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, power pop 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, Quadrophenia 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 kind 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 ‘split 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 Heart 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 and Brian Betteridge (of Back To Zero) and the Maximum Speedsters in North London began dressing and thinking of themselves as Mod.
Though 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 put pen to paper to write about the Mod renewal, I wanted to avoid media/business overkill, attack and the burnt fingers the Biz had got from being over enthusiasm about punk’s money spinning potential. To let Mod develop vigorously and in fact it’s only recently that the onslaught has started.
This allowed Mod three or four months of healthy development as a street movement frequenting the likes of the Bridge House and the Wellington. 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 of ’79 when punk as a meaningful movement was on its 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 lives 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 Quadrophenia 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, and find two schools of thought: a lot of original mods who think Mod as they conceived it is on its last legs, and others, so O can’t really moan but I think the scene is healthier than ever. 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 feel aligned to 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- its 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 Quadrophenia 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 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?
This article was written by Garry Bushell and published in Sounds August 1979.