An Interview with "Mr. Lambretta"

Kev Walsh (Lambretta Club Great Britain)
By: Paul Slack (LCGB Webmaster)
Date: 25th May
Venue: Armando’s Scooters, Open Day, Randall Street, Sheffield




INTRODUCTION:
I’m guessing I’ve known Kev for around 20 odd years or more. I’d heard of him before, via friends who had been in the scene for a good few years after I wandered off as I hit my early twenties. I’d heard some stories and seen a few pics, but mostly it was the repetition of hearing his name mentioned as beer sessions turned to talk of previous or up-coming events around the UK and wider. I pictured in my mind, some kind of unaproachable, Scootering guru. So when I first met him, I was taken a little by surprise at how easy he was to get along with. He wasn’t what I expected. I’m generally quite chatty and not slow at coming forward, but Kev can talk me in to a corner any day.

Over all these years he has remained a decent chap who has time for anyone and everyone, and for all the right reasons, he is a very popular person.

Kev made the decision to retire from the LCGB in May this year when he announced it in Jet Set 165. Quite a sea change for the man I expect and the floods of well-wishers bears testament to his popularity. I guess for those of you reading this, as scooterists, will (or should) be aware of the time and effort Kev has put in to the Lambretta Club over many years and a fair portion is already covered on our web site.

What “I” wanted to do, was find out a little more about the fella himself. How it all began and what drives a guy with this level of dedication for such a large part of his life. To me, this was totally fascinating, and I hope you find learning about Kev Walsh BEFORE he was the Kev Walsh you now know, as interesting as I did.

PS = Paul Slack
KW = Kev Walsh
Questions and answers were transcribed word for word from a taped interview.

PS: Good afternoon Kev, how are you doing?
KW: I’m fine, lovely sunny day here at Armando’s.

PS: I wanted to ask, if you don’t mind, a little bit about yourself. Where you were born, where you grew up…
KW: How I got into 2 wheels?
PS: You’re ahead of me.
KW: Yeah, I was very lucky I was born in Rainhill, which is just 10 miles outside of Liverpool. I was very lucky in that I always said that I was born at the right time and lived through the best era’s. In the late 50’s I was 10 years old and was a budding teddy boy,

then in the 60’s you had the scooters and I was a Mod. Into the 70’s I discovered organised scooter racing and all the scooter clubs and in 1970 joined Widnes saints S.C..

PS: Before we jump on to that, how did YOU first get into scootering?
KW: I used to live in a little avenue round the corner from where I live now (14 Batey Ave), probably back in about 1958. One of the older lads in the street (David Foster) got an NSU Quickly, it was a little moped.


The NSU Quickly Moped

PS: Are they? I never heard of them?
KW: Yeah, an NSU Quickly, and he was like, gone, you know he had 2 wheels, he had his own transport. It was at the time when people didn’t have much personal transport. If anybody had motorbikes, it was usually only your dad for work or with a massive sidecar on for lugging the family round in. (A couple of weeks after Paul did this interview I run into David at the funeral of an old neighbour and we where reminiscing about the times. He added that he actually dropped the handlebars on the NSU and it felt like he was doing the TON when riding it, but actually he was doing about 40mph!)

PS: And at this time, you would have been?
KW: Only 10, I was born in 1948. In latter years, probably about 1963 I think, when around 15, I first got a licence and then it was a case of “Oh, I’ve seen a nice Honda motor bike in Bill Hannahs in Liverpool”. Anyone from Liverpool in that era will remember Bill Hannahs. It was a Honda 50

and the exhaust went up near the seat and you needed to have a plate on it so you didn’t get burnt. Somebody who knows about Honda history might be able to tell you what it was but my mother wouldn’t let me have it. What she would let me have was a Raleigh Roma scooter that a fella down the road had in his garage and he said it wouldn’t work. So a mate of mine (Johnny Latham. Sadly gone now) fixed motorbikes and that, so I bought this for about £10 or summat like that, I never did pay my mother back.


The Raleigh Roma. Kevs first scooter. (Can you imagine?)

PS: And this was your very first scooter?
KW: Yeah, I had just started work and was earning about £2.16 shillings a week as an apprentice painter and decorator. So I took it round to Johnny and he said “you know why, this won’t work!” He said, “he’s put antifreeze instead of two stroke in it”. That’s how it went with me, even with Lambretta’s to this day. I am renowned for breaking em. But I started breaking scooters from Day 1; The Raleigh Roma just would not go. I even had my first accident on a scooter when attempting to bump start it and wearing a pair of me ma’s leather and fur gauntlet type gloves that were fashionable at the time, I couldn’t pull the clutch in as the gloves where to tight but as it shot forward all I was doing was winding open the throttle. I didn’t hurt myself but that was the end of the Raleigh Roma.

PS: Well there’s a scoop, we’ve got Mr Lambretta telling us that he is renowned for breaking Lambrettas.
KW: (Laughs) With this Raleigh Roma, it needed a piston, my mother went all over Liverpool for me to find a piston for it, she never found one, but she did say “I found this scooter shop and the guy was very, very nice”. His name was Mr Emsley and he had a shop on the corner half way up Colquitt St which ran parallel with Bold St. (see later)

I had finally persuaded me Ma and she said I could have a scooter. I got a bit more money together and went to Greenfield Rd in St Helen’s, which is what, 5 miles down the road? White City Motorcycles was the firm who went on to be a massive bike dealer in Manchester.

I bought a Vespa Sportique and whilst my dad was signing the HP Agreement, I jumped on it and drove off. No crash helmet, no nothing. You didn’t need ‘L’ plates in them days, so my mate followed me on his motorbike and he said, “you didn’t half get home quickly”, I said, “nobody told me where the brakes were, I couldn’t stop!” True!

In the mid 60’s we used to hang around outside the local pub in our village The Victoria. It was the backend of all this crap about mods and rockers and this and that. We didn’t have all that up our end, some places did but we didn’t have any problems so all the bikes lads (they weren’t particularly rockers) used to meet outside this pub, then we started turning up on our scooters and taking over. We’d also used to go to the Longton lane Youth club. A few of me mates had scooters.

Youth Clubs where big in those days and you where ace face if you had a scooter. Sadly though I ran foul of the law with the points totting up system and got banned for six months one of these for carrying a passenger who later became my wife. Then just to add to the bad luck I was on the back of my mates LI which he had just sprayed out of aerosol cans when a copper stood at the lights we’d stopped at, (yes they had feet them days!) noticed my mate had no front number plate. He done him for carrying a passenger on L plates and although I tried to use my mates name as he had a full licence it was only to find his licence had expired and they slapped me with another twelve months!

I had the Vespa Sportique for about a year but with being banned I got it repossessed by the HP company.

PS: So how did it develop from you owning scooters, did you get involved in any clubs?
KW: Back on the road I went on to see Mr Emsley and bought an SX150 but I only had it a few months when a bus turned in front of me in our village and the options where A) Slap on and possibly lose control and maybe hit people on the pavements or B) hit the bus!! I wasn’t badly hurt but the scooter was for months after while I waited for the insurance to repair it.

I was married in 1967 so needed transport for us both to go to work so SX did okay. BUT around 1970 I went into a famous shop in St Helen’s. Anybody from St Helen’s will remember this…Tom Collins Motorcycles. Who did motorcycles, scooters & Reliants.

Tom Collins was the place to go. Well I went in, and met Jeff Collins who became a good friend and alway’s gave people discount. In latter years I remember the likes of Blackpool S.C. coming down to buy huge amounts of gear because of how much discount they got. I saw a very smart LI done in a very eye catching style. I didn’t know at the time it was an AF look-alike. It had the guys name on it Dave Appleton, and Jeff new him well and gave me his phone number. In those days you always put the riders name on, like on my scooter to this day.

So I phoned up this lad and he says, “I go to a scooter club”. So I said, “Oh, what’s that like? My first contact with Widnes Saints S.C.
Before this scooter wise I just knocked around with four mates who married our girlfriends so we actually formed at the time what we called “Unity Scooter Club” which was in the mid-60’s and I’ve probably got the only existing badge from Unity scooter club.


(I got it)

PS: I’ll have that off you then.
KW: It will be worth a few bob.

Going back to the Widnes part I said to myself, ok, I’ve got this bike and it was like stage 4 tuned as it was then, so I went down to this scooter club to show them a thing or two. Look at me! I turned up and my model is three years out of date!

Dave App was the lad who’s scooter I had bought, and it was here I met John Illing who was also to become LCGB Gen. Sec. before me. Gordon Eves who also started LCGB with me and still rides today. I met a few different characters at the club but the outstanding one was John Barber who was the Chairman. He could fix anything scooter related and was an expert bodger. He was a larger than life character always laughing and joking and he made me very welcome. He generally had a bottle in each hand on club nights (Wednesdays) and his favourite saying “I see no ships only hardships” as he held a bottle to one eye. This got me into the racing, rallying, partying and scootering in general.

PS: Did you get involved in the racing? How far did you get into that?
KW: I always wanted to passenger a sidecar, but in them days you travelled about 2” off the floor and you had to do all that work. The passenger had to hang out of the sidecar. John Illing was a fabulous sidecar driver and he usually rode with Nigel Ashbrook, but this is in latter years, getting up in the mid-70’s now. We go to Cadwell park one time and Nig, as we used to call him, couldn’t make it, so John said, get a licence, get your leathers. So I gets in a pair of leathers and I’m passengering around Cadwell Park.

PS: Wow, first time?
KW: Yeah! Fabulous experience. Everything I always thought it would be. There’s nothing like travelling at 60-70 mph, two inches off the ground or laying out of a sidecar at 40 mph around corners.

PS: You don’t fancy doing that now?
KW: No. (Laughs) I’d look like a black pudding now. Black leathers! I used to be 9 stone in them days.

Our next meeting was Snetterton and I got up too early on the S-bend. The wheel went in the air; it snapped the woodruff key on the crankshaft and John never invited me to go on his sidecar again.

PS: That was the end of your sidecar career! Did you ever do solo?
KW: No, I was never one that could stop a bike on a sixpence. I can ride a bike anywhere in any conditions - barring stopping.

So in the 70’s, what we used to do was a big event called the “Tour of Wales”, which is map reading and night trials. The Tour of Wales you’d do in the day too and that was up and down mountains. Pretty specialised riding, but by then i’d bought a Vespa off Nickspeed (Nick Banks) who ran the Tour. He was very famous at the time and ran a shop in Garston, a suburb of Liverpool, called “Nickspeeds”. This machine was a Vespa 90SS fitted with 180 Vespa handlebars and had various other things done to make it ultra tough for off road work.



Anyway, I used the Vespa for the Tour of Wales and I did a gymkhana at New Brighton Scooter Club run by Brian Morgan who was NW Rep for VCB but I won my first and only trophy there at the gymkhana. I got the novice trophy.

PS: What age were you?
KW: I was 20, 22 something like that. Only 19 when I got married in ‘67.

PS: So by this time, you had two passions, and I would have thought that scootering was starting to get into your blood by now?
KW: Oh yeah, that’s all I had, I didn’t get a car licence until I was about 27, I didn’t learn to drive until I was 27. My scooter was everything. When I got married in ‘67 we lived with her mother. Then my mother. Then we got a flat in Widnes and all the time we both had to work, so we did about 50 miles a day, every day, whatever the weather, to get to work. Then we moved into our first house/maisonette and that was even further away in Halewood which today is a suburb of Liverpool.

PS: What scooter did you have?
KW: Somewhere around this time I swapped the Lambretta for a Vespa 180SS. Its not that I had nothing against Lambrettas, it was just that the Vespa to me looked good and fulfilled it’s purpose as our life style depended on it. I have to say here I had no problems with my Lambrettas them days so it’s either us tinkering with them or the parts supplied aren’t as good?.


Vespa 180 SS

So I had the SS 180 and we did everything on it, like the shopping, socialising as I didn’t drink much them days.In 1973, with the miners strike, they cut the electric. We’d be riding home, see the blackness and we would go and stop at me Ma’s. If me Ma’s were blacked out, we go to her Ma’s. We were never without electric!

We lived on that scooter, but then she was getting bad arthritis and rheumatism, so I said ok, we will have to get a car.

Well in them days you could drive a Reliant threewheeler on a motor cycle licence, so I traded my scooter in at Bob Sargeant’s in Moorfields Liverpool opposite Yates Wine Lodge for the Reliant.



My mate drove it home for me and Saturday afternoon he took me to learn to drive around the car park of Fords which was mega. 3 hours of intensive tuition. Then he got out and said “No, you’re great, i’ll leave you to it”. Years later, he told me I was the worst learner he’d ever been with.

PS: So at this point you’d got no scooter at all?
KW: A week later, believe it or not, the council gave us a house near where she could get the bus to work, so I went back to Bob Sargeant’s and he’d sold my scooter, I was heart broken. It was a while before I got another as we had to do up the new maisonettes, but I’d started building scooters then.

PS: How did that come about then, because I presume you’d got friends who knew you and had scooters and knew you were decent at fixing them up?
KW: Yeah, I was never really very clever at it, I had basic building knowledge, I am not one of them that could spot faults.

PS: Is that how it started though, with friends bringing things round for jobs?
KW: Yeah, I just got into it, i’d build a scooter up and run around with the Widnes Saints who were a fabulous club, you know, all mates. A lot of them had been at it a lot of years. Very, very experienced. But the main thing for a good base of any club is that we were all friends. Many of them are still my mates today.

I used to do the Tour of Wales and events like that with them. But I broke my collarbone doing the Tour of Wales. I came off around a bend. High-sided it! We didn’t have a family then but we’d rent and that to pay and it was a case of “don’t do anything risky. You know, get yourself a decent job, don’t risk anything.

I think I was after my next scooter when I went to buy a brand new Lambretta at Nickspeeds, but he wouldn’t give me any discount.

PS: Do you remember what you were after?
KW: Just a GP 150. One of the new Indian ones. Just a new bike. So I went home and there in Motorcycle News, I saw a scooter and sidecar for sale, so I went up to Blackburn to have a look and it was a Rally 200 and Bambini sidecar. The fella said, “Here have a ride on it”.
Now anyone who’s ever rode a sidecar will tell you “You can either ride them, or you can’t”. In theory they will go in a straight line, but in practice they don’t. The sidecar, although it’s got no engine, pushes itself around the scooter and you physically have to hold the handlebars to get it to go in a straight line. So it’s a frightening experience going up and down the road. An old mate of mine, Pete Barber (Joe Koole as he was known), drove it home for me, with me in the sidecar. I then learnt with some frightening moments how to control it, as to go left you have to drive the bike around the sidecar which is alien to solo driving technique. One time I gave a hand signal for a left turn and good job the car coming out never moved as I just missed his front end as I went sailing on and through a hedge.

PS: So you are still on a Vespa at this point?
KW: Because, once again, our village in them days was only small, so everybody knew everybody. Earlier i’d run into an old mate from the youth club days called Kenny Brookes who said “Neil Ball still has his old scooter from those days at the back of his garage”. Believe it or not the next week I met both of them by chance in a pub I didn’t normally go in and Neil said I could have the scooter for FREE as long as I looked after it and didn’t sell it.

When I went to see it he’d painted it with tar or something. It was an LI Series 2 with cut down legshields and an aluminium sports mudguard. I got it, stripped it, did it up. It took me 8 years as by then I was working shift work. Had a young family and was heavily into running LCGB. I got it ready for the 40th anniversary of Lambretta, which was 1988. But meanwhile I also had the Sidecar re-sprayed as well by Ritchie Lunt who was a brilliant sprayer but never did it professionally. These days he does the photos and write ups in Scootering Magazine.

On the morning of having to go down to Devon, to Kesterfield for the 40th Anniversary of Lambretta, The Series 2 failed its MOT, so believe it or not I had to go on the Vespa minus the sidecar. Mike Karslake gave me a right bollocking when I arrived. The secretary of the Lambretta Club turning up on a Vespa!?. BUT I just shrugged my shoulders and said “At least I came by two wheels”

PS: How did you get started with the Lambretta club?
KW: The story behind me and the Lambretta club was the Widnes Saints scooter club. Some of the members were members of the Vespa club (VCB) and some members of the Lambretta club (LCGB).

PS: So the Lambretta club was already established.
KW: Yeah, that existed since 1953. It had gone through different names. It was Club Lambretta, British Lambretta’s Owners Association, I’ve got all the badges somewhere, but it went through different names and then Bob Wilkinson came along in the early 60’s and he changed the name and re-designed the logo to Lambretta Club of Great Britain as it is today.
In the mid 70’s, they couldn’t raise a committee to run the Lambretta club any more so Mike Karslake and John Coxon kept the Lambretta club alive in name as it went into mothballs with appointed trustees. Mike paid for the Southend Rally, John Coxon, from Burton on Trent, kept the racing Championships going. You see in them days, there wasn’t road riding as we know it today, it was track racing, road trials, 300-400 would turn up at a road trial like the Tour of Wales.

PS: It kept the thing going though.
KW: Oh yeah, the scootering was there like, and i’m beginning to organise things and meet people like Norrie Kerr and people like that.

PS: So around that time, you started to get involved organising stuff?
KW: Well in 1977 the Saints organised a grass track in Widnes. This Scotch bloke came over to me. A wee bandy-legged fella, and said, “Do you mind if I kiss your missus, she is very beautiful!?”. I said, “You’d better ask Her!?”. You know, that was Norrie Kerr and we’ve been friends every since. Good introduction.

With the Saints thing, I think I got the taste for it. John Illing, Gordon Eves and Pete Sherwen, they’d been in with the Saints 10 years probably before me, so they were well into that sort of thing. So they said, “We’re thinking of reviving the Lambretta club again Kev”, and we are meeting John Ronald, who was the last general secretary of the club and was a Trustee of the club which was in mothballs.

So we met John in Liverpool, in a pub near Aintree racecourse. We had a chat with him, and convinced him that we were level-headed people that could do it. He said that the club had got £400 left in its funds. He said we (the trustees) will give you £100 and will put you on probation for 12 months. With this we also got a gestetner printing machine (a very primitive type of printing press machine) and a typewriter, old fashioned big one like you see in James Cagney movies with no return spring on the carriage so John had to hang two beer glasses off it to make it return. John Illing took on the role of General Secretary, I think Gordon took on Treasurer, Pete Sherwen was the business head because he was getting into photography professionally then, he was the steady-eddy and I was PR (Public Relations Officer) because I could yap a bit.

PS: What year was this?
KW: 1977. People get confused when it started. We actually organised things from about Aug 1977. We made the launch date Jan 1978 and I’d have to look back to find out the actual paperwork how we launched, but we got about 300 members in a very short time. It was amazing how many people just jumped in on it. It was only a few quid to join then.
The gestetner machine lasted probably 20 years. I kept it alive for years. John used to type on to a special paper/skin, it used to cut through and then you used to have to put it on the machine and because the thing that supplied the ink was broke you had to get a big tube like a massive tube of toothpaste equivalent and put the ink on to the roller and then you used to have to crank the handle for every side of the page, which was A4, to do the newsletter. Every side of the page was 1 sheet so if you had 4 pages you had like 8 sheets. 300 members meant you had to crank out 2400 times!!

PS: I’m not going to dwell on your period with the Lambretta Club of Great Britain. I think most of the people who read Jet Set and read the articles on line, will know some of your history with the Club. But before we run out of time it would be good to hear about some of the best experiences you’ve had.
KW: Two highlights were John O’Groats to Lands End in 1988, when 29 Lambrettas started and 29 Lambrettas finished. A week of the finest holiday in my life.

Then, we had Euro Lambretta 1992 but sadly Mike died not long after setting up the initial meeting, so we have to make sure we did it and to the format he wanted which was to encompass every way of enjoying your Lambretta scootering. To this day I still think it was the best one ever staged because of it’s format. The video used to be available, so if you ever see the video of Euro Lambretta 92 that’s what Euro Lambretta’s are about.

PS: So what about Kev Walsh? Are you selling up your scooter collection?
KW: No! That’s all I’ve got in the world. There are a lot of people queuing up to get that.

PS: Will people still see you riding around, at various scootering events and running your Parts Fairs?
KW: The business side has always been totally separate to the Lambretta Club and getting married again means my new wife wants to experience everything I have over the years and she loves to meet all my old friends so I’ll be around for a long time yet. I may even have time to write my memoirs……..??

PS: Kev, thanks for your time.

You can read more about Kevs time with the LCGB and the LCGB in general here: http://www.ilambretta.com/history.html

 

I hope you enjoyed reading this. There will be many more articles to come in the future and if you have anything you feel would be of interest to our members, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Paul Slack
LCGB Webmaster
webmaster@ilambretta.com