The Amalga Scooter Club
A UNION OF LIKE MINDS
The original Amalga Line up: Tony Jex, Marlon John, Mark Scarrett, Tony Paul and Paul Gardner
'I never thought I'd see the scooters back.'
- Amalga Scooter Club founder, Marlon John 1979
Marlon John spent the early 1970's skinhead era embroiled in one violent situation or another. From the Chelsea Shed to the Arsenal North Bank, the buzzwords of the day were aggro, moonstomp and Lambretta. High streets and back roads everywhere reverberated with the distinctive rattle and pop of motor scooters.
Marlon rode with a crew of skinheads from Bromley. He had earned respect among them after savaging the feared leader of a local biker gang outside the Wimpey Bar in Penge High Street. Occasionally on Sunday evenings the Bromley crew would congregate in the back garden of our fatherless family home in St Paul's Cray. As an impressionable child I'd watch and eavesdrop, caught in the glare of polished chrome, enchanted by chirpy banter and addictive tales of casual violence.
In 1978 the post-punk live music scene spawned a nationwide skinhead revival. And that's where I stepped in. I acquired my first scooter, a white Li 150, next stop the barber's shop for a number two crop and side parting. My generation was driven by the violent folklore of older brothers. Casual violence became a way of life.
I got by with more than a little help from my two best friends: Douglas 'Doog' Sutherland and Terry 'Tel' O'Brien, who proved fearless in countless mob battles, even when ridiculously outnumbered. They were both sticklers for the traditional skinhead dress code. Doog was widely regarded as one of the best dressed skinheads on the early London two-tone scene. They owned well-maintained Lambretta SX 200s, while my scooter turned out to be a dented source of much frustration. On Saturday mornings they'd meet up and ride over to the Lambretta shop in Wimbledon. I'd usually stay behind and tear around our estate, which was as far as I trusted that Li 150.
'A dented source of much frustration'
Terry 'Tel' O'Brien whizzing past the Merton Parkas on the cover of their debut single
Merton Parkas drummer Simon Smith on Terry O' Brien's SX200, the other scooter belonged to St Paul's Cray Lambretta fanatic Terry Whipp
In 1979 I bought my first SX 200. Marlon, after periods of homelessness, had become a father and settled into a flat in Littlestone Close, Beckenham. Doog, Tel and I spent many a Sunday afternoon at his place. We'd ride over and often find him down in his communal car park, tinkering on one Lambretta or another. I'll never forget the wide grin that would sweep his face whenever we'd roar around the corner and race towards him three abreast. 'I never thought I'd see the scooters back,' he'd say.
Tony Paul, Littlestone Close, Beckenham
Mark Scarrett, Littlestone Close, Beckenham
The Littlestone Close car park is where Marlon re-sprayed my SX 200 sonic blue, with painstakingly designed wavy Union Jack side panels. As a finishing touch he replaced the old Ancillotti seat with a leopard print covered Sidewinder. I worked as a trainee house painter in Westerham, and rode from St Paul's Cray everyday. Never have I enjoyed a journey to work more. Flying on cheap two-stroke and adrenalin, through brilliant summer mornings - turning plenty of heads along the way. I rode in Marlon's slipstream - a reflection of him, but ten years later.
Sonic-blue SX 200
Union Jack panels, and a Sidewinder
Marlon founded The Amalga Scooter club. The idea came to him early one morning as he drove his firm's van to work. A scrap lorry overtook him, and the company name caught his eye. Amalgamated Metals. At once he envisioned an amalgamation of the many scooter crews that had sprung up across South East London and North West Kent - a union of like minds. Marlon, Tony Jex, Tony Paul, Paul Gardner and Mark Scarrett formed the original Amalga line-up. Beckenham lads, older and wiser.
Me with the incredibly blonde Tony Jex, Andy O'Reagan and Marlon in the Greyhound, Beckenham
We were the Cray mob. Younger and out of control. We'd gather in and around the notorious Robin Hood pub which once stood opposite St Mary Cray station. The Robin Hood public bar might as well have been a minefield. Imagine a car park filled with front teeth and Lambrettas.
Me with Terry 'Tel' O'Brien in The Greyhound, Beckenham
Cray scooter boys: Phil Stevens and Adrian Colley
We developed an alliance with the Orpington skinheads. On a spring afternoon in 1980, Tel O' Brien and Gary Cable, an Orpington skinhead, set off for Beckenham on their Lambrettas. Gary is the younger brother of former British and European light middleweight champion, Jimmy Cable. Somewhere along their journey a leather jacketed biker thundered up behind them aggressively. The biker tailgated them to The Greyhound pub in Beckenham High Street, where all three dismounted. After a brief round of pleasantries, Gary knocked the fellow spark out. Tel later said that he'd been tempted to drag the limp body into the pub so he could cut off his ponytail. Within a couple of days rumours of war began to circulate.
St Paul's Cray Lambretta aficionado Terry Whipp (left) and Tel O' Brien
Gary Cable's SX200
The following Monday evening, Doog, Tel and I met up with Marlon in The Greyhound. We sat around a table with young Beckenham scooter boy Wayne Kavanagh, and the incredibly blonde Tony Jex. Just before last orders, multiple headlights beamed in through the windows. I looked out and saw bikers everywhere, my heart jumped. A blue Ford Consul pulled into the kerb directly outside, and the dead-eyed driver fixed me with a glare; late on a Monday night, the pub was virtually empty but for us.
The door pushed open and a grey-bearded lump of a man strolled in, accompanied by the ponytail that Gary had chinned. They walked up to the bar and spoke to the landlord before turning around and scanning the pub. Thankfully, Gary wasn't in town. As they walked back out, the knockout recipient looked straight at Tel, but didn't recognise him. Grey beard strutted out first, and as soon as the door had closed behind him, Tel lunged for the ponytail. The startled greaser flailed his arms and quickly escaped. We all stood up and braced for a violent invasion. But it didn't happen. One by one the bikers saddled up and dispersed. They left Doog's silver SX 200 a write off.
As we loitered outside after closing time, the blue Ford Consul suddenly screeched around the corner, bounced up the kerb and sped straight at us. Everybody scrambled and launched their pint glasses simultaneously. The Teddy Boy behind the half-opened passenger side window took a fusillade. My dregs sailed over the road and exploded in a shop doorway as the killer car hurtled away, dripping lager up Beckenham High Street.
There would've surely been a spate of tit-for-tat kickings in the ensuing weeks, had it not been for the truce Marlon managed to broker. Amiable, well mannered and super-intelligent, with a merciless sense of humour, he'd long outgrown the craving for senseless violence. On the other hand, there remained an unparalleled temper that routinely overwhelmed adversaries and often left onlookers stunned. He was definitely not the man to make a wanker sign at in slow moving traffic, back in the pre-CCTV day.
Me and Marlon in The Greyhound, Beckenham
Me with Tel O'Brien and Marlon John, in The Greyhound: Amalga HQ
I visited Marlon at his Kent home during the winter of 2019. That wide grin swept his face again as we reminisced the Littlestone Close days and the birth of Amalga. He's honoured and chuffed to bits that the club is still in existence.
The modern day Amalga Scooter Club in Hastings
Here's to the original Amalga line up - the famous five: Marlon John, Tony Jex, Tony Paul, Paul Gardner and Mark Scarrett.
And to the Cray Mob of the early 1980's. The London live gig scene deteriorated into extreme violence. We held our own in the thick of it.
Me and Doog 1979
Still at it 2011
In 2018 the Amalga Scooter Club rallied to Eastbourne on the South Coast. The ride set off from Sevenoaks Kent and gathered fellow Lambretta fanatics at pick-up points along the way. Marlon John's vision of union, sparked by that passing scrap truck decades ago, has come to fruition.
Four of the 'famous five' 2019
L- R: Tony Jex, Marlon John, Paul Gardner (black coat) and Tony Paul (blue checked shirt)