Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Parka Avenue and Blue Sunshine presents: We are the Mods - The Movie

I had the pleasure to attend, a few times this year, the Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Cinema Space. Run by two passionate movie buffs, Kier-La and David, they will dig out the most obscure documentaries and movies to ever hit the movie screen. Let me be clear, obscure and underground do not equal boring.

I've been particularly fond of their music themed Thursdays. White Light / White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day, John Peel's Record Box and The Touchables are a few of the movies I got the pleasure to see. So imagine how excited I was when Kier-La accepted to co-present the Californian independent movie We Are The Mods. I have to give her all the credit for getting the film and obtaining all the rights to show it.

Parka Avenue's duties were to provide the arriving guests a short DJ set with a mix of soul classics, garage favorites and Mod revival anthems. I had also prepared a presentation on what ended up being close to an hour-long overview of the Mod movement throughout the years. Rare clips, never published photos and rare memorabilia were used to win over the audience. A bit worried that I had run long, I was relieved when a few people came up to me to say that they enjoyed the presentation as much as the movie.

One of the unique clips I selected appeared on YouTube around 3 years ago. Filmed in 1964, at the pinnacle of the Mod movement, you get to witness raw footage of The High Numbers before they became The Who. It's a rare look at Mods clearly "blocked" on Purple Hearts or pumped up on Blues. You also get a glimpse of Pete Townshend in the early stages of doing his famed windmill guitar move. Simply admiring Keith Moon working his magic on the drums is awe-inspiring. Why The High Numbers have never recorded one of my all-time favorite R&B numbers Ooh Poo Pah Doo is totally beyond me.

The movie itself might never attain the same cult status as Quadrophenia but unlike some critics from certain Mod circles, I'm not as quick to dismiss it. It's your basic coming-of-age tale with your mixture of teenage angst, relationship woes, drugs and teenage sexual discovery. If you stop and think about it, it sure sounds like a modern day Quadrophenia to me. Who is to say that in 30 years, this movie won't be used as a reference for a new generation of Mods?

Granted, it has its fair share of clichés. But I don't care. The music is good, the clothes are sharp and one of the guys has a beautiful SX200. It's a true honest effort. Personally, I don't get some of the nasty comments from certain YouTube users who base their opinion uniquely on the trailer. And what is all that out-of-date, centric view that Mods can only be British? The music is American and Jamaican, the clothes are based on the American Ivy League look mixed with French and Italian fashion and the scooters are Italian. Can we get passed this please? Mods are now a worldwide phenomenon.

We Are The Mods might not be the classic I was hoping for but I was certainly entertained. And judging from the smiling faces after the show, I wasn't the only one. And that's a fact.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Le Chelsea Beat, keeping the Mod flame burning in Montreal

I'm glad to report that my city has nothing to envy other larger cities when it comes to the indie music scene. We have a bubbling talent pool here that never ceases to impress me. Le Chelsea Beat is the perfect example.

This talented bunch of seasoned musicians deliver a powerful punch of Mod infused garage beat. They do not hide the fact that they have a serious inclination towards the 60s sound and that's the way we like it. Seamlessly switching between obscure garage covers and original material, they can also easily alternate between French and English.

When I asked Stéphane Courval, guitarist for the group, where his love for 60s music came from, he gave me an answer indicative of the Mod Revival generation. "It's from 80s Montreal Garage bands like The Gruesomes and Déjà Voodoo that I got introduced to that sound. It pushed me to explore further and I ended up discovering great bands from that era. Local radio DJs like Mimi la Twisteuse at CISM and Phil Flipped Out at CKUT also had a big impact. I use to tape their shows and take notes of all the bands that I liked".

Stéphane Courval

With six members overtaking the stage, it's no wonder they have a commanding presence. Nowadays, it's not common to see 3 band members sharing the guitar duties. When asked who was the lead guitarist for the group, Stéphane was quick to point out that they don't really have one: "It's the most harmonious and democratic group I've ever been part of. There's no big egos or drama. When someone is interested in doing a particular solo for instance, he shares it with the group and he does it. It's as simple as that."

One thing you can't fault them on is their attention to detail. Their look is almost as important as playing vintage instruments. Daniel Fiocco, who's been collecting vintage guitars, sports a stunning 1966 Gibson Es-330td. He's also responsible for providing lead singer Pat Meteor with a 12-string British made Burns Baldwin Double Six. According to the date stamped on the pickguard, it was made on January 26, 1966. How more Mod can you get?

"They just don't sound the same,” says Stéphane. "They have a certain feel. You can pull different tones and effects from vintage instruments that you wouldn't get otherwise. It's all part of being authentic." The 12-string is certainly a nice touch and something you don't see every day. It does kick it up a notch and adds another dimension.

Michael Cowan, keyboardist for the group might not be playing a vintage Hammond B3 but he's undeniably a pivotal member of the group. He provides a certain energy that cements the group together. I definitely wouldn't want to negate any of the other's efforts so you'll simply have to come and see them live.

François Gagner on drums and Daniel Fiocco mastering the Gibson

And if you don't get that chance, no need to worry, they are currently working on an album with at least a dozen titles in various stages of recording. One thing is certain, once the album is ready, you'll hear about it here first.

In the meantime, check out this video of their Halloween show.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Mod Invasion on the Roots Rock Rebel show

When you want to listen to music on the radio that stays clear from the commercial crap that spews from the public airways these days, you have to dig deep. In the last few years, I've turned to some of the best free podcasts the web has to offer. Shows like Dave Smith's Soul and Reggae Show out of the UK, Mr. Suave's Mod Mod World out of the USA, Bonjour Mr Phelps direct from France and the UK based The Modcast are all worth a listen.

I certainly don't see myself returning to the days when I walked my dog Jedi, two times a day, without my indispensable iPod. I can live without a lot of things, but not without my iPod. But when it comes to the trusty FM radio, the Roots Rock Rebel show on CKUT 90.3 FM has a lot to offer. Host Aaron Lakoff will have you hooked on a well balanced diet of Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, Soul and good old fashion Punk Rock. I always admire people who give the local alternative scene a platform and a place to shine without neglecting the classics. I believe we both have that in common.

So it was quite a pleasure for me to be asked to join him on his Wednesday night rumba. I got to spend half an hour spreading the word of Mod and spinning a few 45s. Of course it's hard to span three generations of Modernism in 30 minutes and you are doomed to only scratch the surface but I had a great time.

Like on any live show, you are bound to make a couple of dumb mistakes. First, when I played my 7" reissue of The High Numbers , I forgot that it's actually played at 33rpm. It's a good thing I caught my mistake in the first few seconds or the listeners would have heard a sped up version of Zuit Suit. No harm, no foul. Plus, the way the decks were set up, they weren't close to the microphones. So when I attempted to bring one closer so I could chat between tracks, it broke off the stand. I was left holding the mic the rest of the set. You have to love live radio!

Regardless of the goofy mishaps and the fact that I'm not as comfortable speaking in English as I am in French, I hope to be invited again some time soon. I was very grateful for the opportunity I was given to introduce the blog to the airwaves.

If you want to hear the show, it's available for download here. I was on the March 30th show.

Root Rock Rebel archives

Make sure to tune in live to Roots Rock Rebel on CKUT 90.3 FM every Wednesday night from 10:30 to midnight. You can also stream the show on the web. For the latest news, gossip and info, check out the CKUT's Roots Rock Rebel Facebook group.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Searching for Northern Soul in the South

Memphis might not have been the gold mine every Mod record collector dreams of, but that didn't stop me from enjoying every second I spent in this city so rich in musical history. To get a sense of Memphis' contribution to the world of blues, R&B, Soul and Rock, I highly recommend spending a few hours in the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum

Significant pieces of Rock and Soul history will make any Mod wish he had them in his collection. A great feature of the museum is that you have a chance to listen to every piece of music that is featured in the displays on a portable MP3 player that is provided.

Aside from the other obvious tourist attractions like Stax, Sun Studios and Graceland, you have charming neighborhoods that wait around every corner. And like with almost every city I visit, it's always towards the end of the trip that I discover those hidden jewels. I hate leaving a city before I felt its soul and seen its underbelly.

Elvis worked at the Orpheum Theatre as a teenager
Sunset on the Mississippi from the rooftop terrace of the Madison Hotel
Madison Hotel lobby
Nice touch. Found in our room at the fine Madison Hotel
Entertainment on Beale Street. When was the last time you saw a Big Band live?
Food, beer and tattoos all in one convenient place

Memphis is also known for a tragedy that has left a mark on US history. A short 15-minute walk from our hotel is the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. 

The Lorraine Motel is now the location of the National Civil Rights Museum. Make sure you set aside a few hours for a visit. It's a must. These places always leave me with more questions then answers. One thing is certain, I always end up being moved.

Finally, I had time to check out one last record shop. Audiomania is located at 1698 Madison Avenue, it's a short walking distance from the better-known Shangri-La Records. Not a flashy place by all means but it's still worth checking out. 

I would not bet on the chance of finding mint copies of ultra rare records but I did come up with a nice selection of 60s Garage and Soul 45s. You'll have to go through a few boxes of dusty singles, half of them sleeveless, to find something decent but your patience shall be rewarded eventually. They won't be in the best condition but I found that they were usually priced accordingly.

- Bulldog - The Fireballs - Top Rank International

- Let's Party - Rhinoceros - Elektra Records

- Attack - the Toys - DynoVoice Records

- We Need An Understanding - Ike & Tina Turner - London Records

- Secret Agent Man - Johnny Rivers - IR Imperial

- I'm so lonely - Jackie Wilson - Brunswick Records

- I Don't Want To Know - The Mugwumps - Warner Bros Records

- Funky Street - Arthur Conley - Atco Records

- The Horse - Cliff Nobbles & Co. - Phil-L.A. of Soul Records

- Backfield In Motion - Mel & Tim - Bamboo Records

- Holy Ghost - The Barkays - Stax

- Hot Smoke & Sasafrass - The Bubble Puppy - International Artists Record

Friday, April 8, 2011

Is Memphis the Northern Soul and Garage record capital?

There are two types of record shops in this world. On one end of the spectrum, you'll find the neat, well-organized stores with clearly defined sections and price tags on every record sleeve. Shangri-La Records and Goner Records in Memphis fall under that category.

Then there's the pack rat. Unmarked boxes of 45s dangerously staked on top of each other as far as the eye can see. A classification system? Usually non-existent. "Do you have any soul or 60s garage 45s?" is often met by "It should be somewhere in that area. Start with that corner."

It's where dust is as prevalent as a cheap copy of Donny and Mary. It's the kind of place that most probably breaks half a dozen fire code regulations and where cats often outnumber the customers.

River Records in Memphis is one such place. Located at 822 South Highland Street, it's a 45-minute bus ride from downtown. If you are a treasure hunter at heart, like I am, this should be right up your alley. Owned by a 73 year old man that has been in the business for 40 years, it's a crate digger's paradise. Jerry claims that he has 300 000 records in his collection. Does he really? I can guarantee that he doesn't have an Excel spreadsheet to prove it.

Usually, with a place like this, if you have a lot of time to spare, a little luck and a very understanding girlfriend, you can strike gold with a pocket full of change. This is not the case here. When you do find something worthwhile, you bring your stack up to the counter to have it appraised. Out comes the thick collectors price guide. Now, I have nothing against owners who choose to operate that way. But when you spend 3 hours rummaging through piles of sleeveless 7" to find a few rough copies of interesting northern soul tracks, you don't expect to pay full price for them. Especially when you can buy a nicer copy on eBay for the same price. It's simply not worth it.

You probably can sense that I had high expectations for this place but ultimately left disappointed. Better luck next time I guess. I did not leave empty handed. These are the few records that made the cut.

I bought a copy of the single Amen, Brother by The Winstons to find out, once home, that it had a small crack in it. So much for that one!

- Loosen Up - The Short Kuts - Pepper Records

Great Northern Soul track from this talented local Memphis group.

- I Live For The Sun - The Sunrays - Tower Records

Not Mod at all but a nice little surf number from this group from California. They were once the opening act for the Beach Boys.

- The Toys Sing "A Lover's Concerto" and "Attack" - LP - DynoVoice Records

An all-girl soul trio from Queens, New York.

So is Memphis the Northern Soul and Garage record capital? It guess it depends where you look...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Lansky Bros. Mod connection

Lansky Bros. has been a Memphis based, family run clothing shop since 1946. Located in the lavish Memphis Peabody Hotel, they are a one-stop shop for exclusive, unique menswear. It only takes  one glance to convince you that Lansky offers a wide range of quality and stylish threads.

The Memphis Peabody Hotel loby
Their claim to fame is that they were the Clothier to the King, the one and only Elvis Presley. Now what does a Rocker's idol have to do with Mods? Let's consider this. Mods have been known to borrow a thing or two from the Rockers. Take the Harrington for instance; Elvis has been largely responsible for making the jacket popular. And there's no doubt that the Harrington is a well-established Mod essential. It's also a well-known fact that Elvis' own idols, the black jazz and  blues musicians of his native Memphis largely influenced his early style.

The first Lansky store was on the famous Beale Street, home of all the blues and jazz clubs. Bernard Lansky had a direct hand in outfitting the neighboring musicians in the finest mohair or sharkskin suits and peg-leg pants. His famous black clientele demanded sharp, smart and different clothes. On the top of the client list were legends such as Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington and a young prodigy who called himself the Beale Street Blues Boy, later known as B.B. King. Later, soul legends Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, The Temptations and the O'Jays all walked through the door.

Famous Beale Street, Memphis

We all know how the 60s Mods regarded the American jazz and soul musicians as fashion icons and worked tirelessly to recreate their look. That look was created in part by Lansky. If you are not yet convinced, let me offer this fascinating piece of information. In 1967, the Stax/Volt Revue made their historical trip across the Atlantic and was greeted in London by a legion of adoring Mods. When you look at the surviving footage from the benchmark tour, the four members of Booker T. and the MGs and the Mar-Key horns section looked like a million bucks thanks to Mr. Lansky. They each got two sets of Continental suits, one in electric blue, the other in cat-eye green. Lansky also dressed the seven band members in turtlenecks and Chelsea boots. Now if this isn't pure Mod fashion, I don't know what is. I can only imagine the loyal Mod following studying every detail of their wardrobe and making mental images for future reference.

Coincidently, Lansky Bros. were themselves being inspired by fashions emanating from Carnaby Street, evident by those vintage ads. Bernard Lansky has always been proud by the fact that they were bringing the latest fashion to Memphis. They always saw themselves as being on the cutting edge of fashion.

Vintage ads taken from

When I first came across the Lansky store in Memphis, a Harrington type jacket immediately caught my eye in the storefront window. A nice fitting light jacket was displayed in a choice of teal, red or black. What made the Speedway coat stand out was it's two white vertical lines. That was it. I wasn't leaving Memphis without one. Since I was already wearing a light blue Baracuta, the red jacket was calling my name. There was only one problem; the store was closed for renovations!

Fortunately, I made a quick detour on our last day before leaving and the doors were open. The son of Bernard Lansky greeted me. Just like you would expect, the service was unmatched. I felt like I was treated the same way the King was, with warmth and kindness.

The legendary blue suede shoe and mod favorite, the desert boot 

Today's collection might be geared more towards the rockabilly type but they have a few smart shirts that are worth looking at. Make sure you have a look at their website. They ship worldwide.