Let me tell you a strange, but true story - which twenty years
ago immediately after the events I wouldn't have had the bottle
to relate. In I978, I was living in Cork, unemployed, and scraping
a living as a window cleaner. Then one day in April or May, I
got a letter from a young London Who fan called Steve Margo. He
asked me to coordinate a Who Exhibition with him and a guy named
The Who Exhibition turned out to be a great success at the Institute of Contemporary Art in a posh part of London. It was hard work, but very satisfying. The exhibition ran throughout the month of August 1978, and towards the end I was approached by a chap called Franc Roddam the director of Quadrophenia, and his screen writer, David Humphries. They said they had heard about me and wanted to draw on my knowledge of the Mod era as well as my experiences of living in Shepherd' s Bush.
They interviewed me a million times, and I was placed in a claustrophobic 10x8 basement cell, deep in the bowels of Essex Music on Poland Street, without any windows or air ducts. It was here in that stifling environment that I spent my days typing up reams and reams of typical Mod situations and scenarios as I remembered them. All of this inspired product was finding its way over to David Humphries who was operating at the Trinifold office, in a room much better furnished and roomier than the holding cell where I had been incarcerated. So one day I thought to myself, "I'll take a wand' over there to the office and see how Quadrophenia is coming along."
I arrived and popped my head around the door to say hello to Mike Shaw. He shared a bit of small talk before adding that I should go and have a chat with Dave Humphries in the next room. So I said, "I will." I tapped on the door, heard the word, "Come!" and pushed open the door. I was immediately surrounded by a much larger executive room than my own where I found dear old David Humphries typing feverishly with one hand and using the index finger of the other to guide him through each line of an earlier Quadrophenia story I myself had written!
And I thought, "Hey, this is bloody great! You know, he's actually dictating from my own Quadrophenia story line." This was my own story, about my Mod experiences, which I had been inspired to write after reading Pete's sleeve story for the 1973 Quadrophenia album.
Back then, I used to make up home-made albums with my own art ideas (Not very imaginative I can assure you. The sum total of my art talents is the nocturnal application of a sheet of cheap Sellotape to sheets of white artists paper!), but instead of a record inside the sleeve, there would be a story. If memory serves me right, I think I made up five copies of my own personal Quadrophenia account. I retained my own copy, and sent the other four to each member of the band on the occasion of their birthday.
Later on, the title of the story changed a bit according to what was going on in my head. I remember going through a phase when I was calling the story Quadrophaedrus - having read the book Zen And The Art of Motor-Cycle Maintenance. Anyone who has read it will remember the name of the ghost character, Phaedrus, and it occurred to me one day that the Jimmy character Pete had written about in the Quadrophenia sleeve notes was the ghost of me: Irish Jack.
Another title I used was the predictably trite and not very imaginative, Modrophenia, which was a terrible title, I know. The latest title, and probably the most apt is The World's Forgotten Mod. Apt for me, because everyone and their aunt knows about me and I would now prefer to return somewhere to the seventies when Quadrophenia was simply the title of a well made Who album, and there wasn't a scooter in sight. Back then, I really was 'the world's forgotten Mod' and I valued the anonymity of being just that. Now I'm seen driving home from work on my FZ ladies moped, people look at me and think, "Shouldn't he be on a scooter?" Sometimes I feel as though I have become the Nick Hornby of The Who, and I'm not sure that I like it. See, once you've set yourself up as some sort of authority, this kind of mini-celebrity role, you can no longer sit back and relax in the shade. You do an interview for the press and suddenly things have changed and you're accountable.
Anyway, to get back to where I had gone round to see how David Humphries was getting on with the script, a few days passed by, and I got a call that Bill Curbishley wanted to see me. I met up with him and his wife Jackie at his office, and the three of us went along to a tiny forty-seater theatre in Soho. We watched some young kid in a 30-minute short called Hangin' Around which had been written by Barry Keeffe. The guy playing the lead role was speed-freak skinny and talked non-stop like he had taken a quantity of pills. I asked Bill who the geezer was and he replied that he was Phil Daniels. Bill asked what I thought of him, and I said he'd be perfect for Quadrophenia. And he was.
So back we went to Trinifold where Bill and I held an immediate high-powered meeting. He asked how I was getting on with the stuff I was writing and I told him I needed a bigger room. He pretended not to hear so I decided to let that go. Then he said he wanted to offer me a job on the movie as a technical advisor. I immediately forgot about the Essex Music cell, and asked what exactly a technical advisor did. Bill explained that a technical advisor, or an assistant technical advisor - which was probably what I'd really be - makes sure that everything is in line with the particular period of time the film is set in. Scooters, clothes, pills, records, police files, even Mod-speak would have to match the time period in which Quadrophenia was supposed to take place. Bill wanted to know how I was managing to take so much time off work. I had now been in London since early June (preparing The Who Exhibition) and staying at a small hotel in Victoria at the expense of Essex Music. I told him that I was unemployed back home in Cork, but that as well as signing on the regular dole, I was skying a bit of window cleaning. The propensity of my enterprise forced a smile upon his face as the meeting ended. I was about to close the door behind me when something occurred to me. I stopped, turned, and inquired, "Bill, I forgot to ask how much does an assistant technical adviser earn?" His reply was Old School Plaistow: "I don't know the exact rate at the moment, Jack - but I'm sure it's a lot more than a window cleaner's!"
Off I trotted, my feet barely touching the ground, out into the glare of Soho sunlight, and I immediately repaired to the Ship Bar to celebrate my new found profession. I called for a half pint of Brown Ale, and the geezer served me just like I was anyone, not at all as he might serve a movie technical advisor. Alone, with my thoughts to myself, I looked back on my busy day and mused, "This is the life for me - not bloody window cleaning." The cheery barman must've caught my spirit 'cos the next time he came by, he said, "Another drink, sir?" I perched on my stool, and took stock of my surroundings. The famous Ship Bar -where I had often come during intervals at the Marquee, to cadge a drink from any one of the four of them, and secure my seat in the van for a lift home. Ah such planning and plotting, it became me. As I stared into my second Watneys, I quietly noted that we never used to call the place 'the West End'. It was 'up West.' And another thought; Mods never wore anything on the back of their parkas, either. It wasn't table manners. No Who, no circle, nothing. Oh, and every time I had been a pillion passenger I had ridden leaning slightly backwards, with my hands clasped together behind me and my feet pointing out - it was a bloody way of life, after all. And when I weren't a pillion passenger my 'ands were usually stuck deep in my jacket pockets, while strutting like a peacock in glorious plumage. There was no need to ask the barman for a napkin to make notes for my new job - Mod was an apple tree planted in my head.
Everything was fine and dandy until I got another call from Bill Curbishley. When I walked into his office, he looked like someone had gone and died on him. His voice was low and without character. He told me it had transpired that the movie was seriously over-budgeted so everything would have to be trimmed down, and heads would have to roll - mine included. I was devastated, laid off before my first day of work. I knew his hands were tied, and I could see that he felt he had let me down, having built me up. Bill suggested that I pop down to Lee International studios at Wembley, where he felt I could still have some input into the movie.
So off I went. This time dragging my feet and no thoughts of a celebratory drink in the Ship Bar. I waited around an hour for some meeting to end. Eventually, I got to see the associate producer John Peverall; the bloke who now held my destiny in the palm of his hand. He told me all about the unfortunate cut-backs, and then says I'm still in luck 'cos they've managed to hold a job for me on the location shoot at Brighton. I'm standing there, hardly daring to breathe, waiting to be told what it is I'm supposed to do, while Mr. Peverall takes a badly timed call on his phone. I hear him say that "yes", he understands their problem "absolutely!" and so on and so on . Finally, he puts the phone down, and he has an expression on his face that seems to say he can't remember why I'm there in the first place. Ah! He's remembered: " .managed to secure a job for you on the location shoot in Brighton." "Oh, that's really good . Err, what is it I'll be doing?"
My heart sank. My entire mouth closed up tight, and I had that same old feeling back in my system. I stood there looking at him, and with my last shred of dignity, I managed to say, "Holding a rope? No thanks, I think I'd prefer to be back home with my wife and kids." He looked back at me as if I had just thown away a career.
I walked down the plush carpeted corridor of Lee International studios, tears welling up in my eyes. Quadrophenia was my baby, my child, my brother, and my dad. I never wrote a word of it, but it was so much me. I had lived it all for someone else. Someone brilliant with a pen.
A stunning young woman from central casting, carrying a clip file, passed me by. Her eyes were glued to the floor as if I carried the contagious symptoms of 'reject' about me, and she was afraid it might spread to her. She made me feel like I was very invisible, and certainly of no consequence in the scheme of her tightly gripped clip file.
I reached the exit of that Lee International Studio where dreams were made for some and broken for others, and then I thought, "Holding a fucking security rope? And in that instant I realized just what it must've been like for the bellboy. Because up there in Room 209 or whatever it was, I had become the fucking Bell Boy!
© 1997 Irish Jack Lyons