Brighton rocks as vintage Vespas hit the seafront

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The Independent Online
It could be 1966. But this was Brighton seafront yesterday, the air filled with raucous engines and the heady smell of Castrol and Silkolene.

Dozens of vintage Vespas and Lambrettas were in the south-coast resort revisiting the scene of the pitched battles between mods and rockers which inspired Pete Townsend's Quadrophenia, the rock opera which will be performed next month at a huge open air concert in Hyde Park, London.

The remnants of The Who will recreate the 1960s with scenes filmed yesterday in Brighton as the backdrop. Sporting high aerials and scores of chromed wing-mirrors and headlamps, the scooters rode in tight formation through the town, drawing puzzled stares. The parka-clad riders came from scooter clubs throughout the south of England, and were assembled by the Vespa Club of Britain.

This summer, scooters are back. With today's new two-wheelers, being cool is easy. Ask Oasis, Blur's Damon Albarn or Bono of U2, all proud - if slightly wobbly - owners of Italjet Velociferos, the latest 60s-retro Italian machines. Paul Weller, however, now the grandfather of the mod scene despite being a mere 30-something, insists on a Lambretta.

Quadrophenia, the story of Jimmy, the mod with a multiple-personality disorder, will be played live to a sell-out crowd in London at the end of June. The Who are reforming to play the one-off concert in aid of the Prince's Trust. On giant screens above the Hyde Park audience scenes of vintage Vespas and Lambrettas being ridden along the Brighton seafront will help tell Jimmy's story.

On the same bill as Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey, though not appearing in Quadrophenia, will be Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. Quite what Dylan, the old croaker, would make of today's scooter scene is impossible to say. But for thousands of old Vespa and Lambretta owners, singing along nostalgically to "Bell Boy", the days when you could buy a classy suit for pounds 40, head down to Brighton for a weekend and throw deckchairs at a rocker will be fondly remembered.

Quadrophenia - the 1979 film of the rock opera, starring Sting - sparked massive renewed interest in the scooter scene. By 1986 up to 15,000 scooterists would congregate in Brighton, Scarborough, Weston-super-Mare and Skegness every bank-holiday weekend.

As with London's debutantes, scooterists had their Season too. From Easter until late-September, the arrival of scooterboys and girls in army greens, and mods in their tonic suits, loafers and parkas could cause shops to be boarded up, pubs to shut down and camp sites to empty.

But for a new generation of scooter riders, captivated by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas or techno, Quadrophenia says being sharp on two wheels is back in style. "Keeping the Faith", as they used to say, has never been easier.