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Posts written during 'October 2012'

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Don Letts - Culture Clash, Chapter 17

Clash City Rockers - Part 1

Out of The Clash guys, I got to know Paul Simonon first through our mutual love of reggae. We’d swap mix tapes, which was our way of communicating and serious currency back in the day. I had tapes of Mikey Dread’s late night radio show in Jamaica called Dread at the Controls, which I lent to Paul. The show played reggae exclusively and whenever it was on in Jamaica the crime rate went down! Mikey’s knowledge, approach and experience of making reggae music was invaluable to the Clash during the Sandinista sessions, and the end results of his contributions were stunning, with tracks like “Bankrobber” and “One More Time”. People make quite a big deal out of the punky/reggae connection, but what were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones listening to? It was black music. It’s just that to the uninitiated it wasn’t that obvious within their music, but with the Clash it was right up front. It was in their lyrics, in their bass-lines and their subject matter. Not only did the Clash cover Willi Williams’ “Armagideon Time”, Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves” and Toots and the Maytals “Pressure Drop”, they name checked Prince Far-I on “Clash City Rockers”, Dr Alimantado on “Rudy Can’t Fail”, the Abyssinians “Sattamassaganna” on “Jimmy Jazz” and Dillinger, Leroy Smart, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson on “White Man In Hammersmith Palais”. It made me immensely proud that my culture was being represented by these guys instead of being lost within self-interpretation. With the Clash it was not white reggae; it was punk and reggae. Their songs brought some of their culture to my culture. Reggae spoke in a language the punks could identify with. It was the anti-fashion fashion, the rebel stance, and importantly the fact that reggae was a kind of musical reportage, talking about things that mattered. Songs like “Money in My Pocket”, “I Need a Roof” and “Chant Down Babylon” struck an obvious chord with “the youth”.

Don Letts Chapter 17 1

I think one of the advantages that I had when I started making the music videos was that none of the bands that I worked with had aspirations of becoming actors or film-makers, of which the Clash were the best example. They just made music and let me get on with my job as filmmaker. They were obviously aware of my work with The Punk Rock Movie and the PiL video and chose me to be the man for their debut single ‘London Calling’. Now the punk look was supposed to be about individuality but after the Bill Grundy episode with the Pistols it soon became a uniform. The Clash were smart enough to see it was painting them into a corner. Punk was supposed to be about freedom and liberation, and all of a sudden you had the ‘punk police’ saying, “you can’t wear this, you can’t do that, you should sound like this.” The sound of ‘London Calling’ was the first real challenge to those punk shackles, throwing soul, reggae and rockabilly into the equation. It was cool seeing them break out of the restrictions that punk had very quickly developed. The Clash had also changed their look to an East End gangster style. They were always image-conscious rather than fashion conscious.

Don Letts Chapter 17 2

                                                                    Mikey Dread, R.I.P

For “London Calling” I decided to shoot the video on a pier in Battersea on the River Thames in the afternoon and wanted cameras on a boat to get the right angles. Now I didn’t know anything about tides and when we got there to set up it was out and the cameras were fifteen feet too low. Then there was the current. After setting each shot up we found that we were moving further and further away from the pier. By the time we had sorted out all these problems, it started to piss down with rain and it was nighttime. After about three takes I just wanted to get out of there. I am now told that the “London Calling” video is a classic. It was a textbook punk situation, turning your problems into assets. Around this time the Clash had decided against playing large venues and were due to play at the Lewisham Odeon in South East London. I took the opportunity to shoot the “Bankrobber” video in the afternoon before the gig. Prompted by the title I decided to quickly get some shots of Johnny Green and Topper’s drum roadie Baker running out of a bank on Lewisham High Street with bags of money dressed as villains. This was intercut with the Clash playing “Bankrobber” live at the Odeon with Mikey Dread at the controls. As I was filming the last shots of Baker and Green running to the back door of the Odeon, two police cars came round the corner with their sirens blazing. Armed police jumped out and had Baker, Green and myself pinned against the wall. Johnny Green told them that we were art students working on a project. For the “Call Up”, a song about dodging the draft, we originally wanted to shoot the video in a cemetery but the local council refused permission and at the very last minute we ended up shooting at former sixties pop star Chris Farlowe’s warehouse—which was full of military memorabilia and equipment as he was a renowned collector. The song was about registration for the draft in America—a subject dear to Mick Jones since he had attended a draft demonstration in New York. The setting for the video shoot was just perfect—another example of turning problems into assets.

Don Letts Chapter 17 3

In the aftermath of the initial punk explosion it looked like the major record companies had regained control and were having it all their own way. The Pistols had imploded, the Clash had finally signed to CBS after months of negotiations and I had reinvented myself as a filmmaker. So it was a period of death and re-birth for all, and everyone looked to the Clash to take things to another level.

Part two of 'Clash City Rockers' will be available to read soon. Click HERE for all posts by Don Letts.

As part of our 60 Year Anniversary Celebrations, Don Letts has created six short films exploring British music and street style. The Don Letts Subculture Films are now avilable to watch on Fred Perry Subculture HERE.

A Chat with Gran Sport Scooters

Based in Birmingham, Gran Sport Scooters started life in 1995, founded by the combined knowledge of a rich wealth of passionate individuals and talented mechanics from the midlands and beyond. We met with current team member and talented mechanic Danny Turner to discuss the history of the business, the scooter scene today and a very special restoration project.

Danny Gran Sport Colour

I was 10 in 1982 when my skinhead uncle came home with a Betamax copy of Quadrophenia, it blew me away - that was it really - within a week I had a parka, a white Fred Perry and a pair of brown desert boots, job done! When the clock struck midnight on my 16th birthday I got on my Vespa to take it for its 1st ride out, mum and dad were outside to wave me off and then I heard this rumble of scooters coming down my street and I was greeted by 15 other Mods on scooters. Dezl (Derek Askill) had secretly organised his mates to surprise me and take me on my own first ride out and that was the best ride out I've ever had; amazing feeling, I had waited 6 years for that day. I was a tad emotional. Most of the ride outs in the 80s early 90s were my favourite times as well there would be some times between 20 to 40 scooters all going to the Isle of Wight, Hastings, Great Yarmouth, Scarborough, Blackpool etc. The Tony Class CCI rallies were the rallies to do back then, these were all long journeys when riding a 60s scooter that didn't do more than 55 miles an hour - but looking good was most important.

The Modernist and Scooter scene at the moment has a healthy and dedicated following, and is now starting to draw in the younger generation; which can only be a good thing, as new blood to the scene means that this passion for all things Mod and scooterist will go on for years to come. There is still a strong movement of diehard Mods, I know this being one myself, but in general the whole scooterist scene has a blend of everything in the mix these days, if you ever go to a scooter rally there is a whole cross section of fashions there.

Interior Gran Sport 1

Many of our customers use their 60s scooters for work and play, and most of them can use a spanner and don't mind keeping them up to scratch if they break down. A lot of our friends and customers have two scooters or more, usually a classic Vespa or Lambretta and then they have the good old classic PX/T5 as these are tried and tested reliable scooters for everyday use. The most popular Lambretta models are the TV 200, SX 200, GP 200 and TV 2 and 1 being as popular as ever but almost any unrestored Lambretta's in original paint are becoming increasingly desirable. The Vespa models that we are most often asked for are SS180, GS160, SS90 and GS150 - all of these models are very sought after and are at the top of everyone's wish list at the moment. Original 60s accessories, rare or otherwise, seem to be the most popular way of adding that 'individual' element to their pride and joy at the moment, I know of lots of people who have paid hundreds of pounds for one little item just so they can have that finishing touch to the their scooter. Vigano and Ulma accessories being most sought after.All our restorations are memorable because each customer wants something a little different (and better than the one before), it's a bit like the mod ethos of wanting to be an individual I suppose.

We pride ourselves on being precise and trying to be a little more patient with the scooters we build, it takes a long time to build a restoration as some of our customers will happily tell you, but it's the finished item that counts, we use as many original parts as possible and only use the best remade parts available (Casa Lambretta being the best) after all, you are advertising your restoration and word of mouth on the streets is a great tool to have on your side! At some point in the 80s everyone who worked at Gran Sport has been a Mod at one point so yes we are all into the scene, some in a small way and some still in a big way giving us the ability to advise our customers from personal experience. Many of the original members of the Gran Sports team have gone on to specialise and continue to be major players in the classic scooter business. Derek Askill is a legend on the Mod scene and the major contributor to our reputation for the highest quality restorations and iconic Gran Sport specials. Other original members include Jason White, ex of Classically Italian, Nathan Warriner, ex of Rimini Lambretta. Not forgetting the long standing and current line-up: Jason White, Jon Sillitoe, Ashley Phipps, Danny Turner (myself) and Gary who juggles the numbers.

Gran Sport Interior 2

Quite a few costumers let us have a free rein on their restoration, as they want a bit of a Gran Sport touch and want to make sure they're not making the wrong suggestions. We always question SOME of their ideas if we think that something wouldn't look right and try and give them our honest opinion. Nine times out of ten they go with what we think is best - and this seems to work! As a company, we have sponsored many events including and a variety of local scooter club do's, the most recent being for a Mod friend of ours who lives in Vietnam that contracted a paralysing illness. A friend and I organised a fund raising night for him and raised over £3,000 to help with his medical bills, this was helped by friends, many customer donations and from friends and Gran Sport itself.

There's a big Mod movement in Tokyo and we have sent many scooters over there, and we have also sent restored scooters to Spain, America and Australia. We've supplied scooters to a few famous faces; top Mod Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene has purchased many Lambrettas from us (Lambretta series 2, LD, Special, TV175 and a PX 200) so has Simon (Lambretta Silver Special) and Damien (Vespa PX 200). We supplied two Lambrettas for a Paul Weller competition, one was done with the Wild Wood theme and one with the Stanley Road theme, and we've also hired scooters out to Goodwood Revival and even some film and advertising work, including a few music videos from Ocean Colour Scene to UB40. Over the years we have had the likes of Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream and Mani from the Stone Roses pop in, who are both big fans of the scooter world.

Gran Sport Bumper 

The 'lights and mirrors' scooter fashion for Mods came about by the late 50s early 60s by scooter enthusiasts of the day. There would be meetings and scooter rallies held for an older and younger generation of scooter owners, that would enter their scooters into custom shows and put accessories on them to make them more interesting and to individualize their model. When the Mods then started to appear on the streets, a lot of them were purchasing second hand Lambretta's and Vespa's with all these little shiny accessories on, and so to make them their own they then added to them again by borrowing spot lights off cars and the odd mirror, then I guess it escalated from there with other things they could lay their hands on!

Chrome By Colin

The inspiration for my own lights and mirrors Lambretta was the front cover of the book  Mods! by Richard Barnes. I was also influenced by two local Birmingham Mods, Philip Ford and Colin Bunn. They had scooters to die for being a young Mod - they were covered in lights mirrors and chrome accessories and I wanted to beat them and wanted a more 60's feel to mine but still over the top. I still own the Lambretta but I have de-modded it, as I think the Mod movement is a youth movement and as time goes on I feel you have to tame it down a bit if you're going to carry on with the style, I feel this also goes with Mod clothes element too, you can spot an old Mod miles away, they have still got that cool style but less over the top should I say!

Sx200 1

The SX200 is a classic model with fine slim line detail, this is the model to have if you want a Lambretta, they are extremely sought after and will not or should not come cheap, (unless you find one in a old fella's back garden) as some of us have been lucky enough to do in the past! When purchasing a Lambretta SX or any classic scooter it's good to have as much history for the scooter as possible, do your homework, there is a huge amount of info on the LCGB website and if you're not sure consult your local, or a reputable scooter shop they will be happy to advise.

Gran Sport Scooters are currently restoring the SX200 shown above to a custom spec chosen by Bradley Wiggins. Over the next few months, we'll be showing the scooter in its various stages of refurbishment before it's presented to Bradley on completion. Stay tuned for further updates.

The Bicycle Film Festival

London's Barbican Centre will host the 9th annual Bicycle Film Festival this weekend, with a series of screenings and events taking place in the city. With British cycling riding high after a summer of successes, the festival is perfectly timed for a gathering of new and established cycling fans.

The festival programme features both feature length and short films, with highlights including the World Premiere of Line of Sight, directed by Benny Zenga and shot by legendary cycling cinematographer Lucas Brunelle.  British actor Timothy Spall stars in Justin Chadwick’s Boy, a short silent film that explores love and loss as a father struggles with the death of his son, who is killed whilst cycling on a country road.

Boy - Dir. Justin Chadwick. The Bicycle Film Festival

Running alongside the festival will be a diverse selection of special events, including the annual Bike Polo Tournament and a BMX jam hosted by Albion BMX magazine. The festival, which originated in New York, is now a global event that will travel to over 25 cities this year, from London to Tokyo, Moscow to Mexico City. From its beginnings in 2001, the festival’s aim has been to celebrate the on-going relationship between creative and bicycle communities, uniting road cycling, mountain biking, fixed gear, BMX and cyclocross in a shared passion.

The London leg of the 2012 Bicycle Film Festival takes place from October 4th - 7th. /