I recently ran across a reference to Mods vs Rockers. I’d never heard of this before and was surprised to discover that this “conflict” was well documented and considered an important cultural event. There are even clubs today active in major cities, including Dallas. The Dallas Texas RockervsMod website has rally photos going back to 2007.
The thing that caught my attention when I first ran across an online reference to the mods was the photo of a slender young man wearing a neat, dark suit with the typically narrow ’60s tie sitting on a scooter. Roddy McDowall came to mind. I was surprised to discover he was apparently a typical member of a feared gang. There were numerous news accounts of them going toe to toe with a precursor to the England’s Hells Angels motorcycle gang called the Rockers. The image brings to mind the rabbit with “really big teeth” in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” First of all, what in creation would entice a neatly dressed young man in suit and tie riding a Vespa to throw down on a leather -clad future Hells Angel?
It turns out that while there were a few physical confrontations between the groups, most of the actual furor was from a bored press. The two groups occupied different territory and rarely came into contact. The most famous conflict was on Easter weekend 1964 in the English seaside city of Clacton. The fight resulted in several broken windows and the destruction of some seaside huts. Several newspaper accounts however painted images of large -scale rioting and complete breakdown of public order.
The Rockers looked the part dressing in jeans and leather, riding motorcycles, and listening to rock ’n’ roll. The Mods presented an incongruous picture puttering up, neatly dressed and groomed on their Vespas or Lambretta GT200s. They carefully cultivated an image of snobbishness. Their music of choice was blues, soul and R&B. I gather they were drawn to these genres more by its rarity at that time than any actual love of the music. As those styles became popular, the Mods quickly abandoned them for other forms, such as Jamaican Bluebeat.
As amusing as this image seems, I was suddenly struck by a view of myself riding to work in tie and sport coat. As I write this, there is a mix of Celtic and New Age music wafting from the speakers on my desk. Maybe those guys weren’t so odd for their time after all. I can’t handle a scooter though. I’ll take my Valkyrie over a Vespa any day.
－ Guy Wheatley