SUIT YOURSELF INTERVIEWS

QUADROPHENIA'S GARY 'SPIDER' SHAIL

Click on thumbnails for larger photos.

Suit Yourself are very proud to introduce you to one of the legendary actors from THE NO 1 MOD cult movie - QUADROPHENIA !!, The film that kick started a revolution that has lasted for decades and is celebrating it's 40th anniversary this year with huge events happening all over the country with some amazing events taking place over the August bank holiday in Brighton. In this fantastic piece Gary gives us an insight into the mod worlds BIGGEST celluloid success, his own amazing history and where he is today in his own acting and musical career and stories from behind the scenes of this cult movie.

Ladies and Gentleman and anyone remotely influenced by the Mod scene today - we give you that cheeky 'Spider' Gary Shail...............

Hi Gary, can you tell us a little about yourself, where you were born, how you grew up and your early influences from a musical and acting point of view.

 

I was born on the 10th November 1959 in Hendon NW4. I remember my early childhood as being carefree and extreamly happy. My mum (Winnie) didn't work as such, but was always involved with local activities and charities. I was in the Boys Brigade, so we were always collecting for 'jumble sales' I seem to remember. Dad (Ron) worked for a local firm called Smiths Industries which made components for clocks, speedomiters etc. Some years later dad was made redundant, which gave him the oppotunity to turn his passion for gardening into his full time job. He's now in his 80s, and still works every day! 

Music was always prevelant in our house, and mum and dad loved to dance. So my earliest musical recollections are of Bill Hayley & The Commets, Fats Dommino and of course Elvis. My own musical identity started from the age of 10yrs when I discovered Ska and reggae. My passion for this music knew no bounds, and by the age of 12yrs I had already accumulated a sizeable collection of Jamaican imports. My favourite artists of the time were Big Youth, The Mighty Diamonds, Dillinger and of course Bob Marley. 

As for TV & Film, I think what I most remember are the 'blockbusters' like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure and the Bond Movies. I really had no great ambition to become an actor at all, and always assumed that I'd become a musician. 

 

Can you tell us how you became an actor, what happened, where did you start and how it made you feel.

 

I can honestly say that I became an actor because of wearing the wrong coloured socks to school. 

Wearing anything at 'Hendon Junior High' School that wasn't 'uniform' was frowned upon and punishable with a detention. So it came as no great surprise to find myself in the gym hall one evening, stood with my hands behind my back, bored shitless and waiting for my hours detention to pass, all because I dared to wear a pair of fluerencent green socks to school that day. The man preciding over my punishment happened to be the drama teacher (Marcus Kimber) who was busy writing an adaptation of 'Tom Sawyer' for that years school play. He asked if I could read the part of Tom in an American accent, which I remarkably could, and he gave me the part. Those green socks completely changed my life, as within a year I'd been accepted into the Arts Educational Drama School in The Barbican. Within another year I'd already appeared in my first TV series for LWT. The show was called 'Holding On' and starred Michael Elphick and Gill Gasgoine.

Being on TV back then was nothing like it is today. These days I reckon my window cleaner could have his own reality TV show, but then, for someone like me, it was extrodinary! 

 

Who gave you your early breaks? how did you support yourself?, Did you find breaking into the acting world easy or hard?

 

I loved drama school, but apart from learning how to snog girls, I don't think I learned much about 'Acting' per-se. Yes I did learn some useful things like breathing techniques, stage fighting etc, but for me being able to act was a natural thing. In my final year of drama school I did write a few letters to theatre companies, but was rejected by all of them. The realy ironic thing is that, just like those bloody socks, the colour green probably gave me my first big break. In my final performance at drama school, in a particually boring production of a Chekov play, I'd decided to spray my hair alpine green for a laugh. In the audience that evening was an agent who thought my disrespect for the 'classics' was probably just the thing they were looking for, for a new film being cast called Quadrophenia! I was still living at home with my parents at the time. 

 

Can you tell us about the casting for Quadrophenia?

 

For me it was very exciting, as at my first audition Jonny Rotton and Toyah Wilcox were sitting in the reception. The first stage of my audition was a meeting with the casting directors, who were Patsy Pollock and Esta Charkham. By the time I'd got home that evening, I'd already recieved the message for a re-call to meet the director Franc Roddam. 

At the next stage Franc wound me up by telling me that I didn't look hard enough to be in his little gang of mods, I responded by asking him to "throw a fucking swing at me then" which he did, I then responded by doing a backflip landing some feet away and telling him he was fucking lucky that I didn't take his head off! He gave me the part.

Interestingly, on the way out, Franc noticed my girlfriend Tammy, who'd come with me for moral support and offered her the part of my on-screen bird. She eventually dumped me though, Ironically for one of the rockers who beat me up. 

 

How did you develop the character ‘Spider’? were you allowed free reign over his development?

 

Yes completely. Spider was the youngest member of 'The Gang' and although a bit of a twat at times, very much looked after by the others. I also had a lot of say in what I wanted to wear for the part, for instance I didn't think that Spider would've been able to afford a parka, so I suggested him wearing the 'Army Surplus Rain Mac' that his dad had probably given to him. I'm very pleased to say that I've still got it!  

 

Can you tell us about the post filming of Quadrophenia, meeting the other cast members, being told about the plot and how it made you feel

 

Franc Roddam was very clever with the casting of Quadrophenia I think. Before we'd even started filming, social activities were arranged for us as well as stuff that we'd actually need to make the film. We had motor bike riding lessons at The Hendon Police Centre, and we were actually given little 125s to ride about on whilst we were preparing for the film. Totally irresponsible of course, but brilliant fun. We also had 60s dance lessons in Soho which were hysterical. We also met up with some old original mods who tried to scare the shit out of us with their recollections of the violence, but I thing we ended up scaring the shit out of them! 

By the time we actually started filming, we were a real suited & booted mod gang! 

 

There are obvious musical Icons that played key parts in the film, what was it like working with people like Sting and Toyah Wilcox?

 

Toyah was a much bigger star than Sting at this point in 1978, and she had a fearsome reputation. She was (and Is) a complete little bundle of energy, and puts 100# into everything she does. She was fearless in the riot scenes and actually got quite injured during one take, but she just got on with it. Sting was older than the rest of us, and I really liked him. His band Police (not 'THE POLICE') were just about to break in this country, and I remember us all being really excited for him when we heard 'I can't stand losing you' on the radio for the first time. One day during a break from filming, Sting played me some songs from Police' debut album 'Outlandos D'Amour' on an accoustic guitar in my hotel room, including 'Roxanne,' We all knew that he was going to be a star!

 

Can you tell us your favourite times whilst filming? can you relate a couple of stories on or off set?

 

Hahahahahahahaha...Blimey! 

Like the time Mark Wingett (Dave) tried to use a flaming comic to get me out of the shower and set fire to the curtain covering the entire room in burnt plastic, or when he turned up on-set with 3D lovebites all over his neck and got a bollocking from the makeup department, or the time he said he didn't want to be a film star anymore and told everyone to fuck off! Or the time he crashed his motorbike into mine outside my mums house doing a fucking wheely!

In fact, most of my favourite memories involve Mark Wingett.

 

How did the stars including yourself find riding Vespas and Lambrettas?

 

I was given a Spanish made LI 150 Eibar Series 3 Lambretta and it handled like a bloody boat. We'd been given the 125s to practice on, but like any mod will tell you, they are not the same thing! It didn't take long to come to grips with it though, and my scooter eventually became a 'she' and I named her Winnie after my mum! 

 

And the run to Brighton, were there any difficulties filming the sequences?

 

Only the one legendary crash! 

One scene was when all the mods are scootering down to Brighton and collide with a group of rockers, filmed on a secluded road near Denham. We were denied permission from the police to film without crash helmets, but we did it anyway. There is a story that the reason for the crash was because the film crew refused to hand over cash to a group of local travellers, upset at us for filming on their stretch of road. So, unbeknown to us, they pushed an old car into the road on the bend! As Phil Davis (Chalky) closely followed by 20 rockers riding high performance British motor bikes came around the bend, he had no choice but to swerve drastically to avoid the car. this caused a huge pile-up, and people were flying everywhere. By the time me and the rest of the mods had caught up, there was devestation. Whilst most of the injuries were mostly superficial, stunt man Gareth Milne had taken the full brunt of the collision and recieved a wound to his leg that was so severe, he had to be air-lifted by helicopter to hospital. Before the police arrived, helmets were hurriedly handed out, and strategically placed arround the crash site. Such was the indestructible nature of stunt men; Gareth was back on set only two days later to re-shoot the same scene. 

Ironically, the derelict car that had caused such mayhem was still at the roadside, and can be clearly seen in the final shot. We re-named Gareth Milne'Legend.'

 

And the legendary fight scenes on the beach, can you tell us about them and how they were filmed?

 

We only had two weeks in Brighton, so we had to be up at the crack of dawn every day to film everything that was needed. The riot scenes were planned like a military operation, and I think it's a testement to the direction and planning that no one, apart from a few cuts & bruises, got seriously hurt! We had no Idea where the cameras were, or what they were filming at any point, so when we heard the word 'ACTION' we just all steamed in. The look of surprise and indignation on my face when I get attacked by two rockers on the beach is for real, because I didn't know that they were going to do it. 

 

Your own character suffered in the hands of your arch rivals, this can’t have been nice....

 

Actually it was one of my most fun memories, due to me meeting someone who would become a great friend for many years, Gary Holton.

Gary was cast as the rocker who taunts Spider with the classic " What's the matter.."ya muvvas hair dryer broken down" before giving him a good kicking. Gary, at that time, was a real 'rock star' with his band 'The Heavy Metal Kids' and certainly acted like one. We filmed opposite a pub in West London, and they kept the boozer open all night for us for refreshments, which in Gary's case was large quantities of lager & brandy. After filming, Gary invited me back to his place for more 'refreshments' and I didn't get home for three days! 

 

The film, based on the Who’s album and with the soundtrack. Did you meet the band? what were they like?

 

During the Brighton shoot I remember Pete & Roger being around for a day or two, but I didn't really get to meet them properly until they played Wembley Stadium, where the much missed Keith Moon had now been replaced by Kenny Jones. Backstage was like a fucking party!

In the early 80s, John Entwhistle and I used to meet up in some of the London hotspots, and we became very good friends. I spent time with him at his country home, where he let me play some of his bass guitars and drive around his estate in many of his classic cars, even though neither of us held a driving license. He'd even had a Rolls Royce converted into an estate car to accomodate his Irish Wolfhound Dog (Fitz Perfectly) in the back. He was a fucking proper Rock Star and the best bass player I have ever seen! 

 

Once the film had been wrapped can you tell us about the screenings and red carpet nights.

 

The premier for Quadrophenia was on the 16th August 1979 at The Plaza 1 Cinema on Lower Regents Street. My seat numbers were L26/27 and my date for the evening was a beautiful girl called Shelly Haynes (Obviously not Tammy) and I wore a sky blue two peice suit from Johnsons in The Kings Road. The after- party was a very lavish affair with lots of posh nosh and champers, and that's all I can remember really. 

 

Had you worked with any cast members before or since making of the movie?

 

No, until Quad I'd been lucky not to have met any of them, but since then our paths have crossed on numerous occasions. Mark and I went on to The Young Vic Theatre to appear in a play called 'Class Enemy' and also made a terrible movie called 'Music Machine. Phil Davis and I recorded a single for Elton Johns Rocket label called 'Blown It,' which failed spectacularly to make us both pop stars, and Trevor Laird (Ferdy) and I did a play for the BBC called 'Easy Money' about racism in the workplace. Trevor also directed me in a play called 'Sleaze & Dreams at the Edinburgh Festival. Gary Holton (Rocker) and I did a play at the Half Moon Theatre in London's East End called 'His Masters Voice' which also starred a very young Michelle Collins who played my girlfriend, and I also made a film called 'The Bride', also directed by Franc Roddam, which starred Sting and Phil Daniels. 

 

Were any of you part of the Mod scene at the time? At what point did you realise that you had been involved with a piece of Modern film making history which would encapsulate the hearts and minds of generations for decades to come?

 

No none of us were part of the mod scene at all at the begining, in fact I'd say that most of us had embraced the punk ethos of that time. I know that Mark Wingett certainly had. He was the perfect punk rocker! 

It wasn't until 92/93 when the film was released on DVD that I realized that this little British movie had started to become something more. I was working as a music writer in Soho at the time, when I got a call from a promotion company asking if I was 'THE' Gary Shail who played Spider. No one in my office even knew that I'd been in it. Another re-release premier was arranged in Brighton, and a special Quadrophenia train chartered from Victoria was laid on to get us all there. We were absolutely amazed at the reaction and welcome that we got when we arrived at Brighton Station, and that's when we started to realize I think.  

 

We also know that you have had success as a music producer over the years and won awards can you tell us about it?

 

Well I haven't actually won anything at all..LOL 

Back in 1983 I did write the music and original songs for a BBC drama series called 'Johnny Jarvis' and my theme music was nominated for an Ivor Novello, and for at least a decade I wrote music for TV and radio commercials which I absolutely loved doing. I recorded and produced an album of Arabic/Fusion called 'Infinity' in Dubai in the late 90s, and more recently recorded my own album called 'Daze Like This.' You can check out the video for the title track 'Daze Like This' on Youtube if your so inclined. It's definitely not mod though! 

 

More recently, the film that you are noted for has seen a massive revival and you are screening it and guesting at events all over the country along with some of the other Quadrophenia cast members, can you tell us about it and how it all happened.

 

Yes it's bloody amazing isn't it! I suppose it all started off for me getting asked to do charity events all over the country. At first, appearing at these events was nerve- racking to say the least, as I would have to be myself and not a character from a movie. I've had nothing but the best times ever at some of these events, and seeing and hearing just how much Quadrophenia means to people, and raising much needed funds for those less fortunate than myself always leaves me with a warm glow. People always seem happy to see me, and I've now many friends in the mod comunity all over Great Britain and the rest of the world. 

 

What has it been like meeting up with the old gang again? and what do you think of todays Mod scene? Is it anything like the hazy days of the late 70’s early 80’s?

 

It's always great to see everyone again, but it's not easy getting us together in one room, let alone getting us all to a different town or city. Trevor Laird and I have become regulars at The Brighton Mod Weekender though, and we have certainly 'upped the game' for this years event I think. 

I know we have a 'Quadrophenia Night' booked in October in Widnes where myself, Phil Daniels, Trevor Laird, Garry Cooper, Kathy Rogers and John Blundell (Rocker) will be appearing, as well as all the original members of the band 'Cross Section' who played the song 'High Heeled Sneakers' in the film. That should be fun!

As for the current mod scene, well I think it's the most vibrant subculture scene that there is in this country today. There are so many mod facebook pages it's hard to count, all the fashions are making a comeback, and the new bands emerging from within the scene is heartening. I was recently asked to 'guest' on a track for the debut album by the band 'The Transmitters'  which is released in the autumn. You never know, I could still be a pop star yet! It's also wonderful to see the old guard out there touring such as The Lambrettas and The Purple Hearts. It can only get bigger!

 

What is next for Mr Shail?, more acting, music?

 

Yes, it's all I know how to do with a reasonable chance of success!

At present I'm in the middle of filming a bio-pic of the 18th century poet Francis Thompson, which also stars Toyah Wilcox as my wife. Almost 40yrs on and we still can't get rid of each other eh! The film also stars my old mates Hazel O'Connor and Wayne Sleep, so don't think for one minute that this is going to be a boring history lesson movie. It should be out sometime next year. I have a little cameo in a western called 'Stranger' playing a phsychotic Cattle Baron who likes to shoot people and I've also signed up to make a film called 'The Odd Wheel' which is a comic/drama peice about three generations of factory workers. As well as me, the film also stars Ian Reddington, Fiona Allen, Freddie Davis, Michael McKell, Paul Bradbury and Tim Ahern. The film written and directed by Martyn Tott goes into production in early new year. As for music, well I'm never out of the recording studio for very long, so we shall just have to wait and see! 

 

What advice could you give a young actor starting out?

 

Wear some green socks!

© Suit Yourself Modernist Culture 2019

EST 2016