Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Mod's shopping guide to Baltimore


In part I, you heard all about my first impressions of Baltimore and the wonderful night I had the pleasure of DJing. Although I only had a few hours before my departure for Washington, I packed has much browsing and shopping I could muster. But that was cut short because of an unexpected surprise.

The few hours of rest I had wasn't going to stop me from exploring the hip neighbourhood of Hampden  before hitting the road to go to DC. Rob, my DJ partner the previous night, was kind enough to let me use his spare bedroom. The great thing about staying with a Baltimore native is that he knows the best spots. Rob and his lovely girlfriend Sommer brought me to the Golden West Cafe, only a few blocks away from Rob's pad. 



Nothing prepares you to take on the day like a hearty and spicy Mexican brunch. The picante Bloody Mary has the reputation to be the perfect hangover cure.



On the way there we passed in front of the Cafe Hon.  A couple of years ago it was featured in Gordon Ramsey's television show, Kitchen Nightmares. Inside, I saw a table full of ladies dressed in late 50s, early 60s garments with big bouffants that would make Marge Simpson jealous. I was later schooled on Baltimore's unique Hon culture. Hon, from the abbreviation "honey", is a term of endearment often used by women dressed in brightly coloured dresses, impressive beehives and vintages glasses. 



After a copious meal, Rob brought me to Avenue Antiques where an impressive 60 dealers are spread over 3 stories. 





I managed to find a nice golden vintage tie for 8$. As I was going to pay, I cross paths with the Hons. Bobbie Jo approached me and struck up a conversation: "Hey hon, I love what you wear! Very sixties!" After some friendly banter, I learned that these lovely ladies were there to shoot a reality TV show that should air next season on Bravo. It made sense as I had seen some equipment and lighting spread across the first floor.


Bobbie Jo struttin' around
I eventually chatted with the director and he asked me if I wanted to be part of the next scene. What? Me? In front of a camera? Since when do I crave that type of attention? In all seriousness, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. They needed someone that was there to buy records. Again, am I ever wanting to buy records?



So here I am signing a contract and getting ready to shoot my scene. Reality TV is real to an extent. You don't follow a script but the story has a direction and you need to follow certain guidelines. I'm not going to reveal any secrets but I can tell you that you might see me play myself, a Mod DJ from out-of-town looking for some rare Soul 45s.


Surrounded by Hons!
As fun as that was and as charming as the Hons were, that cut a bit in my shopping time. So dear readers, you'll have to excuse me for not reviewing as many records shops as I would have liked. The rest of The Avenue is worth exploring. You'll find plenty of antique shops that sell everything under the sun, from kitsch salt & pepper shakers to mid-century furniture.



Collectibles o' plenty at Hampden Junque.


For larger items, stop in at David's On The Avenue.







So the only record shop I could squeeze in before heading over to DC was El Suprimo Records. It was suggested to me that it was one of the top places to go digging. Like many record shops across the nation, the owners are sometimes hard to approach. This time, I seemed to be interrupting him while he was working on an old radio receiver. Once I used my French Canadian charm on him, he seemed to warm up a little.





I went through all of the "rare" stuff behind the counter and unfortunately didn't strike gold. I managed to put my hands on a 45 record box (always need those!) and this little instrumental number. Not bad for 1$.



Like all record shops, it pays to go on a regular basis and I'm sure El Suprimo is no exception. You win some, you lose some. Luckily, my girl DJ Amanda Otto had brought a bin full of 45s the previous night and I bought a small stack of records I picked without listening to them. I was happy when I got to listen to this incredible screamer by Youngblood Smith. Thanks Amanda!



Next stop, Washington, DC for the TNT night. I have a feeling this is going to be a bang!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mod on the road: I want more of Baltimore


Ask me to come and DJ in your city and chances are that I'll jump in my car and drive 10 hours to come and party with you. When the opportunity presented itself to spin some wax in Baltimore and Washington, DC in the same weekend, I responded with a resounding and enthousiastic "Yes!".

I had never set foot in Charm City before and I saw right away where the nickname came from. I was telling my welcoming host Rachel about my first impressions and how I liked the turn of the century architecture, the charming row houses and the industrial feel of the city. She said that her city reminded her of Brooklyn. "While it is certainly NOT Brooklyn (in fact, there's hardly a comparison to be made), we are getting a little taste of it here and there. New bars and restaurants are kind of channeling Brooklyn. But hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right? Our own little cultural renaissance isn't going to happen overnight..." I can see why she would say that.


My lovely host Rachel - photo by George Skepton

This one night only event  was held at Gallery 788 in the burgeoning neighbourhood of Hampden. It's situated at 3602 Hickory Ave, right off 36th (also dubbed "The Avenue"). Rachel had quite appropriately called the night, The Thaw - 100% Vinyl 60s Dance Party. What better way than to thaw out from the grizzly winter season and flee the snow banks of chilly Montreal than to drive 10 hours due South.




Aside from the other talented DJs that I had the honour of sharing the decks with, we were surrounded by  art from up and coming local artists. But that's not all! The space also featured a pop-up showcase of mid-century inspired furniture brought to you by the good folks who put on FURNmob. You needn’t be a design aficionado to appreciate the slick lines and smooth designs of these amazing pieces.




The hard life of a Mod DJ. And the furniture was confortable too! Photo by George Skepton
A little over a hundred attended and the wooden dance floor was flooded (no pun intended) with eager dancers. The last time I had shared the turntables with DJ Amanda Otto was a couple of years back at MODchicago. Aside from being a real sweetheart, she's known for spinning some of the best trippy, psychedelic and far-out tracks you have ever heard.



Photos by George Skepton
I had never met DJ Rob J. before and I have a feeling that this won't be the last time we will play 45s side by side. His musical taste is impeccable and his choice of tracks were right up my alley. I also had the pleasure to meet Rob Macy from the popular Save Your Soul monthly extravaganza. Jake Starr, frontman for local band Jake Starr and The Delicious Fulness was also in attendance, keeping the party going.


The suave and stylish Rob J. Photo by George Skepton

When I embarked on this 903 km road trip, I had no idea what to expect.  The night surpassed all my expectations and I would do it again in heartbeat. But that didn't prepare me for what was going to happen the next day...


Part 2, to be published very soon.

For a small sample of the tunes that were played on that night, have a listen to Episode 14 of The Parka Avenue Podcast right here.

A huge thank you to all my wonderful hosts for having me over and a special thank you to George Skepton for providing the photos.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Face behind Svengali: Parka Avenue talks to Jonny Owen


The first time I came across a Svengali short on YouTube, I was hooked. Nobody had told me about it and I happened to find it by chance. I immediately spread the good news to all my Mod friends and I couldn't wait for the next episode to come out. I found the main character Dixie, played by his creator Jonny Owen, endearing, charming and above all funny. The story follows the trials and tribulations of Dixie, an aspiring band manager and promoter, in his quest to make his protégés, The Premature   Congratulations, the next big thing to hit the scene. 

Lucky for us, what started as a series of shorts on the web ended up as a full length feature film that will  hit the theatres and be available for download or on DVD on the 21st of March 2014. I am truly honoured to have Jonny answer a few questions for our Parka Avenue readers.


Where did the inspiration for the movie come from?
It came really from a conversation with Dean Cavanagh. We wanted to do something about Rock and Roll you know? I wanted to loosely base it on the manager of my old band 'the pocket devils' Dixie. It kind of went from there. We wanted to see what the audience reaction would be, and it's been great. Alan McGee gave us a great line: 'rock and roll is the only industry in the world where bad behaviour is actively encouraged'. I thought there's a lot of potential for comedy there. 
Svengali started has a web series. A few big names like Martin Freeman made regular appearances. How did you manage that?
They asked me. Once the series was up and running people tended to get in touch with me and ask to be in it. Very flattering really. I think it was the freedom. I allowed them to do whatever they wanted. Trusted them. Actors love that because often you can be quite straight jacketed in stuff you do. 
How did you adjust the story from a web based series to a full length film?
I just broadened it out. I was able to bring the band The Prems in, that was the big thing. I had the freedom to be able to do that, make the scenes longer and bring more actors in. Another was that we had more money to do more filmic shots. A lot of the film was about London. The City was the set really. I always dreamt of doing that and I was able to do it. 
Any of the characters based on people you know? 
As I said above Dixie was based on the real Dixie 'Paul Dixon'. I used people I remembered from when I was in a band, like a&r men, as the basis for characters. We spoke about people we remembered from the 90's. The band is kind of based on my band, Pains In The Arses! Ha. Bands tend to be like children. The landlady is based on one I had in London too. So there's a bit in there. Also Dixie's family are based on my own in Wales. 
Without being a Mod movie per say, Mod culture seems to be a central theme. How important was that to you? 
Well Mod culture is something that I've loved from a young age. I liked the way they looked, the music they listened too. I used to spend my teenage years in school drawing little targets and I tenement the frisson of excitement I'd have when I'd see someone on a scooter when I was a kid. It was amazing really. It's something that's stayed with me all my life. A certain way of dressing and looking after yourself. I think it's a great template, well for me it has been anyway.
Mods are a critical and opinionated bunch, are you concerned at how some might react to the film?
Not in the slightest. They've been brilliant from the very start. I think Mods have a great sense of humour and we all know deep down no one is born cool...ever. The amount of emails and people who have said to me that they've all got a bit of Dixie in them is unbelievable.
Were you directly involved in choosing the soundtrack?
I was yes and I'm rather pleased with it. John Hardwick, the Director, also was influential. It takes a long time to get the right music for the right pictures but we got there in the end. 
You're also a DJ, how would you describe your style? 
I just play what I like and hope people like it too. 60's beat, bit of Soul and Indie. I've had no complaints yet.

I want to personally thank Jonny for his time and this exclusive photo of him taken behind the scenes during the shooting. That's a very smashing Vespa GS mark I if I'm not mistaken. For all the latest updates about the film, join the growing army of fans on the Svengali Facebook page or on the Svengali website.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mods! Get ready for the MODtreal Weekender 2014!


Build it and they will come...  Hopefully!

Funky drum roll please...


It's been a dream of mine for a long time to host a Mod Weekender & Scooter Rally in my beautiful city. Well, my Modernist friends, dreams can sometimes turn into reality. Mark your calendar! During Labor Day weekend, from August 29 to September 1st 2014, Montreal will be the centre of the Mod world in North America.



Ever since MODchicago has gracefully pulled the curtain after 10 years, I wanted to fill that void. I'm very proud and honoured to welcome you to the MODtreal Weekender 2014!



On this very blog, I have praised many North American cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas but I have never raved about the beauty of my hometown of Montreal. Ever since the prohibition era, Montreal has had the reputation for having that certain joie de vivre and a nightlife that is second to none. It was called Sin City even before Las Vegas! It was also dubbed the Paris of the North. This is where Al Capone came to hang out and where Frank Sinatra came to perform. I strongly suggest you check this 3 minute documentary from Radio Canada describing the nightlife and jazz scene in the 50s and 60s. You'll get a better understanding why the city is what it is and why we now host, every summer, the biggest Jazz festival in the world.

Click here: Montreal Jazz Scene

It also hosted Expo '67, the World Fair that put Montreal on the map and made it the metropolis it is today. Expo '67 was simply an explosion of MODern design and it happened RIGHT HERE! We even built an island for it! Some of the vestiges of that era will be the focus of the scooter rally.



If the sign says it than it must be true.

Now, let's make it the Mod capital of the world for a weekend. Book your flight now! Do I have some great events lined-up for you. May I suggest that you arrive on August 29 for the Friday night events? The Wiggle Room, one of the swankiest bars in town, home of my weekly night, the Mod Club, will welcome an All-Star Canadian line-up of DJs.


The one and only DJ Penny Lane, host of Punks In Parkas and co-host of We Are The Mods! will spin a hard-hitting set. Fellow Winnipegger and host of the On Target podcast, Mod Marty has an incredible record collection and will undoubtedly impress many of us with his selection. DJ Gaz, resident DJ of our sister night, Mod Club Ottawa, will show us why he has had the most successful Mod night in Canada for the past 10 years. Some of the Montreal 60s DJ elite will also have their turn behind the turntables.

Saturday will be a day full of events that you won't want to miss. Montreal's original Face, Eric Boulanger, will take our scooter riders on a sightseing tour accross the city. All are welcomed to join us for our first pit-stop at the coolest spot on the island, the Atomic Cafe for some refreshments and a vintage fair and record swap.

The evening festivities are also sure to please. I'm really excited to have one of the best Mod bands around, crossing the border for their Canadian premier. RAF will undoubtedly bring the house down during our Saturday night main event at Divan Orange. Make sure to grab their newly release EP before they run out. Seeing these guys live alone is worth the price of the airfare.



They will be followed by some of the top DJs on the continent. DJ Karen (Phoenix, Az), DJ TJ (Provindence, Boston), Dan Melendez (LA, Ca), DJ Celeste (Long Beach, Ca) and Miss KT (Los Angeles, Ca) are sure to make you dance until you can't dance no more.

We will close the holiday weekend on Sunday with some local talent. The power trio, Les Envahisseurs, are going to prove to you that Mod is not dead in this city. With an orginal anthem called Je Suis Un Mod (I Am A Mod), need I say more?

Photo by Katia Provencher
Of course, I have many more surprises in store for you. For one, our local vintage scooter shop Scootart has promised as few goodies to be given away during the weekend. All you need to do is "like" the MODtreal Facebook page for all the updates.

I want to sincerly thank Mod Marty for designing our incredible poster, Franck Poireau for coming up with our logo and all our sponsors for suporting us. 







Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How to avoid Mod fashion mistakes: 10 principles to live by


Acquiring a fashion sense and developing your personal style doesn't happen over night. Mods are not immune to sartorial faux pas. Like any craft, you learn from your mistakes and over time you can hopefully build a reputation for being someone who knows how to dress well. Humility and being open to new ideas goes a long way in achieving that goal.

Every new school year, I ask my new cohort of 5th graders to describe me in one word based on what they heard about me. It's a little test of my reputation in the school. Year after year, the same words come up: strict, stern, funny and... elegant. I must be doing something right. Many posts on this blog might be the subject of fashion and style but I don't pretend to be an expert on the matter. I might have chosen to be a teacher as a career but when it comes to clothes, I still consider myself a student.

What I can not be faulted on is my passion and my willingness to try new things even if it means falling flat on my Face. Another key ingredient to fashion greatness is to listen to other's opinions and than forge your own idea. I'm guilty of many transgressions over the years and I felt the need to confess my sins. I'm turning the mirror on myself and exposing the ugly truth. Some of these I am not guilty of, they are simple observations I noticed on others and couldn't let pass by.

This is not meant to be a "how-to guide" or the "A to Z of Mod rules". I aim to inspire and not dictate.  I hope this will help in your journey to improve your wardrobe.

1) Dress your age

I have nothing against hipster trousers. They just don't suit me well. They're fine if you're 20 something. The really tight drainpipe trousers can also stay in the closet if you're my age. That doesn't mean I turn my back on a nice pair of tapered trousers.

This is one principle I struggle with from time to time. What can I say, I hang around 12 year old kids all week long. It's hard for me to take the conservative route and tone down my look. When you hit the 4-0 mark, maybe it's time to hang that purple sharkskin suit.

2) Less is more

Mea Culpa. Guilty as charged. Lock me in and throw away the key. I have to admit, I'm all about "attention to detail" but I have come to realize that you don't need to pile on the details. It's not a contest on how many details or features you can fit in one outfit. It's more important to concentrate on the quality of the fabric or a well-made cut than the fact that you have covered buttons.

Over folded pocket squares is a perfect example of how you don't need to over complicate things.   When we see 18 points sticking out of your breast pocket, you might consider toning it down a bit.   If you need an origami class to fold your pocket square, take it from me, you have gone overboard. You should look like you have put thought into your outfit but in a carefree, effortless manner. That  is the essence of cool.

The first one in the top left corner is all you need.

3) The cult of the Parka

Have you ever noticed that although this blog bares the name "Parka Avenue", in more than 175 posts, I haven't done a single one about the infamous American army coat. Don't get me wrong, I own two M-51, a pristine M-65 and a warm and comfortable Lambretta brand M-51 replica. I seldom wear them. They serve their utilitarian purpose on occasion when I take the Vespa or Lambretta out for a spin but if I have a choice between a nice pea coat or a classy crombie, guess which one I'll pick?

If I remember correctly, this was taken at the intersection of Parka Avenue.

4) Jimmy Cooper is not a fashion icon

Although we have tried to mimic him when we were teenagers, it's time to move on. Wearing desert boots with a suit, I have been guilty of and even alluded to it on this very blog (Please keep the tomato throwing to a minimum) but Clarks' should be worn casually.

The Ace Face seems to be the only who got his shoes right even if his trousers are a bit too long for my taste.
Steve McQueen can never do wrong. Wearing a tweed jacket, black turtle neck and desert boots works for me.
Casual perfection from Daniel Craig
Unlike Jimmy, I like to dress for the occasion. I don't remember the last time I wore a suit to a beach fight.

5) The Mod Revival days are over

Can you believe that we used to sew bar towels to our parkas back in the 80s? How about the dreaded white socks? Some of us like to hold on to the past. It's time to turn the page.

My early Mod days

The scooter rally is the place those atrocities are still being committed on a regular basis. I can understand that you don't want to wear an expensive cashmere v-neck to a weekend spend in a tent but surely you can find an alternative to an unwashed bomber jacket full of patches. If you find that acceptable, here's a reality check for you. You are not a Mod. You are a Scooter Boy.

If you're going to a Specials, Madness or Selecter concert, you don't have to wear a piece of clothing that has a 2-Tone checkered pattern all over it.

At a Specials concert in London in 2009

6) Keep the Mod imagery to a minimum

Mod targets, Union Jacks, rally patches, badges, pins by the dozen are not what makes you Mod. When I was a teenager, I had to tell the world I was a Mod. I guess it's all part of growing up and forging your identity. Although I don't shy away from saying that I am one, I don't feel the need to shout it from the rooftops or advertising it all over my clothes.

On the train (the 5:15?) to London for the first time. Notice the small Canadian flag pin on my Fred Perry collar. I blame it on the innocence of youth.
I have to admit, I used to wear an enamel Mod roundel on my suit lapel on occasion. I have since stop doing that. I'll sometimes have a pin or two on my jean jacket but that is usually it.

Enjoying a sun filled day in a cafe somewhere in the French Quarter of New Orleans

7) Invest in quality instead of quantity

The word "invest" might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about clothes but it applies nonetheless. A well fitted bespoke suit will last you a lifetime compared to an off-the-rack mass produced cheap version. Stick with the classics and you can't go wrong. The same goes with shoes.

8) Choose the proper shoe

For the longest time, I would only have Dr. Martens on my feet. Let's face it, the UK-made version are comfortable and can outlast any other brand I know. I still wear them on a regular basis at school. Being surrounded by elementary school kids every day, it's a sensible choice.

One thing I have stopped doing is wear my Dr. Martens boots with a suit. What was I thinking? Might have been acceptable during the Revival but this is the 21st century. I should know better.



9) Don't be a slave to the brand

Remember when Ben Sherman used to make quality shirts and had a wide selection of cool patterns? Now you can buy this for £135 or 225$.


If you think that by wearing a Fred Perry you're a Mod then you are sadly mistaken. I truly love the brand but I'm very selective about what I buy.

10) Don't dress like this guy, buster!

Bad Manners front man Buster Bloodvessel is quite the showman but a style icon he is not. Whenever you are staring at your closet wondering what to wear for a night out on the town, just ask yourself this question: "Would Buster wear this?" If the answer is yes, then put it back in the closet immediately. Simple as that. Come to think about it. Cut the clothes in little pieces and use them as rags to clean the Vespa.


In the end, if there's one thing you need to take away from this post is simply to be true to yourself. I certainly am! I don't always fit in the neat mold that some Mods want to squeeze me in. I don't care. I take chances. I make mistakes. And I love it!