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LIFE AFTER LIFE

Living in Spain after surviving 24 years in prison. Here I will be sharing my experiences as a writer and journalist, travelling all over the world interviewing dangerous people in dangerous places.

On The Side Of The Angels
04 December 2012 @ 13:08

  With two assignments for ‘Loaded’ now under my belt I felt that I was beginning to understand something of the art of writing for magazines. Above everything else, as far as men’s ‘mags’ went, the subject matter had to be dramatic and exciting. Although not consciously attempting to do so, I did realize that my style owed a lot to ‘gonzo’ journalism. I understood this to be when the writer/commentator interacts with the story and, indeed, becomes part of it. Hunter. S. Thompson, of course, was it’s most famous exponent.

  This did not preclude me from writing in the same vein. After all, I felt it to be as a direct result of who I was (my notorious criminal background, that is) that I got most of the stories in the first place. That, coupled with an almost suicidal, self-destructiveness which took me into dangerous situations in the first place. 

  I also felt that it brought integrity and honesty to my writing. If someone was good enough to trust me with an interview, then the least I could do was to let them speak in their own words and not twist things or offer value judgements. The latter would be left to the reader. No doubt I was still overly-conscious of the criminal fraternity’s characterization of most journalists as ‘grasses’. I was determined to establish some trust.

  I was aware that both gonzo-ism and honesty were given different degrees of freedom in different magazines. The ‘Loaded’ experience had by no means been a bad one. By and large they had published my articles almost verbatim, with relatively minor changes. Further, other than a few instances when it was a case of ‘Loaded did this’ or ‘Loaded did that’, they mainly credited me with all my actions. 

  However, I hadn’t missed the fact that ‘Loaded’ was just a minor part of a large publishing organization. I didn’t kid myself that, when push came to shove, if the powers-that-be determined that something needed changing or given a different slant, then that is exactly what would be done. And the first thing I would know about it was when I read the article in the magazine.

  This was something that definitely worried me. If I had given my word to someone that I would give them a fair hearing, what would they think when they saw the article under my name with a completely biased slant to it? Would they accept the explanation that it had been done without either my permission or my knowledge? And what would that do for my fledgling reputation of integrity? With this in mind, as well as a desire to give myself as much independence as possible, I looked around for other magazines to write for. 

  I had met Eoin McSorely at several of the media bashes in and around Soho. He had read my, ‘Parkhurst Tales’, as well as my pieces for ‘Loaded’ and liked my writing. He was currently features editor for ‘Front’ magazine and he asked me if I would write for them. 

  Now ‘Front’ was definitely the new kid on the block. A more recent creation than its longer-established rivals, it was still struggling for market share. Presently it was selling between 150 and 200 thousand copies a month. In order to attract attention and make a name for itself it was brash, in-your-face and determinedly irreverent. If there had been a poor taste award for men’s magazines then ‘Front’ would definitely have been in strong contention.

  However, I had been to their offices and was impressed by their down-to earth enthusiasm and unpretentiousness. There had certainly been some at ‘Loaded’ who had thought that they were minor celebrities in their own right. I sometimes got the impression that I would have to be careful not to put noses out of joint. There was none of that at ‘Front’. They were just a collection of working class boys out to have a bit of fun and turn out a good magazine at the same time. 

  What impressed me most of all though was Eoin’s assurance that he could guarantee me absolute editorial integrity. If I wrote it and they agreed that it could go in, then that is exactly the copy that would be published.  

  In the event, a story suddenly came up which dictated that what I wrote must be exactly what was published. In jail I had become friends with a couple of Hell’s Angels. Now they asked me to cover the funeral of one of their members who had just died. They trusted me to do a balanced piece. With the guarantee of editorial integrity firmly in mind I took the story to ‘Front’. True to their word they published it in its entirety. Here’s the story.


The phone call had come from Moose, an old friend. We had met in Long Lartin top security jail more than a decade earlier. Friendships fired in the furnace of the institution are often strong and en during. Ours had certainly lasted well enough.

I followed directions and met him at ‘Angel Farm’, the clubhouse of the Hell’s Angels Kent Chapter. A half-mile long concrete path led across fields to a sprawling complex esconced behind a high, spiked fence. Moose opened a gate and let me into a yard where several Harleys were parked.

“Maz is dead”, were his first words, as we shook hands in the gathering gloom of late evening. He had died in a road accident the previous day.

  I had never met him but I knew that Maz was the Angel’s national spokesman when dealing with the press or the public, quite a significant honour in an organization where all members are Brothers of equal standing. By coincidence, I had actually spoken to Maz on the phone recently, trying to arrange a trip to Arizona to interview the legendary Sonny Barger, founder member of the U.S. Angels.

Moose led me into a long, low, barn-type building done out like a saloon. Several grim-faced Angels stood drinking at the bar. All wore their Angel colours, drum-tight over bulging muscles, tattoos much in evidence. 

I had never hung around with the Angels, but I knew of them, mostly from the jailhouse. In there, and on the street, they were known to be proud honourable men, whatever their prejudices. If an Angel gave you his word, you could bet your life he would keep it. If he put his name to a deal, the deal would be done. And in this messed-up, jungle of a society that we live in, that’s no small thing. 

We all sat round a large table as Moose made the introductions. They were friendly enough, but their individual and collective grief was sufficient to charge the atmosphere with a feeling of impending violence. I was still wondering what it was all about and why I was here.  

  Cookie began on behalf of Kent. “Norman, we’ve heard about you from Moose and some of us have read your books. We feel we can trust you.” He paused, I thought to control his grief, but it was rage that burst through. “We hate the fucking press”, he screwed up his face in anger and looked sideways at his Brothers, who nodded in agreement. “Whatever we do we can never be right. Very shortly we will be burying Maz and we don’t want them taking the piss in any way. On behalf of Kent Chapter we’d like you to write an account of Maz  and the funeral.”

  What could I say? It wasn’t an offer I couldn’t refuse, because I really am my own man, whatever the cost. I felt, at first, flattered, then honoured. Again I reflected on the values of our society, of Queen’s birthday honours and medals, often unmerited. There would be none of that for a man such as I, and none wanted. I would settle for this vote of confidence from my Angel peers.

  On the drive home, exactly what I had let myself in for began to sink in. I knew nothing whatsoever about Maz. What if he had been one of the wilder exponents of the biker life-style? Could I, in all conscience, write positively about that? No doubt all would be revealed to me on the day, a day I was now looking forward to with considerable trepidation.

  It was bright, if somewhat overcast, as I drove Justin, my photographer from ‘Front’, towards Angel Farm and the funeral. There had been some initial resistance when I had mentioned that ‘Front’ was backing the piece. “Didn’t they do that article on the ‘Outcasts’, growled Cookie? The ‘Outcasts’ were the Angel’s sworn enemies. 

  “I’m sure there was nothing personal in it”, I reassured. “As far as I’m concerned you know exactly where you stand with ‘Front’. Once they agree on my copy, I can trust them not to change it behind my back.” I didn’t want some smart-arsed backroom boy tacking on an irreverent piss-take that I would only see when the magazine came out. 

  It was still early, but already hundreds of bikers lined the dirt track alongside the clubhouse. Hundreds more milled about inside the grounds, their bikes parked en masse, shards of light glancing off highly polished metal in the early morning sunlight. The several millions pounds worth of custom-built Harleys were the Angels collective pride and joy. 

  The men themselves looked every bit as impressive as their machines. If there were any small, weedy Angels about I couldn’t see them. Hulking giants, muscles bulging, bedecked in full angel finery, strode about giving each other their clenched-thumb handshake.     

  Every Angel in England was here, together with a score or so from Holland and representatives from several other European countries. Three South African Angels came with the Dutch contingent and there was even an angel from Nova Scotia.

  With them came their ladies. Of all ages, leather-clad and confident, they looked just as capable of riding the bikes as their men . And in fact they were. Most of them rode their own bikes.

  Outside, along the dirt track, hundreds of other mourners congregated, with scores more arriving every minute. There were several other ‘patch’ clubs present, which even I, with my limited knowledge of biker politics, knew was unusual. 

  A dozen Satan’s Slaves, wearing their colours, stood with their bikes in one group. Further down, a smaller group of ‘Headhunters’ lounged just a stones throw from Pompey ‘Road Warriors’ and Wiltshire ‘Lowlanders’. Maz must have had broad appeal to unite such different groups in mourning. 

  Then there were your normal, regular motorcycle enthusiasts, hundreds of them, all on various types of bikes. There were Jap bikes, Harleys, custom-built trikes that looked like something out of ‘Mad Max’ and a rocket-bike with a built-on thruster that was clearly of the space age. Finally, at the far end of the track, a couple of dozen cars, jeeps and vans waited to take their place in the cortege.

  Suddenly, the roar of engines and a cloud of dust announced the arrival of a new group. Leather-clad, riding bikes and trikes, they were similar to those already here, but for one, quite significant, difference. They were all women. I hadn’t been aware that there was an all-woman biker club, but these were ‘Women in the Wind’, founded in the U.S. in 1978, extant in the U.K. for the past 12 years.

  Hard against the clubhouse fence was parked a large, flat-bed truck to which was hitched an equally large trailer. Both were piled high with hundreds of floral tributes. Some just saying ‘Maz’, others in the shape of bikes, they came form all over the country and all over the world. H.A. Long Island, H.A. South Carolina, the Flying Deuces, Angels everywhere were saluting their fallen Brother.

  Quite incongruously, a blue and white striped police car inched its way through the crush to park opposite the truck. Two fresh-faced young coppers, one male the other female, chatted away quite oblivious to the forces of the Apocalypse gathered around them. There was no fear and no hostility either. Maz was known, and it would seem, liked by both of them. They also had a relationship, of sorts, with the Angels. They made it clear that they expected no trouble. The funeral would be solely a traffic problem, not a public order one. 

  By now I was quite puzzled. This man Maz was being mourned by people from all walks of life. In an age beset by ‘isms’, how could a Hell’s Angel, a member of a club not known for its gregariousness, unite so many disparate groups?

  So I went in search of him, or rather, what remained of him, the part that lived on in the minds of others. Quietly, discreetly, trying hard not to intrude on personal grief, I asked mourners about their recollections of Maz.

  Dr Ian ‘Maz’ Harris, Ph.D., got his Doctorate at Warwick University. His later book, ‘Biker, the Birth of the Modern Day Outlaw’, was based on his research. He had been a founder-member of the Kent Chapter of Hell’s Angels and, when he had died aged 51, he had been an Angel for 25 years. 

  In a club of rugged, free-thinking individualists to whom leadership was often anathema, Maz rose to become their national spokesman. He was a leading light in the organizing of the Kent Show, the biggest custom-built bike show in England and also the ‘Buldog Bash’, the annual Angel party-cum-bike-show held in the Midlands. His whole life revolved around bikes and the free-spirited lifestyle he felt went with them.

  On a personal level, he was warm and friendly, without either airs or graces. He was articulate and a great story-teller. But over and above all these things, he was a writer! He wrote for the bike magazines ‘Back Street Heroes’ and ‘Heavy Duty’, amongst others. His columns, ‘Radical Times’ and ‘Street Talkin’ celebrated bikes and the ‘biker spirit’.

He wrote on topics as diverse as engines, civil rights and pornography and, in so doing, had touched the lives of so many. Cookie told me that thousands of e-mails had arrived from people who had been reading his stuff for years and felt that they knew him. They just wanted to say how sorry they were to hear of his death. 

  Bjorn, a close friend and fellow Angel from Sweden, said, “ I grew up reading ‘Radical Times’. Maz was an inspiration to all bikers everywhere.” Which would go some way towards explaining why all of Kent’s motorcycle police were on duty when several should have been off. They came in for free, out of respect for Maz.

  Suddenly, like a giant clearing its throat, hundreds of bikes coughed, then roared into life. Justin, who had been scurrying about in a feeding frenzy of photography inspired by such an unusually visual subject, raced to take his seat on Moose’s pillion. They jockeyed to take their place in the column of Angels that snaked slowly behind the hearse as it made its way out of Angel Farm. 

  On a day of death, everybody felt strangely invigourated. There was sadness, but pride and defiance too. Never mind what the straight world might say, they were on their way to bury a man honoured and beloved by them all. Whatever else they are, the Angels are a warrior caste. And woe betide anyone who would disrespect them this day.

  With a thunder like an approaching Panzer division, the cortege turned onto the A2. The extent of the police operation to facilitate the funeral immediately became apparent. Traffic in both directions had been stopped. As the procession passed along the carriageway, police on bikes and in cars sealed off all tributary roads. 

  The surrounding countryside came to a halt as people came out of their houses and places of work to stand and stare in amazement. Riding several abreast, the column of bikers stretched back as far as the eye could see. One estimate put the number at 3,000. Most rode bare-headed as a sign of respect, a special concession on this special day. 

  As the cortege came into Crayford, it seemed as if the whole town had turned out. They stood in gardens and at the side of the road, quite silent, hats in hand. 

  St Paulinus Church and its graveyard was beautiful as only English country churches can be. Never before could a more incongruous-looking crowd have stood within its precincts. Grim-faced and in total silence, the Angels and their fellow bikers sat in the church and stood amongst the graves as the service was relayed over loudspeakers.

  The Reverend read the euology between some of Maz’s favourite music. ‘Like a bird on a wire, I have tried in my way to be free’, sang Leonard Cohen. 

  Maz’s sister, Jane, thanked everyone for coming, acknowledging in passing that she had always shared her brother with his Brothers in the Angels.

  Then it was over. Like a film fast-forwarded, or pages flicked through in a picture book, we filed out of the church, gathered around the grave, said our ‘goodbyes’ to each other and headed off, lost in our own thoughts. Maz had touched our lives and, through that touching, there was now a sense of loss. 

  That he was a biker, a member of a so-called outlaw biker club, was neither here nor there. There would be captains of industry, knights of the realm, politicians of repute laid to rest with but a fraction of the respect paid to Maz Harris this day. You have your heroes, we will have ours. We know that Maz rides with the angels.    

 


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3 Comments


foxbat said:
08 December 2012 @ 23:58

Beautiful story, beautifully told...
I have but one story of contact with the Angels... from which Chapter they came I have no idea. my son was in the RN based down at Portland and on one of his weekend commuting trips from home back to his base came a cropper on his bike when he encountered a coach on the wrong side of the road on a blind bend outside of Weymouth; rather than risk a head on collision he elected to jump off at around 50mph...the bike went one way he went the other and both avoided any contact with the coach but the subsequent gravel rash caused him to be in sick bay for a week after. He swore he would never ride again and gifted the bike to me all I had to do was ride it back from Portland... it had been many years since I had ridden a bike so my wife and I drove down in our car with the idea that she would follow me on my ride back in case I had a problem. Somehow on the ride back she managed to get in front of me completely oblivious to the fact that she had passed me! I was on the stretch of the A352 between and Wool and Wareham when disaster struck... the gear lever fell off.... I stopped, stuck in 4th gear, stuck the bike up on its centre stand and walked back trying to find the lever. Having found it I was walking back to the bike when I was surrounded by Harleys, Indians and assorted big bikes all ridden by equally big blokes... huge blokes in fact just as you described in your story. One of the guys left his bike and approached me.. me the 10 stone owner of a crappy little MZ125... I half expected the guys to push the bike over and set fire to it... I was bloody petrified!

"Whats up?" the spokesman asked... I showed him the gear change lever... "Oh, is that all... Are you OK you look kind of worried...?"

He took the gear lever from me grabbed some tools from his bike and within a couple of minutes it was back on the shaft from whence it had departed.

"Shit design" he said, "get yourself a real bike next time..." I thanked him and he went back to his own bike...
"You gonna be OK? We could ride along with you for a while if you like." I assured him that I would indeed be OK... (especially when my heart rate dropped below the 150bpm it seemed to working at)

The guys left... and about 5 minutes later my wife turned up from the opposite direction to find me sitting on the grass verge having a fag.
"Did you see all those Hells Angels, bloody hell they've got some nice bikes..."

Brilliant guys, my thanks again...


ElviriaDreamer said:
21 January 2013 @ 18:32

NEVER fear an angel!

My birth father was an angel and roadie for the Rolling Stones. He was one of the most kind-hearted people you could ever meet, behind the large tattooed exterior...so I am told.

When I was 15/16 and living away from home, me and my mum used to meet every Friday night at "The Overnight Club" in Kingston Upon Thames. Who were our dining companions?...The Kingston Road Rats. Lovely guys.

Like I said...NEVER fear an angel.

Unless you have hurt them or theirs, you have no need to fear.


james mcintosh from auckland newzealand said:
27 September 2013 @ 04:22

after 13years i still miss maz and the letters he used to send and the phone calls.my heart goes out to family,club members and friends,.he still is riding with the angels...rest in peace brother.


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