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By Janice Birks
Ritchie Gee is constantly in demand. This pristine, clean-cut Ted is a
motorcycle mechanic, roadie, agent, promoter and American car enthusiast
extraordinaire. He also manages the popular Tennessee Rock 'n' Roll Club,
runs The Edwardian Drape Society and is every journalists mentor when it
comes to researching Rock ‘n’ Roll and authentic clothing.
We wanted to know more about this Edwardian-clad gentleman who promotes
young bands in North London and who's had one million people log into his
Web Site page on the Internet.
Ritchie Gee, manager of The Tennessee Club in Wood Green, North London and
founder of The Edwardian Drape Society is immaculately dressed in a £1,000
Teddy boy suit made by an original Saville row tailor based in St Albans.
Ritchie was a teenager when rockers were dominating North London and he
wistfully recalls the rock 'n' roll scene in North London as a teenager.
"I'd go to The Fishmonger's Arms when I was about 13 or 14," remembers
Ritchie. "There would be the Wild Wax Show on a Tuesday night presented by
Rockin' Stu and Roy Williams", he says. "Around the same era, we were
spending a lot of time going around the various Rock 'n' Roll cafe's, the
Busy Bee and the Ace Cafe'. Ritchie's brother Stuart was a rocker, and had a
motorbike as soon as he left school. Ritchie recalls, where we lived, "it
was Mods down one end of the street and Rockers at the other. We went to
gigs such as the Northcoat Arms, and ended up in the Ace at about 1.30 a.m.
All the local bands like the Wild Angels would turn up at the Ace for a
coffee, and they were considered stars then. The bike scene and the Ted
scene were very close. A lot of rockers would ride their bikes and put on
drapes to go out in the evening. Most of the Teds had motorbikes too, but if
you were really well off, you had a Consul. The Teds had British cars such
as Humbers, Vauxhall Crestas - it was all quite a working class scene. No
one was really well off in those days.
After leaving school, Ritchie became an apprentice motorcycle mechanic for
George Gross, a main agent for BSA Triumph and Norton, and later for another
dealer in North Finchley. Among the customers at the time were celebrities
such as Mickey Most. Situated in London through the Sixties, the company
became a major supplier of both motorcycles and riders for the then booming
film and television industry. Ritchie recounts numerous occasions where he
was called upon to ride in films such as "All The Way Up" with Warren
Mitchell and "Dixon of Dock Green." He also spent two weeks filming with the
"Doctor Who" crew. His first move into the music business came in the early
seventies as a roadie for the band Crazy Cavan, a job that took him
throughout Europe and The USA and later, he became the band's agent.
By 1986, Ritchie had acquired his first American car, which was a 1976
Cadillac Seville in triple white. He still has it. On a sunny day, Ritchie
chooses his 1991 Harley Davidson 1200 cc US spec. Sportster. Although being
patriotic, he's not for one minute forsaking British motorcycles. In his
garage, still sits a classic 60's Cafe Racer Norbsa - a 650cc BSA Super
Rocket engine nestling in a Norton wide-lined Featherbed frame.
"I remember doing a project in school and I did one on motorcycles - the
Norton's, BSA Triumph and the AJS. I was really interested in the British
bike in junior school. In fact, when I got my first job as a motor mechanic,
I remember the governor knocking on my mum's door saying I'd forgotten my
wages again - I was so enthusiastic!
The music scene always influenced his love of cars, bikes and clothes.
Ritchie has been interested in Rock 'n' Roll music from a very early age. I
remember in the late Sixties hearing tracks such as "One Hand Loose", by
Charlie Feathers on the King label and Junior Thompson on the Meteor record
label singing, "Momma's Little Baby", and I liked that sound. It was
distinctive with pounding lead guitar breaks and a lot of bass. It was a
very good sound. I still liked the traditional Jerry Lee Lewis, "Whole Lotta
Shakin' Going On", but 1 got into the early Rockabilly music and found out
later some of the Teds liked it too. A lot of the Teds preferred the
old-fashioned type of music - Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly"
stuff, and didn't much care for the Rockabilly scene until 1979/1980. Then a
people got into the American scene wearing the jean jacket and even donkey
jackets. I was more involved in the Teds - wearing nice trousers and shoes
and the traditional Edwardian style has always interested me. The Ted girls
wear a single-breasted suit with maybe a brooch, a well-tailored pencil
skirt with stockings, and stilettos. Ted girls still dress that way. I'm not
sure about these "laddie" girls always featured in popular men's magazines -
the ones who swill lager, and go to football matches. When you're taking a
girl out, it's nice to see her dressed as a lady, and behaving like
It was Dixie, Ritchie's girlfriend, who first thought about getting together
all the Teds. She had noticed that there were a lot of them about,
interested in wearing the clothes, and their first meeting was in a pub in
Islington. "About 25 turned up", accounts Ritchie, "now we have 1200 members
Worldwide, and there will be more because we're on the Internet now and a
million people have already logged into the net to find out more about The
Tennessee Club. The Edwardian Drape Society meet there once every three
months, and Ritchie puts on a Teddy Boy band for them. The rest of the time,
The Tennessee Club caters for anyone into Rock "n" Roll! The Club has been
attracting big names. Artists who have recorded on The Sun Label - the same
as Elvis. Ritchie has had Sonny Burgess playing at his club, Narvel Felts
and Jack Scott. Also Charlie Gracie, and Bill Haley's Comets. In fact, the
Comets have played there four times and were so impressed with the way The
Tennessee Club was set up, they made Ritchie their tour manager. "I've
arranged all their flights over", he explains, "where they're going to stay,
taking them on tour. We recently did a tour with Chris Hodges and Frank
Lacey, and did some great gigs. It was fun going on tour with them, and also
doing the Johnny Burnette show. (Johnny's son Rocky and the lead guitarist
Paul Burlinson - I got them a few dates, and it was packed out). Recently,
we had Ray Campi play here, and had a lot of people at the club."
The Tennessee Club is known Worldwide. It's on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame
There are good acts and a good sound system, and there's always a top act on
monthly. It's not strict dress code but Ritchie doesn't encourage trainers!
"They'll probably get the piss taken out of them", he muses. You get people
coming here in jeans, shirts and casual leather jackets, or drapes and
waistcoats. Girls phone me asking me what they should wear for the club. I
find myself dressing them over the phone and telling them what I would like
them to wear! Then I have to say, "I've got to go -I'm getting a bit hot
here!" Girls can be as scantily clad as they like. They can feel safe at The
Tennessee Club - no one will pester them. "We do get football supporters
wanting to come in or those wanting to drink later on into the evening, but
unless they're friends, they won't be allowed in.
Ritchie does everything from his home, and he's greatly appreciated by young
bands trying to make a name for themselves because he puts so much into the
publicity and introduces them well. He arranges the backdrop, the DJs, the
sound system and designs and writes the flyers for the club. One guy
grateful for Ritchie's enthusiasm is Darrel Higham who was presented with
"Best Achiever" award at the club. "He's the best guitarist this country's
had since the Fifties", enthuses Ritchie, and he's got his own style. He'll
be playing the Gene Vincent/Eddie Cochran show again, and he's fantastic.
It's both business and pleasure as far as I'm concerned. I enjoy talking to
people at the door, and doing the publicity, and arranging a sound system.
If I didn't enjoy all that, I wouldn't bother".
If there’s two things that are going to ruffle the immaculately starched
collar of this well dressed Ted.
One is people confusing the Ted image for the likes of that crass band
Showaddywaddy. "The Press usually get it wrong!" says Ritchie, "I never got
into that brightly-coloured drape business.
Fashion designers such as Katherine Hamnet started bringing out designs in
lurex drapes, and people wore quiffs, and it took a lot away from the
original Teds. I saw all that stuff - tartan, yellow and orange fluorescent
drapes and hated it. No Ted or Rockabilly I know wears that stuff. Bands
such as Mud, and Showaddywaddy in the Seventies had a bad influence on Teds.
Actually a lot of Teds stopped going out to regular clubs because there were
so many people dressed in those gaudy colours. Only the odd person if they
had a wild personality can get away with it. It's totally miles away from
what we're all about. 1 mean, you wouldn't get Hell's Angels wearing pink
leather jackets, you wouldn't get Skinheads wearing bright green cronbies so
why do they get it confused? I am barefacedly trying to set the record
straight. The history of music in England should be re-written because
they've got it wrong about the Teds - their style of dress etc. A magazine
in 1982 called, "Fashion In The Fifties" got it wrong too. They wrote,
"Teddy Boys in their skin-tight drainpipe trousers and winkle-picker shoes".
Well, when they first came out, winkle-pickers were more of an Italian look.
They also got it wrong in Dennis Potter's. "Lipstick On Your Collar,"
because although it was good and nicely produced, they had a bloke in an
orange drape on a scooter! We've done films. We've been filmed with Del
Amitri and there are a few coming out which I've provided information for.
Bruce Webber came down the club and was very interested in the authentic
look and he made a short film. From that we got into a magazine called
"Interview In New York," which contained two pages on Teds and it had one
with pink hair and yellow drapes!"
The second thing to make Ritchie's finely chiselled features wince is being
called "Elvis" in the street. "What are you supposed to shout back at them?"
snorts Ritchie, "Elton John!" Every time I turn round and see who's calling
me Elvis, I only ever see a person who is bland and empty-headed, and they
don't remind me of anyone, so I suppose it's a compliment.
The Teds take their image very, very seriously indeed and why not? Seldom do
you see such finely dressed men with such good manners. "All the Teds 1 know
are polite", concludes Ritchie, "If 1 bump into someone, it doesn't matter
if they're as big as Giant Haystacks, or as small as Ronnie Corbett, I'll
always say, "I'm sorry about that. Can I buy you another drink? Teds wants
to be treated in the same way they want to treat others... with respect!"
Taken from THE WEEKLY POST - Friday 7th August 1998
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