Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We Are The Mods... and The Rude Boys!

Last month I went to see two live acts that were my point of entry into the Mod world as a teenager. The Specials were one of the bands that made a big impact on my young psyche. I liked everything about them. Aside from their mix of infectious ska, pop and punk, I was attracted to their fashion sense. Damn they looked sharp!

The Specials in Montreal - July 2013 - photo by Tracey Lindeman

Most importantly, it was the messages conveyed through their songs that totally resonated with me. They advocated non-violence, unity amongst subcultures and most importantly spoke against racism. Plus, you could dance your heart out to that music! That was me.

If you have a racist friend 
Now is the time, now is the time for your friendship to end 
Racist Friend - The Specials AKA, 1984

That led me to dig a little deeper into the origins of ska and rocksteady. I remember finding this LP in a little record shop on Queen Street in Toronto. In my uninitiated and uneducated little teenage brain of mine, I didn't even know that 80s ska had it's own roots firmly planted in Jamaican music. You have to understand that I was the only Mod in my French speaking high school, so I was basically self-thought in all matters of Mod music.

Intensified! Original Ska 1962 - 66

On that compilation album was a group called The Skatalites and a musician called Roland Alphonso. I really liked their sound and thought they were a notch above all the others. Last month I got to see The Skatalites live for the first time.

The Skatalites - July 2013, Montreal - photo by Tracey Lindeman

Original Skatalites member Lester Sterling - photo by Tracey Lindeman

When I was a teenager, in the middle of forging my own identity and style, I often asked myself if I was more of a Rude Boy than a Mod. What are the differences between the two? On a dance floor, can you tell the two nocturnal birds apart? Am I too hung up on labels or should I be more like some of my friends “I’m not a Mod or a Rude Boy. I’m just me”? Does anybody care really about the semantics?

Me in the 80s. Many of us wish to forget the dreaded white socks era.
For a young lad, these seemed like crucial questions.

Historically, both movements have their roots in two completely different places. The Mod youth culture is a British phenomenon from the sixties. The mainly working class kids got their inspiration from many sources and touched a vast array of spheres: fashion, art, Soul music, design and scooters. The Rude Boys emerged from the same era but came from Jamaica. The sharply dressed young black men ruled the dance halls of Kingston and laid down the law. Their main interest: ska and rocksteady.

The two movements eventually mingled and intersected once the Jamaican Rude Boys and British Mods started sharing the same dance floor in England. This is where the line gets blurred. Mods and Rude Boys both share a very similar dress code. Nicely tailored suits, slim ties and well kept shoes or boots are part of their uniform. On the other hand, they each have their signature piece of clothing: the pork pie hat or tribly for the Rude Boy and the US army parka for the Mod.Yes, this might be over simplifying things and doesn't make light of many nuances but I'm sure you get the picture.

The inspiration seems to have come from the same role models. The African American jazz musicians from the fifties and the notorious American gangsters in their Italian suits, portrayed in the films, were often emulated. But back in the day, the distinction between the two groups was easily made. The Rude Boys were Jamaican immigrants and the Mods were young British men.

Then in 1979, there was Two-Tone. The British music label brought to the forefront a mixture of pop, punk and ska with attitude. Bands like The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selector popularized the myth of the Rude Boy. The image of Walt Jabsco with his black suit, slim tie, pork pie hat and shades adorned many Harrington jackets, bombers, suit lapels and parkas.

The Specials' Horace Panter & Terry Hall - July 2013, Montreal - photo by Tracey Lindeman

All you punks and all you teds
National Front and Natti dreds
Mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads
Keep on fighting 'till you're dead

Who am I to say?
Who am I to say?
Am I just a hypocrite?
Another piece of your bullshit
Am I the dog the bit, the hand of the man that feeds it? 
Do The Dog - The Specials, 1979

The black and white checkerboard pattern, symbol and trademark of 2-Tone, was introduced. It represented the unity between black and white cultures. It was a strong anti-racist statement. That philosophy really appealed to me. It started making its appearance on everything related to the Rude Boy: pins, shirts, patches, scarves and album covers.

The Specials' Horace Panter & Lynval Golding - July 2013, Montreal - photo by Tracey Lindeman

The James Jacket, a hooded light coat with a checkered pattern across the chest, was very popular in the 80s. I remember having the Carnaby Cavern version in red. When the ska compilation album Dance Craze came out in 1981, the tasseled loafer and houndstooth pant leg on the cover instantly became part of the official Rude Boy wear. I remember buying a pair of Dr. Marten loafers for my high school graduation in 1988. I wore them regularly until I gave them to a homeless fellow while on a trip to China in 2003. They still looked sharp.

The Mods of that period also liked ska. It was not uncommon to see a contingent of parkas at an English Beat concert amongst the Rude Boys, the Punks and the Skinheads. I guess the major difference between the scenes during that time is that the Mods were also into bands like The Jam, The Lambrettas, Secret Affair, The Chords and The Purple Hearts. I would also venture to say that the scooter was also more of a Mod thing. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe I am. The thing is, I never came across anybody who actually made the distinction.

So where do I fit into all that? Do I have an identity crisis? Not at all. I embrace all the good and positive parts of the different scenes. I’m reminded of what Ringo Starr said in the movie a Hard Day’s Night when a journalist asks him if he’s a Mod or a Rocker and he answers: “I’m a Mocker”. So, after all that consideration, I guess you could say I’m a Mod Boy or a Rude Mod.

* A special thank you to my talented friend and journalist Tracey Lindeman for providing all the concert photos. You can reach her through her website here.


  1. Great article. I considered myself a Mod but was heavily into Ska from my first hearing of "On My Radio". But I think it's important to notice that the anti-racist content of many of The Specials' songs stood foresquare alongside traditional rock n roll mysoginism. For instance in "Little Bitch":

    "You tie your ginger hair back in a bun
    You're the ugliest creature under the sun
    (one, two, go)
    And you think it's about time that you died, and I agree, so you decide on suicide
    You tried but you never quite carried it off
    You only wanted to die in order to show off
    And if you think you're gonna bleed all over me, you're even wronger than you'd normally be
    And the only things you want to see are kitsch
    The only thing you want to be is rich
    Your little pink up-pointed nose begins to twitch
    I know, you know, you're just a little bitch"

    1. That's a very good point sir! I have never stopped and considered that aspect. You have opened my eyes!

  2. Ska in UK was part of Mod from about 63 and at Flamingo (a bit) and especially Twentieth Century club on Carnaby Street (and later the one in Paddington) it was a niche part of the scene. I envisage it was very London based though in the 60s. Also notably in Bristol too according to Steve Barrow and others.