Pictures by Karl Bedingfield.
At some point in the summer of 1979, the world went Mod – and the small cathedral city of Ely was no exception. Secret Affair’s ‘Time For Action’ was on the radio and we were queuing round the block to see ‘Quadrophenia’ at the Rex Cinema in our two-tone suits bought from Browns on Forehill, or from Dave Pinks in Cambridge, or from the charity shop on the High Street. It was all a bit low rent then, before Mod tastes got a little more sophisticated and we could afford budget made to measure.
I remember those days as pretty rough times. Life at the fag end of the Seventies was tribal, even in the depths of rural Cambridgeshire where the tribalism was invariably geographical, even on a micro local level. Ely itself was always Mod, no argument, and nearby Stretham was full of Mod-friendly Soulboys and Funketeers, but in the other surrounding towns and villages, like Soham, it was the Rockers that held sway. Slightly further afield were the Lakenheath and Mildenhall Skinheads but they only made occasional forays onto our patch.
Most of the rucks in those days were with our arch-enemies, the ‘greebos’ from Soham. The battlegrounds varied. Sometimes it was discos at The Maltings in Ely, at other times the fight was taken to the heart of enemy territory, the infamous ‘church bench’ in Soham or the village hall in Fordham, but rarely did a Saturday night end without a fight. It would always start with a push or a shove and within seconds the dancefloor had spontaneously erupted into teenage conflict, bringing the evening to a premature end.
As we tired of the small town rivalries we started to venture further afield, caught up in a world of two stroke and parkas. First a ride out by ourselves to Skegness for the bank holiday, where we had our scooters turned over. Then we started to join the thousands of Mods heading to coastal resorts all over the country: the Isle of Wight, Great Yarmouth, Weymouth, Morecambe, Whitley Bay. One time we decided to ride to Scarborough through the night to avoid the traffic and found ourselves flanked by bikers who wanted to race us up an empty A1. They soon tired of trying to match the speed of a Lambretta – it’s hard to get a Triumph Bonneville to go that slowly.
Some stayed with it, while others have returned to it since. Now, a bit over 30 years later, many of the Ely Mods have scooters once more, and probably better ones than back then. But these days the nights rarely end in a brawl.
As the Eighties progressed things got more dangerous when the Casuals came along and brought their own style of organised affray to the world of the teenage ruck. I remember a gang of Casuals clutching Stanley knives and hurling CS Gas canisters into a club in Clacton, and more of them jumping out of cars with crudely fashioned wooden weapons to attack scooter-riding Mods on their way home from the coast. By this time it was becoming harder to watch from the sidelines without getting dragged into the trouble, so music started to become more important than the exhilaration of the scooter run and many of us moved into an underground world of either Northern Soul or live bands.
For some of the Ely Mods, this period of their lives was a passing fad, while for others it lasted well into the Eighties and beyond. My mate Dave Beeton was the quickest out and soon became the first New Romantic I’d ever seen, coming back from London wearing make-up and talking about the Blitz club before I’d even got used to wearing my parka. Karl got a new haircut and went a little bit electro, Steve joined the RAF and wore a different kind of target t-shirt, Mark crashed his scooter and got into David Bowie, Paul headed out to the Falklands with the navy, while Jimmy’s brother shocked us all by turning up in retro Punk bondage trousers at a time when no one knew what ‘retro’ was. Even Adam and Heidi, the coolest Mod couple in town, eventually became its first Psychobillies.
Some stayed with it, while others have returned to it since. Now, a bit over 30 years later, many of the Ely Mods have scooters once more, and probably better ones than back then. Thankfully these days, the nights rarely end in a brawl.