Fast forward about ten years. Like most places in the mid-70s, my hometown was very tribal. The working-class kids were predominantly rockabillies and skins, the National Front having a strong presence. This pretty much covered the council estate I grew up on...
So, bikes meant a couple of things to me. They got you a foot in the door, at least, with the tribe, and they got you out of trouble. Much safer to ride around the streets than walk or peddle. I’d already been kicked off a bicycle by a gang and beaten up on the way home from a gig. Two held my arms while two others hit me. It felt like being raped.
No Limit is the first of eleven films Formby made for ATP, and it’s probably the best. This is Formby unfiltered, fresh off the stage: anarchic, cheeky, a bit blue, a working-class hero and very northern. No Limit is his Jailhouse Rock.
This potentially suicidal aspect of motorcycling is ever present; it’s in the appalling accident statistics, the blind spot of every car driver, and the temptation to still overtake everything on the road as if you’re playing a computer game. It is also the foundation of a much broader cultural code, an Oroboros of influences from fact and fiction...
‘I never expected a thing like this to happen to me in England.’
‘You thought England was a land of old ladies knitting socks. The age of senseless violence has caught up with us too.’
You’d think that rock ’n’ roll and motorcycles were made for each other, but truth be told for every 1950s banger about bikes there are a couple of dozen about cars if not more. Bike songs were more of a sub-genre of hot rod rockabilly, and, like biker movies, most of them aren’t all that good. Clearly communicating the riding experience through music and lyrics is difficult, which is strange given the thousands of songs written about love, sex and heartbreak. Surely that covers the same sort of ground.
I was still a bit wary of my position relative to the curb (a problem I’ve always had driving cars as well), and I vaguely remember looking at the sidecar wheel to check… Suddenly, I’d drifted left. I saw my wheel mount the curb then I was sucked onto the grass verge. There was a hell of a bang and then I was flying through the air.
'In an era when Mrs Thatcher was teaching us all to think of me, me, me and riots were a common occurrence in the major cities, there was something quite special in being part of several thousand people gathering together in our little corner of rural England to live for a weekend in peace, love and harmony...'
On social class, and rebellion vs. respectability in this neglected British biker movie...
I got so excited about getting the reconditioned magneto into my A10 a couple of weeks back (long story) that I recklessly entered it in a local classic show. Major error of judgement, there being no prize for ‘Best Rat’.