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…


  1. Remarquable! En plus , il y a tellement d'échos de ma propre expérience! Merci Pat!

  2. Great stuff. Well done in asking Jeremy for this, and thanks to him for it.

  3. Well done! It's always great to read firsthand perspectives from the 60's, cheers Patrick and Jeremy!

  4. This is amazing! Loved reading this and totally sharing it on Facebook this morning.

    It's so great to read how these guys got into it and what life was really like for them back then. And it was touching, actually, to hear him get back in contact with Chris Farlowe!

    Great work, both of you!