Bank Holiday Monday
It’s 55 years since the historic meeting of mods and rockers on Clacton beach. Where were you on Bank Holiday Monday 1964? It was August 31st – I was in Chelmsford. ‘Have I the right?’ by the Honeycombs was number 1 in the charts. ‘Doo-wah diddy diddy’ by Manfred Mann was number 2. I had just heard ‘Under the Boardwalk’ by the Drifters.
On Monday 31 August 1964, according to my 1964 diary, most of the mods I knew spent the day in Chelmsford. Why go to Clacton, when you’ve got Chelmsford?
Again according to my diary, I had a ‘fabulous day’. I went to the Orpheus cellar coffee bar in New London Road, where all the mods hung out, listened to the Ronettes on the juke box, had a discussion about a mouth organ, noticed someone wearing a very nice navy blue suede with a leather collar and then went home for my tea. In the evening my best mate Christine and I went to see Chelmsford City football team play, in their ground on the far side of the rec. My diary is strangely silent about who we were playing and what the score was – I was much more impressed with the fact that after the game we got a lift home in the mini of Pete B. A mini!
A few weeks ago I went into the BBC Essex Radio studios to talk about my memories of those early mod days, with Laura Doyle. She’s put together a BBC Essex Special, Leathers and Lambrettas, which will be on BBC Essex at 12 noon on Monday 26 August, presented by Marty Wilde, to mark the 55th anniversary of the historic clashes between mods and rockers. The programme asks the question, ‘Was it all about throwing deckchairs at each other on the beach?’ The short answer is of course, no. It was about clothes, and music and transport and just hanging out with your mates. We talked about the music I was listening to, and I described that feeling, sitting in the Orpheus, coffee in a glass cup in front of me, my suede on the seat beside me, chatting to Christine, when the first drum beats of Be My Baby rolled round the room. Heaven.
Listen in at 12 noon on 26 August 2019 to hear the memories and music of mods and rockers in Chelmsford and Essex of 50 years ago. BBC Essex Radio 95.3 and 103.5 FM, and on 729, 765.
This week I have been trying to cancel my landline – a long, arduous and probably expensive task. Telephones, phone calls, numbers have been going round in my head and last night first line of the Stones’ Off the Hook came to me. This morning I found the clip on YouTube.
I listened to this track on the juke box in the Orpheus coffee bar. It was the B side of Little Red Rooster, another great song. Although the Stones, in the beginning, were seen more as a Rocker-ish kind of group (as compared to the Beatles who were cleaner, prettier and more Moddy) what the Stones had was good bluesy music, which is what Mods liked. Off the Hook was raw, it scratched its way into the room, it was clean and dirty at the same time. It was simple but it rocked and it was our experience. Sitting in your bedroom, getting into bed and reading your book, turning out the light – and taking your phone right off the hook, thinking about your baby. It was pain, uncertainty, assertiveness. It could have been me.
Could have been me but probably not, partly because the notion of a bedside lamp hadn’t reached the Woodhall Estate in 1964, and then our phone was in the hall and not in the bedroom – what an idea! – but mainly because we had a party-line. We shared the line with the Conservative family along the road – so we were morally obliged to keep our phone in order at all times.
But when the first high guitar notes snaked into the Orpheus, you knew you were in the right place at the right time. And so is my old landline. It’s gone. Right off the hook.
On Thursday the forecast for the evening was cloudy, a little sun but no rain. This was excellent news for those of us going to see The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) in the open air, at the British Museum. Some were more prepared than others for the fact the sun would go down and, despite the title of the film, it would get cold. But we had cushions and cardboard seats, and hot dogs and wine were on sale, so we were comfortable.
I had never seen the film before. It was in black and white, British, with lots of well known faces – Leo McKern, Bernard Braden, Peter Butterworth as well as a brief appearance by Michael Caine and loving shots of London. But with its subject matter – the nuclear arms race, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with archive film of the Aldermaston march, and the melting of the polar ice caps – it could have been made today.
There was also a brief section where beatniks ran amok when the world seemed to be coming to an end. They smashed windows, broke into homes, behaved in sexually explicit ways (in the nicest possible way) and were rude and brainless. It was an image reflective of the times – society trying to come to terms with the notion of teenagers, youth culture, young people having a life away from their parents. Even the credits showed that the ‘beatnik music’ was composed by someone other than the composer who created the rest of the music in the film.
The day before, Frank, my hairdresser, had been playing a version of A Town Without Pity – amazing how you don’t hear a song for 10, 20 years but you still know all the words – but it didn’t have the edge on Gene Pitney. But in terms of young people, the song and the film seemed to be saying the same thing. We don’t much like you. Beatniks got older and made way for mods and rockers but the message was still the same. And as Gene sang so powerfully, ‘It isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do.’