Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Welcome to the Mod Club

For a few years now, Montreal has it's own Mod Club. Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa have a Mod Club theme night, so it's only natural for Montreal to have its own. Currently located on St-Laurent Street, it had to move a few times before settling in its current location at the Blizzarts.

In my opinion, I think they have found the perfect place. It's small, intimate and has a retro feel to it. Along one wall, you find large banquettes set in semi circles that can accommodate five or six of your closest buddies. You bathe in soft lighting, all thanks to the Sputnik chandeliers and their red light bulbs. On the walls, you can look at mod inspired pop art. They also have classic sixties movies being shown on large screens. The staff is friendly, the beer is cold and there's no cover. That's right, it's free! How can you go wrong with that formula?

The music is good. A decent mix of soul, British beat, Britpop, sixties garage and the occasional French psych pop. For the purists among us, this is not the 100% strict Mod only sounds. The DJs often throw in a few eighties tracks to please the eclectic crowd. To a dedicated Mod, this might offend their sensibilities. I am not. Personally, I don't give a damn. I'm just thankful that Montreal has a weekly Mod night and a place we can call our own.

I sometimes hear people comment that the music isn't truly Mod. Some of them think that if they are going to call a place the Mod Club, they shouldn't be playing Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles. And that if they are going to play soul, they should steer away from overplayed songs like Respect from Aretha Franklin and dig a little deeper in the record pile.

Although I find the complaints legitimate, I don't necessarily agree. I certainly don't blame the guys who work very hard to make the night a success. If you want to survive, in this day and age, you have no choice but to cater to a larger crowd, especially if they are in their early twenties. And let's face it, Montreal isn't the Mod capital of the world. I still think it's funny when a young 20 something thinks that Tainted Love from Soft Cell is retro stuff.

The thing is, if they only played rare Northern Soul 45 rpm, there would be only five of us in the place. They have to be flexible in order to be viable. And I get that. I just wish they would play a few ska tracks every once in a while.

My favorite part of the night is usually early in the evening when the club just starts filling up. I get to have a seat with DJ Lee Modern and his lovely girlfriend Shareen and do some people watching out the huge front window. A tasty cocktail in one hand, we catch up and chat for a while before showing off our moves on the dance floor.

I'm also fascinated by the fact that if you walk in wearing a nice suit, people don't get it. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? I once had a 20 year old guy ask me: "Is tonight supposed to be a special night?" When I asked him what he meant, he added: "Why are you guys wearing suits?"

Aside form the occasional weird comment  from the uninformed and the out of place tune, I really dig the joint. I always look foward to meeting friends and rubbing elbows on the dancefloor. So I tip my pork pie hat to Lee Modern, Toby and Shareen and the whole gang for a job well done. Hope to see you all on the dancefloor!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why do Mods have so many lights and mirrors on their scooters?

The simple answer to that question would be: to be different. It’s undeniable; Mods are sometimes contradictory in their way of thinking. We want to be noticed but still want to be an underground subculture. We want to stand out but we can’t stand being mainstream. We are all about the “Modern World” yet this generation of Mods exclusively rides vintage Vespas and Lambrettas.

So why all the shinny accessories and chrome? Back in the early sixties, the Mod scooter was a lot less extravagant. Paint seemed to be the main focus. Relatively cheap to do, you could easily customize your ride. The two-tone scheme was a popular choice, usually a light color with a dark one. It was easy to just take the side panels off a Lambretta and paint them.

By ‘63-’64, mirrors and fog lights were added on and soon every conceivable, bolt on accessory became part of the Mod myth. Spare wheels, wheel covers, cowl protectors, pennants, aerials, seat covers, back rests the size or ironing boards, fly screens, whip antennas, fox tails, automotive badges, jag lights, bumpers, Florida bars, baskets, side panels embellishers, headlight peaks, fork covers, crash bars, spinners, mud flaps, flashes, grips, lever covers, leg shield trims, tassels, horn covers, floorboard extensions, leg shield toolboxes, air horns, mats were all part of the arsenal.

Companies like Vigano, Ardor, Biemme, Ulma, Falbo, Super, Feridax, Stadium, Cuppini, Metalplast specialized in personalizing your ride. Since a Mod’s scooter was his favored accessory, you ended up with tons of accessories for your accessory.
They would also borrow gadgets from cars. Car badges from the RAC (Royal Automotive Club) and the AA would be lined up on bars. The leaping jaguar from the British car of the same name would also be proudly displayed, front and center. Mascots of every kind had its place. You could see jet age chrome planes fixed to the front wheel mudguard. Subtlety was not the norm.
Chroming scooter parts also became very popular. Almost every part that wasn’t tied down or permanently fixed could be chromed, from side panels to mudguards.

The chrome luggage rack is probably one of the most convenient and practical aftermarket accessory a scooter can have. Toss in a few bungee cords and you can carry a spare scooter with you. But not for a Mod! A leg shield rack is just another excuse to strap more stuff to your 2-stroke machine. This is where you basic ten mirrors and six spotlights are secured. Where would we be without those trusty front racks?

When I cruise along the downtown streets of Montreal on my ‘59 Vespa VNB, with its nine mirrors and nine spotlights, I have my fair share of comments. But what I mostly get are smiles. The majority of people might not get it but their faces light up. And when a smart ass asks me sarcastically why I have so many mirrors, I usually respond: “I just love to look at myself.” Now that’s being a Mod!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Do I have a Mod pad?

A couple of days ago, a doctor came over to my place to interview me. Yes, a doctor.  No, aside from the occasional delusions, a shrink did not have to make a house call. Zeynep has a PHD in sociology and an MBA in Marketing. She came to interview me for a study she is conducting on interior design and home decor. Apparently she was interested in what I had to say about it. Over the 3 hours of babbling I did, I often referred to my place as a typical Mod pad. So now it's your turn to judge, do I have a Mod pad?

Ever since I moved in my first apartment in 1995, I’ve been looking to achieve the ultimate Mod home. When I moved out of my college dorm, only one type of place would do: a loft. I stayed in three apartments before buying my own place, all of them lofts. There’s something about a raw open space that’s really attractive to me. In my opinion, it’s the perfect stage to create a Mod haven. The high ceilings, the brick walls, the industrial details, it all oozes Mod appeal. The type of place James Bond, Austin Powers or Peter Sellers in The Party would feel right at home.

Of course, you can’t expect a lad in his early twenties to move in a 2000 square feet downtown loft right away. You start small. My first place was more around 500 square feet. My only criteria was that it had to be a loft, have a brick wall and be around 450$ a month. When you’re young and naïve, your optimism doesn’t stop you from looking. I was lucky enough to find exactly what I was looking for. It was a tiny loft on Chateaubriand, a few feet away from the Beaubien Subway Station.

My second loft was on Ste-Catherine Street in the Hochelaga Maisonneuve neighborhood. If you ever visited the beautiful city of Montreal, chances are you've set foot on Ste-Catherine Street. I moved out of my first loft because I thought I could find something bigger and cheaper. And I did! I was paying 400$ a month and all the utilities were included! At that price, I stayed put for eight years. My next abode was about three feet away, in the loft next door. I even shared the same address. It was a bit larger at around 700 square feet.

The lofts were on the ground floor of a 100-year-old three-story building. The ground level used to be a shop of some type. My favorite feature was the storefront window. On the inside, it looked like a small stage.

After four years in that place, I was ready to take a plunge into ownership. My current place is a little over 1000 square feet. It's a loft in a century old cookie factory in the same neighborhood.

Now, to achieve the right Mod atmosphere, it takes time. We’re talking years here. You can’t just walk in your local Ikea, drop a stash of cash and boom! a shagadelic pad. You have to be patient, resourceful and be passionate about it. You also need a very understanding, open-minded girlfriend. Thank god for Nikki. She will let me flex my interior design muscles and pretty much gives me carte blanche. When she moved in the loft a year ago, she basically brought her clothes and a few mementos. Talk about the perfect girlfriend for me!

This is an example of what I mean about being resourceful. In my last apartment, I was looking to make a nice little TV stand to display one of my space age televisions. Since I didn't have extra money to spend and the thought of buying one at Wal-Mart made me nauseous, I opted for my own design. I started collecting speakers from flea markets and stores like the Salvation Army. I usually didn't pay more than 10$ a pair. I then assembled them like a jigsaw puzzle to make it a unique piece. I think it's safe to say that you couldn't find one in large chain store. Of course, with time, my taste has refined and my wallet grew. But I still look at this photo with fond memories.

I always had a thing for anything retro. I owe it all that to my grandfather. I remember, when I was yay high, going to country auctions with him and being fascinated by the fast talking guy up front. My grandfather, of all things, collected antique cars. Among them he had a 1951 Mercury and a 1929 Ford Model A. So it’s no surprise that today I own three vintage scooters and a ’73 Super Beetle.

Here's a picture of my grandfather's '51 Mercury, taken in 1977 in front of his house in the country.

I’ve been scouring flea markets, antique shops, and garage sales for years now. Internet, especially eBay, has also been good to me. The result is a loft full of goodies from the fifties to the seventies. This forum will also be about my latest finds and crazy decoration ideas. My home is ever changing and I'm always on the lookout for the next cool, mod, hip thing. So stay tuned.

A dream of mine has always been to be featured in an interior design magazine. And as luck would have it, a writer approached me from one of the best interior design sites on the web. They asked me to be featured on Apartment Therapy. Being a big fan, I did not hesitate one second.

Click on the link below and tell me, do I have a Mod pad?

Patrick's World of Wonder on Apartment Therapy

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A little Louisiana Mod History

Back in the sixties, the British Invasion and the new Mod sound influenced musicians from cities across the world. New Orleans was no exception. Steve Staples, guitarist and main songwriter for the group Gaunga Dyns, was swept up by that wave of British influence. In an interview he gave the Louisiana State Museum for the Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock ’n’ Roll exhibition, he talked about being inspired by the English Mod movement. He remembers fashion shows being held for teenagers at the Maison Blanche Department Store. Every Saturday they would show the latest trends in fashion followed by a Battle of the Bands.

How cool is that? Is it possible that New Orleans had it's own small Mod scene? When I listen to the compilation album Louisiana Punk from the Sixties, I tend to believe that there might have been one. When you listen to a band called Echoes of Carnaby Street, it makes a strong case for it. On the other hand, how can you trust a compilation that mentions punk and sixties in the same sentence? The punk movement came to life between ’74 and ’76. This compilation is more of a Mod and Garage compilation than anything punk. Besides, I believe that Echoes of Carnaby Street was a band from Miami, Florida.

The Echoes of Carnaby Street - No Place or Time

But that didn’t keep me from going on a mission. I wanted to find that mysterious building that was the ground zero for those Battle of the Bands. I had heard that it was most likely on Canal Street. Well, at least that's a start! Maison Blanche is French for White House. Now, there's my second clue. But white houses on Canal Street are plenty. I must of asked a dozen people and probably got 12 different answers. A few locals mentioned a building with a brown statue in front but that evasive work of art was nowhere to be found. I finally spotted someone that I was certain would solve the enigma. He was the classy 70-year-old doorman of the Ritz. If one person in this city was going to know, he was the one! That’s when he said: “You are right in front of it, sir. The Maison Blanche is now part of the Ritz-Carlton.”

I took this picture, paid my respects and left with a big smile on my face.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The hunt for local New Orleans soul on vinyl

If you are going to visit a city that eats, breathes and lives jazz, you shouldn’t be called a Mod if you’re not going to seek out a few 45s to add to your collection.

I wanted to seek out that rare gem. My search was going to revolve around sixties soul and garage bands, your typical all around Mod sound. But that can now be effortlessly done over the Internet. That's too easy. Part of the fun for me is the thrill of the hunt.

I was specifically looking for home bread Louisiana talent. Of course, finding some Louis Armstrong, a New Orleans local god, wasn't going to be much of a challenge. I wanted something a little less mainstream. I had heard of a soul singer by the name of Benny Spellman. He had a hit with a quirky song called The Fortune Teller. That song was later picked up by The Rolling Stones and The Who. That was it. I had to find that record.

I had dreamt of finding that back alley, dusty, poorly lit basement shop tucked away in the old French Quarter with a bunch of cardboard boxes hidden in the back of the store labeled "Very rare Louisiana Soul Records. 50 cents each". Of course that's a romanticized and idealized version of what actually happened but it was still exciting. I hope my search will be of some assistance.

The first rule of thumb, you have to talk to the local people. It's a great excuse to strike up a conversation and learn things about a city you won't get from a guidebook or a Google search. This is how I got to my first stop. Peaches Records is located at 408 Peters St. in the French Quarter. They have an impressive selection of CDs but only a few racks of vinyls and about two dozen 45-rpm. The most interesting thing they had was a few versions of Aretha Franklin records.

The friendly owner approached me and asked me if he could help. I told him I was looking for Benny Spellman on vinyl, preferably the 45-rpm version. I also asked if he had any good Northern Soul, Ska, Rocksteady or Garage. He said he had a large warehouse and he invited me to come back in a few days, before I left. He was going to go through his inventory and bring a good selection to choose from. Unfortunately, he never came through with his promise. Don't you hate it when you're a willing customer, with money burning a hole in your pocket and a business owner will let you hang out to dry? I just don't get it...

Luckily I had the exact opposite experience at the Louisiana Music Factory. If you can only visit one store in New Orleans, that's the place to go. They are located at 210 Decatur Street right across from The House of Blues. When you look in the storefront window, you see Soul, R and B and Jazz written in bright neon lighting. Now that's a good sign! (No pun intended)

When you walk inside, skip the first floor, go directly to the second floor and be prepared to be amazed. Now that's a selection! According to one staff member, they are not well organized. Trust me, they are! Behind the listening station, displayed on the walls, is the good stuff. You'll likely find rare Northern Soul in mint condition. Just expect to whip out your credit card. I'm simply not the type who will pay $150 for a 45.

But that didn't stop me from leaving with a stack of cool Louisiana Soul and you guessed it, the Benny Spellman LP! I have to say that the staff there is simply amazing. They are patient, friendly and they know their stuff. Brice, a young, vibrant local DJ was particularly welcoming and helpful. He took the time to search boxes and look through piles of 45s. 


He narrowed my taste down quite quickly and just kept feeding me record after record while I sat at the listening station. Conclusion: 1 LP, 14 singles and 1 Louisiana punk/garage compilation on CD.

My last stop was going to be the Mushroom. It's situated Uptown, a few blocks from Loyola University at 1037 Broadway Street. It’s a long way from Downtown and probably not worth the trip. At least I got a pleasant tramway ride and got to visit the historic Garden District with their stunning mansions.

 The store is your typical college campus / stoner / rock t-shirt / hippy necklace / rap CD / beer funnel depot for your average student party animal. Not exactly what I was looking for. At the back of the store, there are a few rows of wax. You might be lucky and stumble upon a decent LP or two.

Tucked under the rows of LPs are a few crates of 45s. There’s nothing worth mentioning unless you want a late reprint of Diana Ross or the Jackson 5.

So here you have it my friends, some hits and some misses. But overall, I had a blast and ended up with a few cool tracks!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The sounds of the streets of New Orleans

New Orleans is a music lover’s paradise. It may not follow the strict Mod code but you can’t ignore the astonishing amount of talent spilling out into the streets. You will find a street performer around every corner and a musician on every sidewalk. This post is dedicated to the musicians who will play their hearts out for a buck.

Our first stop on our musical journey is with Acappella New Orleans. This first act would probably appeal to every Mod out there. They would certainly feel right at home on any Mod rally stage. Their sole instruments are their soulful voices. Their harmonies are spot on and you get to have a front row seat for a mere few dollars. Of course, I couldn’t leave without grabbing one of their CDs that they gladly all autographed. If I'm going to buy a CD from every artist that I like, I won’t have enough space in my luggage to bring them all back.

My favorite act of my weeklong stay in New Orleans has to be, hands down, Grandpa Elliot Small. He simply personifies everything New Orleans is all about. When you close your eyes and imagine the narrow streets of the French Quarter on a sunny day, the smell of crawfish being boiled on a sidewalk, Grandpa Elliot’s voice is the soundtrack that ties all of those things together.

In his white straw hat, blue overalls and bright red shirt, his smooth voice and classic blues harmonica will transport you to another time. He’s the real deal. He’s a character without being a caricature. I got a chance to talk to him for a brief moment and he is as sweet and warm as his voice. And he’s quite the ladies man too! He told me that I knew how a pick a woman, referring to my girlfriend. I just told him that it was the other way around. I didn’t have a say in the matter. She’s the one who picked me. He laughed.

When you hear him live, you can’t help yourself from being touched and moved. If you are ever in New Orleans, you must seek him out. Grandpa takes claim to the fame corner of Toulouse and Royal St. on any given sunny day.

Grandpa Elliot is not the only character in the French Quarter. You also have your fair share of bluegrass, bayou jazz. They might all look like they came off a steamboat but they sure know how to play. The only thing missing is a guy playing a big clay jug with XXX on the front. They don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves but I think it’s all part of the mystic.

Just in front of Jackson Square, there’s a chance you might catch a glimpse of the Young Fellaz Brass Band. They are well worth a few minutes of your time and a pocket full of change. They are young, energetic, have lungs of steel and will even dance between solos.

And finally, you have Doreen, a great clarinet player that has also made her home on the streets of the French Quarter. Usually found on Royal St., she has been bringing joy to the streets for the last twenty years or so.

So here you have it ya’ll, world-class entertainment in exchange of a few dollars in the bucket.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I'm a soul food man!

On our second night in the Big Easy we wanted to avoid the tourist infested areas. Ray, owner of the lovely La Dauphine bed and breakfast, suggested we stick to the Faubourg Marigny, which is located at the extremity of the French Quarter. This is where the locals go to escape from the hordes of tourists. Frenchmen Street is lined with small jazz clubs and interesting restaurants. One of them is The Praline Connection.

When I visit a new city, I want to discover the local culinary delights. I never understand people who visit foreign countries and end up eating at McDonald’s. So what should our International Mod of Mystery be looking for? Well, it goes without saying. It’s soul food of course!

Soul food is said to have originated from the slave trading days. Black slaves would receive food scraps from their masters and have to come up with inventive ways to use the ingredients at hand. Today, it’s a rich blend of flavors and spices. Be warned, your cholesterol count might jump a few notches. A lot of the food is fried. To describe it in nutshell, think “comfort food”.

For my first experience in the world of soul food, I went with a classic dish: fried chicken with a side of greens and macaroni and cheese. A main course would not be one without some cornbread, a staple on any soul food menu. My girlfriend opted for the fried stuffed crab. The Praline Connection seems to have mastered the secrets of a good plate. The chicken was to die for, juicy and tender on the inside, crispy and flavorful on the outside. The cornbread was so moist and tasteful that my mouth waters just thinking about it.

The staff was friendly and cordial. They also looked really cool with their black fedoras and white shirts and ties. I just wish I had enough of an appetite to taste the desert. It looked delicious!

To work off those extra calories, we couldn’t simply retreat to our B&B room for the night. We had to check out one of those lively jazz clubs in the area. We had heard that the Spotted Cat was the place to be. Its reputation amongst the locals is legend. You won’t hear well-known acts in this tiny place but this doesn’t seem to affect the quality of the music.

The first band we heard was The Loose Marbles. They played a mix of swing and ragtime. Not necessarily a Mod favorite but they were still entertaining. A few fans were tearing down the dance floor with their charleston and swing dance moves.

Pat Casey and The New Sound followed and brought down the house. You want modern jazz? Then you will be well served. They weren’t only talented but they also had the attitude. The saxophone player rested against the wall between solos and looked like he owned the place. The drum player is well worth a mention. He simply banged on those skins like there was no tomorrow.

The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Mod in New Orleans

Disclaimer: This first post in a series of posts on New Orleans will be full of clichés, generalizations and broad statements. When I travel I have what I call the 24 hours rule. This means that for 24 hours I get to do all the tacky, touristy stuff a first time visitor usually does. Once I get accommodated to my surroundings and talk to the locals, I search out the real, authentic feel of a city.

So here I am, in the Big Easy, the Crescent City, Nola, New Orleans or as the local call it, Nawlins! The birthplace of it all, jazz! This is it my friends! Without New Orleans there would be no Northern Soul, RnB, Ska or even Rock. So it’s only natural for a dedicated Mod to be attracted to this place. It’s a pilgrimage of some sort, a return to the roots. It’s a way to pay tribute to the originators of the music we all love and give homage to the city that saw it rise.

Although the brothels of Basin St. in the Storyville neighborhood, where the music originated, don’t exist anymore, the sound of jazz music permeates from every pore of the city. It’s a music lovers dream! You can hear jazz, blues, ragtime, swing, soul, from every street corner, bar, café, souvenir shop or laundromat in the French Quarter. It’s even hard to escape it! But this why I came. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture.

As a French Canadian, I feel right at home here. The obvious French footprint can be seen everywhere, in the street names, the food and most importantly, the attitude. It’s that laissez faire demeanor that makes this city unique. Well, any city that will let you drink beer in the streets at 4 o’clock in the morning is my kind of city!

So for my first night, I wanted to see if I could find a place that played live ‘60s soul. With so many venues that play live music in the city, the task was daunting. But the waiter at the Market Café came through for us. He suggested we check out the Blues Club on Bourbon Street. Yes, the legendary Bourbon Street in the historical French Quarter! Although the locals regard it as a big tourist trap, I thought I would tempt my chance.

It ended up being a real cool place. Once you navigated through the drunken college students, howling and stumbling in the street, a big blue neon sign pointed the way.

Inside the joint, everything you would expect, a smoke filled room full of ambiance. When we came in, Jimmy Hicks was finishing his set. He’s a 73 years old master of the blues. From the little I heard, I was convinced, right of the bat, to by a cd from him. He was nice enough to autograph it for me.

A half a dozen acts followed him. We heard a great selection of the classics such as: Sam & Dave, Al Green, Wilson Picket and Aretha. We even got to see Troy Turner play, the nephew of Ike and Tina. He certainly has some of that Turner magic in his blood.

 Another musician worth mentioning was the former guitarist from Gladys Knight and The Pips. Although he was very talented, let me be skeptical about him having played with The Pips. He seemed awfully young to have played with the legendary band.

Aside from the self proclaimed “soul man of New Orleans” who kept asking us to say Hey! every 30 seconds, I enjoyed every second. This a great start to a week here. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.