Old Mods Die with Their Desert Boots On - Memories of a First Generation Mod – Part One of Two

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I grew up in southeast London and my family lived in Barnfield Gardens, a council estate in Plumstead that had a notorious reputation.
At school, I passed 3 GCSE's, and I was the Rodney Trotter of my generation. However, when I left, there were no problems finding a job. As each generation followed, employment became harder to attain, even for those who had a University education. Owing to the political climate, the late seventies teenagers' were known as a 'lost generation' and there was a recession, which is with us once again, but even bigger.

I started listening to music at boarding school in the early '60's and no, it wasn't a public school. As I suffered with chronic asthma and bronchitis, my Doctor dispatched me to Warnham Court, Nr Horsham, in Sussex. On Sunday's, dances were held in the common room, although at eleven, and a little on the shy side, I don't recall trying to pull any of the girls who attended these sessions.

The music was a mixed bag of late fifties Rock 'n' Roll and pop music. I recall Jimmy Jones's 'Good Timin', and 'Handy Man'. Emile Ford & the Checkmates 'What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?' and, 'She Was Only Sixteen' by Craig Douglas. One other tune I vividly recall is Neil Sedaka's 'Oh Carol', and a song that is still a big favourite to this day, 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' by the Shirelles. They played this song at an end of term party and I recall dancing with a nice looking blonde. By now, I learned to dance, as girls seem to like a bloke who can throw a few shapes, even if it was a waltz, a foxtrot, or the Gay Gordon's.



When I returned home from boarding school it was the summer of 1962, the first generation of Brit Pop had announced itself and thankfully, blew away fifties music. It was difficult settling into a normal school and having been away for two years, I had to find new friends, as most of my old mates had moved on.

It was at this point that I started to take music seriously. My mate Jerry Jones turned me onto the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who started as an R 'n' B band, who played mostly covers and very few original songs. He also got me into jazz music and we would often sit in his bedroom, where the walls were painted black, and listen to the likes of Sammy Price and Jimmy Smith. For the next year, I borrowed jazz records from Woolwich library, which included Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, and Oscar Peterson. Little did I know that one day I would work with Oscar, and many other great jazz artistes. 



My oldest mate Colin King turned me on to the blues scene. We both lived in the same block of flats and listen to records in his bedroom, wailing along on our harmonicas to the sounds of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and groups from the British blues scene.

The first 'real' live show that I attended was in April 1964, whilst still at school. During the late '50's and early '60's, there were many package tours playing the cinema circuit, and the one that arrived at the Granada Woolwich, featured Tom Jones & The Squires, The Rockin' Berries, The Pretty Things, Julie Rogers, and The Dave Clark 5. Tom Jones sang his number 1 record, 'It's Not Unusual', as well as knocking out a few Rock 'n' Roll standards. The biggest memory of this show is Julie Rogers who had had a number 3 hit record with 'The Wedding'. She came on stage in a ball gown and a huge bouffant hairstyle, à la Elizabeth Taylor. As she was warbling the first verse of her opening number, one of the 'wags' at the back of the stalls yelled out; "Get your tits out." Well, what did she expect? This was southeast London.

I left school in July '64, bought a copy of the Evening Standard and after perusing the section for office jobs, I applied for six vacant positions. Three gave me an interview and later, each offered me a job. My choice was an Insurance broker in Great Smith Street, near Victoria, and close to the Houses of Parliament. The other two jobs were in the city, which didn't appeal, as it was a concrete jungle, though not as bad as it is now. This may seem flippant, but in the '60's, you could change your job at your leisure. A mate, once changed jobs twice in one week and had over a dozen different jobs in one year.

Commencing work four weeks after I left school, my starting salary was £6 10/- a week [£6 50p], which seemed like a King's ransom. Whilst at school, I did a paper round and worked as a butcher's boy, but both jobs only pulled in £1 50p a week. My father took me down to John Collier's in Woolwich and bought me my first suit, though it wasn't Mohair, just a cheap blue worsted. After paying for it, he stated; "Now that you're working, you can buy all your own clothes." Welcome to the modern world.



My weekly season ticket to London cost ten bob, and after giving my mother thirty bob for my keep, I was left with four quid to spend. We had TV, which wasn't that good, and the cinema, but we didn't have computers, iPods, game boxes, or smart phones. In fact, many of my mates didn't have a phone in their house. However, we were fortunate, as London and the suburbs were full of clubs and pubs, where you could see live music, and not just at the weekend.

I was a tall lad and started drinking at fifteen, in the Lord Bloomfield in Plumstead. We drank in this pub, because we could get away with it and the landlord had a tasty daughter. Well, she had a nice set of tits'. We drank bottles of light or brown ale, before progressing to pints of 'light and bitter' and once we had served our apprenticeship, we drank bitter. A pint cost about one shilling and tuppence, or about 6p in new money. In the '60's, it was impossible to drink ten bobs [50p] worth of beer, without falling down; nowadays, you need to take out a second mortgage to get drunk.

1964 and '65 were defining years and I got into the Mod scene, although, there was one thing different about me from my other Mod mates; I had motorbike. I tried riding a scooter, but they just didn't hold the road and in the wet, they were lethal. As my Father wouldn't allow me to buy one on HP, I bought a very old 250cc BSA C12, off a mate for £30. When I told my Mother about the motorbike, she burst into tears and moaned that I would kill myself.



The C12's road holding wasn't much better than a scooter, and as I 'dropped' the bloody thing so many times, twelve months later I sold it and went back to Shanks pony; a much safer mode of transport. As I was a right piss-head, a motor wasn't for me, and the Road Safety Act of 1967, which introduced the first drink driving limit in the UK, put me off a car, until I got married.

A year after I joined the Insurance agency, they gave me the 'Gooner' for spreading lewd, and lascivious rumours about one of the directors, which was quite untrue. I couldn't spell lascivious, let alone knew what it meant. Two weeks later, I started a new job with Dunlop Semtex [floor tiles and vinyl floor coverings] and stayed there for the next three years. The money was better and my wages went up to £8 a week.

In early '65, I acquired my first tailor made two-piece suit, from Alexandre's in Powis Street, Woolwich. It was on the 'never-never' and after putting thirty-bob down, I paid a five bob a week until it was paid up. It was a blue Mohair/wool mix, the jacket had three buttons, and ten-inch side vents. The pockets were slanted and on the right hand side, a ticket pocket. The trousers were self-supporting, with one pleat, a French bearer, and 16-inch bottoms. I used to buy my shirts from a little shop in Powis Street, although American button down shirts were out of my price-range, and I had to settle for copies, or Ben Sherman's. One thing that is true, if the Labour government hadn't amended the Hire Purchase Act in 1964, the Mods couldn't have afforded their clothes, scooters etc. We bought everything on hire purchase.



By the spring of 1966, there were two more mohair's in the wardrobe, one in green, and a nice maroon number. For some reason my Father objected to this colour and told me to return it to the tailors. I pointed out to him that it was tailor-made and the shop wouldn't take it back, which pissed him off no-end.

However, there is a funny story attached to this suit. Whilst waiting for some mates outside Charing Cross station [by the hotel], a bloke asked me to call him a cab. He then apologised and said; "I thought you were the doorman." My mates a good laugh at this and my dented ego. The last suit I had made was a beige Tonic, which if my memory is correct, cost £30, as well as a Hounds Tooth jacket, which I wore with my Levis and slacks. I never got into leather or suede, as they were too expensive.

On Saturday afternoons, our mob would breeze down to Woolwich and check out the record and clothes shops, ending up in the local Wimpy bar for a coffee. We would often get the train and head up west, where the first port of call was the large HMV store at 363 Oxford Street, where I would eventually get a job. From there, we would head for Carnaby Street and check out the clobber, and the birds. After buying a pair of white corduroy 'hipsters' from John Stephen's in Wardour Street, I returned home and tried them on, my mum pulled a face and told me take them back. The next Saturday, I returned to the shop and exchanged them for a couple of button down shirts.



On Saturday afternoons, our mob would breeze down to Woolwich and check out the record and clothes shopMy mates and I would visit the local pubs and clubs in the area, many had live bands on at the weekend, and some in the week. I remember the Crown & Cushion just by Bell Water Gate [on the Thames], and The Shakespeare, both in Woolwich. On May 12 1966, I caught The Spencer Davis Group and Zoot Money's Big Roll Band at this pub; it was Stevie Winwood's birthday. Andy Summers of Police fame was Zoot's guitarist. After the gig, as we were waiting in Beresford Square to catch the bus home, a large 'Yankee' car passed by and inside sat, 'Long' John Baldry and Lionel Bart, who had been at the gig.

Our local pub was The Lord Clyde in Brookhill Road Plumstead, run by a nice Irish couple, who always referred to us as, 'the lads'. I would meet my mates, Peter Wallace, John Collett, and Barry Nye there, before we would go into Woolwich, or up west. The other locals we frequented were The Fox-Under-The-Hill on Shooters Hill Road, which had some decent music. One Sunday night, as I walked through the door into the bar, I was showered in beer. A fight had taken place and someone had belted this bloke, who still had his pint in his hand, which ended up down my suit. I had to walk home, change into clean clothes and then walk back. There was also The Standard at Blackheath, which showcased local bands.

The Harrow Inn at Abbey Wood was a rough house and we only went to this pub when Harry Starbuck was on the door. He was the local hard man and you didn't mess with him, not that some didn't try it on. The Green Man on Plumstead High Street was another trouble pub, where the glasses flew and we didn't visit it very often.



The Welcome Inn, in Eltham was another fave and we went there on many a Sunday night. Status Quo played their first gig here in 1967, when they were a psychedelic outfit. They used to have local bands on like The Loose Ends, who featured two singers, one coloured, and one white. I remember getting up and playing with the organist of The Coloured Raisins during their gig. One night I pulled a bird that didn't look half-bad and used the chat-up line; "Didn't I see you on the front cover of Vogue?" She smiled and replied seriously, "Did you really."

Another time, my mate Barry and I met up with two brothers, named Dave and Rod at The Chinbrook pub, which was between Grove Park and Mottingham. Dave was older, a right 'hard nut' and he worked for the Richardson's. His younger brother Rod was a 'tarmacker' who I'd known for some while and like his brother, he could 'march on'.

We sat down in the public bar and after a couple of pints; Dave got up and wandered over to the bar, to where a half dozen blokes were standing. Without warning, he deliberately knocked one of their pints over and a fight kicked off. Rod was on his feet in seconds and dived in to help his brother. As I was wearing my new beige Tonic suit, I looked at Barry and said; "Sod this I've just paid thirty quid for the 'whistle, and I'm buggered if I am going to louse it up tonight". Neither of us was any good at fighting and we left the pub. A week or so later, I met up with Rod and asked him what it was all about? He smiled wryly and said; "It was Saturday night, you had to turn the Chinbrook over." Mind you, he never mentioned our hasty exit.



I recall a harrowing experience when we were leaving The Roupell Arms in Charlton, after watching a mate's band. A fight had taken place and a youth was lying on the pavement covered in blood. On top of him was a local [not so] hard man, who was playing noughts and crosses on his face with a broken beer glass.

We were in a pub in Catford, prior to going to The Witchdoctor and as we were finishing our beers, in swept the Richardson mob. They were dressed to the 'nines', the men wore very expensive suits and the women were dressed, more for tea at the Savoy than a 'boozer' in southeast London. The pub went quiet, and as we stared into our empty glasses, Charlie looked at us and barked; "Wanna drink lads?" We gave him our order, toot suite, I might add.

There were several clubs in the area that we regularly attended. 'The Bal Tabarin' next to the 'Downham Tavern' in Bromley, and The Black Cat club in Woolwich. I recall seeing Graham Bond there and during the interval, we popped around to The Bull in Vincent Road. It was right 'Paddy's' pub and on the bar sat a barrel of 'Scrumpy' cider, which cost a shilling [5p] a pint. Mind you, three pints of this cloudy brew and you were slaughtered.

As we entered the public bar, there sat at a table was Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce. We nodded to them and spoke a few words before leaving the pub. Later, we bragged to our mates that we'd met the band, although I must say that my brother Robert, went one better; he had a piss next to the legendary 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, in The Black Cat club's toilets.



The Bromel Club at the Bromley Court Hotel was another favourite with the southeast London Mods. The Who played there in '65, as well as the likes of Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Kinks, Spencer Davis, Gary Farr & the T-Bones and Graham Bond. The night I saw John Mayall's Bluesbreakers there, Eric 'Slowhand' Clapton was on guitar and Jack Bruce played bass, depping for John McVie who was ill.

When The Small Faces made an appearance, they were in the charts with 'Whatcha Gonna Do About It', and only did the gig because it had been booked, well before the hit record. Girl's lined the front of the stage, with several screaming "Stevie" and making a right soddin' nuisance of themselves, before the bouncers chucked them out. This kind of behaviour was OK when you're watching the Beatles, but not down The Bromel.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared here and the cost of seeing one of the greatest, young guitarists at the time was pennies, less than 50p. The entrance price varied depending which group was on; it was between 3/6d [17½p] and 7/6d [37½p]. If Hendrix came along now, you would probably be paying £50 to £75 a ticket.

One summer's night we were in the club watching a band, suited and booted. I have no idea what the temperature was, but it was soddin' hot. We were wearing ties and the top two buttons of our jackets were firmly done up. I could feel the perspiration seeping though my shirt and jacket, but would I undo my tie? No way. On arriving home, there were large sweat stains under the armpits of the jacket, and the next day I took it to cleaners, as it needed to look pristine for next week's show.



Another great venue to see live music was at The Black Prince Hotel, Bexley, just off the A2. It was a barn of place, but they did have some great groups appear there on Sunday nights. The Steam Packet, featuring 'Long' John Baldry, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and Rod Stewart. Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbird's, featuring Albert Lee [who grew up in Blackheath], a guitarist every bit as good as Clapton. Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers was a regular at the Prince. The band featured Chas Hodges on keyboards & bass, and Dave Peacock on guitar, who went onto greater fame and fortune, as Chas and Dave. Bennett's drummer Mick Burt also played with the duo.

The first time I saw Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames was at the Prince, with drummer Red Reece, bassist Tex Makins, guitarist Colin Green and Mick Eve on tenor. Later, Derek & The Dominoes played a gig and we had to queue to get in. When it came to our turn to pay, we were shocked that the entrance fee was ten shillings [50p]. Most groups were between five bob [25p], and 7/6d [37½p]. Although we weren't' happy about this, we paid up and watched the show.

You wouldn't miss Geno Washington when he appeared at the Prince, or anywhere else, and he was well liked by the Mods. He had a great live act, which for some reason he couldn't re-produce on record. Nevertheless, who can forget him singing 'Michael'. John Mayall appeared there, this time with Peter Green on guitar and the crowd heckled him, as Eric Clapton has just left the band, which was a shame, as he was an excellent guitarist. When we got on the bus to go to the Prince, Hughie Flint, Mayall's drummer was sitting on the backseat.

The first time I saw Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames was at the Prince.To get to the Prince, you had to take a walkway over the A2, although a few lunatics did try to cross this busy, main arterial road. As you walked across, there was the incongruous sight of a half-finished fly-over that stretched half way across the A2, and on into space. It stayed like this for years, until then constructors received permission from the owners of the Black Prince, to allow them to put the remainder of the fly-over, and through their car park.



We'd often pop down to Rotherhithe and The Prince of Orange, and then on to The Mayflower, which was the only pub in the UK, licensed to sell postage stamps. There were forays across the water [Thames] and we visited The Waterman's Arms on the Isle of Dogs. I recall a trip to Ilford, when we paid a visit the Room At The Top, and a night out at the Tottenham Royal. We did venture into the east end of London, but not that often, as 'strangers' we would have been singled out and a bundle would have taken place.

We also hit Soho and did the clubs in Wardour Street, The Flamingo, The Whisky-A-Go-Go, and the Marquee club. Strange as it may seem, none of these were my favourite London club. That honour belonged to Tiles, situated in a basement, at 79 – 89 Oxford Street. Most of the bands that played here were not famous, or just a part of the R 'n' B circuit, like the Rick 'N' Beckers. John Peel did a gig there in '67, and Jeff Dexter was the resident DJ. Sam the Sham and his Pharaohs appeared here, as well as Amen Corner, when they were a quasi-blues band.

There was a record store open until late and on a visit to the club, I noticed they were displaying Georgie Fame's new album, 'Sweet Things'. It was a must buy and I carted the LP around all night, until we got the first train home in the morning, hoping that I didn't doze off and leave it behind. 



Part Two Here
Read 2121 times Last modified on Sunday, 20 December 2015 15:59

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