I’ll do it and be God forever!
It’s been 40 years since THAT film, you know… That one.
Quadrophenia was arguably the largest influence to rekindle scooter interest. On the 25th August Gary Shail (Spider) is holding a celebration on Brighton pier to honour Quad 40 and Toyah, Leslie Ash, Trevor Laird, Gary Cooper, and Gary Shail will unveil Brighton’s ‘Walk of fame’. Gary’s told the cast – if they don’t turn up, he’ll get the fans to tell them exactly what they think: and then he’ll be God… Forever! At some Quadrophenia events, fans are like big-game hunters, stalking their prey to get every signature – then whack it on eBay, it being a barometer of fame. If your signature’s worth £80, you’re fashionable – £6.50… you’re not. At this moment, everything Quadrophenia is top dollar, it’s never been bigger, but I do emphasise, at this moment.
No – Sleep – ‘Til – Brighton!
Jason Edge of The Electric Stars introduced me to Gary and he spoke about the upcoming event… People kept asking about the 40th and during a coffee with a mate I ended up here. From musician/actor to event manager overnight. I wanted somewhere iconic, hence, the pier. We’re not allowed on site ‘til midnight, so we’ll build all night. No – Sleep – ‘Til – Brighton! Last year it peed down, so we’ve a plan. It’s no hotline to God, but it’s a plan. In reality, it’s a party – it just so happens to be the biggest party I’ve ever done. The music was the easy part. The Electric Stars, Who’s Next, The Highs and The Regents – all bands I can 100% rely on. I was a musician before acting, drumming at age 12. I’d do Friday, Saturday, Sunday, making £30 to £60 – an amazing amount of money back then. The acting was accidental. I got detention and had to stand in the gym with the drama teacher on duty. He called me over… ‘Read this…’ He’d adapted Tom Sawyer, I played Tom and that was it, I was off to Arts Educational School. My final year show was a Chekhov play, but I was a punk and I appeared with green air. After the play, a woman introduced herself as an agent, inviting me to her office. I went to this plush office, there sat John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), he’d been fancied to play Jimmy. It was 1977, Punk was king. Next to Johnny was Toyah with crimson hair! Mark Wingett was a punk too. He had a chain and padlock around his neck, he was right on it.
I did the audition was recalled. I took my girlfriend Tammy with me, I met the director, Franc. He took one look and said ‘I don’t think so.’ The casting people mentioned my fighting skills. Franc said ‘You don’t look hard enough.’ I backflipped, smacked him one – and got the job. As we left he told me to bring Tammy along, she’s in the film too.Franc knew what he wanted. Filming started with a script, but things changed, we’d just get notes about a scene. It would say something like: You’re talking about going to a party. You’ve just knocked on Chalkie’s door and his mum has answered. Then they’d shout ‘Action’ and we’d improvise, it was difficult to stop us. I’d love to see what got cut, but I think it’s all lost.
We got to know each other really well. Franc would give us money, a driver and a pub. Sting was one of us and we went to see the Police at the Rock Garden, we were the only people there. We also had 1960’s dance classes with Jeff Dexter, he told us what was mod. By now, we’d become a gang. One day we were at the office of Bill Curbishley (film producer and band manager), to get the film’s promo T-shirt. We were allowed 1 each. Phil Davis noticed boxes of them in a back room. I went in and chucked a pile out of the window and Phil scurried about picking them up outside. Then Trevor went in and bunged another pile out, by the finish, we left empty boxes. Why didn’t we keep one? Can you imagine what they’d be worth now?
I’d love Sting’s scooter as a table
The ‘scooter’ training started on 250cc motorbikes (yes, 250s were ‘L’ plate legal) I’d been riding for ages, so I was on a 750. Insanely, they trained on motorbikes and THEN handed out scooters. Everyone fell off. With all the mirrors, it was like steering a ship. Trevor Laird (Ferdy) couldn’t ride anything, not even rollerskates. In one scene, Chalkie scoots around a bend and a load of bikers fall in behind him. Well, some idiot had parked a car on the blind bend, Phil turns the corner, pulls like mental avoiding the car, but causing a mass pile-up, bikes and scooters everywhere. We had to call 999 and the staff panicked, none of us had worn crash helmets, it’d invalidate the insurance, so out the back of a van they threw a load of helmets about before anyone turned up. Madness. I’d still love to own Sting’s Vespa, but I’d replace the seat with a huge piece of glass and use it as a dining room table.
Quadrophenia was just a small British movie?
People say Quadrophenia was the spearhead of mod revival. At the time, it was a small British movie. Back then, VHS hadn’t even become mainstream. However, one of the proudest moments of my life was getting off a tube train, the doors opened and there was the film poster. I simply thought, Oh my God. That is fame.
Did Sting choose the GS because of his initials (Gordon Sumner)?
No. Otherwise, I’d have had it, Gary Shail… Next…
Was Nicolas Lyndhurst in the crowd scene at Brighton?
How should I know? there were so many bodies there for God’s sake.
Did Ray Winstone actually own a scooter, but played a rocker because the original actor broke his wrist?
I did hear that, but I can’t verify it.
Still the ultimate in mod style?
Recently, I had a photo taken. I wore a Harrington, a pair of white jeans, some pumps and a borrowed pair of sunglasses. It went out and comments started… ‘ultimate mod style’. I thought. This is ridiculous. That’s stuff I wear every day. I wasn’t trying to make a statement. The first label I had was ‘Punk’ and YES I WAS! I had Vivienne Westwood Seditionary trousers, they’re worth three grand now! That stuff’s in a museum, mind you, so is Quadrophenia, in fact, I’m in loads!
Last year I got invited to the 50th anniversary of Trojan. When I bought the records as a kid, I didn’t dream I’d be a guest at such an event. People are already talking about Quad 50, I’ll be nearly 70 by then, but if there’s life in the old dog, I’ll do it. Why not? Why not indeed.
Some tickets for the full-day event are still available from…
Words Rik Bardsley
Pics Rik and supplied by Gary Shail.