Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Friday, May 16, 2014

Are Mods Violent? Myth or Reality?

Now that the celebrations around the 50 years of Mod are over, let me ask you this question. Is Mod a violent subculture? Events were popping up all around the UK to commemorate this milestone and they would coincide with the clashes between the Mods and Rockers that took place on the beaches of Brighton, Margate and Clacton half a century ago. Is this what we want to pay tribute to? We want to pay homage to a bunch of hooligans that beat each other to a pulp and found pleasure in destroying property?

Of course I wasn't even born when those events happened. I wasn't even born on the same continent. I did exchange with a few Mods of the era and like in any movement, the accounts vary. I interviewed an original Mod a while back and he was so incoherent that I decided not to publish the interview. He did relate to me that he was on Brighton's shores during the confrontations. I got a sense that he was proud of it.

In this short 4 minute interview from the BBC, a Mod recalls being in Brighton when the violence erupted. He has a very nuanced view of it. I urge you to listen to it.

Mods in Hastings. Photo by the BBC

I've had conversations with original Mods that saw these young agitators as anything but Mod. What true Modernist in their right mind would risk damaging their clothes in a fight? They were above that. Many of them would rather be at a live venue in London than be seen on the beaches during a Bank holiday. When I asked my favorite Continentalist Gill Evans of ModTogs  what her thoughts were on the subject, here's what she had to say:

"Suits were a lot of money and were prized possessions. All Mods really looked after their clothes they wouldn't have gone into the sea in them. The thing is that back in the '60s there wasn't the media coverage that there is today, I remember there was a mention of the fighting on TV and a couple of photos in the newspaper.
There was Alex's Pie Stand in Birmingham where we would go after going dancing and there would be Mods and Rockers there but not any fighting. I had friends who were Rockers that I had known for many years but we didn't become enemies because of our clothes."

Mods in Hastings. Photo by the BBC
I'm with Gill. I always thought that Mods were synonymous with class, not fists. I'm not much of a brawler myself, even as a teenager. That doesn't mean that as a Mod from the Revival, I didn't face danger on a few occasions. I recall of few times when Skinheads chased me down the street wanting the Fred Perry on my back or the boots on my feet but I always managed to stay out of trouble. To this day, I've never been in a fight aside from the few years of Taekwondo classes I took a lifetime ago. The only battle I want to engage in, is a DJ battle.

When I asked Mike Anderson from The Detroit Locker about his views on the matter, he had this to say:
"As the riots in seaside resorts like Brighton and Hastings did happen in '64, it can't be denied that there was a violent element among the Mods. However at the time, the media exaggerated the scale of the violence and then Quadrophenia carved it in tablets of stone so that the myth became reality.
Much was a self fulfilling prophecy, so when the media said there would be trouble, loads of teenagers turned up more as spectators than to get involved. I don't think there was any real animosity between most Mods and Rockers. I worked with a guy who loaned me a BSA when my LI was off the road. We'd stand around together with the Rockers and exchange banter. Locally, the violence was centred on a small group in their late teens and early twenties who drove cars and would start fights on any pretext. That's how they got their kicks. My Mod friends and I steered well clear. I can still remember the atmosphere of menace and fear when they turned up at a dance.
The riots of '64 are worth noting as part of the history of teenage cult but should be taken in context and not define Mod. This weekend I turn 65 and achieve OAP status, but it's the clothes, music, scooters and a feeling of youthful optimism that are the reasons I look back with great fondness to the days of my youth."
It's true, I've enjoyed the riot scenes in Quadrophenia a lot more times than I would like to admit. I have a feeling that if I had been there in 1964, I would have been the guy pulling his girlfriend in a secluded back alley instead of breaking a deck chair on a Rocker's head. For a short history lesson about the legendary clashes, these sock puppets will tell you all that you need to know.

Luckily, things seem to have calmed down since my teen years. Mods and Skinheads can be seen together without major incidents. In fact, they seem to have more things in common than reasons to annihilate each other. An example of this is the proliferation of joint Mod and Skinhead related Facebook groups.

Mods & Skinheads sharing a pint. Photo by Amélie Trash.
Mods & Skinheads united
Rockers & Mods also organize riding events together. They happen all over the world and a sense of camaraderie is the norm. This photo was taken at a Mods vs Rockers ride last summer. I was the DJ at the night that followed. Nobody was arrested and no ambulance was called.

This very pose of my mate Richard and I made the local daily newspaper the next day.

On a trip to Brighton in 2009, everything seemed peaceful and tranquil. I managed to come back unscathed and in one piece.

I passed by these Rockers and they seemed friendly.
Law enforcement was ready for any signs of disturbance.
The only screams heard during my visit came from this area of the Brighton Pier.
The only aggressive behaviour I encountered was from these guys. Angry Birds, the real game.

While I was working on this expose, I asked my friend and host of the We Are The Mods podcast Warren Peace if he had any thoughts on the subject. Since he's not the type of guy to shy away from a potentially hot topic, he raised some interesting points. In his own words:
"These days however it's a little different in that sadly, the 'pebbles' being thrown are libelous, bullying commentaries and rhetoric via the social media 'beaches' of 2014 by a bunch of mid-life's with less mental agility than those teens of the 60's and who frankly, should have better things to do with their lives like kids, mortgages, low carb/low sodium sugar-reduced diets, botox and retirement plans. Has the elegance and beauty of modernism really degenerated beyond the clean, functional lines, timeless style and music into a bunch of 40+ 'should know betters' dragging good old fashioned debate into the gutter where it decomposes into hateful, vicious slander? Has the soul of soul been lanced leaving only empty black shells to reenact a Lord of the Flies type of nasty, barely literate online feeding-frenzy? I believe it has."
Warren brings up a compelling argument. How is it that we have become our own worst enemies? The reason I was always proud to call myself a Mod was because it gave me a sense of being a gentleman. Isn't that what a suit represents? Class, sophistication, good taste, pride, no matter what social class you are from. When you don that tie, you're indistinguishable from the upper class. Shouldn't our behaviour reflect that? Let me take a stand, right here, on this day. Mods are refined agents of cool that have better things to do in life than use violence, verbal or otherwise. I'm an eternal optimist. So, who's with me?

So what would have been an appropriate date to memorialize this benchmark? Here's my suggestion for next time. I think that Mod's Diamond jubilee should be on November 5th 2040 to celebrate 75 years since the release of My Generation by The Who. Strike that, by 1965 some say that Mod was already dead. Let me hear you, Mods of the world. Do you have a new anniversary date we could look forward to?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Italian Knit - When Mod Goes Casual

When the suit and tie stays in the closet, the knit comes out. I couldn't think of another piece of clothing that can make a statement without being too formal. It can be worn with a simple pair of jeans, some smart Sta-Prest's or classy dress trousers. Your imagination is your only limit. It's versatile to say the least.

The Small Faces looking at knitwear on Carnaby Street. Photo by Tony Gale

The title of this post says "Italian Knit" but in reality, this fully buttoned shirt is as much an American thing as a continental European design. Since the 60s, it has adorned Jazz and Soul musicians, Ivy Leagers and Mods alike.

Stevie Wonder's trombone player sure knows how to jazz up an outfit.

The choice of colours and the variety of stripes and patterns is what makes it so appealing. I could include all types of knits and fabrics in this post but I'll focus on a certain look. Yes, a 3 or 4 button shirt could be considered a Mod knit, like this perfect example worn by Steve Marriott, but I'll put the accent on the collared cardigan type knitwear like the one above.

In the last 10 years, we have seen the resurgence of these bold and vibrant examples. You want to be a true modernist and only wear something new? You will be well served. Retailers like Gabicci,  David WattsArt Gallery, Jump The Gun offer a range of knitwear that will suit your fancy.

Eric, on the right, is wearing a soft Merino knit from Art Gallery

Shops like Mendoza also sell some high quality knitwear but you can expect to pay a premium. You may have to pay more but you can be assured that you won't show up at a Sunday afternoon scooter ride with someone wearing the same cardigan as you. They have a very limited run of each of their designs.

Quality is synonymous with Mendoza.

The new player on the scene is Connection Knitwear and Accessories. Run by my mate Daniele, I  have very high hopes for his future collections. As soon as I saw this one, I bought it before they ran out. Take it from me, this is well made.

When I asked Daniele to describe his knits, this is what he had to say: "The inspiration is clearly derived from 1950s and 1960s Italian knitwear. We wanted not only to reproduce a style we've always been fond of, but give it our personal touch, adding a twist via the color schemes, the quality of materials and the care of details. The same attention to quality and style will guide us in the development of the next collections."

Eric's bold choice of socks makes the colours of his Connection knit pop even more.

It's no secret, I love vintage clothes. This applies to knitwear too. 

Scan from the King-Size catalog - Summer '65

The only true way to have something unique that nobody else has, is to go down the second-hand route. For this, you need a lot of patience, a discerning eye and luck.

I don't mind paying the same price for a vintage piece as I would for a new one, as long as it's deadstock or in a pristine condition. Be selective and you will be rewarded in the long run.

I found this one on the net in an unworn condition. It was worth every penny. Make sure you know your measurements well before making a purchase. These vintage knits were customarily  shorter compared to the contemporary versions.

Etsy, eBay and Facebook are some the best places to find vintage knits online. Watch the Cloth Moth is one of my favorite places to go on Facebook. Brands like Campus and Towncraft by JC Penneys were popular brands in the 60s. You might want to use these words in your searches.

A nice example of a vintage Towncraft.

Parka Avenue's tip of the day: A lot of these knits are also popular with Rockabillies. Don't be afraid and use it as a tag for your searches on eBay and Etsy. I won't tell anyone.

Long sleeves, short sleeves, heavy wool, Merino, acrylic ; you'll find a version of these Mod essentials for every season.

When a Mod goes casual, it doesn't mean he pays any less attention to his appearance. He will put as much thought and effort in his choice of shirt, accessories, shoes, all the way down to his socks, whether he wears these types of knits or not. That's just what a Mod is.

George Best in 1966
The Impressions
Mel Carter in 1966
I want to thank the very talented and professional photographer Simon Laroche for most of the photos seen in this post. Not only did he manage to make us look decent (not an easy task!) but he was a pleasure to work with. You can see more of his work in the post I wrote about spending the day with 6 beautiful pin-up models. You can get in touch with him through his Facebook page here.