Book review: ‘Punks On Scooters’ by Michael W Salter
A look at the late 70s/early 80s mod revival, as experienced by one man who lived through it in Bristol
You’ll have to forgive us a moment of self-indulgence here, because this book has pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with writing songs! But while songcraft is this magazine’s primary concern, we’re also interested in the wider culture that surrounds music, and what this book does do is provide a first-hand, eyewitness account of a vital phase in the ever-changing saga of British youth culture.
And an under-documented one, too. While there are dozens of books on the original Mod movement of the 1960s, when it comes to the late 70s/early 80s revival we can think of only two – Anthony Gregory’s Mod Revival 1979, and Enamel Verguren’s This Is A Modern Life – which is odd when you consider that this was the era that spawned The Jam, Madness and the 2-Tone Records label, all of whom retain their iconic status to this day.
But you can now add to that list Salter’s book. Subtitled The Bristol Mod Revival 1979-85, it’s a very personal account of the author’s own discovery of, high times in, and eventual move away from, the mod scene right here in Songwriting‘s home town of Bristol. This parochial, slightly solipsistic approach perhaps won’t suit everyone – certainly, more comprehensive (see Paolo Hewitt’s The Soul Stylists, or the two books mentioned above), or more scholarly (see later chapters in Richard Weight’s Mod) analyses are available elsewhere.
On the plus side, though, Salter’s blow-by-blow account of scooter runs, repeat Quadrophenia viewings, nights out clubbing and the inevitable skirmishes with bikers and skinheads captures the excitement of being 18 and ‘part of something’ perfectly, while appendices written by fellow scene veterans help to give a little extra perspective. The book’s also particularly strong on the emergence of ‘scooter boys’ (an even less well-documented movement!) in the mid-80s – and of course, if you do have a Bristol connection, the hyper-local angle actually becomes a big selling point.
Punks On Scooters is a joint venture between Tangent Books and Bristol Archive Records, whose reissues and superb compilations have done a great job of preserving the city’s musical legacy across genres from reggae to punk/new wave to heavy metal. This book is a very worthy addition both to their catalogue, and to the bookshelves of anyone who’s ever pinned, sewn or painted a red, white and blue roundel onto an olive green parka.
Verdict: A memoir rather than a cultural studies textbook, but a fascinating read nonetheless
Punks On Scooters is out now, published by Tangent Books/Bristol Archive Records, priced £9.99