Sunday, 1 July 2012

Quadrophenia, my first time

So Quadrophenia was screened on BBC4 on Friday.  It’s nearly 33 years since its release but I still love that film (even with its well-known chronological / continuity errors!)  I saw it soon after it came out, at the local Odeon, which just happened to be a five minute walk from my college.  It immediately attracted the attention of some of us who’d just started on the Art Foundation course.  Terry, a kind and unassuming mod, was very excited, and suggested that we skive off one afternoon to catch it, so a little gaggle of us did just that.  There was Ivor, the Sid Vicious lookalike (except that he had curly hair – the bane of his life) and his soul-boy mate Jake (white socks), my fellow punk friends Jill (slightly Siouxsie-ish) and Andy (chided for wearing 'Jam' shoes with bondage trousers), parka-clad Terry, and me (spiky peroxide-white hair).  Being a midweek matinée the cinema was nearly empty and we spread ourselves over two seats each, right in the middle.  Munching on bumper packs of Opal Fruits and Butterkist, we lapped up the gritty tale of a troubled young mod from ‘60s London and his cohorts, as they battled through a lot more than just the obvious conflicts with their nemesis rockers, to a vibrant, evocative soundtrack. For a start it was a much better way to spend time than designing a label for a box of dog biscuits (to a soundtrack of marker pens squeaking on paper), but, more than that, for us teenage viewers it had it ALL.  Music, parties, youth tribes, aggro, sex, drugs, unsympathetic parents, disillusionment, misunderstanding, fashion, anger… 

Like Quadrophenia’s central character, Jimmy, there were some lost souls in my local punk scene too.  Jimmy could have been pink-haired Allie, whom I remember admiringly for being one of the first to buy proper Crazy Colour from London (while the rest of us were still using food colouring).  Being a punk meant everything to him but he had that unsettled edge, as if constantly seeking something he was never going to find.  The last time I heard of him, an unhappy home life and hard drugs had taken their toll and he’d ended up in a psychiatric hospital.  I hope he recovered, and didn’t take a trip to Beachy Head. 

In Quadrophenia, Jimmy did take a trip to Beachy Head on The Ace's stolen scooter - and my college friends and I couldn’t quite figure out if he’d intended to go over the edge with it as well.  Still, we enjoyed the whole film.  Terry particularly loved the soundtrack, the scooters and the clothes, of course.  Jill, Andy, Ivor and me were quite chuffed to see Toyah – she was still a bit of a punk figure largely from her ‘Jubilee’movie appearance – and I think Jake was quite happy just to see Lesley Ash being shagged in an alleyway.   But the main thing was its relatability, in spite of its retro theme.  At that time I didn’t really care about the past and had little interest in music or fashion from another era.  I would have turned my naïve and snotty punk nose up at a Who single (I know...) - yet I liked some of what I’d heard by mod revival bands because they were contemporary.  Daft as it sounds now, ‘Mod’ to me then only meant 1979 Mod ! Some months before seeing Quadrophenia, my local gig venue had put on an all day mod event...

Wonder what the prize was for the 'best decorated parka'..? 

Punks and mods had mingled relatively easily there – just as we did at college too - because for the main part we felt some kind of allegiance.   A mutual liking for the Jam probably helped us to cross those boundaries too.   Any rivarly between us was generally confined to light-hearted ribbing.  Some elements of our look were shared, like short hair, straight trousers and multiple badges, and separated both tribes equally from hippies, teds, skinheads and disco kids.    I guess we had a joint feeling of being in the margins through our own choosing.  Our parents laughed at the records we bought... "is that how you're supposed to play a guitar now, then?" ...and couldn’t understand our sartorial obsessions... "I suppose they wear wet jeans'n'all?".    Kids got beaten up for the way they dressed and teenage dreams were shattered by adult reality.  Of course Quadrophenia acknowledged all of that.  It couldn’t have been a better time for me to see it.

When some other friends said they wanted to go to the pictures just a week later, I was happy to join them and watch it all over again.  And I watched it again last Friday night, all these years on.  Even from this distance and with some very different priorities and cares, I recognised a lot of those teenage feelings once more. 

A little bit of inspiration for the Who from Slim Harpo


  1. It was great seeing 'Quadrophenia' again last week. Thank God for BBC 4. I bought the album not long after it came out and it has been a favourite ever since. I certainly think it is The Who's finest work and much better than 'Tommy'. The film isn't perfect (could have lost Sting for starters) but it is very evocative of a time I don't actually remember but seems to live on as a folk memory. Nice slice of Slim, by the way.

  2. I watched it a few months back when it was on the telly.

    Firstly - I think many of us lads of that age wished they'd been in the alley with Lesley Ash. You have to feel very sorry for her in her problems with her health in recent years - such a shame to try to hold on to those moments, looks etc. so desperately. I salutary tale there...

    So here's a funny thing - never went to see it. By the time it was out I'd done punk and got disillusioned and headed off via Quo and others to heavy and notably prog rock.

    However if things had been just a little different I might actually have been in it. The scene at the beginning in the club is a band called Cross Section. They come from my home town and for a few weeks/months in the year before that I'd rehearsed/jammed with them on a couple of occasions. Their guitarist (John) was fed up with the manager (singer and bass players Dad) and there was obvious tension and he wasn't long to continue. They were therefore looking for new likely talent. In the end Phil Kitto got the gig not me, he went on to be in Eurovision in some band years later, I last heard of him still working in Spain as a cabaret act. With Phil they auditioned and got the part in the film - funny given they were actually more a rock band playing a lot of Quo etc. but hair cuts to mod style etc. and off they went for 15 mins (secs) of fame.

    Vince - the singer is now a reasonably successful country singer on the South of England circuit.

  3. I watched this on DVD a few months ago with some trepidation, worrying if its flaws and snags (which we noticed and immediately chose to ignore at the time) might just have taken over and rendered the film unwatchable, from such a great distance. Thankfully, though, I still really enjoyed its oddly poignant mixture of gauche freshness and rank cynicism.

    Like you, we all seemed to know characters in our own lives that we could transpose directly on to the film - Jimmy, with his desperate inclusion needs, shallow Princess Stef (SO pretty though!), lost little Monkey with her unrequited struck a note with us all.

    But I've never grown to love The Who, I'm afraid....

    1. I think the pre-Tommy Who is almost untouchable...Can't Explain? Get the...out! Only the Kinks were better.

      Once they made a conscious effort to stop making 2 minute singles...I hate 'em.

      Weren't Punks called Hard Mods for a time?

      Slim Harpo is the boss.

  4. Thanks, all.
    "Thank God for BBC4"! - I couldn't agree more SB! As a relatively recent newcomer to digital it's so good to have access to all these music progs at long last. Loving it.

    That's a great story, Furtheron and I feel rather privileged to be in the know, now! They must've been so delighted at getting their 15 seconds of fame, as you say, in a film of such reputation. So much better than an X Factor audition, eh... As for you - even tho' you didn't quite make it to the film, your connection, of course, places you within the 7 degrees of separation to a lot of very interesting people!

    I'm glad you still found it enjoyable, Kolley, all these years later, just as I did - I think there must be a lot of resonances for all those of us who saw it as teenagers, we felt linked to it and as if 'knew' some of its characters as you say.

    E.f - is that true about the label 'Hard Mods'?! I can sort of see that, although I have to add that my little punk scene out in the provinces was really rather soft and quite fluffy... (well, of course).

    And as for the Who...
    I vaccilate when it comes to Who albums. Love most of the early stuff but need to be in different moods for some of the later output - sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn't. Having said that I haven't actually listened to an entire Who album for years! It's a bit like with the Beatles, somewhere in my mind I think they're SO familiar that I don't need to hear them, but on the odd occasion that I do, I realise that that very fact has rendered them less familiar somehow... if you see what I mean...

  5. Fantastic post. Love the description of the motley crew at the screening - especially Andy with his bondage trousers and Jam shoes. Seem to remember a lot of that from my youth were folk moved from one youth cult to another - sometimes quicker than their wardrobe would allow.

    1. Oh thanks, Monkey! Glad you liked it. It's those little fashion detail memories in particular that still tickle me.


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