No Angels

THE unkempt leather-clad bikers who are sitting in fold-up chairs in the middle of a field in Drymen, Stirling, swigging whisky and smoking roll-ups, have been attending the annual Mutineers Rat-Arsed Rally.

As I cautiously pick my way across the grass towards the spot where they have agreed to meet me, I realise that while they might not have reached the rat-arsed stage, they've clearly had a heavy weekend and have no intention of leaving the party just yet.

This small group are members of the Blue Angels, a feared outlaw biker gang founded in Scotland more than 40 years ago and, as the gang's president will later tell me, with an unblinking stare that I discover is a bit of a trademark, "we're always the first to arrive and the last to leave".

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Following the recent murder of Gerry Tobin - a member of the Hells Angels who was shot dead on the M40 on 12 August - which has thrown biker gang culture into the mainstream media spotlight again, I am here to talk to them about their attitudes to violence and to find out a little more about outlaw biker gangs, including their own famously secretive organisation.

The Hells Angels, which originated in California in 1948, have around 1,800 "official" members across the world, with chapters in every country in Europe, except one: Scotland, where the Blue Angels rule the roads.

There are about 200 Blue Angels in this country, with many more outside Scotland, mainly in Belgium and England. Established in Glasgow in 1963 by a small group of rockers, and reputed to be the oldest outlaw biker gang in Europe, they command serious respect in the international biking community.

Their name derives from Scotland's national colours, although some members claim that Blue stands for "bastards, lunatics, undesirables and eccentrics", which they say pretty much sums them up. Others say that the spirit of solidarity, of brotherhood and camaraderie is what bonds the group, and what still attracts people to outlaw biker gangs today. As the Blue Angels' president, 63-year-old Lenny the Lion, one of the original founders, later tells me following one of many tales of bloody retaliation: "The bottom line is that if you f*** with one of us, you f*** with 50 of us."

It is Lenny who introduces me to the group of six men and one woman who are still partying in the Drymen field.

Opinionated, articulate and wickedly witty, his appearance is suitably intimidating: ponytail, teeth that have seen better days, and the physical scars from years of combat. Everyone has a nickname: Duke, Sam the Skull, Geo, Rio, Caldy.

When the topic of Tobin's murder is raised, the group becomes animated.

"It's just your standard feud. This isn't about an individual," suggests Sam. "The Hells Angels are more likely to have been the target, not Gerry Tobin. There is a lot of ongoing rivalry, these things happen in the biking world all the time, just not so much in this country."

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Lenny adds: "People are talking about it a lot. It's an American thing, feuds, and it doesn't happen much here. We're proud of the fact that there isn't an American influence in Scotland. We fought the Hells Angels in the 1970s which is why they don't have a chapter here."

There is much dispute over the motive, but there is one thing on which the whole group is in agreement: the nature of the murder was cowardly.

"That hit us all hard," says Duke, who wears sunglasses throughout, his grey hair pulled into a ponytail, with a tanned, weathered face. "Honour is very important to us, but he was shot in the back of the head, he didn't see it coming," he says, shaking his head.

This honour-among-outlaws mentality appears to be a key part of biker culture. Tracking down the Blue Angels was no easy feat, with responses from the bike shops and mechanics I approach for help ranging from, "they'll never speak to you, no-one knows anything about them," to "if I told you about them, they'd find out, if you know what I mean". But eventually, I did find someone who agreed to contact them on my behalf and, after a fair bit of negotiation, we arranged this meeting.

When Lenny first introduces me to the group they make it clear they found me a source of amusement and there was no way they were going to make this interview an easy ride. However, a chair is quickly vacated for me, and I'm assured their digs are "just banter".

Given the warnings I had received from those outside the Blue Angels prior to our meeting, I am surprised to find the gang members boast little of the stereotypical insignia of hairy, tattooed bikers but instead have adopted a grittier, less stylised image - blue jeans teamed with battered leather jackets with "Blue Angels" emblazoned across the back in a Gothic script, a skull with angel's wings sandwiched between the lettering.

Many of them bear a patch reading "1%", a reference to the fact that the American Motorcycle Association has said that 99 per cent of motorcyclists are decent and law-abiding. These guys are rough around the edges, grubby, with shortish, stubbly beards and greasy hair, with bike grease on their hands.

They are mostly middle aged, and some of them seem wary of me, others relatively relaxed and open. One speaks only to suggest that I share a bath with him. I daren't tell him that he needs it more than I do.

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Beatty, Duke's partner, is the only other woman present but, Lenny tells me, women are a big part of the Blue Angels. "The lifestyle attracts them. I've got four girlfriends, but no, no women in the Blue Angels, although we've got women who've carried weapons for us when they were little girls and now they're grandmothers."

A smiley middle-aged blonde woman, Beatty tells me that for her the Blue Angels is as much a lifestyle as it is for Duke and for many, the gang, is a family thing. "Although we have two sons, who're not interested at all, for others, their kids are really into it," she says.

"I suppose everyone rebels against their parents don't they? Even if it means rebelling against us!" Lenny adds. "When I was young I asked my dad why he hated us so much. He told me that he didn't hate us, but that he never had a youth of his own. He went through a war, and he told me that really he was just jealous of what we had, of how carefree it all was."

Carefree is one way to describe the organisation. Notoriously violent is another. In the 1960s, the Blue Angels engaged in bloody battles with rival gangs, mostly Mods, with bar brawls "of John Wayne proportions" that resulted in a cycle of revenge attacks. Petrol bombing and sneak attacks became the norm, until the gangs met and called a truce. Violence since, they explain, has been sporadic. "Our first clash was with the Maryhill Fleet in the 1960s, but there were worse ones to follow. I remember one fight in September 1964 with a rival gang. There were hundreds of us, about 300 on each side, right in the middle of Glasgow. That was a bloody night. I was handing it out that night, and one of us got life in prison for it," says Lenny.

But, he explains, things have been toned down since the 1960s: "Today violence is more person to person. It's about individuals. There's no gang rivalry with us, but we do command respect. The whole gang warfare thing is pretty dated anyway. We still get different gangs together for gatherings. They don't like each other, they snarl at each other, but because they respect us, they will respect each other."

However, as Lenny is quick to explain, the Blue Angels are more than prepared to fight their corner when required. "Violence is a pillar of our lifestyle. If we have to fight to protect our lifestyle then we will, but I can think of only about two occasions when we've been the ones who started it," he says. "Four years ago we were in Belgium, and two of our guys were shot by another gang. We came back and wiped them out. 19 of them were hospitalised."

Their policy is a strict one, says Lenny: "Retaliation out of all proportion." It's an intimidating approach, and outsiders are understandably intimidated by the group.

"People's perceptions of us are just fairly stereotypical," says Caldy. "Hairy. Violent. Sex-mad. But we don't think about that. We're rebels trying to do our own thing, and we don't care what society thinks of us."

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That they "don't care" what others think is a point that is reiterated often. But I do wonder if the ladies doth protest a little too much. They are keen to tell me about their involvement in charity work, and a softer side of them soon appears.

"We've put on shows for sick children, had them posing on the bikes for pictures, and we do a lot of work adapting bikes for disabled riders, but no one thinks about that side of us," says Sam a little forlornly. So how exactly does one become a member of the Blue Angels? They all laugh, as if to suggest that the qualities one must posses are not something they can quantify.

"We get lots of young guys wanting to join us but we know from how daft we were when we were that age that it's not a good idea. Most of the guys who join are in their early thirties. If they want to join, they have to be nominated by two members. Then they become a prospect, like him," says Lenny, giving Geo a kick, "and then we all vote on their membership. We have to make sure that we gel with people and that we're sure they'll toe the line before they join. We've had problems in the past, members who've become heroin users for example. With us, you can't have two loves, so they had to be kicked out."

It's an intense lifestyle, and not all of the bright-eyed young things who set up the Blue Angels with Lenny have stuck with it. "Some left, became squares. But we're a brotherhood. We share pain, sorrow, happiness," he says.

"You're in this for life, and people envy us for our solidarity, our freedom," adds Sam. "They've got their credit cards, their Mondeos, but they wish they had our lifestyle. We're a modern tribe, we've just swapped horses for machines."

The rally is drawing to a close, and Duke and Beatty get up to leave. As they do so, every member of the group leaps to their feet, shaking Duke's hand and slapping him on the back. The sense of brotherhood and camaraderie is certainly strong. "Sometimes people are intimidated by us," Lenny tells me as the exchange of hugs and handshakes continues.

"You can sense their fear, but I suppose our reputation precedes us. You've got to strike the balance between fear and intimidation," he says, staring at me a little aggressively, daring me to look away, to blink. When I ask if he is using this approach with me, he laughs, but doesn't deny it.

Later that evening, safely home in my "square" world, I receive a phone call from him. "I wanted to check that we didn't give you too hard a time today?" he asks me in a genuinely worried voice.

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"Some of the boys were a bit concerned about you, but it was all banter. You know we're just big babies really." Indeed.



SET up in Illinois in 1935, the Outlaws encompass 200 chapters around the world, with British followers in Birmingham, London and Kent. Members wear black leather jackets with a crossed piston and skull motif on the back.


FOUNDED in 1948, the Hells Angels is a surprisingly small group, with only around 1,800 members worldwide, including 200 Britons and 1,200 Americans. They are famous for almost exclusively riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.


A PART of the Irish Motorcycle Club Alliance, the Road Tramps are based mainly in Ireland, with groups in Limerick, Cork and Tipperary, but also have a small following in England. Formerly known as the Reapers, they were founded in Ireland in 1987.


ONE of the Hells Angels' most violent rival gangs, the Bandidos' slogan is: "We are the people our parents warned us about." With around 2,400 members in 195 chapters across 14 countries, the club, which originated in Texas, is a force to be reckoned with. They have British groups in Jersey and Guernsey.

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