I first met Bill Mac in the 1980s, when I bought my traditional rally patches from him, and subsequently thought he was Paddy Smith for many years! If you bought a ‘Paddy’ back then there was a good chance that it was actually Bill who sold it to you, as he worked on the stall on the campsite.
Bill is from Northern Ireland, which was a lively place to be a scooterboy during the Troubles. His love of scooters started in the late 1970s and he went on to become closely involved in the scene, including becoming assistant editor of Scootering and writing a novel about the antics of 80s scooterboys.
After finally being introduced to Bill properly at Weston by social butterfly Tori, I persuaded him to share his tales from the early days of his scootering life. It’s fair to say he’s got some fantastic stories so settle down with a nice cuppa and read on…
Bill Mac – My First Rally
How did you first get into scooters?
I first got into scooters after I joined the RAF in 1979. Up until then I had been into motorcycles and originally I owned a Yamaha 250. I come from Northern Ireland and there had been no scooter scene there or a mod/rocker thing either, scooters were just scooters. Music-wise I liked all sorts but loved The Jam and all the new ska bands.
I soon became mates with a lad called Kirk who was a mod and as we both liked a beer and The Jam so we got along. I went back to his home some weekends and hung around with his mates in the Kettering Coasters SC, and at our base near Aylesbury we made friends with the local scooterists and mods there too. I soon sold my bike and bought a Vespa Rally 200 electronic and started to attend local events.
I went to my first all-nighter and fell in love with Northern Soul and saw my first cutdown Lambretta, which was favoured by the soul boys who were well different from the mods I had seen and known until then.
What was your first scooter rally?
My first rally was Skegness 1981 on the Spring Bank Holiday and I met up with the Coasters and travelled up with them. We got in a B&B for about £8 a night which we thought was a bit much as I was only on about £40 a week. There was no campsite or do so we all just went into Sands nightclub and pestered the DJ to play mod and soul music. Realising there were hundreds of us he quickly complied!
At some point that evening a scuffle broke out with some locals and it all kicked off. The club shut early but we didn’t care as we were on a roll and loving it. Clubs were selling their club patches and I bought loads including lots of run patches from a guy I met called Smith. I also met a guy selling his new A5 sized magazine, Scootermania, called Martin Dixon. His earlier magazine had been Northern Mod Scene which I had bought too. In that mag Tom Petch from York SC had suggested a meeting of scooter club reps before the next year to ensure their rallies did not clash.
Thanks to Tom and Martin this led to the number ones meetings and the birth of the National Rallies and I was well and truly hooked.
Do you have any memories of the rally itself?
My eyes were truly opened by seeing the variety of scooters at the rally. There were loads of moddy scooters but there were also a load of Lambretta skeleton scooters, real cutdowns, and a lot of the Northern lads had metalflake sprayjobs that I fell in love with, or panels cut away to show their chromed tanks and toolboxes.
I saw my first dealers specials there, which were mostly AF Rayspeeds, and listened as the older lads spoke about stage four tuning etc. I liked that some clubs wore identical helmets or had their club logos on their helmets, and had club backpatches. Until then I had dressed a bit moddy to fit in with Kirk but after that I vowed to wear what I wanted and make my scooter look different, not the same as the rest.
The funniest moment was when we all met in a pub on the front for a quick couple before we left for home. That weekend one guy had annoyed everyone; he hadn’t paid his share of the digs money etc. So as he sat in the bar a couple of guys borrowed his helmet, took it into the toilet and crapped in it, wiping it all around the inside before carefully replacing it.
Everyone soon left to get on their scoots and this guy was always last. He came running out and without thinking or looking pulled his helmet quickly on. We all wept with laughter and roared off!
After that I did all the Nationals I could and became good mates with Paddy Smith. I would buy 20 or 30 of his rally patches for 50p each and sell them to the little mods back home for £2 each to pay for the rally. I soon ran with the Aylesbury lot and I got Paddy to do patches for them, and also t-shirts. My mate Derek used to book the back-up van and I sorted the patches and the B&Bs.
At the same time back in Belfast my brother and many of my mates and his back there were also getting into scoots, and they quickly passed through the mod phase into bona fide scooterboys… Saying that, my bro will always be a mod at heart! By 1982 I was posted again and still carried on the rallies, mostly with The Vale of The White Horse Scooter Club from the Wiltshire area.
Do you remember what your favourite rally anthem of that period was?
My fave music was Northern, I suppose, but I still liked The Jam and some ska. My real anthems of the early 1980s had to be Geno by Dexy’s Midnight Runners and then Come On Eileen. I remember Colwyn Bay coming alive to Geno in 1984.
What was your favourite custom scooter?
My fave custom scooters of that era were both Glevum Stax scoots. Exile the Lambretta chop and Orville’s War of the Worlds which he rode everywhere.
Did you join a club?
In 1983 I was able to travel back to Belfast and hang around with my brother and the scooter clubs there. A load of them attended the Southport and Dunbar rallies. Back home, a load of us had got nicked for fights with the local skinheads, who were not the scooterskins we saw on rallies. This culminated with a huge battle atop a hill outside Belfast called the Knockagh and we had all gone tooled up.
A few skins got thrown off the cliff that night and one was stabbed seven times. It was all over the local news and several of our lot got nicked. One mate got sent down for seven years and was in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Jail so we decided our club name was to be the Convicts SC. That battle on the Knockagh started a war that in the end drew in the local Paramilitaries who threatened us for bringing too many police into the area. Scootering was fun in Belfast in the eighties and never dull!
Back on the National scene I started working on Paddy’s stall and he introduced me to a younger Stu Lanning who had brought out a new magazine called British Scooterist Scene. Soon I was doing rally write-ups for him. I was then posted back to Belfast with the RAF and against all orders I went anywhere, and mostly places you were not meant to be.
We tried to organise club scooter dos, with one in the Abercorn Bar in Belfast but it got blown up soon after so we moved to another bar, but that got blown up as well! We all still attended most of the nationals and sold patches and other stuff to the baby mods to pay for it.
We decided to put on a do to get mainland scooterists to attend but we needed to have it outside Belfast to avoid bombs, death etc. One of our lad’s dad had a bar near Larne in the middle of nowhere so we opted for that and so the first Convicts SC event was born. We got a load of mates over from England, Wales and Scotland.
This event grew and grew, and by 1990 we easily had 1000 people at our last rally. I DJ’d with my mate Phil for other clubs around Belfast and the RAF would not have been happy. We organised smaller local rallies around Northern Ireland – the best of these was at Portstewart on the North Coast.
How did you get into writing?
In 1989, me, Stu and Jayne Smith bought Scootering magazine and for a year I was the assistant editor, although going down every month to Weston to put it together as well as attending all the rallies just got too much for me. In 1990 I wrote a book, Birth of a Cult, a novel about a scooter club in the 1980s and based most of its stories on things I had seen or heard over the years with a few names changed to avoid court proceedings.
Over the next few years I still wrote articles for Scootering the mag and later for Scooter Nova and regularly for SLUK. I have attended rallies all over the UK, Ireland, Europe, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, plus recently in Oz.
Along the way I contacted a guy whose music had caused me to make friends with Kirk all those years back, and with Stu we managed to get a scooter for Paul Weller and spoke to and met him several times. It ended with me getting my name on one of his album covers and getting on his guest list for a time.
Over the years I have owned countless scoots; Vespa and Lambrettas, 225 Vespas and several TS1 Lambrettas. Most recently I had a Scomadi 200 which I tested for SLUK and raced to Paddy’s last Fun Run in France, which was over 1400 miles there and back.
These days I write for other magazines, including horror mag Darkside and sci-fi mag Infinity.
What do scooters mean to you now?
I still have my GP200 which has a Honda 205 conversion and was painted by Nick Jolly, and an Indian GP200. For long distance two up rides for me and the wife we have a Vespa GTS 250. I prefer the 250 to the 300 as it doesn’t have the rust problems associated with the 300. I was told they switched to cheaper Chinese steel for the 300!!
I still attend the rallies I enjoy, and club events too, and love my scoots. I am in the Exmouth Confederates now since I moved here some years back. My brother still has a scooter as do several other lads from the Convicts. I will always be a Convict at heart!
Thanks to Bill for sharing these brilliant stories and the photos too. If you’d like to read more about 80s scooterboys then I can highly recommend Sticky’s new book which you can buy from SLUK.
2019 Rally list and tips
More My First Rally stories
Read more My First Rally stories using these links (in alphabetic order)
– Ali Richards
– Bill Mac
– Dave Lloyd
– Dean Percival
– Dizzy Holmes
– Iggy Grainger
– Jo Jackson
– Lee Parker
– Lee Richards
– Mike Oxley
– Nick Jolly
– Norrie Kerr
– Roger Williams
– Sandra Smith
– Sarah George
– Sean Robinson
– Stacey Gardner
– Steve Bone
– Stuart Owen
– Vince Wooloff