Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Expo 67 - A Mod Utopia

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal, Canada, better known as Expo 67. As a Montreal native that was born just a few years after 1967, I'm acutely aware of the impact Expo 67 had on my city.

But the reaches of this International Exposition goes far beyond the borders of my city or my country for that matter. Expo 67 was the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century. It was the single most important event, with the 1976 Olympics, that catapulted Montreal on the world stage.

You might wonder why this subject would be brought up on a blog about Mod culture. This is the reason why. Expo 67 has opened the door to the "modern era". Design, fashion, music, art, culture and architecture was on the cutting edge. In other words, it was a Mod utopia.

To give you a brief idea, check out this video from the National Film Board of Canada. I not only recommend it for the images but for the soundtrack as well. At the 2 minute mark you'll hear a perfect slice of Mod Jazz that is very similar to Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. My favorite track starts at 4:40. It's a very obscure, out of this world instrumental by local band Les Pharaons called La Marche des Martiens (March of the Martians). The 45 is rather rare and has been on my wish list for quite a while.

Many seminal musical acts converged on the city during Expo 67. Take this 1967 Soul classic by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye for instance. This footage of Ain't No Mountain High Enough was shot on the Expo site. The single was released on April 20th, just a week before the world exhibit opened its doors.

Another track that might be of interest to all you Mods out there is this rocksteady groover by The Melodians. Last Train To Expo 67 has all the makings of a classic 60s Jamaican track we are used to sway to.

I'm sure I will write other posts about the Expo in the upcoming months but for this one, I wanted to narrow our focus on the fashion surrounding the event. The world was right in the middle of the miniskirt craze and go-go boots.

Venezuela pavilion - Photo by Helmut Newton 

Here's a video of a Canadian Fashion Industry showcase that was held near the Canadian pavilion. Like any fashion show, some choices are questionable while others are reminders of what came out of Carnaby Street.

Always  the perfect example of poise, grace and style, Jackie Kennedy visited the sites.

[Photographer unknown]
Last weekend I had the chance to visit the Fashioning Expo 67 exhibit at the McCord Museum. You had prime examples of many pavilion hostess uniforms. No less then 62 nations were represented at the World Fair. That makes for some interesting and avant-garde styles. Unfortunately, men's fashion was practically non-existant. A sign of the times, I guess.

Uniforms from the Italian and UK pavilions.

My favorite had to be the USA uniform. The Mod appeal is undeniable. It might be a bit too bold to be worn today but I admire women that have the confidence to wear something audacious.

"The hostess in blue was an Expo icon, providing information and assistance everywhere on the site. To convey a professional image, a conservative knee-skimmimg skirt, common to many other Expo uniforms, was favoured over the more fashionable mini lenght." Designed by Michel Robichaud.

Some of the Canadian provinces had their own pavilion and the uniforms that came with it. Here's the Quebec one.

The Western Canada Pavilion dressed 16 of its hostesses in this vibrant dress and matching coat designed by the John Crowley Company.

Even the Canadian Pulp and Paper pavilion had their own uniforms. 

Many sketches look like they came straight from Mary Quant's draft book.

Uniform from the Canadian Railway Pavilion

This was the entry submitted by Rita Simard for the Master Furriers Association of Quebec design competition.
Some of the outfits seen at the exhibit were not necessarily worm by employees but instead by the public. Here are fine examples.

Label: Pauli
Designer: Helen Harper

Of course, if you're going to visit such an exhibit, you have to dress the part. Daniel and Charlie look like they could have walked out of any of the Expo pavilions. Notice the authentic Expo hostess broach on Charlie's dress.

I might be a tad prejudiced but I'm convinced that my lovely wife would have made a great hostess.

The exhibit will run until October 1st 2017 at the McCord Museum . If you're in the Montreal area, don't miss it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lambretta Jet 200 Time Capsule

Some Mods are part of the Vespa camp while others are die-hard Lambretta devotees. I appreciate and own both. I did tempt contreversy and declare one of the two brands as the ultimate Mod scooter. You can find out what model made the cut here.

The last scooter to be added to the Parka Avenue staple is a 1975 Lambretta Jet 200. When I came accross it at my local scooter shop Scootart, I knew in an instant I had to have it. 

The fact that it had a little less then 500 original miles on the odometer had a lot to do with it. It was pristine. A true barn find and the closest thing to a time capsule you'll ever come across.

If you want to get technical, I'm officially the third owner, if you count the scooter shop, but I'm only the second one to ever ride it. Jean-François, the owner of Scootart recalls how he found it.

"I received a call at Scootart from a man who had just inherited, from his recently deceased estranged father, a house in a small residential neighborhood of Bossard, on the South shore of Montreal. He had a scooter on hand and the only way he could describe it was as an "old scooter". He told us that if we were interested, we had to pick it up by the end of business hours because the house was scheduled to be demolished the following day.

The son of the deceased man hadn't seen his father in 15 years. He had left the family home when he was just 16 because his mother had passed away and his father and him were constantly at each other's throats. His father ended up in an institution for 10 years, suffering from Alzheimer's. Much to his surprise, he inherited the house and found it in disrepair and unlivable. The city ordered it torn down.

So the son complied with the city's orders and hired a demolition crew to have the house demolished and sold the lot. The bulldozer was scheduled to show up the next day.

I called my friend Chris, the guy I always turn to in these types of cases, to land a hand. Once there, we head for the basement where I had to move some dilapidated furniture to get to the scooter. Chris pulled on a sheet to have the dust covered scooter finally revealed. I settled on a price and we pulled it from a ton of debris and shit. We should have worn masks. There was a real danger of getting sick.
The Jet 200 seing daylight for the first time in décades.

Arrived back at the shop, I gave it a quick hose down and that's when we realized that it had less then 500 miles on the odometer. The son had no idea that his father had ever even owned a scooter in his lifetime.

When we discovered the scooter, keys were nowhere to be found. So here's another story how, thanks to our friend Christian D'Amour, it was possible to find an original set of keys without having to change the locks.

A few years ago, Chris went to get a bunch of spare scooter parts that were left abandoned in a garage. The seller also offered him a box that contained more then 200 Lambretta keys. It seems that this person was a Lambretta dealer back in the 70s, also selling Servetas in the 80s. It seems that he had the unusual habit of keeping the doubles when he would sell a new scooter. That way, if an owner lost its key, he would sell the person their own double.That might be a dubious way to do business but we must admit that 40 years later, in the lot of more then 200 keys, there was a winning combination for this Lambretta. It ended up being a blessing for a lot of vintage scooter collectors too!"

The Jet 200 was manufactured by Serveta, under licence in Spain. It's basically the Spanish version of the Italian SX 200 with a few differences. Cosmetically almost identical expect that it had the typical Li front mudguard and horn casting. The first examples of the series III 200cc scooters, also known as the slimstyle, came into production in 1966. The early models had the signature disc brake but it was eventually phased out and the reason is not clear. If you find a Jet200 with a disk brake, you're in luck because they are rare, even in Spain!

In the 70s, the Li style clip-on panels replaced the popular SX flashes, floor runners gave way to floor mats and the air box moved inside the glove box instead of under the seat.

I can't tell you if moving the air box has made a significant improvement on the overall performance of the scooter but one thing is certain, I can hardly fit a pint of 2-stroke oil in that glove box. That's certainly not a concern when I drive my 1965 TV175.

With safety regulations being more of a priroty in the 70s, you saw turn signals appearing at the bottom of the horncast and on stalks on each side of the liscence plate. A rather unatractive switch box was added to the handlebar to opperate them. Now don't tell anyone but I had mine removed. Stylish they are not. I kept them in case I eventually want to put it back to its original state.

The only other modification I had made to the scooter was to replace the battery with an electronic ignition. Everyone will tell you that it's the easiest way to improve relialibility. It wasn't a hard choice to make. How does it feel to drive a Lambretta like it had just came out of the factory? Simply amazing. I'm still breaking in the engine! How surreal is that? I did own a brand new SIL GP200 back in the late 90s. The feeling was pretty similar.

Like any Lambretta, issues did arize in the 200 or so miles I have driven it since I own it. From time to time, the spark plug cap keeps popping off and the back brake seems to have lost it's efficiency prematurely. Something I need to attend to.

I did make a promise to Jean-François before he sold me the scooter. This one wasn't going to be "modded up". No modifications, no drill holes anywhere, no unecessary accesories. This perfect exemple of 70s scooter history had to be kept bone stock. I kept my word and I don't intend to break it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spending a Weekend in the Soul of Brooklyn

On a few rare occasions, opportunities cross your path that you simply can't let pass up or you'll end up regretting it for ever. When I learned that renown Soul DJ Jonathan Toubin was preparing something big to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his widely successful night, New York Night Train - Soul Clap, I knew I had to be there. The line-up of the Friday night live Soul revue was enough to convince me. But when I was asked to participate and do a short DJ set, nothing was going to stop me. Well, except maybe an over zealous Trump-loving border agent. For the record, border officials are the best people in the world, specially American ones.

I consider myself lucky to be living only a 7 to 8 hour drive from New York, one of the most incredible cities on the planet. The cavalcade of legendary Soul artists that were set to perform are what Mod's dreams are made of: Irma Thomas, Maxine Brown, Archie Bell, Baby Washington, Joe Bataan, Young Jessie, Ural Thomas, David Johansen, Nick Waterhouse and King Khan. Do I have your attention now? 

Aside from the fact that I could have been a teenager during the 60s, this is the closest thing I'll ever come to jumping in a DeLorean with a flux capacitor and setting the year to 1964. As an added bonus, some of the best Soul DJs on the continent were converging on the Big Apple, many of them friends and others that I was really looking forward to meeting for the first time in the flesh. Is my excitement palpable yet?

Kurtis Powers from The Face Radio and myself, ready for some mayhem.
The Warsaw, a venue situated in the hip Greenpoint neighbourhood of Brooklyn, was the perfect place to hold the Soul revue. This century old concert venue had all the charm and pizazz you would expect for that type of concert.

First to hit the stage was Nick Waterhouse. He's one of those contemporary musicians I really like. I have seen him perform before and chances are I'll go see him every chance I get. The backup singers were really a nice surprise. Whoa! These ladies can belt out a tune!

Ural Thomas was up next. He's the artist I knew the least about. I don't recall owning any of his records. Man! was I converted! I wasn't the only one blown away by his stellar performance. That was unanimous. He owned that stage like he was 20 years old.

Baby Washington followed Thomas and it was going to be hard to beat her predecessor. She was the one I was the most looking forward to see live. Unfortunately, she didn't live up to the expectations. Her voice was low and lacking power and fortitude. Plus, she didn't sing any of my favorite tracks. He best moment was probably when she sang That's How Heartaches Are Made Of. That's the risk of putting artists that don't perform on a regular basis and that are advancing in age.

My disappointment was quickly dispelled once Young Jessie made an appearance. He might not be as young as his name suggests and even though he needed assistance to reach his stool at the center of the stage, that didn't keep him from giving a performance full of heart and class. There was a little moment of comic relief when the man who was simply bringing the stool on stage, mistaken for Young Jessie, was greeted with thunderous applause.

Speaking of class, Maxine Brown was just that. To say that I was blown away is an understatement. Her rendition of Oh No Not My Baby was quite a powerful moment.

The party was just getting started. When Boogaloo king Joe Bataan took over, the place erupted in a frenzy. I'm a massive Latin fan and I was well served. This man probably has more energy in his little finger then I have in my whole body. You can tell that he's a seasoned professional. The performance was tight. My good friend and veteran DJ Ty Jesso said it best: "Joe Bataan doing Subway Joe was a stand out moment for me. I never thought I would see him live. Just amazing!"

When Archie Bell took over the stage, he just continued to flawlessly ride Joe's party wave. I had to pinch myself a few times when he started his extended version of Tighten Up. He even gave us a little tutorial how to execute all the moves. I would have made the trip just to see that.

The show took a different turn when former New York Dolls singer, David Johansen stepped on stage. That doesn't mean he was any less of a showman, quite the contrary. David is the quintessential New York cool guy archetype. That was certainly the purest definition of living a "New York moment".

Just before Irma Thomas made her way to the stage, a secret guest was revealed. New Orleans native Jean-Baptiste, best known for being the band leader on Steven Colbert's The Late Show, took to the organ. He gave us a couple of instrumentals pieces of what could be some of the best Mod Jazz I ever heard live. All throughout the rest of the concert he seemed to be truly enjoying himself, grinning from ear to ear. We even had a moment when I caught him with his jaw dropped and making all sort of faces, mesmerized by the back-up singers standing beside him. I pointed right at him as if he had just been caught red-handed. He pointed right back acknowledging it with the largest of smiles. I liked him before, I like him even more now.

Jean-Baptiste enjoying the back-up singers' performance
Last but not least was Irma Thomas. When she introduced Time Is On My Side she started by saying: "You've heard this one by them. Now, you're going to hear it from the original." Hearing the whole crowd singing along was quite a unifying moment. Ruler Of My Heart was another stand-out moment.

My wife and I had to skip the after-party to have enough energy for the next day. We did finish the night in a Brooklyn bodega, at 2 am, getting a hero from our Dominican friend Daniel who had just received his US citizenship. It felt like such a New York thing to do.

Day two was just as intense. It started with a visit to the famous "Record Room", in the soul of Brooklyn, where my man Kurtis Powers hosts his popular show, The Face Radio

We spent an hour shooting the breeze and spinning Soul 45s.

Was our lack of sleep evident during this moment of radio history? Of course it was! You can judge for yourself by listening to the episode right here.

Cleveland's top wax spinner, DJ Alr!ght, enjoying the tunes in the Record Room.
After an intense hour on air, I had just enough time to get back to my airBnB and prepare for the night's festivities.
Don't let the serious demeanor fool you. Fellow traveler Charlie is ready for a night on the town.
Baby's All Right was hosting Jonathan Toubin's anniversary bash for the second night. Two rooms: one with live bands and one with the top Soul DJs of the Americas.
Here I am with the man of the hour, Jonathan Toubin.
Ready to warm up the crowd that was pouring in was Ryan Niederstadt who took over the reigns from his UFO Factory partner Adam Stanfel.

My job was made easy when I was passed the baton for my short set. But I had a tall order to fill because I had to keep the party going for the charismatic New York favorite and WFMU star Sheila B. If you're not a Sheila B fan already, make sure to check out her show Sophisticated Boom Boom.

As always, she delivered in a big way. Her mix of Girl Group power tracks, pounding Soul and infectious 60s rare grooves was enough to make us sweat and pant like dogs. My good friend Rob Macy from Baltimore's Save Your Soul fame didn't let us rest for a second when he had his turn at bat. If you're in Baltimore on April 7th, these two are going to team up for what is guaranteed to be the biggest party in town. Take it from me, I speak from experience.

Another WFMU big gun, Todd-O-Phonic Todd, also made his mark. Jonathan Toubin owes a great deal of credit to Todd for working behind the scenes and making this weekend a success. His show is also a must. Check out his past episodes right here.

When it comes to huge Soul events, the next guest DJ knows a thing or two about organizing them. The mastermind behind the Ponderosa Stomp Festival in New Orleans is Ira Padnos. If you want to hear some mind blowing, ultra rare records you've never heard before, this is the guy you want to know.

Since I had a long road ahead the next day, I couldn't stay until the end. There's a part of me that regrets not toughing it out. For one, 
The Clash's DJ, direct from London, DJ Scratchy was part of the line-up. I wasn't the only one to represent Canada behind the decks, Johnny Trash made us proud. I was also told that my mate from Cleveland's Secret Soul Club, DJ Alr!ght, had a killer set and New York's finest, Drew Redmond, lived up to his reputation.

The next morning, we had just a couple of hours to have brunch, briefly explore our Brooklyn neighborhood before heading back home. Normally, I would end this blog post with a few interesting photos of the city. Like these... 

If I was in a 60s Garage band, this is how we would roll.

Boozy cupcakes? I'll take a dozen please!
And a few shots of notable places we encountered on the road.

I would typically wrap it up by saying that my weekend was intense, momentous and that I was already looking forward to the next time I would cross paths with such wonderful people. But the story doesn't end here.

At around 9:30 pm, while driving on a pitch dark highway in Upstate New York, something happened that could have made this weekend bursting with positive vibes and memorable moments take a tragic detour. 

We hit a deer head on. You know, a close encounter of the 4 legged kind. Thanks to my best friend Daniel's lightning fast, Bruce Lee like reflexes, his fiance Charlie, my wife Nikki and myself were all safe and sound. As for the the Prius, that's another story. Still no news about the deer. It's as if it had vanished into thin air. 

Looks more like a large crow hit our car.

Stranded on the side of the road, on a chilly March Sunday night for a over an hour before police, towing and taxi would arrive wasn't the most pleasant but considering that if Daniel had slammed on the brakes a fraction of a second later, the ending to this post could have been quite different.

Instead, we got to spend an extra night in the US. I could think of worst ways of spending a Sunday night then amongst friends in a motel in Plattsburgh, New York.