A Bank Holiday approaches, and thoughts turn to the seaside. Johnnie Taylor looks back at Mods at Brighton in the 1960s.
It’s been decided…we are all going to Brighton this Bank Holiday.
I don’t know how it was chosen, but ‘the word was out’ in the clubs last week that it was the place to go and so we have made plans. Of course, some of the ‘hangers-on’ are still asking where everyone is going, but they will have to find out themselves, as will the scooter boys, although we will probably tell them later.
On Friday we have to organise a nice lot of ‘gear’ and six of us chip in our money to buy a couple of ‘tins’ from a place in Shepherds Bush.
Two of us drive to a cafe there and have a cup of tea while we wait to get the nod to go upstairs. It is always a delight to go upstairs as we get to watch the two girls sitting in front of a mountain of pills on a table and putting them into envelopes. Fair makes our mouth water! We buy the two tins of ‘blues’ from the man, who, with a touch of class, gives us a stack of envelopes to put them into.
He also gives us strict instructions to sell for not less than ninepence each, and we know enough to take heed of what he says, especially looking at the big minder he has in the room with him! He has full-time pushers out there who work for him, and I suppose this weekend is an opportunity to make extra money as demand is high.
We drive back to the pub and sit in the parking lot putting the pills into the envelopes before going back in. When we enter the crowded pub we are both delighted and dismayed to see Tony, a ‘top Mod’, in there.
Delighted because he always knows where the action is, he was the person who first showed me where the ‘Coffee An’ was, always seems to know where to get some pills wherever you go, and everyone loves him. Dismayed because we can see he is well blocked, and people are asking him if he has any to spare. Any to spare! He has done a chemist shop earlier that night and has tons of ‘blues’, Dexedrine and ‘black bombers’ which he is selling for sixpence each.
We will have to wait for him to sell his before we get a chance, so we just divide ours up and have a few drinks, there will be plenty of opportunities this weekend. Tony eventually disappears and we start to get a few people asking us for gear. I sell to friends for ninepence, some of the girls we charge sixpence, and the scooter boys we sell to for a shilling…sorry lads! Nice boys really, they just have to pay their dues.
Roger turns up later with a load of ‘preludine’ which he has got from an Irish pub nearby. A bunch of the Irishmen there get their wives to go to their doctors and get the pills prescribed for ‘dieting purposes’. They, in turn, sell them to us and use the money to go boozing on a Saturday, a great arrangement all around!
We decide what time to meet tomorrow to drive down on Saturday afternoon, four cars and a van to take a dozen of us there. I go home and make sure my Fred Perry, striped Italian jacket and straight cut dark blue trousers with the French turn-ups are laid out, as well as a couple of changes of clothes for the next couple of days. I also take my blue nylon Italian raincoat just in case it rains, you know the English summers, but nothing will stop us going to Brighton tomorrow.
Saturday turns out a beautiful day, the sort you get about five times a year in England, and although I planned on having a ‘lay-in’ I’m too excited and get up earlier than intended and get my clothes together.
My mum tells me to take care this weekend as the last ‘do’ at Hastings made the front page of the newspapers (of course). My parents were pretty good about things, they never had much of a teenage life growing up when the war was on, so they are happy that I am having the good time they never really had. Must have been a bit of a worry to them though and I made sure I never brought any trouble home.
Roger turns up and I put my stuff in his Mini and we meet up with the others and all drive off together. Now Roger was the sort of person who just looked like a mod no matter how he dressed. He could get out of a swimming pool and stand there dripping wet in just his swimsuit and he would still look more ‘Mod’ and ‘flash’ than the rest of us.
There are just the two of us in his car, and we had agreed that we wouldn’t take any pills until we got to Brighton, but on the way, Roger takes a roundabout a little fast and hits the curb. I look over at him and see he is blocked already and trying to hide it from me, the villain! I laugh and take 10 myself and we relax and his driving gets better. Better than that morning he went straight across a roundabout after a night up west, really blocked that time he was.
We pass a lot of mods trying to hitch a ride and eventually pick up a couple of girls both wearing ‘?’ length green leather coats who are going the same place as us of course. They twig we are blocked and decide to take some of their pills now they have a ride all the way. After a while, we are all laughing and yapping away.
We get to Brighton and meet up with the others, there are already tons of Mods about and a lot of familiar faces.
It must have been a little scary for the folks who were just out for a day at the seaside, but we didn’t mean any harm to them, there was just a lot of us being a bit rowdy and having fun, we didn’t want to hurt them at all.
But it was probably a bit intimidating to people, especially the older ones, like a crowd of football supporters can be nowadays, except seeing thousands of mods in one place was an unfamiliar sight to almost everyone.
Down on the beach itself, the place between the piers looks to be wall to wall Mods and we head down there.
Suddenly someone with two pennies held in his eyes comes jumping out at us! It is Tony and we nearly fall down laughing, he has been here since Friday night.
‘Got any gear, lend me some money’, he says, same old Tony, when he has lots of cash and drugs he almost gives them away and ends up with nothing. I always help him out. Today he has a battery-operated record player that I have never seen before, and he starts playing Nina Simone’s ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, and some other great records which soon draws a crowd around us. When he played ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T I thought the place had gone mad, everyone jumping and dancing about. Where he got the player and records I don’t know, it’s hard to get any sense out of him at the moment.
Lots of people after gear and we sell loads of our packets, making several trips back to the car where we stashed them. Everyone just hangs around checking out what people are wearing and seeing who looks like a top mod.
Later that night we are all jammed into the ‘Beachcomber’ club, 100s listening to Charles and Inez Foxx, Jimmy Reid and other sounds being played by a pretty sweet DJ. It is so hot in there that I go out into the street for some air. There are a lot of scooters coming into town now as the word has got out where everybody is, and there is also a group of moronic rockers.
About a dozen of them are opposite the club, they have their own club up near the station a few minutes walk away. They start shouting at us, calling us ‘p**fters’ and the like, just a dozen of them and hundreds of us, is that stupid or what? We didn’t go to their club and hassle them. Enough is enough, and some of the lads run across and start thumping them. The rockers’ girlfriends help them away as they are vastly outnumbered, but one of them is bent over double as he is hurt. Suddenly this black Mod with a ‘bluebeat hat’ runs over and kicks right him in the head, just like Twickenham, a great ‘3 pointer’ if ever I saw one, sign that man up!
I have to tell you this people, when those greasers bleed, it is not a dark oily substance that flows from their veins, but it is blood similar to yours and mine, the sort that would stain a desert boot, but would slip off my polished leather Ravels Grand Prix shoe.
Just then someone throws something through a big plate-glass window in the store opposite and we hear the police sirens in the distance. A load of scooters come roaring up the street and we push our way back into the club.
The police try to come into the club later, but it is just too full and they give up. The owner would like to close, but nobody in the club wants that to happen and he has to keep the tunes playing. I find myself squashed beside a particularly attractive mod girl who tells me she has a room for the night at one of the bed and breakfast places. We leave together later and she smuggles me into her room.
The next morning I head back to where the cars are and meet up with the others. Roger and Tony are sat in the back of the car and are talking to each other incoherently, they are so wasted. They are talking just ‘gibberish’ and making strange sounds, but amazingly enough, they seem to understand each other and it is like they are having a proper conversation.
This just cracks us up and we can’t stop laughing, just what is needed as we are starting to come down. Al and Rob come out of the van where they have spent the night with a couple of girls they have met, and they go off looking for somewhere to wash and spruce up.
Later in the day, a lot more people arrive, a lot of scooters and a lot of rockers as well. Why the rockers come I don’t know, we didn’t come looking for a fight, they chose to come here, but we aren’t going to stand by while they shout and jeer at us. Some of the fights are quite bad, but I didn’t see it as our fault, why didn’t they go to Bournemouth or somewhere else, dumb rockers.
There are a lot more police around as well, and they try and keep us herded in the beach area where holidaymakers come to stare and take pictures while the press is around urging us to fight so they can have a story.
Someone pinches one of their cameras and we have a bit of a laugh throwing it from one to another as he tries to get it back. Eventually, we get fed up of just staying there so we start a charge and break through the police line easily, people scatter everywhere, it’s ok, we don’t want to hurt you, just fed up of being cooped in one place.
I go to a coffee bar, and amazingly Tony turns up there looking and sounding completely straight now. He ‘bums’ a coffee and a ‘smoke’ from me and tells me about a party that is being held at a big house just out of town that night. If there is anything happening he knows about it. I remember when he was in prison for 3 months and his girlfriend was going to visit him. We gave her 20 pills to smuggle into him while she was there, but when she came back she had 60 pills that he had passed to her to give to us!
He could even find stuff while he was inside, just incredible. So later we all go to this party and there are a lot of Mods there but it is a pretty cool evening and everyone just has a good time, no bother, no problems. I doze for a while, and later slug down a few more pills, but after them, I have a right headache and know that it is time to give it a rest.
It is no wonder we could all fit into those nice tight clothes in those days, we only ate five days a week! We travel home the next morning, except for Tony who is staying with the girl whose house it is, her parents aren’t coming home for several days.
The next day we come down from the gear, but it was such a good time that we don’t have the miseries too badly as we talk about the things we did while we were there, and know it will keep us in memories for some time to come. We find out later that there were more fights on the Monday and that the scooter boys had quite the time sending the greasers packing. It’s nice they had a good time and enjoyed themselves too.
And now Brighton is known as a family beach, but whenever I go there for a walk around, I look at the place and think… kids today, they don’t know how to enjoy themselves.