Following on from the recent article on the Skinhead series of books published by New English Library, TWLB now looks at NELs publication of several Biker novels from Peter Cave. Although he wrote 5 biker books (‘Speed Freaks’ and ‘Rogue Angels’), the 3 we will be looking at are a trilogy, based around a London Hells Angels Chapter. The books were (in chronological order);
The Run (1972)
Chopper by Peter Cave
“Chopper moved into position. The skinhead was still bent double. Bringing up his knee, Chopper felt with satisfaction the scrunch of broken bone as the kid’s nose made contact. The kid went down, while blows from boots rained upon his body. He lay groaning, spitting out gouts of deep red blood and pieces of broken teeth.
” ‘Don’t ever pull a blade on an Angel.’ snapped Freaky before they left the kid. ‘It’s not friendly.’ “
This is the story of Chopper, of his bike, his pills, his girls and his violent bid for gang leadership. Author Peter Cave tells like never before how a greaser grows up to become a fallen Angel.
(cover photograph by Shepard Sherbell)
© 1971 Peter L Cave
First NEL Paperback Edition April 1971
Reprinted October 1971
NEL Books are published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London, EC1.
In response to the Richard Allen success of ‘Skinhead’, NEL quickly released a UK based biker story entitled ‘Chopper’, written by Peter Cave. The focus is on the titular character, Chopper Harris, who is second in command in a London Angels chapter, with Big M, Marty Gresham, being the no.1. Gresham is accompanied by his gorgeous woman, Elaine, aka Mama, who effectively initiates a power struggle between the 2 men. This feels inevitable as Chopper desires Mama, despite the fact she belongs to ‘Big M’, but Gresham is distancing himself from the Chapter, wishing to settle down and leave the violence behind him. ‘Mama’, ingrained in Angel culture, sees Chopper as her opportunity to remain at the top of the Chapter.
As in the Skinhead books, violence and sex are the fundamental drivers in this story,
and the violence is quick to surface as the bikers deal out a beating to some skinheads (oh the NEL symmetry of it all!). ‘Pot Parties’, ‘plating’ (a curious euphemism for cunnilingus), ‘bundles’ (fights) – a lot of the language used in this book, feels (and is) antiquated now, but holds a curiosity value, a window to a world long gone.
Like ‘Skinhead’, ‘Chopper’ has some crude and very questionable content, such as when some of the Angels tempt a girl with stolen drugs, take her back to her place and
then proceed to abuse their victim relentlessly. Violence is extreme, with the largely faceless, character-less victims beaten senseless. A nihilistic book, with a lack of moral focus and characters who are hard to sympathise with, ‘Chopper’ does not end well for the title character, but it is very hard to feel any emotion about it.
A short novel, at 128 pages it has the brevity of the Skinhead novels of Richard Allen, and for both authors it is hard to imagine that these stories could be sustained much beyond their usual 100 hundred page duration. ‘Chopper’ may be a stylised account of Biker culture in the early 1970s, but it is also a hard read because of its ambiguous presentation of violence and sex, and it is not particularly a good read either, as the characters are largely
unsympathetic, devoid of warmth, humour or humanity.
Mama by Peter Cave
NEL March 1972.
Chopper may be dead but his girl lives on.
A motorcycle groupie becomes queen of the Hell’s Angels.
Spoilers from the start in Peter Caves sequel to ‘Chopper’, as the blurb on the front cover lets you now exactly what has happened, and is going to happen. With Big M having walked away from the Angels and her lover, Chopper, dead, it is up to Mama to try and seize control of the Chapter from Danny the Deathlover. Clad in an all-in-one leather bikers suit and offering sex as currency, she tempts a mechanic to restore the damaged Harley Davidson that was the instrument of Choppers downfall. Bursting back onto the scene astride the newly road-worthy Harley, with ‘Big Mama’ emblazoned on the back of her jumpsuit in studs, she quickly regroups the direction less Angels Chapter. As a leader, she chooses to rule alone, still mourning the loss of Chopper (whose memory has become enshrined in her bedroom – and where in one scene she masturbates to his photograph).
With this shift of power, comes the cue lots of violence, including an attack on a group of Pakistanis and on a gang of Suedeheads (which also happens to be the title and subject matter of the follow-up to Richard Allens successful ‘Skinhead’ title from NEL). Operating like bandits, in a new HQ, the Angels plunder and steal to finance their lifestyle, under Mamas strong and purposeful leadership. However, by the end of the book it all goes horribly wrong, and Mama is brought to justice for her crimes. For both Chopper and Mama, Cave ensures that being at the top of the Angels heap brings retribution, either at the hands of law and order (Mama) or, in what you can assume to be a warning to the curious, at the machines that they so closely identify with (Chopper).
Peter Cave does not really move on from the style of writing he adopted in Chopper – this is no-nonsense exploitation fare, with a similar page count, and like ‘Chopper’ before it, that does not mean that ‘Mama’ is an enjoyable exploitation book (although I thought the placing of a woman as the head of the Angels (and making a success of it was fairly forward thinking). Although women (or at least Mama) get a better deal in this book, the story is racially offensive, with its portrayal of Pakistanis and the violence meted out to them, and the introduction of a black recruit to the Chapter (who is nicknamed ‘Superspade’) firmly placing this book in a bygone era.
‘Mama’ is as bleak in its outlook as ‘Chopper’, but Cave reserves his most scathing prose for the Angels, as a whole, damning them for their gang mentality;
“They were merely a pathetic band of failures – dropouts from a civilisation they couldn’t cope with. Because they were unable to belong, they cowered together in fear and trusted only their own massed numbers”
Curious that Cave should choose to pick the bikers as his subject matter, to exploit their culture for the book, to make them the ‘stars’ of these novels, and yet at the same time try and portray them as a gang of social inadequates. Whereas other writers would portray the Bikers and their culture in completely different terms (Mick Norman, who wrote a quartet of Biker books for NEL in the mid 70’s (and which were re-released in an anthology by Creation press in the mid-90s) viewed them in a more positive light, as upholders of a different way of life, of an alternative society. An interview with him can be found here). Whereas Norman wanted to celebrate the biker, Cave wanted to vilify them.
The Run by Peter Cave
Chopper is dead.
Mama is in jail.
The Americans are taking over.
Spoilers again in this final part in the ‘Chopper’ trilogy by Peter Cave. It tells you all you need to know. Although I have the book (purchased at a car boot sale in Hull in the late 90s) I have never done more than look at the cover. But it is out there, available on Ebay along with the other 2 books if you wish to immerse yourself in a very grubby, very British slice of youth culture exploitation nonsense.