Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Memoirs of a rural Mod from the sixties

I’ve often heard Eddie Piller use, on his monthly Modcast, the expression: “Mod is a broad church”. I totally agree. And thank god for it! I certainly don’t ascribe to the narrow-minded view of what Mod is. For example, I’ve often heard (or read) that if you’re not British, you can’t be a Mod. What a bunch of non-sense (to remain polite).

The reason why I bring up that point is that, too often in the sixties, if you weren’t from London, you weren’t the real deal. Unlike today, you didn’t have Google, YouTube or Facebook to make connections with Mods from all over. So if you were outside of London’s influence, it was hard to keep current on the latest fashions and be part of the in-crowd.

That didn’t stop a young Jeremy Norman, from a small village in Norfolk from joining the ranks of the original Mods. A year ago, thanks to this little blog, I came into contact with Jeremy. I asked him if he wanted to relate is unique story of being, as he coined it, a rural Mod in the early sixties. I’m very grateful that he accepted. He exemplifies what truly is clean living under difficult circumstances.

Here is Jeremy’s story, in his own words.

Jeremy in 1967
My home village in Norfolk had a population of 120. The nearest large town was called North Walsham, which was ten miles away. The nearest city, Norwich, was 20 miles away. The village had no bus route and the nearest railway station was 10 miles away.

Before moving on to grammar school, my outlook had been mainly on plastic models and the like, usual small boy stuff. Going to secondary school changed some of that. This would have been in 1961.

Jeremy's grammar school
By 1962, I had started to have an interest in some popular music but was really still tempered by my dad's interest in jazz and blues. This somehow steered me towards some of the more bluesy music. There were no British radio stations that played that kind of music. This was before the advent of local radio. The only chance was to listen to a station called Radio Luxemburg that came within radio receiving range after dark. The reception came and went according to the ionosphere.

At school I made contact with others who liked the same kind of music so we could borrow each other's singles and LPs that we played on a Dansette.

Also, after another year, I remember that there was a change in attitude towards clothing. As we were at a grammar school, we had to wear a uniform, but it began to be ''cool'' to be ultra smart. There was a move away from ''greased'' hair to a natural washed state. Haircuts, had to be short for school rules, but shortness could be combined with smartness. As the years progressed, centre partings or a college boy cut became the norm. You could get ideas from seeing Perry Como, Tab Hunter and Pat Boone, if I remember correctly.

Clothing outside of school became a problem for some of us who had parents who did not allow us to buy our own clothing. At this time I had little income and pocket money was around 15 pence per week. I well remember saving hard for a pair of Levis. They were going for around £5 at that time. My dad refused to let me buy them. He thought it was too much money for jeans, so no street cred there!

I can remember at that time that those at school who had relations in London or had arrived in Norfolk from London, were very individual in their clothing. School blazers were tailored; grey school shirts were sometimes chosen with different collars, button-down or tabbed. Looking back, I can now see this was the influence of Modernism, although we had no real idea.

As school age progressed, the opportunity for part-time and seasonal work brought cash with which I had a say in spending! My parents refused to let me have a scooter at 16, but made me save for a car at 17, which proved to be a bonus.

Clothing was Tattershall check trousers and maybe a cord jacket. Shirts were button-down or the adorable tab collar and slim knitted ties. Friends with scooters had parkas (in those days priced around £4 in surplus stores).  We wore a variety of shoes: desert boots, square toed with centre seams, Hush Puppies maybe. I still remember a friend wearing a pair of white Levis! I had never heard of them before.

Clothing had progressed to Levis for normal wear. We would sit in the sea at low tide to shrink them and we would rub beach sand on them in order to have a faded look. My first suit, when I started working was a blue, wool and mohair three piece. Oh man I was so proud of that! It was made to measure at a tailor’s in Norwich called Chadds. They still have my original invoice! The suit cost me £30 when I was earning £7 per week. Shoes, if I remember correctly, were from a maker called Eaton. They were so soft. When taken off, they shrank and when put on, the leather stretched like a glove.

Jeremy in 1968 in a Burton's Directors 3-piece suit that he paid £25.

I don't remember any badges with roundels on them. We had lapel buttons at the time with things like ''Up is a nice place to be'' or ''Save water bath with a friend''. But it was only for casual dress. Parkas would be adorned with Union Jack flag badges. I remember that those I looked on as icons were mainly ''cool'' and less was more where they were concerned. Scooters would have their size on it, in sticky letters, like LI 150.

It was around that time, while I was still in school, that the Mods and Rockers battles took place at some of our seaside towns like Brighton and Southend. Our local seaside town, that was large enough, was Great Yarmouth. We really did not get too involved as Mods came for further a field for the gatherings and anyway, who wanted to ruin clothes bought with hard earned money by fighting?

Still having to use parents to get a lift to a local town or city meant that visits to gigs were almost non-existent. Although I can remember turning down an invite to see a band in Norwich called the Beatles as I did not think they would catch on.

Being old enough to drive a car was good for me. My circle of friends had no scooters anyway so there was more cred in a car at 17. Transport meant gigs at last. We had a local dance hall in a town called Cromer, where I saw The Action, PP Arnold, Long John Baldry and The Who in later times. We also had bands that we followed around when they played locally, especially Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds and Chris Farlowe.

Interesting note: I saw Chris Farlowe for the first time in years about three years ago. I met him during the interval and he was able to tell me where I saw him, the name of the club and the year. He could almost give me the date. He is remarkable and I still watch him whenever I can. I never got to see the Small Faces live but saw the Kinks at a local music festival.

I guess that although we were in a rural area, we kept our own local ''circle''. We still had friends who were able to visit London regularly and we would be able to find out what clothing trends were happening. As our wages increased, we started to spend it on girls. Clothing was still smart, as we had to impress!

I must thank Jeremy for taking the time to memorialize his story. It’s accounts like his that expend our knowledge and enrich the history of our Mod culture.

It just goes to show that Mods can be from different backgrounds and different generations but we all have two things in common. We don’t want to ruin our nice clothes in a fight and we all feel the need to impress the girls…

Friday, February 17, 2012

Collecting Rare Soul Records

The world's most expensive record.
When you collect soul records, you can often encounter some crazy, out of this world prices. What some people would pay for an original, first pressing of a 7” single is hard to believe and even harder to justify to your wife. When I casually explain to some of my uninitiated friends that some Northern Soul records go for the equivalent of a mortgage payment, they all think that I’m pulling their leg. Rarity + condition + desirability = big bucks!

The question remains. Does paying a record an insane amount guarantee that you’ll end up with a great tune? In my opinion, the answer is no. Conventional wisdom dictates that when you have a good tune, you have a commercial hit. But sometimes, great tracks slip through the cracks and don’t have the popular acclaim it deserves. This is the case of small, independent labels that had poor distribution and PR. Mods have been known, over the years, to seek out those unknown gems.

What is great about music like Soul and RnB is that it’s impossible to know everything and you’re always discovering something new. I love scouring flea markets in the hopes of finding a rare record. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is how come some of these records can fetch a few thousand dollars. I can make a case for a song that will light a dance floor on fire or pull at your heartstrings. What about those songs that are just average or at best, mediocre?

Let me try to illustrate my point. Not too long ago, I came across this record from The Jokers on eBay. I didn’t know anything about it and was curious to hear how it sounded. “Alright, that’s an OK song. Nothing that blows my mind”, I thought to myself.

Out of pure curiosity, I decided to follow the auction. Would you be surprised if I told you that it ended at 1500$! I investigated a little bit further and found that it’s the actual going rate. I know that when I started to seriously collect 45s, I thought you had to be a lunatic to pay more than 40$ for a record. I have since loosened my purse strings a bit. But 1500$? Really?

I say I collect records but in reality, I don’t. I buy vinyls to play them. The number one reason why I spin these little round disks is to make people dance. It’s that simple. If I had a record that expensive, I probably wouldn’t DJ with it. I would be too afraid that I would accidentally break it, loose it or have it stolen. The worst-case scenario would be to have beer poured on it. Now you’ve ruined two precious things!

Aside from owning something really rare, what justifies paying those kinds of prices? It’s not like a piece of art that you can display for everyone to enjoy. Now let’s compare it with one of my all-time favorite soul tracks. Give Me One More Chance by Wilmer and the Dukes was a minor hit in the Buffalo, upstate New York area in 1968. I paid 5$ for it a couple of years ago and it gets a crowd going every time. Grant you; it’s not that rare. But between you and me, I think it’s far superior then The Jokers song. Even if it wasn’t as good, is The Jokers worth paying 300% more?

Some people might throw that argument in my face when they learn of the prices I paid for original 60s scooter accessories for my Vespa or my Lambretta. Good point. But at least I can drive down the street on my scooter, showing off the shinny accessories!

Paying 1500$ for a record! Now I know why they are called The Jokers.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Parka Avenue is 2 years old!

Just like last year’s post, these next few paragraphs are meant to thank all the great people who have contributed and inspired me in making this labor of love a reality. Let the love fest commence!

First, let me start by saluting a few of my favorite “rival” blogs. To the new kid on the block, Mod Male, keep up the great work. You are a true inspiration. I’m always amazed at how similar our views are on a lot of things. Anorak Things, I’m continually impressed by your vast knowledge of music. Keep it up! The Vermodernist is the underdog of all Mod friendly blogs. Writing about all things vintage from a small town in Vermont, USA is quite a feat. I salute you Jen and Eric.

The Mod Generation might not be a blog but it is certainly one the most comprehensive websites about our beloved scene. Stephen Hughes is continually improving upon it and the people that visit the forums are class acts. A special shout out to the Twitter Mod Collective (#twittermodcollective), you contribute to keeping the scene alive.

I have a special thought for all my fellow DJs from home and abroad. One of last year’s highlights was, without a doubt, MODchicago’s Our Way of Thinking weekender. I had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with some of the best wax spinners this side of the Atlantic: Dave Monroe,  Brian E Harris,  Amanda Otto, Dan Melendez, Moe Madness and PsychedAlex.  It was a great opportunity to meet some of the great DJs from Europe, Dante Fontana and Laurent Réus. This wouldn’t be possible without our beloved ringleader Sir Eric Colin. Hope to see you again in 2012 my friend. And Suzy Q, we have to share the bill some day!

My trip to Boston also permitted me to rub elbows with some of the best soul DJs around. Ty Jesso is certainly at the top of that list in my book. And thanks to PJ Gray and Sean Quinn, the Soulelujah night will remain a shinning beacon. I have to thank the Boston contingent consisting of Dandy Dan, Catherine, Eric P, Elker and Allison for making me feel part of the club.

Our small but loyal scene is also why I keep this blog going. To my DJ friends Papa Bill, Lee Modern, Toby, Eric B., Oliver Twist, Daniel Fiocco, Michel Alario, Mimi la Twisteuse, Sébastien Desrosiers, Aaron Maiden, Alex DJMagnificient Edwards, Scott Birksted and Flipped Out Phil, I hope we get to lay down some more groovy tracks together in the near future. 

DJ Papa Bill
Sebastien Desrosiers from the great French radio show Mondo PQ and the blog of the same name
Daniel Fiocco aka Napoleon 67 and I spinning at the Bubble Beat New Years Eve party

Aaron Maiden from CKUT's Roots Rock Rebel radio show
To all those in need of a good dose of 60s music on a Thursday night, the Korova is the place to be. You’ll find my mate Trevor aka Tinsoldierman manning the decks on a regular basis at the Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches.

Heartfelt and sincere gratitude goes to Gilles, Martin and Julie from the Atomic Café for letting me host the new monthly Modtreal night. 

I always wanted to start a night where you would only play the most obscure 60s tracks at a speed of 45rpm and people came for that reason. The Atomic Café is giving me this opportunity and I hope I won’t disappoint.

2011 has been a busy year for our local Mod bands, Kid Sentiment and the Chelsea Beat both came out with great albums. The Kid Sentiment Power Pop gem is available for download on iTunes

Le Chelsea Beat went the extra mile and put their LP out on vinyl. You want the perfect mix of Mod, Psych, Beat and Freakbeat with a French touch all mixed into one? You'll find it here

To Scootart, our one and only vintage scooter shop in town, I had the pleasure of visiting you a few times this year and you really have made my life easier. Plus, you have introduced me to my mate Dominic.

Caroline and Dominic, proud owner of a newly restored 1972 Vespa Rally 180 from Scootart
And finally to all of you readers, I truly value your support. As a small show of  my appreciation, I decided to organize a little raffle. Up for grabs is a small MP3 player filled with some of my favorite Northern Soul, RnB, Beat, Garage, Yé-Yé, and Psych tracks from the past year. You’ll find the entire Top 10 Northern Soul and Garage tunes from my two previous posts.

To enter is as easy as yelling We Are The Mods . All you have to do is share with us your favorite 60s song in the comment section below. You’ll get an extra chance of winning if you Like the Parka Avenue page or share this post on Facebook. I will gather all of your names and toss them in the ol’ pork pie hat. The contest ends in exactly a month. Good luck!