This is a reprint of my article on New Mod which was first published in Sounds in August 1979.
August 1979, just six months on from the happy hectic birth of New Mod as a bona fide movement and we've got a different animal on our hands.
Six months on, and Mod fills the London clubs, all the major groups have singles in the pipeline, Lyndall Hobbs imports poseurs for her 'mod documentary', the first official Mod single 'You Need Wheels' is appalling and has undeservedly charted, David Essex records a single called 'M.O.D' to the delight of ugly, jealous, chinless has-beens everywhere, powerpop phonies and session men start donning parkas, the price of clothes sky-rocket, little kids at Merton Parkas gigs have never heard of The Purple Hearts, Quadraphenia approaches with the promise of thousands of Quad-mods…The Mod Renewal is at a crossroads in its short existence.
Unlike some one-week-stand slags, Sounds has always, I think wisely, resisted the temptation to indulge in Flower-flop style sensationalism. But now with the approach of overkill and masturbationary mass media coverage, the time is right to spell out the state of play and talk to people respected in the movement about the way things are going.
Whatever anyone else says the roots of New Mod were in the Jam and a handful of kids who were Jam fanatics in'77. Disillusioned with punk's downhill slide, these kids after a confused 'spilt personality' period, gradually began to dress and think of themselves as Mods. People like Grant Fleming, Alan (Norman) Suchley, Large Al from Hayes and Purple Hearts singer Rob Manton.
In places like Canning Town's Bridge House and Upton Park in the spring of '78 parka-clad Grant stuck out like a sore nose in the midst of another movement of disillusioned punks – the skinheads. But by the Autumn and Winter many other Jam fans as well as a lot of the older East End and Essex skinheads were talking about 'going Mod'. Simultaneously, but unaware of each other, people like Billy Hassett in Deptford, Brian Betteridge (of Back To Zero) and the Maximum Speedsters in North London began dressing and thinking of themselves as Mod.
The divergent groups didn't really get together till The Jam's February gigs in Paris for which Grant Fleming had printed leaflets himself under the grand title of 'The Mod Pilgrimage' and was taken by surprise when some fifty kids turned up.
"Everything grew out of Paris," Grant explains. "After that the Purple Hearts' gigs brought everyone together and it was like a party atmosphere everywhere. Then Billy Hassett who we'd met at Paris said why don't we come and see his group the Chords. It was just our little movement of about 100 – 150 kids with Mod as a way of life." Meaning?
" Well Mod is a way of thinking. It's fun loving and smart. It was kids who wanted a laugh, drinking, dancing, girls. Going to gigs and taking pride in yourself."
So the London Mod scene began in earnest this February with bands who'd been in existence since the year before like Purple Hearts from Romford, the Chords from South East London, Back to Zero from North London (plus a few lesser bands) while isolated groups like the Teenbeats from Hastings testified to the existence of 'foreign' pockets of Mod.
At the same time in Essex Ian Page and Dave Cairns, driven by bitterness and resentment towards the biz after their experience as the loser New Hearts, had formed a 'new wave soul band' called Secret Affair whose followers were to be known as Glory Boys. East End Mods were quick to pick up on them and before long the band were rightly being hailed as the leading New Mod Band.
In these early days there was some flirtation between the Southern Mods and the Northern equivalents in the Scooter Clubs. But they were soon found to have nothing in common. The Northern Mods with their wide flares and penchant for Stranglers stick-ons were sneered at by the Southerners who put music and fashion first. (Though some of the Northerns have come round of late) In general the two worlds were and are quite separate.
When I first wrote about the Mod renewal, I respected the desire of people on the scene to avoid media/record business overkill, and let Mod continue to develop as an underground scene. This allowed Mod three or four months of healthy growth as a street movement incubating in venues like the Bridge House and the Wellington at Waterloo.
Absurdly criticised by non participants for mere revivalism or alternatively for not reproducing sixties archetypes (you can't win) the movement's relevance has rested on it's ability to take the best of the past to build something of it own. To create a youth movement with vitality, direction and above all marvellous music.
Sure it never approached the threat and purpose of punk but in the dismal summer of '79 when punk as a meaningful movement was on it's last legs (and before the hearting sparks of New Punk) Mod – along with Ska bands the Specials and Madness – was like a breath of fresh air to a tired circuit. And this period was well documented by ace modzine Maximum Speed and the live Bridge House compilation album.
Growth was steady and unforced but it brought problems. More and more groups sprang up of varying degrees of competence (None of them challenging the Secret Affair- Chords- Purple Hearts triumvirate) while the West End clubs started opening their doors to Mod, and Mod ranks were swelled by kids who thought there was nothing more to the movement then bunging on a parka.
There had been some silly press coverage but the worst came in June with the shitty Sun going overboard about South London the Merton Parkas – a good band hyped out of all proportion who signed to Beggars Banquet and put out the first Mod single 'You Need Wheels' which was disgracefully ordinary. A real shame as the first it should have been as vital and worthwhile as 'Anarchy'. This spilt the Mod camp with the birth of the silly Kill All Merton Parkas Campaign (a much more vicious version of a previous short lived and unfounded anti-Chords). But the future ain't all gloom and despondency.
On the contrary, as I write the major mods bands are on the verge of releasing singles that on the strength of live performance promise to be excellent. 'The proof in plastic' as Maximum Speed's Goffa Gladding says. Secret Affair have signed a deal with Arista for their own I-Spy label and release 'Time For Action/Soho Strut' this month. The Chords have signed with Polydor and release 'Now It's Gone/Don't Go Back soon. While the Purple Hearts and Back To Zero have one-off deals with Fiction to release 'Millions Like Us' and 'Back To Back' respectively
At the same time the Affair and the Hearts begin a national tour (the March Of The Mods) this month hopefully with Back To Zero while the Chords headline a UK tour next month. What with Quadraphenia being brought forward to mid- August the movement now faces its biggest boast to date, unbridled press coverage, commercial interest and the first real test of its cohesion and worth.
So. Last Monday down the Bridge for Secret Affair – the business band – and despite everything the feeling runs as high as ever. The Glory Boys are there, looking sharp. And the atmosphere is all there as Secret Affair proves once more that the excessive praise heaped on them is justified. A lot of big Mod faces are there too so I use the occasion to suss public opinion. There are two schools of thought. Many original revivalists think Mod as they conceived it is on its last legs. Other, younger voices feel the scene is healthier than ever. I tend to agree. But Grant Fleming fires the first salvo "Mod ain't very interesting at all now. I know it was inevitable that it'd become commercialised so I can't really moan, but I just don't feel aligned to it now.
"It caught on too quick. The NME piece, London Weekend Television, the Music Machine, and all this Merton Parkas stuff in the Sun they were all nails in the coffin. It's all guest lists and poseurs now. Don't get me wrong The Jam are still good and they'll always be there, and Secret Affair will be the next really big band – and I'm hoping they don't go Sham style cos Ian's a bit like Jimmy and I'm worried he'll alienate people who ain't mod. But Mod will be massive, sure and probably better but I feel as aligned to it now as I do to punks. Our crowd are still the same, we're Mods, but we don't feel part of the mass movement."
The same despondency was echoed by Tom 'Hoxton' McCourt and Bob Baisden from Dagenham, two Suedeheads (yep another revival). Bob: "I got into the music ages and I thought Mod was smart and skins were too much trouble. But the little kids have jumped on the bandwagon now and all these middle class kids. We are down at Vespas when they made that film and Lyndall Hobbs brought people with her to interview. Y'know like some of the old punks, they looked the business but when you go up to 'em its all 'Buy us a gin and tonic Nigel'."
Tom: "Vespas is a joke, Steve Strange and that lot you get in there… I'll tell ya Mod used to be persona, now it's just a fashion" Bob: "When I first changed from skinhead I bought a really nice suit for two quid. Now the same suit costs £20.00. It's gone the exactly the same as punk only it didn't last so long. It's got too commercial too quick."
Others don't share their pessimism however. Like Goffa from Maximum Speed "Okay if it'd been allowed to develop and the Sun etc had left it alone it'd be a lot healthier. And it's annoying when you meet kids who've only heard of The Parkas. But things are still happening. There's this tour which can't be a bad thing and we're still selling over 500 copies north of Watford- it's starting to take off outside London now ad that keeps me optimistic. We've had such a good time up till now. I think it can only get better."
Dave Laurence is equally positive. Dave's another Ex Dagenham skinhead now a leading Glory Boy with 'MOD' tattooed inside his lower lip. "Mod is going great. It's getting loads of publicity and loads of people joining and that's what we want – A Mass Mod Movement. I'd encourage the young kids to join in. Okay it does get out of hand with a lot of posers wearing parkas in boiling hot weather but on the other hand musically the bands are getting better all the time. And once Quadraphenia comes out there'll be so many people joining…Class don't matter. Mod ain't about class conflict, it's a way of thinking and the more people who think Mod the better"
Secret Affair's Ian Page agreed with Dave whole-heartedly, adding, "How can you question a movement that is thousands of people? Mod is growing so strong and all it proves to me is the biz is always wrong and the kids are right. And as long as we're getting put down the harder we'll fight, the longer we'll stay. Things are going great. The fashion side is really working well now. We've formed our own label so we can sign other bands and hopefully start financing Maximum Speed. I tell you the scene is healthier than ever."
Two sides to every story. Take your pick. Whatever your point of view one thing's for certain. For every Mod who drops out another twenty kids join in. Quadrophenia will keep it going over the winter and after that it'll be to the bands.
"Yeah it will be up to us" Billy H of the Chords agrees "Up to us to keep the scene healthy for us and the Purple Hearts, Back to Zero and Secret Affair to stick together and not fall apart. Of course there's competition, but we are together now. We talk, keep in touch, discuss plans. We all know what happened to punk when the bands signed up, so it's up to us to avoid the pitfalls. We're all friends; I can't see it happening. I believe we can stick together."
It's proud hope. A worthwhile hope. And as the best bands begin to receive the popular acclaim they deserve we shall see just how they can stick together For my part despite what we read elsewhere my one ambition as regards Mod is to see the movement grow and the best bands successful. And now as the Press Officers and Biz types move in, I'm quite happy to leave future scribbling to the free dinner merchants. Meanwhile Mod if it goes no further, has created an important vital vanguard of bands and given a lot o people including me a good time for six months. Ain't that enough?
October 20th 1979
Changing trains at Leeds from the relatively plush Inter-City to the archaic Huddersfield link, the last Cockney voice I'd heard echoed round my brain again. It was a Southern Mod grimly repeating old prejudices about Northerners and their alleged obsessions with Stranglers stick-ons, 40-inch flares (referred to in hushed tones down here as "the trouser problem") and parkas covered in unsightly beer mats.
With reservations mounting like a pay-per-screw porn star, I recalled my mate's shaking head and his solemn warning that with my CAFC and Secret Affair badges, my Harrington, straight jeans, snow white almond rocks and functional Fred Perry I'd be about as welcome "up there" as a dose of clap on honeymoon, not to mention an ideal target for Northern retribution for supposed Southern crimes.
Sod it, I thought, I ain't getting paid danger money, why didn't I just jump back on a homebound train and go on the Tom and Dick for a week?
But don't fret faithful readers, your Sounds scribes are made of sterner stuff and hiding behind Ms. Turbett's skirt I trundled on, only to find that the Southern Mods had got it all wrong, their false impressions stemming from premature sightings of their Northern counterparts. From last May in fact when Secret Affair brought a coachload of Londoners up for a gig with the Killermeters, the Huddersfield band who form the musical mainspring of the whole Mod scene.
For the first time that night the local scooter clubs decided to turn up in force, and it was by their, at that time, alien presence that the Southerners had pre-judged the Northern scene.
And as my piece on the history of the Southern scene two months back had repeated their prejudices as fact, this report is an attempt to set the record straight.
Although very similar in essence now, the two scenes are historically miles apart. Whereas the Southern scene didn't really begin till February this year with the embryonic roots back to mid-'77, the North, where the scene took off properly in May, claims with some justification to be more directly descended from sixties Modism.
By their own admission, the North caught on to Mod later, but hung onto it longer. Although some would argue more as a parka and scooter thing than a posey/state of mind affair. In the South Mods split into hippies and skinheads, and scooters fell rapidly from grace; but in the North change was slower and different, and the scene was still flourishing long after trendsetting London townies were into acid or aggro.
Mod DJs everywhere had prided themselves on their ability to search out new artists and new labels, developing beyond the standard Mod soul music on Tamla and Stax to lesser known outlets. Naturally when Mod persisted in the North, DJs continued this trend, and (I'm oversimplifying like crazy) this search eventually evolved into the distinctive sound of Northern Soul, fast, brassy and often bootlegged.
Based round all-nighters in Wigan and surrounding areas like Cleethorpes and Manchester, Northern Soul developed in the early seventies as a Mod off-spring with marked differences.
Primarily the cult made such a fetish of obscurity that musical values went increasingly by the board, while for practical reasons suits collars and ties were replaced by vests and wide bags ( the new scene was also a lot straighter that its predecessor, less the prerogative of the sharpest kids).
ASIDE from soul music the other constant in the North's evolution were the scooters and the scooter clubs for whom Wigan all-nighters were a danceable alternative to the staple diet of cross country scooter runs.
These clubs span the years between Sixties and Seventies Mod, and even though at times the clubs' membership might have been down to five or six enthusiasts, the tradition was not allowed to die.
New Mod has swelled their ranks again and one informed commentator claims there are currently 2,000 scooters north of Birmingham organised in clubs like the Fugitives and Revival in Huddersfield, the Red Lion Club in Heckmondwicke, the Yorkshire Roadrunners, the Scunthorpe Road Rats, the Preston Wildcats, the Crewe Jaguars…and many more (The South's 5-15 Club from Sevenoaks in Kent aren't too well respected it would seem, however, and prejudices abound along with tales that they bring their scooters on runs in the back of lorries etc).
In May, the Scooter clubs discovered the New Northern Mod scene and for the most part fell in love with it. Many of them have now discovered the fashions too and a casual observer would be hard pressed to tell the two tribes apart on the clothes front. (One club incidentally is completely infatuated with the Jam and have customized their scooters with the 'Strange Town' single sleeve pic).
At the same time, much more so than in the south, Northern Mod music fans have shown a corresponding interest in the scooter clubs. But where, you might well ask, did they com from?
THE ANSWER in a word is the Killermeters. They began life in mid-1977 as a straight forward thrash-'n'-bash punk combo, lasting until a disillusioned break-up at the beginning of '78. They were reformed last October by bassist and vocalist Vic Vespa, lead guitarist Mick Moore and drummer Graham 'Jez' Jessop, who, along with the guitarist Ruttle brothers Sid and Tony, form today's very different Killermeters.
Jez explains: "We were all pissed off with straightforward basic punk material which is why the band split up, we wanted to play something with a bit more melody and technique hence the type of songs we started doing in October."
Coinciding with their change in musical direction, was the band's increasing association with Paul Nicholson, a Sixties Mod who'd never lost his cool and who would talk at length about Mod as he'd lived it.
Nicholson had never had any timer for Northern Soul. "Mod didn't die here till about 1969," he explains "and Northern Soul to me didn't have any identity, stupid baggy trousers and…… well I never had any time for it."
So a combination of Nicholson's recollections and their musical direction led the 'Meters to decide that Mod was the image they wanted to adopt, and this at the time when the Jam aside, only the Purple Hearts were blazing the parka trail dahn South.
In other words, they began totally independently from the Southern scene, playing their first gig last December and gradually building their own following, and perhaps more jocularly than the South their own movement in the shape of - don't laugh - the Jolly Boys.
Appropriately Paul is known as King Jolly but I spoke to one of his deputies a guy by the name of Evil Roman. It's the truth! He had his name changed by deed poll, and moved from fanzines and poetry to being the Killermeters biggest fan, walking ten miles to one gig and actually taking 120 Anadins the one time he missed a performance (which by coincidence, is the recommended dosage to take during a Boomtown Rats performance.)
Leaving aside such suicidal dedication, Evil explained that the Jolly Boys had one aim in life - to get steamed out of their boxes every time they go out; in other words, inebriated, legless, pissed, in short well and truly jollied up. (Blues incidentally are virtually non-existent up here).
OF ALL the bands to have emerged in the North in their wake - The Name in Peterborough , the Moving Targets in Leeds, The Scene in Bradford, Handsome Jack And The Casualties (cough) also in Huddersfield, and the punky Two Tone Pinks in Manchester - the 'Meters have undoubtedly established the biggest and best scene around them, as simply illustrated by tonight's gig at Huddersfield one Mod venue, the Albion (the one time location for a punk disco that was dropped as punks became virtually extinct up here, replaced by a Mod movement which has been explanding steadily ever since the Meters bridged the gap between Mods and Scooter clubs in May.)
Fact is Mod is far bigger now in Huddersfield than punk was at its coinciding stage of development. It's also a solidly working class movement, as reflected in the 'Meters own day jobs - two engineers, one carpet fitter, one cabinet maker and one building labourer.
Tonight's audience is missing many faces. The bulk of the scooter clubs have shot off to Wigan tonight for the first all-nighter for about a year; but there's still enough eager punters to pack the place out and I take the opportunity to chat to fans, the band, King Jolly and Scooter boy Bob Monkhouse (no relation) a member of the 15-strong and growing Fugitives Club.
Bob's been riding scooters for six years now. He and he lives and breathes them. He formed his own club back in the mist of time and currently owns ten of the beauties, all of them personally customized by his own fair hands (he intends entering one in the Ally Pally Custom car show next year.) Bob's eyes glaze over at the mention of the Arthur Francis Extra S-type 200 and he affects a heartfelt sneer at the mention of Vespas ("Lambrettas are scooters," he says, adding dismissively: "Vespas are Vespas.")
"I used to listen to Northern Soul," he admits. "But I didn't start going to Wigan till '76. I started listening to the Killemeters about two months ago. I don't really rate many new Mod bands but the Killermeters are definitely going places. Now you've got Northern Soul one way and Mod bands the other and Scooters are in the middle linking the two together."
The worst aspect of the current Northern scene is the growing police interest in scooter riders, and just as many people testify to police victimization as condemn violence between North and South, something Paul Nicholson gets particularly up tight about.
"It's ridiculous," he opines. "A load of shit. North or South, its all working class kids, that's what it's all about and what's the point of working class kids punching shit out of each other?"
None at all I'd say, none at all. I wondered how he felt about now and the sixties, being part of both and all.
"Well it's different; it's not the same all now really. We used to blow all our wages on clothes and now it's all second hand clothes, and they've got their own thing now, their own music which is great, especially Secret Affair, the Teenbeats and the Killermeters. The only bad thing when the Southerners came up was you had some of these Glory Boys wondering about going 'Sieg Heil' and that really annoyed us here."
And that is another gratifying thing about the North - there's no obsession with violence, no hint of suspect politics.
DOWNSTAIRS tonight the dancefloor makes Wembley on cup-final day look like a two man audience in the Albert Hall. I wouldn't say it was packed but it took me six attempts to reach the bar and then only by yelling "Fire" in a strange high-pitched voice.
The first chilly fingers of lager were just finding their way into my Derby when stage front the pilchard-packed mob's chants of 'joy-joy-joy-joy-JOLLY BOYS' reached a crescendo and the fiver Killermeters trotted on stage to a riotous reception.
Yeah, I know it was a home crowd and all that but no way was the crowd's ecstatic reception the result of excess beer or misplaced loyalty.
Simply the band play one hell of a fine blend of sixties-derived (cynics in the office claimed my tape recalled everyone from George Harrison to Wayne Fontana) modern pop; a creamy twelve song recipe that by my humble reckoning puts them well up in Mod's Division One.
Best number is the next single (either on Psycho this month or EMI/Din Disc/Phonogram etc if they've got the suss to sign 'em snappy) called 'Twisted Wheel', a superb hymn to Manchester's famed early sixties Mod Mecca. That's going to be coupled with the fast scooter song 'SX225' (and up till '68 that was THE scooter to have.)
An unhealthy fixation with the past, sure, but it doesn't permeate the whole set where matters of the heart predominate (like it or not Eros is replacing Anarchy on all the best-selling banners these days).
Basically the songs are strong and well structured, oft-times perfect pop having none of the 'wimpiness' live that is sometimes wrongly attributed to their recorded work, the fine Psycho single 'Why Should It Happen To Me?'/'Cardiac Arrest'.
Theirs is lovely fresh pop sound that finds a receptive sea of clapped hands and hungry, joyous faces bucking about in a sweaty human mess in front of me which is exhausting even to watch. Edwin Starr's 'SOS' and The Who's 'Legal Matter' are covered particularly well, while the tender 'Rhona' sees their first proper exercise in dual guitar play.
The band manage two encores till bomb hoaxers close the place down and I'm left pondering how much further they would have got by now had they been based in the Smoke instead of grimy old Yorkshire.
THE BAND talk with a genuine excitement about their music and their movement.
"We're totally into the idea of Mod here," Jez enthuses, "having a good time and looking after yourself, it's great. The punk thing was defeated by the commercial market. It started as a reaction but ended up business."
"But the Mod scene up here is really healthy. No way is it a business thing. Up here it's ordinary kids and Oxfam shops and everyone is into scooters, and the music and the look."
"Obviously it wouldn't have happened without Punk," Vic Vespa intersperses. "But it's a new movement. It's more melodic and danceable. And we're building something of our own. Something new.
"Usually something happens in the South and the rest of the country follows, but with Mod the Southerners seem to be trying to change something that's our own, and that won't happen because we've got something special here.
"But thankfully the antagonism between North and South is starting to cool down now and I believe it's got to, otherwise the whole movement will collapse."
What d'you reckon will happen with Mod then?
"Obviously it'll go the same as punk eventually.
Anything that comes from the kids on the streets is taken over and made commercial but at the moment the whole scene's going well."
A glazed look comes into his eyes. "Someone said last year that 1979 was gonna be the year of Mod" (I did - GB) (And me - Ed) "but I reckon 1980 will be the real year of the Mod and the year of the scooter. Next summer it's gonna be massive."
"You know what my ambition is now?" Jez asks rhetorically, "It's to play Manchester Apollo and pack it out with Mods instead of Rush fans. That'd really be something to achieve."
And I'll see you there Jez, I'll see you there.
Garry Bushell, October 20th 1979