The arrival of Modern Jazz and imported clobber to Britain in the late 1950’s heralded for a tiny few, new ways of being and being seen; a minor cult of mainly men and eventually women, inspired by music, fashion and occasional philosophy. Swapping demob drabness for peacock suits and the birth of cool; these were the seeds of Modernism.
Mod, for a brief few years from 1958, whilst off-grid, remained a discernible and narrowly defined construct. Some folks think original Mod was all over by 1960 and that by 1964 it had completely lost its essence.
In Clinton Heylin’s wonderful account of the birth of American Punk Rock, “From the Velvets to the Voidoids”, he suggests that:
“Like other forms of ‘art’, high and low, the history of popular music contains its fair share of fractures, moments when fissures appear in the edifice of accepted forms and something new and significant spouts forth from the cracks. Sure, what Elvis Presley recorded in Sun’s studios in Memphis had clearly discernible antecedents, but what he produced was so much more than the sum of previous parts".
Apply this to the deep underground gone over-ground scene which is Mod and things start to make sense. Each generation since the first wave of Mod has embraced the roots and mutations upon which Modernism splinters, finding new directions, reactions, creations; maintaining an attitude, impossible to define.
The Jam were a phenomenal band, fired by the spirit of punk as much as Motown, yet this most Mod of Mod bands were the conduit through which Modernism’s multiple strands and influences were channelled. The Jam introduced many a trainee Mod to the world of Soul, RnB, Blue Note, The Eyes, The Poets, The Small Faces, Monkey jackets and Monkey boots (monkey’s love mod - just ask King Monkey himself). I was often derided for suggesting The Stone Roses carried themselves with the swagger of British mod. "Baggy not Mod", I was sternly reminded. I never agreed. Check out Paolo Hewitt’s excellent book exploring six decades of Modernism, “The Soul Stylists”, and seamlessly trace the lineage that has influenced British subcultures from Mods to Casuals.
One of Paul Weller’s heroes, The Kinks, were the second most popular name to appear on the back of Parkas in the early 80’s, yet Muswell Hills finest were by no means a ‘Mod’ band, despite their significant contribution to the movement. ‘You Really Got Me’ released in August 64 gave Pete Townsend the spark to find his own path whilst single-handedly creating a guitar sound that’s still sought after. The Kinks followed this landmark moment with See My Friends, All Day And All Of The Night, Tired of Waiting For You and Set Me Free, all within 5 months, whilst gigging virtually every night. (Amongst the many stories retold about the Mod era in the 60’s, rarely is it mentioned that The Kinks original bass player, Peter Quaife, a dyed-in-the wool Mod, travelled to Kinks shows on his Scooter dressed in Parka, Desert boots and Sta Press. Thankfully, Keith Moon never attempted something similar, can you imagine?
Pete Townsend openly acknowledges the Kinks massive influence on his own writing, heralding a change in approach which soon gave birth to The Who sound. The Kinks steadfastly refused to follow trends. When it was all the rage to write lyrics about inner transcendence and the psychedelic experience, The Kinks released three of the most English albums you could ever hear– Something Else, Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society and Arthur Or The Decline and Fall Of The British Empire. One record after another from 67 to 69, incredible songs about people you know, living in houses built on streets you walk past every day. Arthur is rarely mentioned with the same reverence as Tommy or Sergeant Pepper but remains a conceptual long player unsurpassed.
The Who have remained synonymous with ‘Mod’, particularly the ferocity and style of the band in 64 and 65, the year in which My Generation arrived to push speaker cones to the very limits of capacity. An album which opens with Out In The Street, driven (ram-raided?) by a rhythm section performing the sonic equivalent of an amphetamine rush. Interestingly, the album only mellows on the cover versions, songs which fail to grasp the zeitgeist like the scowling agitation of maximum RnB penned by Townshend.
The Who often shared a stage back then with a much lesser known group called The Action, original Kentish Town Scooter boys in 1963, a band who were, are, and will always be, in the lap of the Mods.
“We all tried our hand at getting that [Motown] sound you know... all the bands in the mid ’60s. The best ones at it were the Action... They were an amazing band.” (Steve Marriott, source unknown 1987)
I reckon wee Stevie knows what he’s talking about!
In February 1966 Brian Epstein described them as "the greatest thing since John, Paul, George and Ringo.” Reg King’s voice is pure blue eyed soul sat atop the sound of a band that knows what it means to be loose and tight at the same time, forever locked in the groove, offering a tender but tough pure feel. Later the band found the Paisley amongst the Tonik to create the astonishingly good Rolled Gold. The Action’s ‘lost demos’ recorded between 67 and 68, the rawness of which takes you right inside the core of a band writing brilliant new songs. Something To Say -the opening track is a goosebumper which never lets up; a track as good as any ever written.
It's that good.
If you would like to delve deeper into the world of Mod, there are some fantastic books and I would recommend: ‘Mods – A Very British Phenomena’ by Terry Rawlings, ‘Mods – The New Religion’ by Paul Anderson and ‘MOD: From Bebop to Britpop, Britain's Biggest Youth Movement’ by Richard Weight. If you ever visit Brighton, you must pop into the best Mod shop on the planet – Jump The Gun – the staff are amazing, the clobber beautiful and the vibe early sixties modernist.
Yours in music, Colour Is Sound- Made in Brighton.