A gargantuan Hells Angel smiles at me. Then his gaze travels south. His expression darkens. Wordlessly, he turns and strides off towards the bellowing bikes.
I’m at the Bulldog Bash, the Hells Angels’ annual festival near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Pint-toting bikers hug each other at stalls touting tattoos and drinking horns, race their bikes down the drag-strip and sway around to classic rock.
Among them – and yet standing apart – are the Angels, their presence evident in the rows of black Harleys, in their trademark logo gleaming on leather waistcoats, in the clasp of hands and the murmured word “brother”.
The Bash has garnered some bad press in the past, with the case of Angel Gerry Tobin – who was shot dead on his way home from the 2007 Bash – often referenced. Yet the Global Gathering dance festival, which takes place on the same site, has a much more scandalous history, with numerous thefts, plenty of drug use, sexual assault and a death as recently as 2012 – and does not share the same notoriety. The main factor, it seems, is the presence of the Angels themselves.
Their officially trademarked name and logo conjure notorious legends both urban and historical. But what do we actually know about the Angels of 2016?
“What we stand for is very simple: high standards in life. You treat people the way you want to be treated, you give and get respect. If you fuck up, though, you’ll pay for it. In any organisation or walk of life there’s some piece of shit that tarnishes a reputation. But it’s a wonderful, wonderful brotherhood. I have a brilliant life. I can’t explain what it does, but it works.”
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