight of stairs. When I reached the bottom I noticed a sitting-room door slightly ajar. I looked in to find the old Pakistani gentleman sitting in front of a television. Resting on his lap lay a copy of The Times as he watched an import film from his native land. The odd thing was that it had been dubbed into English.
It was a relief to get back out onto the street and breathe in fresh air. I walked back down the Shepherd's Bush Road and sucked in as much of it as I could. When I reached the Hammersmith Broadway I headed down the subway steps into the public toilets. I paid for a vacant cubicle and stripped to the waist. I filled up the wash-basin with ice cold water and leaning over it threw hand-cups of it over my body. The cold water stung as it dribbled down my back but that's what I wanted. I continued to scoop hand-cups of water and slap it hard against my skin until I felt clean. Then I grabbed a thick towel from a rack and buried my face in its rough. I felt refreshed and had an appetite. I finished toweling off and put my shirt and jacket back on. I reached into the hold-all and took out a Sixties-type pocket brush. My hair was still damp and easy to style. I concentrated on acquiring the French-look. That had always been cool. When I was satisfied with it I walked back out of the subway toilet a different person.
I stood in the Broadway looking across at the old Wimpy Bar but changed my mind. Instead, I headed for one of the Irish pubs that still remained in the Broadway. The one I chose wasn't too busy even though it was lunch-time. At the counter I selected some thick cheese-rolls and ordered a Guinness. I took a table at the window and settled down looking out at the street. It looked like a good vantage point for my leisure. I took time and munched my way through three or four appetising cheese-rolls. The Guinness washed it down well. A group of four men and two women all fifty-ish sat at the counter. Now and then I caught the quick snatch of Irish accents. It made me smile to myself when I considered it ironical; that I should be here within a stone's throw from the old Hammersmith Palais listening to the lilt of Irish accents while back then, I myself carried on with an invented Cockney accent. Strange how the wheel turns, I thought.
Presently one of the group at the counter rose and walked across the floor to where a juke-box stood in a corner. I hadn't noticed it before. The bar was pretty large in the old style, probably to facilitate a busy clientele in days gone by. While I sipped from my drink I studied the guy as he pondered hunched over the selection buttons. He did his business and as he returned to the bar the first record filtered out through the speaker. An Irish reel rattled around the bar and above my head. Conveniently, the pub landlord had installed an extension speaker just above where I had chosen to sit. Somebody made a joke among the group and there followed a full-blooded 'Whoop!'. It seemed well-timed cos some geezer on the record was going wild on an electric accordion. It gave me a lift.
I walked to the bar and ordered another Guinness. The guy who had went to the juke-box must have inserted a quid's worth cos the music was coming out thick and fast. While I waited for the barman to cultivate my Guinness, I asked him to oblige me with some fifty-pence pieces. I took out a bundle of notes. One or two of the group looked at me interestingly and smiled. I smiled back. Then their conversation closed in tight when they heard my Irish accent. I smiled at this cos I knew they had me ringed for a Londoner when they noticed my hairstyle and mod-ish attire. I was ahead here. I returned to my table with my drink. Then I walked over to the juke-box. I really didn't have a clue what to expect among the selection. I certainly didn't intend on playing a whole lot more of what had been on already. Ballads and reels tended to become a little boring after a while. I ran through the selection from number-one upwards. There was a selection list of nearly a hundred in all. The first forty were mostly Irish showbands and folk groups. Then there was about thirty current stuff, most of it rubbish. At the far end I found what I was looking for. I slipped four fifty-pence pieces into the slot and began pressing the buttons like I was pre-selecting history.
I returned to sit in my seat, look out the window at the busy Broadway with a drink in my hand; when The Ronettes exploded.... "Be My Baby, Be My Baby-Now-a-how!" A couple of heads turned at the counter in pleasant surprise. There were comments, mostly inaudible but nothing more. The Ivy League's 'Tossin' & Turnin' evoked mild recognition from the group. But this wasn't Tamla-Motown. Tossin & Turnin' had really been Sixties pop, like The Mersey Beats. It wasn't exactly the type of urgent record one would wish to have playing the background as one approached the bar for a drink; so I waited. Presently; the fanfare saxophone came sharp and yet soft as a cushion of velvet. Back in the old Hammersmith Palais-days you'd be out on the floor before the third bar. The bass still boomed solid and deep.... "I'm gonna wait till the midnight hour. Till my love comes tumblin' down... Yes, yes, yes.”
I was up and heading for the bar with my hands buried deep in my jacket pockets. The face was back. I was Lambert & Stamp here. I needed talk and conversation now like a hungry man wanted to eat. I was high on getting higher. One of the group sitting at the counter drummed the palms of his hands against his knees in time with Wilson Pickett. The barman had a fresh glass under the tap before I even called. There was a growing camaraderie at the counter. In a way it spoiled things cos I would have preferred to have remained a stranger, a threat. By the time the barman had cultivated my Guinness, I had exchanged a brief 'hello' with some of the group. Behind us, and from a speaker strategically positioned in a high corner behind the bar, the Righteous Brothers were building an unbelievable wall of sound: "You've lost that lovin' feelin', You've lost that lovin' feelin'; and it's gone gone gone. And I can't go on, Oh-ho Oh-ho Oh!”
I returned to my seat. The drink was going down well and I was still very much in pocket. Maybe enough to add a few more days to my trip. I sat and mused, watching the passing faces outside. Each one an expression of hope, others despair. All hurrying to add one more day; just for the record. Each one of the faces that passed by the window carried a future and a past. Most, and nearly all of them, oblivious to the complicated struggle inside my head. The schizophrenia that had never really died but just gone to sleep. As record after record played in the bar that day, each song appeared as some kind of new testament to act by. Planting seed after seed in my brain as the alcohol found first base and singular purpose took root. I knew what was happening to me alright. The daft thing was that I didn't want to stop it. I rolled along with it.
I sat and stared across at the fibre-and-metal jukebox; having finally arrived at the state of mind I had subconsciously desired for as long as I could remember. A doctor might have described it as a dangerous attack of paranoia bordering on self-destruct. Or maybe there was just one long medical word that described it better. I went to the gent's toilet and found I was steady on my feet, but my mind had tightened up like somebody's clenched fist. The group that had talked and supped at the counter had departed, and in a strange kind of way their leaving had somehow displaced me, left me without an audience. Though we hadn't passed more than a dozen words that much was true, I'd treated their presence as a catalyst for my mod scenario. And now that they had gone, I felt incredibly alone and unbearably unhappy. It was close on three and the young barman was clearing ashtrays from the couple of tables that had been occupied. I took the hint.
Outside, the street's brightness and liveliness seemed exaggerated by the drink. A bit like when the daylight is artificially enhanced after coming out of the afternoon pictures. I stood in the Broadway with feet apart, hands dug deep in jacket pockets for effect, and I observed the scene like Napoleon might survey a field of battle below him. "Right," I heard myself say with conviction. But "right" for what? I didn't know what I had in mind. I think I just meant it more as a sort of pissed-out-of-the-mind reassurer, than anything else. I followed my instinct which took me up the King Street. I swaggered along slowly, but like a pilled-up mod heading for a party. I must have walked up that King Street in various states a thousand times and here I was again today, searching for footprints. A loser trying to win back the past. A bloke who is trying too hard to kill himself. He wants to die but be a witness to it as well.
I picked my way along aimlessly. A window full of clothes caught my eye. A dark blazer with silver buttons and a golfing crest, turned me off. Twenty-inch leg on light-brown slacks just had to be a joke. A pin-striped shirt looked promising, but the butterfly collars ruined it. Fucking hell, I thought, a window-full of shirts: and not one Ben Sherman! I walked away from the window feeling more depressed than ever.
Further up the street, I happened by a window lit up by a row of multi-coloured bulbs. The entire frame of the window was lit by these little bulbs. It caught my attention. I looked through the glass as I momentarily passed, then suddenly checked myself when I saw a display of motor-cycle accessories. Mirrors, lamps, tyres, tubes etc., I stopped and stared at the display, mildly fascinated. Yet there was nothing there that would normally hold my interest. As I looked through the window I noticed an old Vespa scooter in the shop. Second-hand of course, with a price tag taped on the headlamp. £120 they were looking for it. Something urged me into the shop. I was bloody drunk inside I know, but outside it didn't show. An elderly guy behind the counter was packing a pair of leather gloves into a box. When he saw me enter he paid attention.
I stopped by the scooter and hunched over it interestedly. "A bargain there mate, at £120 quid," he said, as I studied the bike. I looked back at him: "Oh, yeah?" "Course, the mileage a bit high I suppose, but that's only to be expected. This is an original, you know. Made to last....", he tailed off. Not wanting to stifle me with sales-pitch. "A real original?", I enquired, winding him up. "Oh, yes. Manufactured in Bristol - 1964!" The old guy had taken note of the way I was dressed. Perhaps the hair more than anything else had been the give away. "Right up your street, I should imagine, guv'nor." "Is it?" I laughed, nervously. He was looking at me with a studious expression on his face: "Bit late in the day for one now maybe..." there was a particular suss in his voice as he continued, "-still. Travel in style, I always say. "Travel in style!” I repeated the famous Sixties' sales motto with some degree of conviction. He must have had a crystal ball… "Tell you what," he said, "You put a hundred and ten on the counter and it's yours. Can't get fairer than that now, can you?" "One hundred and ten?". I repeated his offer. "Hundred and ten!", he said back, reiterating his price. He watched me. "Tell you what," I replied, "How much would that cost to travel with on a boat?" The old boy must've thought I was bloody hallucinating. "Whaaat?" "On a boat," I said, "To travel with on a boat. You know the ferry.." Suddenly, he understood what I meant. "Oh, sorry. Wasn't quite with you there. Well, at a guess, I would say about a quarter or maybe a fifth of your ticket. I wouldn't say it would be all that much. It's all down to how much space is taken up, I should imagine..." He laid his hand on the telephone, saying, "I could find out for you?" Just then I realised that I had travelled from Cork for free on my transport pass. The cost of taking the scooter back with me would be minimum. I stopped him from dialing half the bloody shipping industry. "No. It's alright. I'll take your word for it." "You're taking it then?" "Oh yeah!" "Want to call back in a day or two? -I mean, it's ready now but-- I looked at him with a tired expression on my face as I pulled out a wad of notes. The old geezer's eyes began to bulge and his tongue ran over his lips: "Paying cash, are we sir?" I looked at him again, this time as much as to say: 'Well it must be bleeding cash if I'm paying in notes, mustn't it?' -"Yeah, cash!", I replied drily. The old boy scribbled me out a 'paid' receipt then handed it to me.
I wheeled the Vespa 90 out of the shop and parked it by the kerb. I sat on the saddle for a few moments waiting for my heart to stop pounding. To my surprise it started on the first kick. I had it ticking over when the old guy walked smartly out of the shop with a helmet in hand. He intimated handing it over to me but I looked back at him and said, smiling: "I won't need it." He looked surprised: "Suit yourself. But tis the law you know…" It had been a long time since I'd driven a scooter. I'd never actually owned one myself, but I'd driven one or two around in the old days. It had always been that neat little piston pop that clarified for me that mods couldn't have ridden around on a cleaner or tidier mode of transport. I had always associated dirty grease and the hard smell of petrol, with motorbikes. A different state of mind entirely. Sometimes it occurred to me that it was almost as if the little Italian scooter had been invented for mods and no other purpose. I held it in first gear and moved off carefully. By the time I'd shifted up a gear she was really popping beautifully. I went into third moving up alongside the kerb and the side of a bus. The bus had to slow down when it came upon traffic in front. There was about three-and-a-half to four feet, there couldn't have been much left to spare, I glided through like a cat's whiskers. The bus driver spotted me and hollered down from his cab: "Lookin' for sardine tin, mate." I just looked back at him as though he were talking a foreign language.
I carried on up the inside lane with barely a few inches on either side. Some people standing kerb-side at a bus stop had to step back to give me elbow room. The feeling was powerful. I was pole position at the next set of traffic lights, and when they changed to green I left the entire Chiswick High Road behind me. The energy was flowing back. It was good to be back in the saddle of a piston-popping scooter. There was a Cortina behind me trying to overtake but no chance. I was only doing about thirty-five to forty but I held the middle of the road and that meant everything. The bloke in the Cortina started blowing at me. One or two cars behind him started blowing as well. I gave them the two-fingered sign and carried on hogging the centre of the road. My past was coming back. The geezer I saw the first time in the Kinf Street about a century ago? The mod on the chrome-panelled scooter that looked like a Roman chariot? Had that really been me foretelling the future: just as I'm foretelling the past right now?
Suddenly my ears seemed to split open cos the next sound I heard was a police car siren coming from behind. The car came abreast of me. A copper leaned out the window and shouted: "Pull over, cock!" Something snapped inside me. "No way.” "Come on. Your fucking nicked mate. Pull in!" I turned my head. The wind ran through my hair and slammed hard against my face. The car was about two feet away from me. "It's too late," I screamed back, "Too late for me..." He looked at his driver trying to make out what I'd said. I pulled across the police car and missed its front by a matter of inches. The driver was steering the wheel with one hand and held a walkie-talkie in the other. He spoke urgently into it. Before I reached the flyover I slowed down and then skidded into a U-turn. I headed back down the Chiswick High Road, hogging the inside lane. A second police car taking up the chase passed me on its way up the High Road. The car braked to a halt when the coppers realised I had doubled back. The sound of the siren scared me. I wanted to stop but a kind of force-field inside made me keep going. Almost as if I didn't care anymore about what was going to happen to me, or how long I'd be put away for.
I felt the panic rise in me like a great tidal wave I couldn't hold back. I mean, what the fuck was everyone up to that time? The streets were filled with people and yet not too many batted an eye-lid. Here was one of the original Goldhawk Mods' literally flying in the face of authority on a cool Vespa -and nobody gave a shit. I was so sure I'd turn every head in the street like that old mod had done back in '64. But nothing. Not one look of respect or recognition. Just indifference. Almost like, they'd seen it all before. "Jesus, can't anyone see me anymore?", I screamed inside my head at everyone. But nobody looked. Everybody was too busy getting on with their own hum-drum little lives.
I reached the end of the Chiswick-side of King Street. The remainder of the King Street was one-way but my madness ignored it. "I'll make the bastards notice me. I'll make 'em watch!". I opened the throttle as much as I could and drove dead against the first wave of traffic coming against me. The response was a chorus of horns and a thousand head-lights flashing, telling me I had entered a one-way street. The entire King Street looked on as I dodged between cars and buses. A motorist swerved to avoid me and mounted the pavement. The wing of his car became embedded in the front window of a chemist shop. The expressions on people's faces just became a blur. I heard the police car siren coming back, approaching and growing loud. The two cars had doubled back after me. The wind tore at my face and shimmered my clothes. I just couldn't face the West London Court again for trying to be the ace face.
The police car siren grew louder and louder until it was almost on top of me and then it gelled in perfectly with the scream of the air-raid siren going off in my head. And that was the point when I decided to bow out on a high note. I cleared the remainder of the King Street, leaving behind a trail of panic and confusion. Then I rounded the Hammersmith Broadway doing about forty. Cars and cyclists scattered everywhere as I cut across the traffic. I took a left and mounted the pavement before I closed my eyes and smacked into the plate-glass doors of the Palais.
And that's why I'm here. Why I'm lying in this bed with tubes running in and out of me. The family have been contacted. One or two are catching an early flight tomorrow. Maybe they'll be too late. The odd thing is that I've always had it in me, this dream to become the ace face; but now I haven't got any fucking face. It's hideous. Bone structure clipped together by skilled wiring, I've seen the bloke who's going to do the surgery on me. He says in spite of myself I'll probably pull out of it. He was assisted by a couple of nurses and had walked away from my bedside when I croaked for him to come back. He came and leaned over me close so's he could hear what I was trying to say. "Doctor? That plastic surgery, tomorrow..?" He nodded, indicating he understood: "The plastic surgery? Yes, what of it?" “This might sound like a strange request...but---", I hesitated. "-Could you make my nose a little longer??" The doctor straightened up and replacing his stethoscope in his pocket, looked at me in exactly the same way as the geezers in my class used to at the Hammersmith Day College.
All stories are copyright to Irish Jack
Back Street Heroes article 1985.
English Independent article 1993.
Spin article 1995.