Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Soul Band That Can't Be Missed: The Outfit

Few are the genuine soul bands in Montreal these days. Lucky for us, we have a hell of a good one here. You might think that I'm biased since the drummer is a friend of mine. So I guess you'll have to take my word for it. They've got soul!

Formed over a year now, they are certainly not new to the music scene. And it shows. Veteran musicians, they definitely are quickly becoming a polished act. During last Friday's gig, the energy was palpable. They played the Quai des Brumes on St-Denis Street. This small bar, full of character and charm mirrored the mood to a T. Compared to the first time I saw them, they were the only band on the bill. So it was obvious that the crowd was present for one reason. It was to see them play and that, on a night of a hockey playoff game. That says a lot because in Montreal, hockey is a religion.

I was not disappointed. I would even go as far as saying that I was quite impressed. After seeing a few cheesy soul acts on Bourbon Street in New Orleans last month, this was quite refreshing. Alex, the singer, has a warm, smooth, soulful voice that suits the genre perfectly. Since I'm not a musician, the voice is usually the thing I notice first. And Alex not only has the voice, but also has the attitude. The horn section complemented the rest of the band nicely. And what can I say about my friend Eric "Boom Boom" Boulanger? Put him behind a drum and he will bang those skins like there's no tomorrow.

They played a good selection of the classics and my favorite has to be their rendition of Papa Got a Brand New Bag. I'm already looking forward to the next show. I'm hoping that one day I'll be hearing some original material.

Check out their MySpace page:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Brooks Brothers Mod connection

I don't know of a single Mod who, at one point, hasn't had at least one Ben Sherman shirt in his wardrobe. The clean, casual, button-down shirt has been associated with the Mod movement since the very beginning. Regardless of what you might think of them today (I'm still a big fan of the brand by the way) they were a major influence in making what the Mod look is now. The attention to detail, the choice of colors, the quality of fabric and the flattering fit is what made Ben Sherman a household name in every Mod circle.

But did you know that Ben Sherman himself was influenced by another brand before launching his iconic button-down collared shirt? Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't the one who came up with the famous button-down shirt. It was the renowned Brooks Brothers.

Mod fashion in the early sixties was heavily influenced by the American Ivy League look. Brooks Brothers lead the charge. Since the average working teenage Mod didn't have enough money to get the more expensive American shirts, Ben Sherman was the very good quality alternative.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Brooks Brothers store during my trip to New Orleans last March. I have to admit that it has been a very long time since I have received such quality service. With most of my purchases now being done over the Internet, it was refreshing to walk into a boutique and be attended to by an actual person.

I have never owned a Brooks Brothers shirt before and I am sure glad I chose that store for my first experience. Lately, the brand seems to go through a renaissance. I was never aware of the Brooks Brothers label to hit the Quebec market. I guess they are as exclusive as they once were for the original sixties British Mods. Nowadays, stores are popping up everywhere. Two Canadian stores opened in 2009, in Toronto and Vancouver, with one opening its doors in Calgary very soon.

The store in New Orleans was bright, airy and immaculate. The selection would make your head spin. But I already had something very specific in mind. I wanted a classic, button-down, slim fit, long sleeve shirt. It was the matter of finding the right pattern and color. Had I had a few more days in town, I could have had it tailor made, with the monogrammed cuffs. I don't know a lot of major chains that still offer that personalized service. Displayed neatly on a shelf, you saw different types of collars you could choose from.

The staff was friendly without being overbearing. I had the pleasure of doing business with Mr. Clement. He was the perfect gentleman, answering my multiple questions. Even if I was just purchasing a ready-made shirt, he still took the time to take my measurements to help me find the perfect fit.

If you are looking for a high quality, Mod approved garment, I suggest you go for the blue label. It's the slim fit line. I ended up purchasing a white button down shirt with a small red and black check pattern. It can be worn casually with a nice pair of Sta-Prest or with a black suit and tie. Strangely, it reminded me of a photo of Ian McLagan from the Small Faces wearing a Ben Sherman.

There was only one drawback to my whole Brooks Brothers experience. The next day, I flew back to Montreal from my weeklong stay in the vibrant city of New Orleans. I had a lengthy layover at the Dules Airport in Washington, DC. To pass the time, I made the rounds of the boutiques in my terminal. Low and behold, there's a nice Brooks Brothers store a few steps from my gate. But imagine my surprise when I learn that the exact shirt I bought 24 hours earlier was 50% off! I explained my situation to the clerk, receipt in one hand and he was as perplexed as I was. He told me that the prices were fixed nationwide and that I should contact the store in New Orleans. That's exactly what I did and more than a month later, I'm still waiting for an answer. I better not hold my breath.

Aside from that 40$ I would rather have in my pocket, I'm very pleased with my purchase. Now, I'm just waiting for a Brooks Brothers store to open in Montreal.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mods, parkas and pins (Part 2)

In the April 5th post, I revealed the pin that has a premiere spot on my parka. We all have a favorite pin that we will never part with. Today, we're going to have a look at the different types of pins the contemporary Mod will display proudly on his suit lapel. It's a whimsical glance at the various categories of pins, the button conscious Mod wears. So here is my top ten categories of the little round fashion accessory that has graced parkas the world over.

1) The vintage pin

This type is more of a fifties thing than anything to do with the original Mod movement of the sixties. Members of scooter clubs would wear them on their riding jackets. They usually represent your scooter model, your preferred brand of oil or gasoline or a tire maker's logo. They were often given away as a promotional item. Made of tin or plastic, they have a long needle in the back.

Those are getting harder to find and are quickly becoming collector's items. I like to wear mine on a classy suit lapel during a night out on the town. I don't recommend wearing them at a concert or on a rally. They are fragile and are easy to lose.

2) The typical 80s ska pin

Usually depicting Walt Jabsco or the Beat Girl, they can be seen striking a pose, dancing or playing a musical instrument. A distinguishing feature is that it has a small safety pin in the back. It screams Mod revival! Personally, I think there are too big for a suit lapel. I opt for my parka or the collar of my Harrington jacket.

3) The Mod target pin

It might be an obvious choice but you can't argue with the classics. It will look as good on a jean jacket as on a tonic suit. Wear it with pride and show your allegiance to your tribe.

 4) The enamel pin

This is the 21st century version of the traditional button pin. Very chic and easy to find, it's the perfect way to make a subtle fashion statement. There are a wide variety of choices. Chances are you can find your exact scooter model, in your color!

5) The military medal

Picture a young Pete Townshend wearing a white jacket or shirt full of patches. This is probably the closest to what the original Mods wore in the sixties.

6) The musical group button

This is a way to share your musical taste with the world. It's a trend that is also very popular with punks. Every Mod musical genre is up for grabs: soul, ska, rocksteady, jazz, garage, brit pop.

Aside from the Mod target, the iconic northern soul black fist rising has to be the most recognizable Mod image to grace parkas over the years. If you don't have one, grab your coat and go find yourself one right now!

7) The flag pin

Show off you national pride with a flag pin. The Union Jack is of course, by far, the most widespread pin. It is now elevated to the pop art icon status. You will find tons of different depictions and artistic versions of the British flag. Let's not forget the St George's Cross. It's also very present. Another popular choice is the Italian flag. Very closely associated with the Vespa and the Lambretta scooter, the Italian colors are often seen. And for all you ska fans out there, lets give an honorable mention to the Jamaican colors.

8) The football club pin

More prevalent amongst the Casuals and the Skinheads, it's hard to ignore the fact that some people are fanatical about their teams. Keep in mind that it might look cool on a bomber jacket or a Harrington but it should stay off, in my humble opinion, a sharkskin suit.

9) The cult classic movie pin

Quadrophenia has to be at the top of the list. The film is why a lot of us got bit by the Mod bug. Jimmy on his scooter is one the most popular pins around. Clockwork Orange, Blow-Up, Roman Holiday have found their way on a parka or two. My personal favorites are The Saint stick figure and the James Bond 007 logo. There is something about Mods and spies that just seem to fit.

10) The fashion brand pin

This is the type of button I don't really quite understand but have been guilty of wearing once in a while. This is the pin that advertises the brand of clothes you like to wear. The most common are: Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Lonsdale and Dr. Martens. Why would you want to announce to the world you like a brand instead of just wearing it? It's the same as putting a pin that says Parka Power on your parka.

One pin that I could include in this category is "the" Mod fashion icon, Twiggy. Her face has become synonymous with Mod fashion. You will also find pins with a variety of different pin-ups posing on Vespas and Lambrettas.

So here you have it folks, hundreds of pins to choose from. Stick with what you like and don't go overboard. I saw a guy recently at a ska show that had about 10 pins on each lapel of his suit. He just looked silly and didn't have any sense of style. Choose one or two and mix it up every time you go out. Do it with class!

Do you a have a sentimental favorite? I want to know. Tell me about it...

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Mod Club Debut

It’s been a long time since I have manned the turntables. The last time I was a DJ was a few years ago when I was asked to play some pure eighties sounds at my girlfriend's 20 year high school reunion. Most of the tunes came out of my laptop or from CDs. And the last time I dropped a needle on a record was back in my college and university days. In 1993, my friend Gonzo and I had a local radio show on CISM called MicroFun. I was the silly sidekick coming up with pranks and absurd editorials.

Gonzo and I circa 1993

So when Lee Modern, resident DJ at the Mod Club Montreal asked me if I could share the bill with him, I was a bit rusty, to say the least. But I think that my enthusiasm, motivation and sheer excitement made up for my lack of DJ prowess. This was not an opportunity I was going to miss.

He offered me the first spot from 10:30 to 12. It was the perfect time slot for me. Less people, less pressure and I got to play more of the obscure and less commercial stuff. Plus, you don’t get drunken college kids asking for Lady Gaga. All you Soul DJs out there know exactly what I mean.

I spent the week ruffling through my old LPs, cleaning my 45s and searching my CD collection for the perfect mix. They can critique my DJ skills but they can’t fault me for not being prepared! I made sure to send out invitations to all of my friends and even set up a contest on my Parka Avenue Facebook page to find an official DJ name. The winner would get a Parka Avenue Compilation offering a sample of the best tunes played that night. I almost went with my own idea of DJ Psycho Pat but ended up choosing Parka Patrick (Congrats Shareen!).

My set consisted of a little Mod, a little bit of classic soul, a tad of surf, a touch of ska, a few tracks of garage and a whole lot of heart and energy. Aside from the occasional snafu, things went pretty smoothly. Lee was very supportive and offered a few pointers along the way. I appreciate the fact that he put his faith in me.

Around midnight, Lee was ready to take over and relieve me of my duties when he asked me if I could come later in the evening for another short set. The third DJ that was scheduled to spin that night was unable to make it. I accepted without hesitation. There was only one small problem. I wasn't prepared and the dance floor was rapidly filling up.

So when my turn came, I did what any good DJ should do. I observed the crowd, felt the mood, got into the groove and improvised. The set ended up being twice as good as the first. Final result: a crowded dance floor, smiling faces, energetic dancers and a party atmosphere.

Here's a little taste of what was played:

-    Agent Double-O-Soul – Edwin Starr
-    Sock It to ‘Em J.B. – Rex Garvin
-    Soul Finger – Bar-Kays
-    The Fortune Teller – Benny Spellman
-    Hold On I’m Comin’ – Sam & Dave
-    Give Me One More Chance – Wilmer and The Dukes
-    Heat Wave – Martha and The Vandellas
-    Walk – Don’t Run – The Ventures
-    Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen
-    Young Jacques – Jacques Cousteau
-    Zoot Suit – The High Numbers
-    What’cha Gonna Do About It – The Small Faces
-    I Can’t Explain – Oscar & the Majestics
-    The Last of The Secret Agents – Nancy Sinatra
-    7 Heures du Matin – Jaqueline Taieb
-    Sha La La – Manfred Mann
-    I’m Into Something Good – Herman’s Hermits
-    I Can’t Control Myself – The Teenbeats
-    Time for Action – Secret Affair 

Sometimes, when you put yourself on the line and try something new and different, you open yourself to criticism. (Like with this blog for instance) Some don't like your choice of music, the way you mix or the fact that you sometimes play CDs instead of exclusively spinning first edition 45s. The list can be long. It’s all part of being a Mod.

The thing is, I would rather be a man of action then to be on the sidelines complaining. And in the end, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The next day, I received an email from Lee saying: “Once again, great job last night!  The staff went out of their way to mention how much everyone enjoyed the music!” How could I ask for more?

So see you next Saturday at the Mod Club. My friend and scooter club mate Eric Boulanger is the guest DJ. Trust me, he’s good.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mods, parkas and pins

Pins have adorned many parkas over the years. They range from music labels, favorite bands, cult movies, scooter models, Mod icons, every design of the Mod target possible to your preferred brand of 2-stroke oil. This phenomenon seems to have been most popular during the Mod Revival of the eighties. I did not live through the original movement of the sixties so it’s hard for me to judge how prevalent that fashion statement actually was. From what I can tell of the many photos I have seen, pins or badges were not a widespread convention. The only person from that era that might have influenced that trend was Pete Townsend from The Who. But when the Mod Revival hit, watch out, pin overload!

The Mod target, also referred to as the roundel, is the Mod symbol by excellence. It first symbolized the British Air Force and aside from its apparent and indistinguishable appearance, that’s where the similarities end. The Mod target is more of a Pop Art symbol than anything else. Keith Moon, of the band The Who, claimed that he was the first to introduce the roundel in popular culture.

Another common figure to grace numerous suit lapels is Walt Jabsco, better known simply as the Rude Boy or the Ska Man. He entered the collective consciousness with the arrival of the 2-Tone ska label. Horace Panter, original bass player for The Specials, talks about the origins of Walt in his book Ska’d for Life: “This was a caricature of Peter Tosh taken from an early photo of The Wailers. It was a brilliant image. Simple, which said everything about us in a three-inch circle of paper. Those four years at art college were not wasted! The 2-Tone man was, somewhere along the line, given the name Walt Jabsco. This was the name on the back of a bowling shirt Jerry had picked up somewhere.”

His girlfriend, the Ska Girl, later accompanied him. Also known as the Beat Girl, she first appeared on The Beat album I just Can’t Stop It. Hunt Emerson was credited for coming up with the iconic image. She was based on a sixties photo of a girl dancing with the ska forefather Prince Buster.

 Her image might be just a notch above a stick figure drawing but I still think she is sexy as hell.

My most prized pin is of Walt and her on a Mod scooter. I bought it when I was in high school in Toronto. It came from a small shop on Yonge Street. Not only was it pretty cool but also very rare. I’ve been going to ska shows for over 20 years now and I never came across someone who had one. Every once in a while, somebody comes up to me and offers to buy it from me.

As a matter of fact, a few years ago, The Beat was in town. They were playing the Café Campus on a Tuesday night. I decided to show up early to buy tickets before I went to have dinner on Prince Arthur Street. The ticket booth was closed so I decided to walk upstairs to the third floor where the show was being held. That’s when I came face to face with Dave Wakeling, legendary front man for The Beat.

This is how the conversation went:

- Dave: Can I help you guys?

- Me: I hope so. I came to buy tickets to come and see you.

- Oh cool! Why don’t you give me your names and I’ll put you on my guest list.

That’s when he noticed the Walt and Beat Girl pin I had on my Harrington.

- Dave: Wow! You have that pin! That one’s pretty rare. I’ll give you my email so you can send me a picture. I want to start a website on rare pins.

As he was saying that, I unhooked the pin from my Harrington and handed it to him.

- No, I can’t accept that. Are you sure?

- It’s the least I can do. You put me on YOUR guest list. Besides you’ve given me so much over the years. I couldn’t think of a more deserving person.

He smiled, thanked me and asked me for my email so that he can send me the link once the website would be up. I have no regrets about giving him my most cherished pin. I eventually found another one on eBay and paid a pretty penny for it. The thing is Mr. Dave Wakeling, I never received that email. No need to worry, I have no ill will towards you. I would even go as far as thanking you. You were a huge inspiration in starting this blog. So here it is… The pin not only has a premiere spot on my parka but now also has a well-deserved place in the blog universe.