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THE MOD REVIVAL
FIRST PUBLISHED: NME Originals, April 2005
By Chris Hunt

 

No one really had expected the mod phenomenon to achieve a second coming, but in the late summer of 1979, parkas, scooters and target T-Shirts were once again a regular sight in the High Streets of Britain. Some elements of the original mod ideal had been preserved through the ’70s within both the scooter clubs of the north and the northern soul scene, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the first real shockwaves of the new mod hit with The Jam. Inspired by hearing The Who’s ‘My Generation’ for the first time, the young Paul Weller had been swept away by the power and energy of the record, and gradually he turned his band into the uniformed mods of ‘In The City’. He flirted with other mod imagery too – Union Jackets, Rickenbacker guitars, pop art action painting – and peppered his live set with old Who and soul songs, but at the onset of the mod revival The Jam were still thought of as mods working within punk and gradually a new breed of mod band began to evolve in complete isolation from one another.

 

In Romford, Jeff Shadbolt, Bob Manton and Simon Stebbing of the Purple Hearts were brought to the idea by their love of ’60s music. “Jeff’s mum and dad used to have a stall on Romford market,” recalls singer Manton, “and we started to get a lot of ’60s records through that stall, some quite obscure stuff. It all sounded so refreshing.”

 

“I don’t think there was a mod thing bubbling under at around at the time,” says guitarist Simon Stebbing. “We were aware that The Jam were there, but they were still lumped in with the new wave. It was only a bit later that Paul Weller was openly mod, although he obviously was a mod at that time and had a scooter. I think we were quite surprised when we first saw other mods at Jam gigs. Maybe it was nave, but we were amazed that anyone would think of this.”

 

In south London the various members of The Chords were similarly refining their musical tastes. “There were vreasons why we were all doing it at that time,” recalls drummer Brett Ascott. “There was a slight disillusionment with punk – although I was really a bit too late for punk; there was a love of the original 1973 ‘Quadrophenia’ album; and there was a taste for ’60s music. The music of the early ’70s had left me cold and I backtracked to an earlier generation, discovering ‘Revolver’, The Kinks and The Who at a time when everyone else was listening to The Glitter Band or Yes.”

 

Ian Page and Dave Cairns of Secret Affair were likewise flirting with the sounds and imagery of mod, although at the time they didn’t realize exactly what they were dealing with. In mid 1978 their band, the New Hearts, had been released from their record contract 18 months into a five-year deal, but songwriters Page and Cairns were retained and given unlimited time in the CBS studios to develop their songs. Still six months away from the formation of their new band, they used this period as an opportunity to demo the songs that were to become backbone of the first two Secret Affair albums. The vision was to fuse rock riffs with a Tamla beat, something that their New Hearts rhythm section had not been capable of doing.

 

They also flirted with the imagery of smart-suited gangster chic, inspired by watching too many late night showings of the Mick Jagger/James Fox cult classic ‘Performance’ at the Scala Cinema in King’s Cross. “The whole east end ’60s gangster look was what Ian and I wanted to emulate,” recalls guitarist Dave Carins. “It was not a deliberate attempt to be mod but it was a closely aligned look.” Gradually they worked up the idea of a smart-dressing youth cult and in September 1978 Page duly wrote this youth movement-to-be it’s theme song – ‘Glory Boys’.

 

In August 1978 the emergent mods had been given a shot in the arm when The Who placed a full-page advert in the NME asking for mod bands to appear in the movie version of ‘Quadrophenia’ that was currently in production. “It was pretty damn exciting time,” recalls Simon Stebbing. “You could feel something was snowballing and I think the making of ‘Quadrophenia’ had got a lot to do with it as all the mod bands sent a tape in. Without the film there still would have been a mod scene, as we were already dressing mod and looking mod at the time, but without the film it probably would have stayed underground.”

 

Even into early 1979 the new mod bands were still existing as if they were the only ones to have discovered this secret style. “We were all totally unaware of each other,” says Brett Ascott. “It was a complete coincidence we were all doing the same thing at the same time. And it definitely wasn’t because of The Jam. The first time I saw them live was in May 1978. I remember shouting out for ‘So Sad About Us’. Weller heard me and came to the mic, saying ‘at least we’ve got one fan in tonight’. But I’d only gone to the gig because I’d heard that they covered The Who song. Weller was a first class songwriter in the beginning but my interest in them was solely because they were a surrogate Who at a time when The Who were doing nothing. Without The Who there would have been no Chords – but if The Jam hadn’t have existed, The Chords still would have done.”

 

Ian Page and Dave Cairns had toured with The Jam when they were the New Hearts, and indeed had at one time been managed by Paul Weller’s father. Once they had refined their Glory Boy concept, Secret Affair finally made their first public appearance as support to The Jam at Reading University in February 1979, and it was at this gig that they discovered they weren’t alone in their sharp-dressing vision. “There were mods there and they liked us,” said Ian Page later the same year. “They said: ‘Look, we’re mods, there’s quite a lot of us, and what we’re really looking for – I mean we love The Jam – but we’re looking for a band of our own, because they’re famous already. What we want is a band that’s part of us.’”

 

Directed to a pub in Barking, Ian Page went along to check out this burgeoning youth movement and was blown away by the sea of suits and parkas. “I’d invented this Glory Boys concept,” Page said later in 1979, “and if I’m going to be honest the real idea was like a spiv – a suit, a black shirt and a white tie, clothes being very important. I walked in and I thought, ‘they’re all Glory Boys!’ But too late, they were mods. That’s how our following started.”

 

It was starting to become apparent to the music press that after the demise of the much-hyped power pop scene, the stirrings of the next big thing might be found in mod. The NME were the first to take a gamble by giving over the front cover of the April 14 1979 issue to an image of a scooter-riding mod from the bank holiday riots of 15 years earlier. The ‘mod special’ trailed on the cover devoted four pages to the lives of the originals modernists, but tellingly two further pages were given over to the new wave of mods, featuring bands like the Purple Hearts and The Chords.

 

In the same issue of the NME The Bridge House pub in east London advertised the first of its regular mod nights. “Secret Affair came in like millions of bands did,” says Bridge House proprietor Terry Murphy. “They were nice and tidy in collars and ties – it was the way I used to dress when I was young. I asked them what kind of music they played, and they said ‘a bit of soul, a bit of R&B’, so I knew right away they were a mod band. I booked ’em for the following week and I billed it as ‘Mods Monday’. I gave them a residency after that.”

 

Over the course of the next month, Murphy used his ‘Mods Monday’ to audition bands for a live album he was planning for his Bridge House label. The ‘Mods Mayday ’79’ album was recorded on Monday May 7 and it caught the mood just right. With very little hype, mod had become a hot ticket in the venues of London. On the same night you could see The Chords and the Purple Hearts heading up a bill at the Music Machine in Camden that also included The Scooters and Back To Zero. Across London the Special AKA were taking to the Noise Factory stage, and if you fancied a quick trip up the M11, you’d find Teenbeats playing at Bishops Stortford’s Triad Centre. But while The Jam were having a bank-holiday night off in the early stages of a 20-date tour on the back of their ‘Strange Town hit’, it was at The Bridge House in Canning Town that the mod revival would truly be put under starter’s orders, with Secret Affair headlining a bill that also included the Merton Parkas, the Small Hours, Beggar, The Mods and Squire.

 

“The live Bridge House LP is going to be the same to the mod movement as the Roxy LP was to punk,” boasted Ian Page in July 1979. The Secret Affair singer wasn’t too far wide of the mark. The album might not have featured all of the main players of the new mod, but it showcased enough raw talent to satisfy the insatiable demands of a growing audience. It also featured some of the first released recordings by Secret Affair – and it was the inclusion of Page’s band that would make all the difference to the album. That this independently produced and financed album managed to secure and release live renditions of two songs – ‘Time For Action’ and ‘Let Your Heart Dance’ – that would become Top 40 hits within months was an amazing coup for a record label that was merely the offshoot of an East End pub.

 

It would be Secret Affair who dragged the ‘Mods Mayday’ album into the charts for a one-week stay at Number 75 later in the year, but by this time they were already a Top 20 singles act and had long since taken their vision around the country with the March Of The Mods package tour. A truly collaborative effort, Secret Affair and the Purple Hearts took turns to headline, with Back To Zero warming up. “Some nights Secret Affair would blow us off stage and some nights we’d blow them off,” laughs Bob Manton. “Usually it was them blowing us off – but they could play. I became a massive fan of Secret Affair and I even travelled with them for a while. I did read something about the ‘Glory Boys’ album being a great British guitar album in the tradition of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ and I thought that was spot on.”

 

It could sometimes be tough to win over the crowds on the tour, as the travelling east end Glory Boys could alienate the hometown fans. “These gigs would be like real battles,” recalls Simon Stebbing. “Sometimes we won over the crowd because we were quite spunky and aggressive, but up north especially it was like Gunfight At The OK Coral. It could be a bit of an ordeal.”

 

But just as the mod revival was at it peak, with all the main players signed to major deals and queuing up to follow Secret Affair and the Merton Parkas into the charts, suddenly the fans were given another, less challenging option. Since its earliest days the mod revival had run a parallel course with the new ska boom, spearheaded by The Specials, Madness and the highly marketable Two Tone label. For several months the two movements had shared stages, fans and even many of their influences (Secret Affair and The Beat both plundered Smokey Robinson’s back-catalogue). But in the battle for the high street fan, the dance-friendly Two Tone movement won out over the sometimes earnest, aggression-fuelled pop of the mod bands. You could party to Madness – and it was much cheaper to buy a Harrington Jacket than a suit.

 

“There we were ploughing our dirty old ’60s furrow, doing our Who-ish thing. But the Two Tone bands were smarter, they had the whole look – and the tunes were great, they were just irresistible,” suggests Simon Stebbing. “The rise of mod happened because people had been excited by punk, but they didn’t want to dress in bin bags. The early mod thing mopped up a lot of people who had liked punk but who were getting a bit smarter, but the truth is they probably understood the dance grooves of The Specials and Madness a lot better. The whole mod audience just went Two Tone overnight.”

 

“The early gigs often involved ska bands and mod bands playing together, which was really healthy,” says Brett Ascott. “But the problem was that it was hard to get people to understand what you were about. If there’s one genre of music that you cannot define it’s mod, because mod is about style – it’s not a genre of music. It became easier to buy into Two Tone, because it was black and white – literally. Except for perhaps some Who influences, bands like The Chords and Secret Affair had almost nothing in common.”

 

Unsurprisingly, the biggest hit of the mod revival came from a group who understood why the Two Tone bands had been a success. Secret Affair might have just delivered the most addictive pop record of the revival with ‘My World’, but it was The Lambrettas who scored biggest with their ska take on the classic ‘Poison Ivy’, a song often covered by the early Stones and suggested to the Brighton mods by their Executive Producer, Pete Waterman. The record’s goodtime groove made it accessible enough to chart, but the band were always viewed somewhat skeptically by the hardcore. “We were never particularly loved by the mods,” says singer Jez Bird. “Our name was so explicit and I think some mods wanted something a bit more subtle, but we weren’t ever subtle. We were actually quite a good band live, quite a rocking band.”

 

Although many of the key players – Secret Affair, the Purple Hearts, The Chords – carried on and tried to grow and develop, notching up a string of minor hits, the only real survivor was Paul Weller. The first of the new mods, he had been the most distanced from the revival that he had helped to inspire. While others, like Ian Page, were outlining a manifesto for mod, Paul Weller let his image speak for itself as he was all too aware of the pitfalls allowing his band to be harnessed solely to the vagaries of a fashion movement.

 

“I’d happily admit that I wasn’t as clever as Paul Weller,” says Ian Page today. “I should have been watching him much more closely. That’s where I was too self-centred and too self-preoccupied. I was going my own way, while someone who was more experienced than me, who was occupying a very similar musical space, was handling it with a lot more care and consideration. If someone wants to ask me about regrets, the biggest regret that I have is that I didn’t handle that situation in a more sophisticated manner. But what I wouldn’t do, even all these years later, is sit here and say that I was anything other than a mod in a buttondown shirt that I loved wearing – I loved the look and I loved the music.”

 

If Two Tone had stunted the growth of mod in 1980, the forward-looking New Romanticism of 1981 rang the final death knell – even though some of the same dance/soul influences had been brought into play. “We used to go and see Secret Affair,” recalls Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman, “and just as they were taking off I remember us thinking ‘damn, they’ve beaten us to it’.”

 

If Spandau Ballet’s slightly different take on soul music harnessed to a fashion movement provided them with their own path to glory, the look that they ushered in made the retro stylings of mod look even more backdated. “In those days the image was gone so quickly,” recalls Jez Bird. “It was always onto the next thing. Fashion seemed to be much more associated with movements then.”

 

By early 1982 the mod revival was well and truly over, and although it was given a boost a couple of years later when bands like The Truth, Makin’ Time, Small World, The Moment, The Scene and The Prisoners gave the youth cult a renewed vigour, by the time the 1990s came around the real mods were well and truly underground, while the spirit of mod had totally re-invented itself for a new decade!

 

 

Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007