September 28, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Mods and Rockers clash in Tamworth – 1979

5 min read
Mods and Rockers were at each others' throats again in the late 1970s in the town of Tamworth in England as Tony McMahon discovers
Mods Rockers Tamworth

Today, Tamworth is a market town in Staffordshire with an old castle and an indoor snow dome. It’s also famous for its pigs. And my other half comes from there – so I have to nice about it. But back in 1979, like so many other towns and cities in England, it saw outbreaks of violence between rival youth cults in its pubs and on the streets. The main cults being the revived Mods and their rivals, the Rockers.

As the 70s ended and the 80s opened up before us, British youth culture was both vibrant and aggressive. Mods, Rockers, and Teddy Boys were enjoying a new lease of life. Punks, Rudeboys, Skinheads, Suedeheads, Soulboys, and other tribes hung around town centres. The music was amazing but youth unemployment was climbing fast. And many young people complained about being both broke and bored out of their minds.

Tamworth sees the Mods versus Rockers violence re-emerge

The 1960s witnessed the tabloid newspapers feast on seaside battles between Mods and Rockers. 1979 would see a revival of these mindless altercations by the next generation. So what was to blame? The movies according to some pundits. All of us had been to see the film Quadrophenia but I don’t remember, as a 16-year-old, feeling the need to leave the cinema and beat up a rocker. But then I was a terribly nice young man. Others maybe reacted differently.

One town in the Midlands of England would be severely affected.

In Tamworth, Mods hung out at the Amington Inn in the Bolehall area. The pub’s licensee complained to the local newspaper that Rockers were calling him and his staff up threatening to burn the place down. He told a local reporter that the problem was “boredom among the kids”. Thousands of youngsters in Tamworth had nothing to do so were over-drinking and then turning on each other.

But he wasn’t about to turn the Mods away. They were good customers.

Quadrophenia, with its nostalgic depiction of Mods against Rockers in the early 1960s, had sparked off a new wave of youth battles. After being screened at Tamworth’s Palace cinema, rival gangs of Mods and Rockers exchanged blows at Hamlet’s Wine Bar in Lower Gungate. The local paper described how “windows were smashed and glasses broken when one of the gangs stormed the bistro and clashed with a rival gang”.

I have to smile wistfully as wine bars and bistros were a very late 70s and early 80s phenomenon – and regarded as a cut above the corner pub. Clearly young people hadn’t got the message. They were just as suitable a venue for a bust up as any bog standard boozer in their eyes. As a result of this fight, an irate Hamlet’s banned “leather jacketed rockers”.

Tamworth Mods argue their case

The Mods of Tamworth were keen to present themselves as the neat, well-turned out youth with short haircuts and snappy clothes. Sitting in a pub on a Sunday lunchtime listening to Secret Affair and The Who on the jukebox before donning their three-quarter length green Parka coats and heading off on their much prized Vespa and Lambretta scooters.

Since the 1960s Mods had evolved into Suedeheads and Skinheads, then many of them becoming Punks in the mid-1970s. But by the end of the 70s, the original 60s look was back. Things seemed to have come full circle. Pubs all over the country acquired tribal identities determined by their regular clientele. The Amington Inn had become Mod central. It was if the world’s clock had been turned back to 1964.

The Mods largely disappeared or transformed throughout the 1970s. But the Rockers continued more or less unchanged. That indicated a character difference between the two youth cults. Mods were fizzy, questioning, impatient, rebellious. Rockers seemed like lumbering dinosaurs by contrast. Revelling in their refusal to evolve.

Tamworth Rockers argue their case

Tamworth’s Rockers insisted to the local paper that they had not been making threatening calls to bar staff at the Amington Inn. They preferred to be called “bikers” and many frequented The Globe in Upper Gungate. Their three main passions could be divided into: riding motorbikes, fixing motorbikes, and talking motorbikes.

They were prepared to live alongside the Mods until the incident at Hamlet’s Wine Bar. The Mods had descended on the bar when they knew many Rockers were at a disco in Polesworth. Since then, Mods had taken out Rockers they chanced upon in chip shops or just on the street, in broad daylight.

The Rockers blamed Quadrophenia. Before that movie, the Mods had been Punks or just ordinary kids. But now they all wanted to be swaggering, Vespa-riding 1960s-style Mods on a mission to take out their rivals. Far from being the aggressors, the Rockers were often scared of being randomly attacked just because they had long hair and a leather jacket.

Of particular concern to the Rockers, was the prospect of the Mods drafting in contingents from Sutton and Wolverhampton – referred to as “Wolvo”. If that happened, there would be total warfare. One 18-year-old Rocker issued a grim warning that resonates in our own time: “Some of the rockers we know fight with guns and knives, there’ll be a bloody murder in the town…”

DISCOVER: The 1980s Mod Revival explained

Tamworth Mods and Rockers into 1980

Sadly things didn’t improve as 1980 dawned.

In February 1980, 50 to 60 leather-clad rockers marched with menace down Colehill in Tamworth. One man, subsequently arrested, was carrying a nine pound chain and padlock “heavy enough to anchor a juggernaut”. When stopped by police and asked why he was carrying such a thing, the snarling Rocker replied: “It’s for my bike”. What he couldn’t explain was why his bike was unlocked back at The Globe while he paraded with the lock. A court appearance resulted in a £25 fine and £40 costs.

The following month, all hell broke loose at the Amington Inn with an almighty confrontation in the car park between Tamworth Mods and Rockers. One 17-year-old ended up being rushed to hospital after a road sign was chucked at his head. A 23-year-old denied having lobbed the sign though admitted having thrown in at another group of people earlier in the day!

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