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Rocker

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Rocker was a term originally applied in a derogatory manner to British motorcycle riding youths in the 1960s, but was later taken by riders, and their pillions. Rockers were almost entirely defined in opposition to their famous antitheses of the same time, the Italian motorscooter riding Mods, or Modernists. Mods and Rockers rocketed to fame in 1964 by the sensationalistic media reporting of what by today's standards was very mild youth behaviour; the famous Bank Holiday clashes between both parties on the English South Coast holiday resorts of Clacton, Margate and Brighton. Before this time, young motorcyclists had not been grouped together and labelled in such a manner.

Contents

Music and Fashion

Rockers are generally associated with 1950s and early 1960s-era Rock and Roll by artists like Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry and the early Elvis Presley but a Rocker was a motorcyclist first and foremost not a mere fashion or youth music trend. Theirs was a style born out of necessity and practicality and they will generally be seen riding their motorcycles wearing a classic open face style of helmet and aviator goggles, especially the "pudding-basin" short style of helmet such as those still made by Davida.

The real Rocker's dress style is dominated by the wearing of leather jackets - especially the traditional design but heavily badged, studded and hand painted or decorated "Brando-style" lancer front motorcycle leather jacket design. Blue or black denim jeans, biker boots and the ubiquitous James Dean quiff are also worn. Central to the Rocker Movement in its 60s heydays was The 59 Club of Paddington. Also known as The Fifty Nine Club, a church based youth club that opened its doors to the young tearaway bikers, the folk devils of their day, in 1962 and which grew to have over 20,000 members under the leadership of Fathers Graham Hullett and Bill Shergold. By far the image and character that epitomises the look and spirit of the rocker, is Marlon Brando portraying " Johnny " in the 1954 Columbia Pictures movie, "The Wild One". See, below right.

Cultural Background

 The definitive Wild One. Marlon Brando in "The Wild One". Photograph courtesy of The Motion Picture and Television Archive The definitive Wild One. Marlon Brando in "The Wild One". Photograph courtesy of The Motion Picture and Television Archive

The Rocker Movement came about through a number of unique influences; the end of Post-WWII rationing in the UK and a general rise in prosperity for working class youth, the availability of credit and finance for young people, the influence of American popular music & cinema, the building of race track-like new arterial ring roads about British cities and the transport cafes which became their natural haunts. All of these coinciding at the same time as British motor engineering, and motorcycle industry, was still at the centre of world. Indeed, 1959 was the year that the most British motorcycles were ever made.

Whilst the Rockers' attitude may have been born from Cowboy movies and Rock and Roll heroes, as far as their motorcycle were concerned, they associated themselves with their European race track heroes and the trend of motorcycles know as Cafe Racers were born. Standard factory designed motorcycles striped down, tuned up and modified to appear like a racing bike but used only to race on public roads between cafes [ pronounced "caffs" ] the Rockers were known to frequent, such as The Ace Cafe, Chelsea Bridge tea stall, Ace of Spades, Busy Bee, Johnsons and others.

Largely due to their sense of dress and dirtiness, in an age when conservative public decorum still existed, the Rockers were not widely welcomed by other venues such as pubs and dance halls. This remained true right through out their history until the recent "Born Again Biker" or "Yuppie Biker" age. Rockers were also reviled by the British Motorcycle industry and general enthusiasts as being bad for the industry and the sport. Cafe Racers were a particularly European style of motorcycle, common also in Italy - the then other great motorcycle manufacturer and racing nation - in contrast to American cruiser style.

Cafe Racers

The term Cafe Racer is still used to describe motorcycles of a certain style and some motorcyclists still use this term in self-description. A cafe racer is a motorcycle that has been modified for speed and good handling rather than comfort; single racing seats, low handle bars such as ace bars or even one-sided "clip-ons" mounted directly onto the front forks for control and aerodynamics, half or full race fairings, large racing petrol tanks often left unpainted, swept back exhausts and rearset footpegs in order to give better clearance whilst cornering at speed. These motorcycles were lean, light and handled road surfaces well. The most defining machine of the Rocker heyday was the homemade Norton Featherbed framed and Triumph Bonneville engined machine called " The Triton ". It used the most common and fastest racing engine combined with the best handling frame of its day.

Rocker Reunion

In the early 70s, as the British Rocker and hard core motorcycle scene fractured and evolved under new influences coming in from California, both Hippy and Hells Angels. The remaining Rockers became known as Greasers, not to be confused with the American usage of "greaser", and the scene had all but died out in form but not spirit. However, in the early '80s though, The Rocker Reunion Club was started by Len Paterson and a handful of original Chelsea Bridge Boys who held nostalgic Rocker Reunion Pissups [ dances ] and Rocker Reunion Runs to historic destination such as Brighton Beach. Within a few years these attracted 10 - 12,000 like minded revivalists, widespread media attention and neo-converts.

The successes of these Runs and Pissups were later capitalised by ex-police officer Mark Wilsmore. Wilsmore, having spent many, many hours with original rockers such as Len Paterson, Derek Fox and experts in crucial items such as Lewis Leather motorcycle jackets, was directly encouraged and inspired by them to buy and redeveloped The Ace Cafe transport cafe but went on to, controversially, market the Rockers-style commercially by trademarking the word "Rocker" for his own exclusive use, threatening original rockers and their suppliers with legal action and using police contacts to shut down rocker events.

The Rocker's look was later adopted by many Punk bands and is today an influence on the Rockabilly revival and Psychobilly scenes. Today, the revival continues to grow, the modern day Rocker-style having followings all over the world, especially in Japan where it was originally lead by Koji Baba who attended the original Rocker Reunions, but also in the USA and Australia. Now as a cafe racer riding scene, it often exists now as a counterpoint to the crass, bloated, heavily corporate and often violent Harley-Davidson club biking scene.

The emphasis of the Rocker fashion is rooted in a simple nostalgic look, born of practicality, that began in the 1950s and 1960s; turned-up Levi Jeans and leather motorcycle jacket, often handpainted brands or personal logos. This fashion has minute details such as the wearing of Esso Man key chain, 59 club and other motorcycle brand patches adorning the motorcycle jacket, the use of motorcycle tank badges as belt buckles, white silk scarf and long white socks folded over the top of motorcycle boots which have all been adopted by Fashion designers on a regular basis for their collection. Indeed the leather jacket, such as the Aviakit by brand leader Lewis Leathers have been accepted as Fashion classics and original models highly collectible and prized.

Rocker Jackets

Lewis Leathers Jacket, courtesy of Lewis Leathers Ltd, UK. Lewis Leathers Jacket, courtesy of Lewis Leathers Ltd, UK.

" Very little has come out of the whole teen-aged development that has more beauty than decorated Rocker jackets. They show the creative impulse at its most pure and inventive. Without any sentimentality, it is possible to say that they constitute an art of high degree, symmetrical, ritualistic, with a bizarre metallic brilliance and a high fetishistic power. " src : Jeff Nutall, Bomb Culture

Modern Day

The Rocker of the 21st century has evolved from its humble working-class British beginnings more than 40 years ago and so has the fashion ; Full length motorcycle boots such as the classic Lewis Leather styles are still used, but Winkle Pickers, sharp pointed shoes are no longer so common. Engineer boots and Doc Martens being the norm. Brothel Creepers, thick crepe soled shoes, have worked themselves back into fashion, as originally worn by the " Teds " or Teddy Boys. Rockers continue to wear motorcycle jackets with leather trousers and the ubiquitous white silk scarf while riding their bikes. Also the use of Levi 501 or 505's has always maintained as part of Rocker fashion.

To complete the look, Rockers would tend to ride a classic British motorcycle, preferably but not exclusively a Cafe racer, usually Triumph or Norton or the Triton Motorcycle hybrid of the two, but sometimes a BSA, Royal Enfield or Matchless from the 1960s, as this was the heyday of the British motorcycle industry. These bikes now lovingly restored. Classically styled European cafe racers are now also seen, interpretations of the theme but using Moto Guzzi or Ducati, and also Classic Japanese engines albeit in British made frames such as those by Rickman.

Sub-cultural references

Rockers are a sub-culture, even within motorcycling, that persists to this day and should not be confused with the similar looking Greasers, as in the American usage of the term, Psychobillys or punks such as The Clash, The Ramones, etc., who have taken style elements from the Rockers. The British use of the terms Greasers/Rockers are fairly interchangeable. Strictly speaking, British Greasers being a short-lived development in the early 1970s somewhere between the original Rockers and the long haired bikers of the Hippy or Hells Angels era.

Latterly, the term Rocker has also been used more generically in the USA to describe fans of Heavy Metal or Hard Rock music, and in Germany to define a completely different type of motorcyclist. Namely those in cult-like backpatch motorcycle clubs, as in "Rockerbanden", to which they should not be confused with. Rocker is currently, or was recently, quite erroneously the code name of widescale investigation by Interpol into such outlaw biker gang activity. As the defining element for Rockers is having or riding pillion on a motorcycle, "Wot no bike?" or "N.C.N.R." (No Cunt, No Ride) were mottos famously painted onto jackets of that age. Interesting, many of the original Punk Rocker generation also rode motorcycles and even, such as Dave Vanian of The Damned, attended the 59 Club / Fifty Nine Club.

Particularly unique, Rockers as a group found drugs of any kind totally abhorrent. This was because they valued physical prowess so highly. In their book, taking drugs - which by this time was widespread amongst Mods and Beatniks was unmanly. It was cheating. In a kind of street Bushido spirit, if you had to resort to drugs to give you nerves or confidence then you couldn't be much of a man. According to Johnny Stuart in Rockers! Kings of the Road,

[t]hey had no knowledge of the different sorts of drugs. To them amphetamines, cannabis, heroin were all drugs - something to be hated. Their ritual hatred of Mods and other sub-cultures was based in part on the fact that these people were believed to take drugs and were therefore regarded as sissies. Their dislike of anyone connected with drugs was intense.

As pop culture developed into the late 1960s, and lost its focus on reality, the rockers provided a counterpoint with their allegiance to a purer, more basic musical and lifestyle tradition. Until the explosion of Punk in the mid 1970s, it was the leather boys that kept this style of music alive. Rising out of a largely underground scene, the Rocker revival scene gathers worldwide media attention which has brought in an influx of both new younger converts as well as returning original middle aged riders, internationally. Finally, it has also gained the acceptance of the motorcycling industry who have started to make Retro or Cafe Racer bikes for individuals to buy - especially in Japan where the market leaders have their factories - thereby ensured that as a motorcycling tradition, Rocker Movement was not going to die. It might just have to suffer being re-marketed as a Paul " Mod " Smith designed handbag by Triumph motorcycles instead.

External links

"Officially Licensed Website of Rockers the movie, 1980

References

  • Stuart, Johnny; (1987). Rockers!. Plexus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-85965-125-8
  • Cohen, Stanley; (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics; The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Routledge. ISBN 0-85965-125-8.

See also

Raggare
Punk Rockers
Psychobilly
Rock and roll

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.