Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Quality Street Gang

Long regarded as big time villains in Manchester, and also regarded as a myth by some Police Officers, really has come to the public attention with the memoirs of Jimmy "The Weed" Donnelly and a feature in a documentary about the Manchester Underworld.  This circle of friends started out as the Market Men, as most of them worked in the Meat Market.  The nucleus of this mob were boxer Jimmy Swords, his brother Joe, Jim Donnelly, Dennis Crolla, Jack Trickett, brothers Vinnie & Louie Schiavo, Mick Brown, Jimmy Riley & Joe Leach.  They were immortalised on record by Thin Lizzy with "The Boys Are Back in Town".  Singer Phil Lynott`s mother ran an establishment in Manchester where they socialised a lot.

    Some of these young men were involved in a violent fracas at the Wilton Club, in which one man was put in hospital and the huge doorman, Andy Partington, was set upon by Jimmy Swords.  This brought them to the attention of many of the city`s top villains and tough nuts.  Jimmy Swords had a straightener with a former top fighter named Peter King and demolished him.  It was around 1967, that they walked into a club and the doorman supposedly said, "The Quality Street Gang`s here" and the name stuck.  Despite what has been claimed about them over the years, only a small number of them and their associates were villains.  Most run car sales pitches, businesses, pubs, scrapyards, etc.  But their reputation was such that any place they went into, there was no trouble, as they would take care of it.  One man that was said to have been a member was a businessman named Dougie Flood, named by his children in a battle over his will.  He was also said to have been one of the men who met the Krays at Piccadilly Station and warned them off.  No such incident ever took place.  Jimmy Donnelly stated that Flood was never anything to do with them.

    Over the years, most have prospered as businessmen, and indeed, one man I worked, used to get the company cars from them.  One day Vinnie & Louie came into the depot to speak to the Chairman, and the Foreman, who had actually introduced them.  They did hit the headlines in the mid 80`s, as they were alleged to have had Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker on their payroll.  Of course it was a total fabrication, designed to discredit Mr Stalker, who was conducting a highly sensitive enquiry in Northern Ireland.  Very few of them had any convictions and these were for very petty crimes many years back.  Indeed, Police Chief Peter Topping stated that because they do not have convictions, that does not mean they are not criminals.  As most senior Police Officers are Freemasons, I wonder how many criminals he rubbed shoulders with, if he is "On the square!"  His very own words can be used against him.

    But as we entered the 80`s, the gang culture changed very dramatically, resembling Los Angeles than a major British city, and so the power of the QSG dropped, but even today, they are still held in high esteem by many younger villains and hard men.  Like in all big cities, each section had its own big and small villains, tough guys, streetfighters and they like.  It is not the sole preserve of London.  The QSG has been immortalised in three songs by Thin Lizzy; The Boys Are Back in Town, Johnny The Fox meets Jimmy The Weed & Waiting For An Alibi.