Those fine people at Adaptor Clothing – purveyors of modernist garb from Mikkel Rude, John Smedley, Brutus, Fred Perry, Bass, Baracuta and so forth – have scooted up and asked for five albums that inspired me from the “Mod subculture”. Never one to turn down an opportunity to chat about records, Mods and myself, I thought it’d make any interesting post, so let’s see.
All five on the list were acquired during the formative stages of my Mod conversion, a long time ago, during the early to mid-80s, and all provided a bedrock which sustains to this day. Back then Mod adhered to a very strict set of rules. Things were or weren’t Mod and no one had much difficulty with it. It felt a unified scene; there was a kinship with others, as you shared the same values and passions. It was a wonderfully exciting time. Non-Mods hated us and it only added to our sense of righteousness and air of superiority.
Mod today is wide open. There are a multitude of factions; people have individual takes on what it means and it’s been assimilated into the mainstream. It is now possible to pick and mix elements and different generations put their own spin on it: it stretches from the late 50s/early 60s modern jazz of John Coltrane or Tubby Hayes to current young guitar band The Spitfires and talented individuals like Paul Orwell. There are parts I feel no connection with but at the same time it’s been at the core of nearly everything I’ve enjoyed over the years. It’s led to the best nights out, with the best dressed people, listening to the best music, and it still steers into new areas of discovery. All of that can be traced back to the influence of these five albums, listed in the order I encountered them.
THE WHO - MY GENERATION
It’s testament to Townshend’s understanding of his young Mod audience that Mods continue to love The Who even long after the band moved from participants to occasional observers in the scene. Their debut LP is a record full of macho swagger, feisty attitude and flickers of vulnerability.
I’ll sheepishly admit to miming with a tennis racket in my bedroom mirror to ‘It’s Not True’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘La-La-La-La-Lies’ (I skipped most of the bluesy tracks). They made me want to be in a band. Many years later when I was, playing my second ever gig, I attempted to do-a-Townshend during the final song in the set. After ramming my cheap guitar into the amp I tried smashing it on the stage. What I hadn’t considered was the stage was built of plastic beer crates and when I axed it to the floor it immediately bounced up, almost whacking me in the face. It didn’t look good, the guitar survived unscathed and I never tried it again.
The sleeve perfectly fits the record: the military-style stencilling; David Wedgbury’s photograph showing them stood next to highly inflammable propane drums; hair dyed orange and black; the clothes; jackets made of union jacks draped over their shoulder; Keith Moon with the face of an innocent cherub. They’re extraordinary looking geezers, especially Roger Daltrey who fixes the camera with a mix of frown and smirk. He’s telling the onlooker to f-f-f-f-off. What teenager couldn’t relate to that? I was lucky enough to get the album signed by Daltrey and he couldn’t have been friendlier or more accommodating. “You guys look great,” he kept saying to my group of friends. It meant the world to us. We tried to approach Pete Townshend but he screamed “Argh, Mods!” and darted down the stairs. Even that felt like a compliment.
GEORGIE FAME – 20 BEAT CLASSICS
If you’re going to “do Mod” you need to assume a position of cool. Not everyone can do it. Some try hard and if you have to try hard you’re not cool; it’s one of life’s unfortunate truths. Coolness radiates from Georgie Fame. Whereas The Who turned up the volume, thrashed instruments, demanded attention, Georgie sat behind his Hammond – which he made the Mod instrument - and with the minimum of fuss served up a selection of soul, jazz, bluebeat and threw in a few pop touches. This was a Mod diet and this compilation served as an invaluable entry into those worlds. And look at the photograph here. Poised to light his fag, sleeves rolled up and about to get to work. Georgie means business. I love the look: the way his hair is cut in a French Crop and he’s wearing a simple pink button-down. It’s understated, there’s no need to overdo anything. Georgie Fame had exquisite taste in clothes and in the music he adopted. If you want a neat definition of Mod, there’s one right there.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – MOTOWN CHARTBUSTERS VOL. 3
Imagine a world without Motown. Makes me shudder. With a $600 family loan Gordy built his empire of labels which continue to fascinate and inspire. Even now previously unreleased gems surface and that’s in addition to absorbing all the rarities hidden in the dark recesses of Hitsville’s vast series of releases. Someone at school also gave me Tamla Motown Presents 20 Mod Classics which was equally important – it’s probably a better LP - but Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3 was one of only a few records I managed to “borrow” from my parents and being an original 60s copy felt more authentic and treasured. It has this amazing silver and glittery sleeve, as if Tamla Motown knew what a special record it was so threw extra money at it. It’s full of classics: ‘Roadrunner’, ‘I Heard it Through The Grapevine’, ‘Stop Her On Sight’, ‘Get Ready’ etc. Songs built to last. Who can ever tire of listening to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’? For all the incredible records and songs I’ve unearthed in a never ending quest to discover something new and exciting, sometimes the very best are right there in plain sight. It’ll be one hell of day I find anything to top ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – ON THE SOUL SIDE
One of the earliest Kent compilations and the first one I bought. Soon after, in the school holidays, I attended my first all-nighter, at the 100 Club. It is incredible those all-nighters are still running and although I’m no longer a regular I still dip in and out. Ady Croasdell, for his efforts with Kent and the 100 Club all-nighters, isn’t a musician but his influence on me – and many, many others - has been immeasurable. To Ady, it’s always been about the artists, not the DJs, a point too frequently forgotten with the who-played-what-where-first debates. It’s interesting to note there are no references to “Northern Soul” on this LP – it’s all “60’s Soul”. To me, 60’s Soul is pure Mod and Northern Soul is something else. There’s plenty of overlap of course between scenes and sounds but my mind’s eye associates the former with sharp dressers doing The Block and the later conjures visions of vest wearers performing handstands. That aside, soul music – as a whole, in all its forms – is a satisfyingly deep well. Over time it becomes more difficult finding truly exceptional songs but that increases the joy when it happens. Don’t stick with the familiar: keep on pushing.
THE ACTION – THE ULTIMATE ACTION
The most played LP in my collection by the longest piece of tailor’s chalk. When I bought this from The Merc off Carnaby Street in the mid-80s little did I know how it would remain a constant in my life. The Action are my favourite band of all time. Back then there was a great mystery about them, which undoubtedly added to their appeal. All the information the young kids of my generation had were the photos on the cover and inner sleeve and a few paragraphs from Paul Weller to accompany The Action’s small output. Since then I’ve watched with delight every time a new piece of information, a new photograph, even previously unheard recordings have been made available. I’ve had the honour of having articles published about them, interviewed them, seen them reform and play live, been invited in to some of their homes, written liner notes for Reggie King releases on Circle Records, and with deep sadness attended Reggie’s funeral where hearing ‘Since I Lost My Baby’ in a tiny chapel provided a profoundly moving and privileged experience. I remain in awe of The Action: they had style, class, looks and talent in abundance. My life has been enriched beyond words thanks to the day Jimmy at The Merc passed me this record.
What albums influenced your initiation in to the world of Mod?