Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eric Burdon and The Animals live in Montreal

 I’m lucky to be living in a city that has the biggest jazz festival in the world. That's right, the largest. With around 2 million people attending every summer, the Montreal International Jazz Festival or as we call it "The Jazz Fest" can attract some of the biggest names. Not limited to strictly jazz, it's a Mod's playground. For instance, last year I went to see an amazing free outdoor concert called Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae with legends like Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Hopeton Lewis, Leroy Sibbles and The Tamlins. Toots and the Maytals also played The Jazz Fest last year. So I was very excited to learn that Eric Burdon and The Animals were joining the already impressive list of artists to be playing at The Jazz Fest this year.
I don't usually have any expectations when I go see a group I have never seen before. For some reason, this time, I had this antiquated image of a bunch of lads dressed up in nice suits, slim ties and mop tops rocking a frenzied audience. In other words, I was picturing the guys on my Animals LP. Well, maybe that is a bit far fetched but I was at least expecting to be leaning against the stage, rocking the night away.

Check out this video and the flawed image I had in my head of their upcoming performance.

The Animals - Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

This romanticized picture was far from what actually happened. Since it was a general admission concert, I decided to arrive well in advance. I didn't mind arriving an hour and a half before, to make sure that I was up front. I wanted a few nice shots of the group for this post. A line had already formed around the corner of the Metropolis. "This must be a good sign of things to come", I thought to myself.
When we finally entered the venue, I was surprised to see tables all over the dance floor. What? Did I just enter a cabaret? Luckily, I was sitting in the second row. With half an hour to waste before the start of the show, I had time to look around. I soon realized that I was one of the youngest people there. I was one of the rare fans without grey hair. Come to think about it, it makes sense. It is a group from the sixties...
But for such an influential group, I anticipated a more feverish, intense and energized atmosphere. One scene I didn't picture in my mind was a couple sitting at a table beside me reading a novel while sipping a glass of wine. Am I about to see Eric Burdon walk on stage? Am I in the right place? This is surreal, but not necessarily in a good way.

Once the group entered the stage, things started picking up a bit. Ironically they started the show with When I was young. I was relieved to see that Eric Burdon's voice was in full force. To add to the already particular mood, this annoying, overzealous security guard kept people from taking any type of photo. Approaching the stage was simply out of the question. I had just reached in my girlfriend's purse to take out my camera that the security guy was already waving his finger. This can't be how it was back in the sixties. I did manage to snap a picture while he wasn't looking.

At least the group didn't disappoint. They played all of their hits: Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, House of the Rising Sun, Don't Bring Me Down, It's My Life and many more. One of my all time favorites has to be John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom. They performed the classic superbly. Burdon should get praise for his warm and bluesy voice. All in all, I'm glad to have seen them. They will keep being legends in my mind.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Authentic vintage accessories for the Lambretta - A Mod's wish list

It's no secret that Mods did not come up with the idea of putting loads of accessories on their scooters. Scooterists in the fifties had a wide variety of aftermarket products to choose from. In my humble opinion, some of the best-looking chrome goodies were made for Series 1 and 2 Lambretta scooters. But there's no denying the fact that Mods took the whole accessorizing craze to an entirely different level. Their contribution to scoot culture has been so influential that today, when you see a vintage Vespa covered with shinny chrome parts, you automatically assume (rightfully or not) that you are dealing with a dedicated Mod.
In pure Mod tradition, I have started looking for those sought after accessories for my recently acquired Lambretta TV175 Series 3. I might have my priorities wrong, maybe I should be ordering essential parts for the scooter like cables, gaskets and rubbers.  Plus shopping for bearings is boring . Searching for a rare pair of authentic NOS Jag lights is infinitely more exciting.
I have scored a few desirable items on eBay that I'm looking forward to install on the Lambretta. Since I'm leaning more and more towards repainting the scooter in the original factory light metallic blue, all my accessories will most probably have blue accents. My first purchase was a  nearly pristine sixties mud flap with the classic road signs on them. Can't get more Mod than that!

I also put my hands on chrome side panel embellishers. Usually made for the Series 2 Lambretta, I have also seen them on Series 3 panels. I don't have any information on the company who manufactured them but I have no doubt they are the real deal.

 To help me in the inspiration department, I have recently added a 1966 accessory brochure from the Nannucci Company to my collection. 

Nannucci was based in the UK and aside from an ad that I saw in a 1960 scooter magazine, I knew nothing about the company. They distributed your typical line of bumpers, crash bars and seemed renowned for their seats for both the Lambretta and the Vespa.

 Scooter & Three Wheeler - May 1960

Scooter & Three Wheeler - June 1963

 So for all you rare accessory fanatics out there in search of that perfect authentic touch, here are the scans of the brochure in question.


If you know more about Nannucci accessories and want to share your knowledge or you simply want to brag about the fact that you found an ultra rare Vespa Ulma Cadillac legshield embellisher in an old box of parts that was about to be thrown in the dump, go ahead and do so in the comment section. Tell us about you favorite chrome bit or about the one that got away. Happy hunting!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A little Northern Soul for the Mod on the run

Just in case it hasn't been clear yet, let me just formally announce that I love everything that is retro and vintage. Much to my girlfriend's dismay, I can hardly resist stopping at a garage sale every time I come across one. I regularly attend antique shows. I frequent flea markets and thrift stores religiously. I make the rounds of my favorite antique shops whenever I get the chance. I genuinely get excited when I find that one item I've been looking for. I’m thrilled when someone spontaneously says: “Where the hell did you find that?”

It takes time, dedication, a good eye and a decent amount of luck to be a treasure hunter and a skilled bargain hunter. But the best feeling of all is when you find something you didn’t know you wanted until you laid your eyes on it for the first time. My loft is full of them.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was making my rounds at my favorite local flea market, I came across this unassuming small styrofoam box. Finding an item in its original packaging is always an added bonus. I have often bought collectables because of the graphics on the box and didn’t really care what was inside.

This is what I saw when I pulled the styrofoam top off. Honey Pet? Even if I didn’t have a clue what it was, the name had me hooked. It had to be something cool.

And yes, the batteries were included!

When I pulled the cover off, I had the same reaction my friend Steph had when I showed him: “Awesome!” My own little portable 45rpm record player. At 20$, I thought it was a steal. Now this is what every Mod should have when he’s out on the town! One small problem, it had no needle.

So I had two options. Find a replacement needle or search for a donor turntable. I ended up with both. If I was going to find a needle, Addison Electronique is THE place to go. You'll find everything you need, in this warehouse type of store, to build your own stereo from scratch. I once found NOS knobs for my 70's Electrohome turntable at a dime a piece.

I showed up at the electronics counter with my Honey Pet in one hand and asked the clerk if he could help me. Dumbfounded, two other employees joined in. They had no clue what I needed. One of them told me that if one person at Addison could be of assistance, it had to be Jim (not sure about the name). I waited 45 minutes for his lunch break to be over and as soon as he picked up my strange piece of low-fi, he said: "Oh... I thought this was going to be a challenge. This is easy!" Five minutes and 5$ later, he had the needle installed. This place amazes me every time.

Meanwhile, I had found an untested mini record player on eBay. Best-case scenario, I would have two working turntables and the start of a new collection. Worst-case scenario, I would have spare parts. When I received my Commodore Micro Record Player, I couldn't believe it was even smaller then the Japanese Honey Pet.

After much tinkering and tweaking, I got both of them working. They remind me of a Lambretta engine. They are temperamental and not always reliable. They are cool gadgets nonetheless.

 But what would be a very cool record player without sweet soul music or some catchy 60's garage to spin? I had just learned that my friend Ben had come back from New York City with 2000 singles. That's right 2-0-0-0! He selected some 200 from the lot that would most likely be of interest to me. He came over to my place and we had an intense listening session. I ended up with 40 or so 45s. I basically bought all that I could with the money I had on hand. Amongst them I got a bunch of classic Tamla, a handful of groovy R&B tunes, a few Northern Soul gems, some rare and obscure 60's garage and a couple of weird and quirky space age tracks. The perfect mix for the Mod on the run...

Here is a sample of some of my favorite picks:

- Peaches "n" Cream by The Ikettes on Modern Record
- Some Kind of Wonderful by the Soul Brothers Six on Atlantic Records
- (We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet by the Blues Magoos on Mercury Records
- The "In" Crowd by Dobie Gray on Charger Records
- Little Bit O'Soul by The Music Explosion on Laurie Records
- Mashed Potato Time by Dee Dee Sharp on Cameo Records
- Night Time by The Strangeloves on Bang Records
- Lies by The Knickerbockers on Challenge Records
- You Make Me Feel So Good by The Buckinghams on U.S.A. Records
- The Boy From New York City by The Ad Libs on Blue Cat Records

Check out these videos I posted on YouTube of a few of the records I added to my collection. Enjoy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ben Sherman: official member of the Parka Avenue Mod Hall of Fame

I sometimes hear people complain about the direction Ben Sherman took in the last decade. "It's too commercial." "The quality is lacking." "It steered away from it's Mod roots." "It's made in China." "My uncle wears a Ben Sherman." Although some of those complaints might be legitimate, I have to confess that I still love Ben Sherman. That doesn't mean I will buy every piece of a collection but every once in a while, I'll will put my hands on a shirt or a pair of slacks that I must add to my wardrobe.

Photo of Ben Sherman's original factory building 
taken in 2009 while on a trip to Brighton

I like the fact that I can walk into the Bay store in downtown Montreal and choose something off the rack. And if I wait a few months, I can buy it at half price at Winners (our name for TK Maxx). Buying a Ben Sherman in a store in Montreal a few years ago was simply unheard of.

2010 spring collection from the Bay in downtown Montreal

And I don't miss the days before the Internet when I had to order my gear from the Merc catalogue. Every time I would cross my fingers and hope that the shirt would fit and the color was right. I would usually send out an order form with a postal money order (in £) and wait a month for the clothes to arrive. I wouldn't phone in my order for two simple reasons. One, I didn't have a credit card. Two, I tried once and I didn't understand a word the Merc employee was saying in his thick cockney accent. I must remind you that although I write this blog in English, French remains my first language.

Merc catalog - winter 1998
Merc Catalog autumn-winter 1999-2000

Merc Catalog autumn-winter 2000-1001

The selection was also pretty scarce. It was limited to 2 pages in the catalogue. You had your basic gingham shirt in 3 colors: blue, red and black. They also offered the classic polos in a few different colors. To some of you from across the pond, your common Ben Sherman gingham shirt might not be anything to brag about but back in the day, I was one of the rare ones to own such a shirt. Besides, none of the people I went to college with had a clue about this Ben character. So considering the limited availability of the garment, if you had one, you stood out.

My Ben Sherman collection has grown considerably since then. I have just recently given my two first Ben Sherman's away to a couple of friends. It's not because I didn't like them anymore. Let's just say that my physique has changed a little since I was 16. One thing hasn't changed. The shirts still look great, a true testament to the brand.

My closet has now opened its doors to trousers, shoes, jackets, ties and even underwear. Lately, my favorite product has to be the watches. As a true watch fanatic, it's only fitting that a few of them find their way in my collection.

So here's to you Ben. I tip my pork pie hat and raise my martini glass in your honor. You've given me years of quality, smart clothes and you've helped me look my best. For this I thank you. So it's a pleasure for me to officially induct you in the Parka Avenue Mod Hall of Fame.