Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Legacy of The Who's Quadrophenia

I want to die before I get old.
Pete Townshend, My Generation

Being a second generation Mod, I would be lying if I said that the Who's Quadrophenia hasn't had a profound effect on me. As a teenager in the 80s, the album as much as the movie, spoke to me. Jimmy WAS me.  I could certainly relate to him feeling excluded and ostracized. Try being a French Canadian Mod living in Quebec, surrounded by kids that didn't have a clue what Mod is all about.  See how misunderstood you might feel at 16 being into a British subculture living in a French community.

Can you see the real me? There I am, to the left of Dave.

Now well into my adulthood, I hope that I have gained some wisdom and dare I say, a bit of maturity. But the whole Mod thing has never left me. And my goal with this blog has always been to present facets of a grown up Jimmy Cooper. For one, I would rather wear a nice crombie then wear a parka covered in patches and pins. Being dressed casually and showing my adherence to a clan has been replaced by a desire to forge a strong sense of individual style and class. In other words, to always strive for the best.

My taste in music has also evolved. I'm more interested in finding vinyl records of original artists on defunct record labels then the British bands that covered them.

This brings me back to Quadrophenia. I sort of have a love/hate relationship with the music and the movie. (Makes sense, the album is all about having a split personality) On one hand, its one of the main reasons why I got into the movement. On the other hand, I hate the fact that Mods are depicted as violent drug addicts who wield deck chairs at rockers any chance they got. Yeah, that's right. I'll say it. Mods are NOT fighters. You look silly when you fight in a suit! Blood stains are a bitch to get off mohair. 

Picture taken while on a trip to Brighton in 2009.

Lets talk about the music. I love the album but lets face it, it's not Mod music. It's a Rock opera! I'm not suppose to like this! It's not because you have lyrics like these that it instantly makes it Mod music.

My jacket's gonna be cut slim and checked
Maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck
I ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet.

It doesn't matter. It remains one of my favourite albums of all time. Oh brother... This is why I've dreaded writing this piece for the past two years.

But after last week, it was hard for me to put off writing this post any further. That's because The Who was in town! In 1997, The Who came to Montreal to do Quadrophenia. I was in the midst of leaving for a cross-North America summer-long trip on a Lambretta GP200. My riding parter Dennis, who was from Vancouver and hadn't seen his wife in 6 months, wanted us to leave as soon as I finished the school year as a teacher. That meant leaving just a couple of days before The Who concert. I've regretted it ever since.

So this moment was 15 years in the making. Would it live up to my expectations? Well, it did. It was a "20+ chills" concert.  Everything was there. Daltrey's voice was strong (except maybe for one song). Townshend's windmill action produced a nice little breeze and the Mod imagery was everywhere. 

A weird cocktail of different emotions made an appearance during the show: melancholy, nostalgia, excitement, exhilaration. Just the way I like it.

Aside from a few scooter problems getting to the venue, it was a perfect evening. The best part was probably meeting up with fellow Mods before and after the concert. I'm glad to report that no fights broke out between the Mods and the Rockers after the show. That's a good thing since we were less then 10 and they were 20 000.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Have A Blast With The Bang

It's no secret that I'm a fan of 60s Soul and Garage. But every once in a while, I'll come accross a current act that will simply float my boat. This is the case with San Francisco based The Bang. When you think "Girl Group", it doesn't come any more soulful then this. Their debut album,  Soul Shangri-La, is coming out this month. If when I first listen to an album I instantly see myself  spinning one of the songs as a DJ, then it's a really good sign. 

Tish Peterson, Rachel Mae Havens and Angeline King

Lets not kid ourselves, the music is undoubtedly inspired from the decade we all love but that doesn't mean it's a pastiche. It's just good solid music. Close your eyes while listenning to the album and you could swear that some of the tracks were recorded at Hitsville or Stax.

It's no coincidence because a lot of planning and effort went into crafting that sound. Derek See, the guitarist of the group, told Parka Avenue:

We made a conscious decision to record our album using not only the technology of the era that our music is drawn from that we love so much but also, more importantly, recorded it in a way that shows the strengths of the band. The ladies' vocals were all tracked together; the three of them gathered around two microphones (whoever was lead singer had her own mic while the backings where sang into the same mic). This is the way it was done, and it presents not only a complete performance but also the natural blend of the group. There are points where Angeline and Tisha Joy's harmonies are so close they sound as though they are one voice overdubbed! The music performed by the gentlemen was recorded by the band, together, in the same room. Nothing compares to the passion and heart that a group of musicians create when they are in the same room, making eye contact, watching physical communication. This is the root of the "magic" of the old recordings. Percussion was overdubbed (as we don't have a dedicated percussionist) as well as a few guitar tracks (all of the guitar solos were cut live with the band, as feeling the ice drum kicks me into playing better, always).

It's one thing to recreate the atmosphere and mood of a by gone era but to also go the extra mile in mixing the album the old school way shows commitment. 

As for how it was captured, we went for pure simplicity; our engineer, Brad McGowan, understood the nature of the project and brilliantly recorded the instruments in a way where no further equalization or compression was needed. Brad captured the true tonalities of our instruments and amplifiers, and it was laid down onto an MCI 1" Eight Track machine. We mixed down to a Studer tape deck as well. All of the reverb heard is from a spring unit, which was slightly delayed via a second tape deck; delaying the reverb slightly is the closest analog path we could get to the magic of the old echo chambers. The vinyl Lp was cut directly from the mix down tapes (an important step lost in many modern vinyl pressings) and the digital/ CD version is mastered off of the vinyl, which adds its lovely tonal coloring to the release (don't worry- there's no surface noise or pops n clicks- this is a high quality transfer). Modern records feel safe and sterile oftentimes because they are bogged down with pitch correction, cutting and pasting multiple performances into one song, etc. We did not use ANY of this technology in making the record. Only the natural talents of the band and recording engineer are on display, and we are very proud of this fact.

With four original songs on the album, Drink In Hand, You Got My Love, Another Notch On His Belt and Not Your Fool, it goes to show that they are not just another talented cover band. I'm not much for deconstructing every song in a album so I'll let you judge by yourself. This one has been going around in a loop in my tiny brain of mine for a while. Catchy is the opperative word.

Aside from having melodic voices, the ladies have the style mastered perfectly and dare I say, are very pleasing to the eye. Have a behind the scenes look at the recording process here. You can see them work on one of their original songs Another Notch On His Belt.

The covers are worth mentioning also. I particularly enjoyed their rendition of Etta James' In The Basement. A real party starter! The only real downside to this group is that, being from California, it might take a while before I see them live.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Mod Soul Review Podcast

In the 21st century, Mod fanzines have been replaced by blogs and commercial radio is losing ground to music podcasts. Back in the 60s, to avoid censorship and play underground music, you needed expensive medium wave radio equipment and a large boat anchored a few miles off the UK coast. Today, your basic laptop computer will do the trick.

This is good news for all the Mods out there that are into Northern Soul, Jazz, RnB, Ska, Beat, Ye-Ye, Garage, Freakbeat, Britpop and Psychedelic music. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can download a podcast, listen to a mixcloud mix or stream a live radio show from across the globe. I’m a big fan of podcasts and twice a day, when I take my dog out for a walk, I get my dose of humour, news or music. 

The new kid on the block is Dean Stickley from the Mod Soul Review Podcast. With a name that combines the words Mod and Soul, really, how can you go wrong? With almost 50 podcasts under his belt, he’s the guy to turn to for classic Soul. Parka Avenue had the privilegedto be featured on episode 44. You can listen to it here. I’m grateful that he agreed to answer a few questions for the Parka Avenue readers.

Tell us about your podcast and how it came about.

Well the Mod Soul Review Podcast came about because I wanted to log my journey on discovering Soul music, connect with people and get more involved with the whole Mod Soul scene. I had been listening to podcasts for a number of years before I started. Mr Suave’s Mod Mod World podcast was a big influence on me starting my own podcast. I also felt there was a gap in the podcasting world for me. While Mr Suave plays everything Mod and more, Gail Smiths Work Your Soul podcast plays rare Soul music. I wanted to slot in-between and bridge the gap as I feel Mod and Soul go hand in hand.

Is Mod and Soul a natural connection for you?

No not at first. The Mod element was natural to me from the age of around 13, but I didn’t get into Soul music until I was about 25. I’m currently 30. When I was 13 years old, back in the 90s, Britpop was a massive influence on me. I was a big Oasis fan and enjoyed some of the other Britpop bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, Blur and Cast. From these bands I went onto The Who, The Kinks, The Jam and Paul Weller. These acts only confirmed the music and the scene that I liked. Quadrophenia was also a big influence on me from the music I listened to and the clothes I wore. I think that it's in my early twenties when I really started getting into The Who and The Jam and discovering some of their B-sides. Album tracks of Soul covers was the moment for me that Mod and Soul came together. 
What was the song that got you hooked on Soul music?

Looking back at it now, I think there were three tracks that really played a huge part.

1. Marvin’ Gaye – Little Darlin’ 

This is one of the first tracks I stumbled across when I started looking into Soul music, after enjoying some of the Soul covers The Who and The Jam had done. (Who knows if I hadn’t come across this track it’s possible I would never have been captured by Soul music in the way I am.) This is a track I own the original 7” on the US Tamla label.

 2. The Miracles- Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying

I first heard a cover of this track by The High Numbers aka The Who on a documentary. It showed some rare footage of the band playing this track live in The Railway Hotel in Harrow, North West London back in the early 60’s. I tracked down the original and have loved it ever since. This is another track I own the original 7” on the US Tamla label.  

3. Tammi Terrell - All I Do Is Think About You 

This track I first come across on a compilation CD put together by Keb Darge and Paul Weller called Keb Darge and Paul Weller - Lost & Found, Real RnB & Soul. I highly recommend anyone to listen to this CD. This track and album got me into a new world of Soul music. From here on in I searched high and low for rare Soul gems. Check out episode 21 of The Mod Soul Review Podcast to catch my review of the album.

You invited your father to join you in one episode. Was he instrumental in developing your musical taste?

Yes and no really. My Dad is into Rock’n’roll, Rock’n’Soul and Doo Wop. So I grew up listening to 50’s and 60’s Soul music through my dad, although the Soul music I like is not always to his taste and the tracks he likes is not always to mine. But we normaly find there is some middle ground with artists like Jackie Wilson and Roy Hamilton.

Your show makes us revisit some forgotten classics and discover some new ones. What is your favourite source to find songs that you have never heard before?

I find the Internet is the best place to search for rare Soul gems at the moment. YouTube, Spotify and eBay are currently my favourite sites. I used to search around record shops but these traditional independent shops are closing down one by one as the Internet takes over. Although I do still enjoy going to big record fairs in and around London to seek out gems.

You often ask your listeners to submit their favourite Soul tunes. If we get to turn the tables around, what would you say are your top 5 favourite Soul tracks?

I think this is a hard question to answer as this list is always changing. But as this stands I’ll give it a go.

1. Gladys Knight & The Pips – No One Could Love You More 

A track introduced to me by Carl Robertson. He runs a local Soul club with Martin Harland called Cassiobury Soul Club. I love it when the beat drops on this track.

2. Etta James – Can’t Shake It

Pure class

3. Jackie Wilson - This Love Is Real 

This was a real find and I own the original 7” track. With so many great Jackie Wilson tracks this could be over looked. A great double sider with Love Uprising on the flip side.

4. Archie Bell & the Drells – I Just Wanna Fall In Love 

This track was introduced to me by Nick Corbin the lead singer of a brilliant Soul band called New Street Adventure. The intro to this track is magical.

5. The Caesars – Girl I Miss You 

Another track introduced to me by Carl Robertson. A real gem.

Make sure not to miss any of Dean's podcasts by subscribing on iTunes or Mixcloud.