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Frankie Vaughan: Glasgow’s Gang culture of the 1960s
04:28 pm


Gang Culture
Frankie Vaughan

Gangs have been synonymous with Glasgow since the 1800s. The poverty, squalor and terrible overcrowding of this great industrial city led to a harsh indifferent attitude to life and self-preservation.

The Penny Mob came out of the East End of the city. They had their own rules, dress code and even collected fees for a shared fund to pay police and court fines - hence their name. The Penny Mob elected their own chairmen to take charge of collecting money for the fund and its distribution.

The Penny Mob bred many rivals, who they fought for territorial dominance of a few blocks of street. The San Toys operated out of the Calton, a district close to the city center, and they fought with the Tim Malloys. Battles were brutal, bloody and quick. Fights often took place in Glasgow Green, a large municipal park to the east of the city, on the banks of the River Clyde. These were called “square gos” - one-on-one fights, where gang leaders slugged it out with each other. More often than not, these ended in pitched battles between rival factions.

Gangs spread throughout the city - each district, or block, was demarcated with its own gang. The South Side had some of the most vicious gangs, including the Mealy Boys, the McGlynn Push and the Gold Dust Gang, which operated out of the Gorbals. Gangs used bars and drinking dens as their HQs and meeting places, from where they planned their next territorial battle.

By the First World War, gangs were rampant across the city, with the most infamous being the Redskins that ruled the East End. Unlike previous gangs, the Redskins preferred swords, hatchets, machetes, razors and lead-weighted clubs rather than fists. They also operated as a major criminal organization, running protection rackets on local shops and businesses, and were involved in extortion, burglary and random mugging.

The Redskins fought rivals like the Calton Black Hand, the Bloodhound Flying Corps, the Hi-Hi’s, the Kelly Boys from Govan and the Baltic Fleet, which ran out of Baltic Street. The Redskins were eventually crushed by the police who were not afraid to use their own brutal tactics to quell the gangs.

Gangs always flourished during times of poverty. The 1930’s Depression saw a rise in violence and a new wave of gangs using cut throat razors as their weapon of choice, not just on their enemies (where they were used to inflict the “Glasgow Smile”), but on innocent members of the public.

In the 1960s, singer Frankie Vaughan famously visited one of Glasgow’s most troubled areas - Easterhouse. Here the singer successfully co-ordinated an amnesty between rival gangs, raising thousands of pounds to pay for amenities and youth centers. Vaughan, who had starred with Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love, and had a highly success singing career, became a hero to the community.

By the 1970s, gangs had lost much of their appeal as judges gave out stiff sentences - a 2-5 year jail term for carrying a razor blade. Some gang members moved into more serious crime, running drugs and extortion rings, and carrying out major bank robberies across the city.

Today, though Glasgow has changed dramatically for the better, it still has an unfortunate reputation, In part because it is sadly still one of most violent cities in Western Europe. The homicide rate for males aged between 10 and 29 is on a par with the countries Argentina, Costa Rica and Lithuania. Not other cities but whole countries. A stabbing occurs every 6 hours. Many more go unreported. Alcohol-related death rates are 3 times the British average. And there are parts of Glasgow have the lowest life expectancies in Europe.

Yet, I love this city, for there is a great humanity amongst the people of Glasgow, that reflects a genuine belief things can and will get better.

This documentary focusses on Glasgow gangs during the 1960s, interviewing various gang members and looking at Frankie Vaughan’s involvement in bringing an amnesty to parts of the city.

With thanks to Racket Racket.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
A must-see documentary on England’s Hells Angels, from 1973

As they motor off into the neon-lit night, their leader, Mad John can be heard shouting, ‘Hey, if the LSD don’t get us, then the cannabis will.’ It’s part joke, part bravado, a youthful two-fingers up to the world.

Made in 1973, this is a fascinating documentary, if at times funny through its overly sensationalist tone, on the Hells Angels Motor Cycle Club of England - ‘900ccs or over’. It follows the dozen-or-so members of the London Chapter, established in 1969, by a transatlantic decree from the Californian Hells Angels. The London Chapter is run by Mad John (who first appeared in court aged 12, and had 5 other convictions at the time this film was made), and his Sergeant-at-Arms, Karl (who considers himself a psychopath, and was once so violently assaulted his eyes were popped out from their sockets, and were replaced in cross-eyed).

We follow Mad John and Karl as they prepare to take a ride down to the coast. The film tellingly reveals John’s visit to his ex-partner who is unimpressed by the Angels and their juvenile antics. Unable or unwilling to talk to his wife or children, Mad John spends the visit collecting mail and playing with his Alsatian dog Hitler. John has an naive and unhealthy interest in Nazi’s, and towards the end of the film makes an odd analogy between Hitler’s vision for an Aryan Germany with his vision for a Universal Chapter of Hells Angels.

Inadvertent comedy comes from a Python-like interview with one of the Angels’ moms (‘He’s a nice boy, really’), and the Chapter’s failure to make it all the way down to the coast. Instead, they end up on a disused canal barge Katrina, where the Angels spend the night drinking, smoking and er…watching Doctor Who.


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Peter McDougall’s Classic Gangland Film: ‘Just A Boys’ Game’ starring singer Frankie Miller

In 1979, rock singer Frankie Miller landed the lead as Jake McQuillan in Peter McDougall‘s brilliant play Just A Boys’ Game. It was an incredible piece of casting for what was one of the best dramas produced for British TV in the seventies.

Indeed, it is fair to say McDougall, along with Dennis Potter and David Mercer, wrote some of the greatest and most powerful dramas produced during this time:

There can be no better justification for the modus operandi of the BBC drama department of the 1960s and 70s than the discovery of Peter McDougall. The most original Scottish voice of the era, McDougall might never have been given a break at any other time in broadcasting history.

McDougall started work at 14 in the Clydebank shipyards, alongside Billy Connolly. After a few years, he left and moved to London, where he became a house painter. One day, while painting actor and writer Colin Welland’s house, the young McDougall impressed the future Oscar-winner with his tales of marching and mace throwing in an Orange Walk. Welland encouraged McDougall to write his story down, which became the Italia Prix-winning drama, Just Another Saturday:

Just Another Saturday was first broadcast on 7 November 1975, as part of BBC2’s Play For Today. Britain, then as now, was a place of great inequality. Sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height. Issues of Scottish independence/devolution were in the spotlight, with the collapse of traditional industries such as shipbuilding on the Clyde, and the associated poverty, mirrored by vast wealth promised from North Sea oil in Scottish waters.

The script, screenplay, direction, film stock, lighting, photography, sound recording and editing of Just Another Saturday combine to give an understated, real-life appearance; making the emotional impact of picture and dialogue all the more intense. The use of brief close-ups of very human details add hugely to the emotional effect; faces in the crowds tell, evocatively, of Scotland’s pride and sadness. Outdoor shots especially show powerful visual imagery. The Duncan Street violence is that much more disturbing because much of it is hidden from view.

The play is about beliefs and innocence, and the desire to escape. As Lizzie tells John, “at least you believe in something”; Dan despises all “the organisations” on both sides of the Glasgow Protestant/Catholic divide: he ridicules what he sees their moral hypocrisies, like “suffering for the cause”. There is pointed irony in the fact that the only injury John incurs over the whole day is from a confused drunk. Dan points out the divisions that the organisations cause and the many contradictions from Scottish history that make their positions absurd. His quiet socialist conviction is delivered with great pathos.

Director John Mackenzie was flabbergasted at McDougall’s raw talent, and claims the finished film barely contained a single change from the original draft of the script. However the Glasgow police blocked filming on a drama they feared would cause “bloodshed on the streets in the making and in the showing.”

There wasn’t bloodshed, but considerable outrage that McDougall had highlighted so many of Scotland’s ills. McDougall was undeterred by the controversy, going on to write: The Elephant’s Graveyard (1976), with Jon Morrison and Billy Connolly; Just A Boys’ Game (1979),  with Frankie Miller, Ken Hutchison, Gregor Fisher and Hector Nicol; A Sense of Freedom, the story of Scotland’s notorious gangster, Jimmy Boyle: Shoot for the Sun (1986) with Jimmy Nail, and told the dark story of heroin dealers in Edinburgh; Down Where the Buffalo Go saw Harvey Keitel as US Marine stationed at Holy Loch naval base, and the slow disintegration of his life; and Down Among the Big Boys the story of a bank heist with Billy Connolly.

These days, McDougall’s work is rarely seen on TV, as those now in charge of drama commissioning are but mere “civil servants”, more interested in focus groups, audience figures and mediocrity, than genuine talent. It’s a shame, for McDougall is the best and strongest voice to have come out of TV over the past few decades.

McDougal’s Just a Boys Game is an equal to Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, and contains some of the finest performances put into a TV film - watch out for comedian, Hector Nicol’s sly performance as the elderly hard man, whose respect Miller wants to earn, as well as brooding Ken Hutchison (from Straw Dogs) as Dancer and a young Gregor Fisher (who later starred as Rab C. Nesbitt) as Tanza, and Katherine Stark as Jane. It is an brilliant, brutal and unforgettable film.

The astounding Just a Boys Game (Play for Today, tx. 8/11/1979), was another ‘play in a day’, pursuing hard man Jake McQuillan, whose life of alcohol, violence and emotional impotence is threatened by the arrival of a younger, razor-wielding thug. Jake’s casual ‘boys’ games’ ultimately result in the death of his only friend.

Featuring some of the strongest violence the BBC had ever dared broadcast, it was stunningly photographed by Elmer Cossey and featured McDougall’s most crackling dialogue and richest characterisations, all brilliantly evoked by a cast headed by blues singer Frankie Miller in a performance that melts the camera in its intensity.

Miller sadly suffered a brain hemorrhage in New York in 1994, while working on new material for a band with Joe Walsh of The Eagles. Miller spent five months in a coma, after which he went through rehabilitation. In 2006, Frankie released his first new material in almost twenty years, Long Way Home.

The rest of McDougall’s ‘Just A Boys’ game’ plus ‘Just Another Saturday’, after the jump…

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Award Winning Director Peter Mullan’s brutal first film ‘Close’
12:28 pm


Peter Mullan

Last year, the actor and director Peter Mullan took top honors at the San Sebastian Film Festival with his latest film Neds. Neds is short for Non Educated Delinquents, and Mullan’s film deals with the subject of “neds” and their teenage gangs in Glasgow of the 1970s. Something, as Mullan explained to Demetrios Matheou of The Observer back in 2001, he knows about from his years as:

...a member of knife-carrying Glasgow street gang the Young Car-Ds; hanging around, fighting with other gangs, chasing girls, getting drunk. Despite being a bright, bookwormy boy, he was truant from school for the entire year of his gang career. He recognises this now as a crossroads in his life, from which his fellow Car-Ds inadvertently helped him find the right path. ‘They eventually asked me to leave, for two reasons: one, they always felt I was slumming it - because I would use words like “flabbergasted”.’ He grins, remembering the embarrassment. ‘And also because I wanted to up the ante, I wanted us to do really crazy things.’ For a change, he won’t elaborate. ‘Quite rightly they said no. They saved my life, no doubt about it.’

Mullan went on to study at the University of Glasgow, where he excelled as a student until he suffered a nervous breakdown.

‘I just put a ridiculous pressure on myself,’ he recalls. ‘I was terrified of failure, and paralysed by the idea of success. It had a lot to do with class, I think, with deep-rooted class insecurity. Everyone I met at university was middle class. I thought, “Who am I to be here?”’

He eventually returned and re-sat his finals, but in-between, Mullan found a stability amongst actors and joined the student theatre. From this his career as an actor began.

For seven years after he left university Mullan combined teaching drama in the community - in borstals, prisons, community centres and, for two years, at the university itself - with performing. This was the heyday of left-wing theatre companies such as 7:84 and Wildcat. And Mullan helped set up guerrilla troupes with names like First Offence and Redheads, touring western Scotland with overtly political plays influenced by the likes of Brecht, Howard Barker and Dario Fo. Thatcherism, the miners’ strike, the National Front, were typical subjects - ‘anything that related to what I felt to be true about the working class’.

He knew he was a Marxist by the time he was 15, despite his Catholic background. ‘Truth is I don’t think God on a daily basis,’ he shrugs. ‘I think politics, science.’ In the 80s he regarded himself as being further to the left than Militant, refusing to join either those rebels or the Labour Party itself. ‘The irony was that Labour very mistakenly sent me a letter throwing me out - when I wasn’t actually a fucking member.’

Mullan is now an internationally respected actor and director - with acting credits in such films as Trainspotting, My Name is Joe, The Claim, Miss Julie, and work as an awrd-winning director with his feature films Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters. This year will see the release of his third feature as director, Neds.

However, his first work as a director was Close - a grim, brutal and darkly humorous tale of one man’s murderous breakdown in a tenement block or “close”. It is a powerful and violent piece, one that hints at the violence in Mullan’s own background:

More than that, Mullan describes a household almost under siege from his alcoholic father’s dark personality. ‘There are some people who walk into a room and they oxygenate it, by their very being there’s fresh air,’ he says. ‘Then there are those who come in with the smell of death and they suck the life out. He was one of those. I remember the undiluted, black-as-coal bile that used to come out of his mouth.’

As Charles Mullan’s lung cancer worsened, so the abuse strayed from the psychological to the physical. ‘In the later years, when he got drunk on whisky, you didnae wanna know. Eventually our household went completely nuts, because the boys became teenagers and physically strong, and violence became a way of life.’ Mullan and his brothers hit back. ‘We had no choice. I think it’s fair to say that if you walk in from school and he’s got your mother over the table with a knife at her throat, one’s going to get physical.’

Close isn’t for the faint-hearted, so you have been warned.

Mullan’s film Neds opens on the 21st January in the UK, as yet, there is no US release date.

Part 2 of ‘Close’ plus bonus trailer for ‘Neds’, after the jump…
Via The Observer

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment