The mod scene’s ability to evolve has ensured different generations have created something of their own, even though for some this has meant straying too far (or not far enough) from its origins.
Back in the early to mid-1980s it had little interest in adapting or modernising and was primarily concerned with using the account Richard Barnes gave in his Mods! book as a rigid template. There were firm rules in place and any attempt to bend or break them would see the perpetrator bashed on the head with something heavier than a plastic cup. Saturday’s Kids, Darren Russell’s new book of photographs, show strict dress codes advertised on hand drawn signs and young men in clubs uniformly dressed in suits and ties; one chap is even highlighted for pushing the boundaries by wearing a subtle check fabric rather than the plain dark one of his contemporaries. Music also ran along immovable lines, with records in clubs had to have been made by black artists with an original release date no later than 31st December 1966. Despite this slavish attention to detail, these kids did give clues to the times they were truly living in and, in retrospect, lost vital mod points by sporting white socks, huge spectacles and earrings for men. I’ll confess to being guilty of two of those. What were we thinking? Among Russell’s images are a number of recollections from the era, including my own which I'll repeat here for context:
“For me and my gang of friends the 80s mod scene was driven by bands rather than clubs. We did occasionally go to clubs but as teenage boys we were far more impressed by the sight of a Rickenbacker than a box of records.
I don’t know where the line was drawn under the 1979 mod revivial (which we felt no part of) and where the 1980s mod scene began but The Jam’s last gig in December 1982 seems as neat a place as any. Come 1983 The Truth arrived and those of us too young to have seen The Jam now had our own band to follow. In fact, the first gig I saw was The Truth’s under-16s show at the Marquee one Saturday afternoon that year.
By ’85 there were bands to see almost weekly: Makin’ Time, The Scene, The Rage, The Direct Hits and, for those of a more adventurous nature, The Prisoners. Although The Prisoners have now been taken to the mod bosom it wasn’t the case then. We scarcely a mod in attendance we thought we were particularly daring.
Still being at school, supporting these bands was reliant on pocket money and spending our dinner money on tube tickets from Uxbridge. Saturdays would be spent strolling up and down Carnaby Street because that’s what mods did. Sometimes there’d be aggravation from skinheads or scooter boys but I was never sure how much was myth-making and urban rumours. It always seemed that if I stayed at home one week tales of smashed shop windows would circulate the school that Monday.
Everything fizzled out through 1986. The decent bands spilt up and the remaining few played to rapidly dwindling audiences. Our group now had jobs and gradually drifted apart. Soul, jazz and rare groove took centre stage and the record box finally replaced the Rickenbacker. “
The most interesting photographs, for me, are the ones which show this period as it wasn’t well documented at the time despite it being a huge movement (although see Enamel Verguren’s 2004 This Is A Modern Life for a comprehensive account). I have hardly any photographs of my own as taking a cheap camera was too clunky to carry around on a night out. Unfortunately, the problem with Saturday’s Kids is the lack of dates for the photographs, which is exasperated by at least half from way beyond the period it supposedly covers, right into the mid-1990s when the clothes, music and attitudes had shifted dramatically. The scene in 1994 bore little resemblance to that of 1984 so unless you can recognise and date events and people from personal experience the book as a journalistic record is deeply flawed. If the pictures had been dated it wouldn’t have mattered too much (despite the misleading title) or if they’d been ordered chronologically it would have demonstrated the broadening of the scene’s outlook as it laid the foundations for, and then built upon, the Brit-Pop era. It does neither, only confuses and misleads.
Dave Edwards’s introduction repeats the oft-used mantra “the first rule of mod – attention to detail”; it’s a real shame the publishers didn’t take heed as most of the fundamentals are here yet spoilt by the equivalent of white socks, huge glasses and hooped earrings.
Saturday’s Kids: The 1980s Mod Revival by Darren Russell is published by Foruli Codex.