SCOOTERMANIA – Exclusive Martin Dixon | INTERVIEW
I owned a copy of Scootermania magazine before I legally had a scooter on the road. It represented many firsts: the 1st national magazine for Mods/Scooterists, the 1st in colour and the first scooter magazine to take such an irreverent tone. Editor and publisher Martin Dixon made it seem like we – Scooterboys – were the only people that mattered in the world. That rebellious attitude drew us in. It was what I wanted to be a part of.
Scootermania was the first voice of a new British youth cult and laid the foundations for the nationally-distributed scooter magazines that followed. Through this publication Martin found himself drawn into the organisation of a totally new concept – the National Runs; the UK’s first calendar designed to prevent clashes between major rallies.
Martin dropped out of the scooter scene in the late-80s and moved to Romania after dabbling in the UK rave scene.
Before Christmas, over a few drinks, back for a visit in his home-town of Scarborough, he told the story of his contribution to the UK’s rich scooterist heritage.
Grab yourself a cuppa, switch your brain back to non-politically-correct-1980s mode and enjoy an exclusive interview with an original Scooterboy firebrand…
How did you get involved with the scooter scene?
I came from Scarborough and my town was the centre of scootering in England where everyone met on Bank Holidays. We had a scooter club here – the Castle Coasters – who looked quite cool so us younger kids wanted to be like them. At that time scootering was based in the north; around Lancashire and Yorkshire mostly and we’d be excited to see them coming through.
What was your first scooter, and how did you come by it.
I remember buying an SX200 for £8 and riding it home but I’m not sure if that was the first. Scooters were cheap and easy to come by at the time. I’ve owned in excess of 20 Lambrettas but I can’t remember them all. The first was in ’77.
Would you have called yourselves Mods or Scooterboys at the time?
We were Scooterboys. The word Mod never passed our lips. We hadn’t heard of Mods beyond things from the Sixties.
What was your first rally, and how did it affect you?
Difficult to say really. Living in Scarborough we were in attendance as kids in the 70s before I even got a scooter. Skegness was probably the first I rode to in ’77.
When did you join your first scooter club and what were they called?
We formed a scooter club called Scarborough Vikings because we were from Scarborough and it was a Viking settlement. Then we discovered that there was a club called Barnsley Vikings. We thought ‘are we going to fight these lads over the name of a scooter club?’ These were respected guys and their name was well known despite the fact we didn’t know it, so we dropped that plan. Then we formed Eastfield Scooter Club; which is on the outskirts of Scarborough and I happened to be living in Eastfield at the time. That was 1979. It’s the 40th Anniversary this year and it’s surprising how many of the original members, that aren’t dead, are still members.
What effect did you witness with the release of the movie Quadrophenia?
It put a zero on the end of the numbers on the rallies. We started to be more smartly dressed. By this time we were travelling farther afield and started to meet guys from the south and they were more Mod than we were. Mod did catch on a bit then in the North. I had a suit but I’ve not had one since. That’s probably why I don’t get invited to many weddings.
How did you get to start the fanzine Northern Mod Scene?
We looked at the London kids and they seemed more organised than we were in the music department. Consider that this was back before mobile phones and the internet we needed a print medium to do it. It didn’t last long. I thought ‘we’re nothing to do with Mods’ so it got renamed to Scootermania.
Wasn’t Scootermania also subtitled ‘For Mods/Scooterists Nationwide’?
I don’t even remember that. I must have been looking for money and advertising.
How did the No.1s meetings come about?
The runs were getting bigger attendances, not just on Bank Holidays, but there would be lots on at the same time; one in Scarborough, one in Skegness, one in wherever. So I thought ‘why are we all going to different places?’ I talked to the lads in charge of the scooter clubs and said ‘why don’t we all go to the same place?’ They said it was a great idea, but asked how to do it, so I suggested having a meeting of the club No.1s to make arrangements. The first one was at a pub in the Midlands. It was chaos of course. We had a disco and a stripper. All I remember was that she needed ironing.
How did that first meeting go?
I got everyone together and I expected to say a few words and hand over to someone responsible who’d thank me graciously for my efforts and say ‘Sit down now Martin, the big boys will sort it out’, but none of the big boys wanted to know. I hadn’t planned for that. I didn’t expect to actually run it because there were guys a lot older than I was who were by definition a lot more sensible than I was. I was just a gobby ex-football hooligan who rode a Lambretta. In the end I just blagged it and that was it. The National Runs were born. All it meant was that we all hit the same town at once and the scooter scene exploded.
I did in effect invent the National Runs but it wasn’t a stroke of genius. Somebody else would have done it some weeks later if I hadn’t, but it needed organising.”
All the respectable people had real jobs in the real world so it was left to me. I didn’t have a job in the real world. I used to play around in the music business and write a scooter magazine.
The world was unlucky that it got me in charge when scootering exploded. The authorities would say ‘We are cancelling your event.’ I’d say, ‘You don’t understand, there is no event. We are the event. We don’t care whether you’ve got campsites. We don’t care whether you won’t open the pubs because the landlords will cry when they can’t sell their beer.’
That set the scene somewhat. I was totally confrontational and I always won. They realised that I was right and they were wrong. If I said they’d get thousands of scooters on a certain weekend then they got them and there was nothing they could do about it. They soon realised that they had to negotiate, but with anybody except me.
The alternative was the Kev Walsh end of things. He was totally amenable and had an entirely different outlook to life to what I have. The police would have loved to have dealt with Kev Walsh but Kev didn’t represent what the movement was, so somebody invented someone called Jeff Smith who was sort of a cross between us. Not quite as boring as Kev but not quite as wild as me. Jeff was a compromise but he found it difficult because he had a normal life with a wife and kids and a job.
So the authorities were unhappy about your involvement in this new movement?
There was a concerted effort to get me off the streets. I was pulled for drugs at every rally. The police had photographs of me and things like that, but they never got me and in the end they got bored of trying.
We knew we were going to get busted. There were people walking on to scooter rally sites that were neither Mods nor Scooterboys. If I had a bit of weed I’d give it to someone and say ‘stand over there and watch this’.
We got arrested riding to Morecambe once for various bits and pieces and bailed and we carried on to Morecambe in a van. We were driving down the seafront and I said to the driver ‘that’s drugs squad behind us’. He said ‘you are paranoid, there’s only one person in the car’. I said ‘he’s drugs squad, just pull into this pub and see what happens.’
We pulled into this pub car park with hundreds of scooter lads in and the car pulled in too. This guy gets out, flashes his badge and says ‘Dixon, get out’. I had a bit of hash and put it in my mouth so he opened the door and pulled me out. He said ‘Now give me that!’ and put his hand out expecting me to give him what I had in my mouth, but I’d been sucking a Tune (cough sweet) so I took that out and put it in his hand. It was sort of stuck to his hand but that wasn’t my fault because he’d asked for it.
Then he threatened me, saying ‘If I ever find you dealing on my patch I’ll find something on you whether you’ve got something or not.’ and he starts poking me in the throat with his finger while he’s ranting. I said, ‘Please officer, don’t touch me’. By this time there’s a crowd gathering and he keeps on ranting so I said ‘I’ve asked you nicely’ and poked him back in the throat. I said, ‘I’ll give you the count of ten to go away or I’ll kick your arse for you’. Someone in the crowd says, ‘Don’t wait until ten Martin, kick his arse now’, then someone spat on him and someone else bounced a beer can off his head. By the time I got to ‘seven’ he was off.
What else did you bring to the Nationals?
I was the first to put on music events at the rallies. They wouldn’t give you venues so we did them on boats and in underground car parks. We’d hire them and turn them into a nighter. I’d promote in Scarborough because it was my home town. I didn’t promote in anybody else’s home towns because it was down to the local clubs to do it. Danny Rampling (later a famous House DJ) played once for us in a pub in Scarborough when he was with the A23 Crusaders. I used to DJ a bit too. I played Alexi Sayle’s ‘Doctor Marten’s Boots’ but Danny was already a bit more sophisticated than that.
What did the authorities in Scarborough think of your alignment with the scooter scene?
I was hated by the people of Scarborough. With 300 people arrested in a weekend, they blamed me for all of it. There was a gobby Queens Council called Gilbert Gray – who defended the Yorkshire Ripper – he came to the town’s rescue to tell them how they could ban scooters and some teenage punk tells him he’s full of shit. It turned out I was right and he was full of shit but he still called me ‘An evil and malign influence on society’.
Did you get aggravation with other tribes in Scarborough?
We used to get 20,000 bikes here for Oliver’s Mount. Even guys on Harley Davidsons and Honda Goldwings would try to kick at you. Oh for fuck’s sake – this is so childish. You can’t actually kick someone coming the other way on a bike but I found something that worked. Take a whip aerial and go on the back as a passenger. As the fool comes past trying to kick you just bring the whip aerial around and you can never miss. We didn’t get so much hassle after that.
The thing is that a motorcycle is infinitely superior to a scooter but it attracts a different type of person. Whereas 90% of scooters will be customised in some way, 90% of bikes will be left standard. The nearest thing to a scooterist is not a motorcyclist, it’s the kind of person who drives and customises VW Beetles. When you look at a beetle and look at other cars, the Beetle is a crap car, but it appeals to a certain sort of person. The people that have Beetles also tune them, so that is the scene that I consider to be closest to scooters.
Scootermania was the first Scooterboy magazine in colour. How much trouble was it to make and distribute?
It was all a pain in the arse. We used to sell it on runs and through dealers.
What was your favourite custom scooter?
The chopper Exile was one of my favourites. Before that, a friend of mine called Stephen Whittaker from Scarborough built a chopper called Futuretta (pictured above).
What was your mentality with regards to publishing a scooter magazine; was the motive community spirited, financial or both?
Both. It was necessary to talk to people at that time. It was a strange sort of thing because I’ve never really had a job in my life. I’m just somebody that’s lazy but reasonably good at business. The reason I was never rich is because I never did anything unless I quite liked it.
I do things first. I did the first foreign-run to France. I did the first custom shows and eventually, someone comes along and they are better at it than I am and that’s not a problem. I’ve never had a bad idea in my life apart from thinking that I had the skills to bring it to fruition. When I fuck-up and somebody does it well then I know it wasn’t the idea that was at fault.
How did you take it when the bigger nationally-distributed magazines launched?
It was a pain in the arse when things became commercial. Do you think I couldn’t have competed when Scootering came along if I wanted to? Of course I could, but I’d have to have changed my attitude to life. I’d have to have done something from a purely commercial point of view and that’s not how my life works. You work to live, you don’t live to work.
Where is the furthest you have ridden by scooter?
In the UK it would be Isle of Wight or Loch Ness, whichever was further, but also France and Holland abroad.
Are you partisan in favour of one sort of scooter, or are you open-minded?
Yes. I’m a Lambretta man and I’d have always been a Lambretta man if they fucking took me where I wanted to go so occasionally I rode a Vespa. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet.
What is the best scooter you ever owned?
A silver and purple metalflake S-type straight out of AF Rayspeed. Some cunt stole it though.
Scooterboys haven’t grown up. They still steal each others things. It’s bizarre. It’s sort of like a brotherhood but it’s not. It’s hard to believe that people still steal each others scooters. It’s like little kids.
If I said the word ‘DISASTER’ are there any scooter journeys that spring to mind.
I broke down in Brighton once and me and my scooter were getting taken home in the Scunthorpe Pathfinders back-up van. We stopped in a motorway service station and they went without me. My scooter was heading towards the north of England and I was still stuck in a service station near London. I ended up thumbing a lift on the back of a scooter up the motorway without a crash hat. I just pulled my hood over and tried it pot luck. We made it home to Scarborough and then I had to go to Scunthorpe to get my scooter.
What element of the scooter events was your favourite?
It was just being in the pub with the same guys that you’d been with three weeks ago somewhere else. I loved the banter and the respect.
What is your worst memory from the rally scene?
That people nicked each other’s things. I naively expected better.
What is the funniest thing that you’ve encountered on a rally?
Everyone used to use the AA and RAC as a taxi home by sabotaging their scooters, pulling out a wire from the CDI when they’d spent all their money. The AA trained the patrols up so they could find it and put the wire back in and send them on their way. The kid is thinking ‘shit, I’ve drunk all my petrol money’.
What went wrong with the National Runs in your opinion?
It got to the stage when the entertainment became too big a focus. I used to work with Chris Burton but I’m not sure if he was a good thing for scootering. That depends on your opinion. He wanted to put on musical acts that would attract people who wouldn’t normally be there. I was just into entertaining the people who were there on a rally, not trying to bring others who wouldn’t have come.
We got to the stage where right-wing skinheads started to come. I remember them kicking Desmond Dekker off stage at Great Yarmouth. As they ran out up the stairs I smacked some guy who I think was also called Martin and head of the National Front or something like that. He was coming out with his bodyguards because they’d photographed the taking over of the stage.
Why did you leave the scene?
In about ’86 I broke my kneecap playing rugby. It was a bad break so I missed a lot of meetings. Then I met the right woman and sort of refocused life a bit. I was getting bored. It wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go so it wasn’t fun to me anymore.
I promoted four House Music clubs in Bridlington, Leeds and Mansfield but I suppose I failed. If I’d have stayed into scooters I’d probably have gone straight into House music earlier and then I probably wouldn’t have failed.
So you moved to Romania in the 90s and started to produce football club magazines there?
I’m not a great journalist but I am a good writer in different styles like satire. I turned Tony Blair into Tony BLIAR about three years before it started getting used everywhere and the BBC credited its origin to an obscure Eastern European magazine, which I was running from Romania. I objected to the word obscure.
If you had to pass on one nugget of advice to people from everything that you’ve learned, what would it be?
It’s better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t.
You have been made King, and are allowed one execution. Who gets it?
Tony Blair. He was so false and so smarmy.
Images: Scootermania and Northern Mod Scene scans courtesy of Andy Beadnell. Historic photo of Martin Dixon by Dave Ormerod of Vespa Obsession (www.vespaobsession.com). Contemporary photos by Sticky.
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