A POTTED HISTORY WITH A PERSONAL PREJUDICE.
The old chestnut
It’s a question as old as The Jam, The Chords, The Merton Parkas… or even The High Numbers, perchance. Welcome to round one thousand and one of the ‘comedy Mod’ debate.
So… before launching full throttle into it, allow me to set my personal credentials out. I began my apprenticeship in the scooter/Mod world back in the dim and distant early 80s. I must also add a caveat, that I’d already been brainwashed and steeped in it subliminally from a very tender age. My much elder brother had been one of the original 60s mob, going to places like the legendary Twisted Wheel and Disco Takis soul clubs in mid-60s Manchester. So much so that he had me reciting Otis Redding lyrics and stuff like ‘Ain’t nothing but a house party’ at the age of four. When he flew the coop, I inherited a stack of very credible vinyl, thank you very much. Couple that with my (again) elder cousin, well he wasn’t a blood relative, but back then, most kids I knew, their parents friends were Aunty this or Uncle that. Don’t know if that’s just a Northern thing, but there you go. Anyhoo…
Cousin Geoff had a Lambretta, this was about ’73, for the life of me I can’t recall what it was, I think an Li Series 3. I remember he’d ‘allow me’ to clean it. As a treat he’d let me stand on the beloved article and ‘steer’ it while he pushed me down the path outside the garage, behind the flats where they lived.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, those being my formative years, I didn’t have much choice when I reached my teens and the ‘revival’ moved into view. Now. Here’s the rub. Although my brother had equipped me adequately with the original platters (I choose my words advisedly). I also succumbed to the sheer youthful exuberance, enthusiasm and joy of 2-Tone and the revival post-punk assortment.
The problem with the ‘new’ scene was that the clothing and style quickly became a cliché of itself… and has polarized even further today.
So you’re wondering now… Where’s all this going? Well, I suppose if I wore now, what I initially wore then, then yes, I would be tarred with the much misused ‘comedy Mod’ brush. Or what was termed in the mid-80s a ‘Plastic’. This term was coined by the ‘stylists’ of the time. The chaps who wore tailor-made suits, ditched the parka and followed a ‘smoother’ and more authentic style. These were the chaps who collected the likes of ‘Sue’ label records, they viewed all those wandering round in patch festooned, pin badged up parkas proclaiming their undying devotion to The Who, Jam, Secret Affair and the like as ‘poor, uneducated Neanderthals’. To be frank, at the time I very much had a foot in each camp. I’d moved on, sometimes (if I was going somewhere ‘posh’) I’d ‘dress up’ and pull on a tailored suit, the majority of time it was Levi’s and an MA1. After all I was an art student (yes, yes, but reserve for a moment all your very well founded dim views and prejudices of this). I still loved Weller (though my faith was shaken with certain offerings of The Style Council).
Please remember this was prior to his total beatification and Mod-God status. I still went to see Madness — and occasionally, after a little too much of the falling down juice, had been known to start singing bits and bats from The Chords, but by that point in time, I had moved ‘back’ into my original Northern Soul roots — and I’m still there. And also don’t forget, that there were plenty of becks in clapped out cars with murderous intent. Many ‘Mods’ moved on to become ‘scooter-boys’. This was a wider church of dress and music — come in Mr Flat Top psychobilly, it also was a very handy platform from which they could state — I AM NOT A BLOODY MOD! So where does this leave me in the debate?
Now it’s Gone.
I guess I’m a lot more sanguine now. You see I took a sabbatical from the whole scene for a good many years. Partly through choice (still keeping my Lambretta, purchased for £40 back in the early 80s) and partly enforced — family, work and some tosser nicking my Lamby and it disappearing off the radar for over a decade until the old bill turned it up in a 40ft container with a load of other stolen bikes. Luckily I had never cashed in the insurance, so I claimed it back in pieces. I got it back and for a further few years it has sat in bits in my shed. Happily, I’ve now got to a point I can get it back to some semblance of ‘fitness’ (you may read more of this exploit later).
What’s going On?
During my exile from the path of the 3.50×10 I’d been ploughing my furrow in different areas of design, graphic, fashion and product, while getting into local ‘indie’ and still collecting Northern.
By the by, I’ll tell you what I do find irritating, I’m painfully aware of some of the clowns now, the 40- and 50-somethings who had never been in the scene in the 80s — who had frankly been driving round in clapped-out Mk1 Fiestas and Escorts trying to ram the likes of me off the road while they listened to Wham for God’s sake… They now pitch up on their newly purchased machine, eulogizing ‘back in the day’ as if they’d been the number one of a reputed scooter club. The nearest any of this mob came to going to a rally was when they saw me and mine toddling off up the A6 to Morecambe.
You lot don’t fool me. I know who you are and you still have the whiff of cheap ‘Mandate’ aftershave about you. Sorry. Old wounds still smart. I suppose our scene has become a bit like the seminal Sex Pistols’ gig, where all and sundry claimed to be there in order to grandiose their credibility. At the Pistol’s gig, there were a few hundred people, but if a poll were taken now, then they’d be hard pushed to get them all to fit into a stadium the size of Wembley. To whit, we’ve become the victim of a touch of ‘retro-chic’. And no. I don’t claim to have been at the Pistols’ gig. The closest I could claim to anything that cool is that my brother-in-law played kazoo with John The Postman and The Buzzcocks on their white label LP The Best In Good Food.
What do I get?
Yes. I get the ire of the chaps tut-tutting at the 45rpm plus years ‘rebels’ in fishtails plastered with patches on Jimmy and Sting look-a-likey scoots, complete with fox-tails, pennants, pin badges, patches and Jam skunks. I get it, I really do. But let’s look at this objectively. All these chaps are trying to do is ENJOY THEMSELVES, which is entirely why they were in the scene in the first place. So, please, let them do that. I’m also more than sure that a goodly percentage of them are doing this for the first time round as they’d either ‘wished’ they’d done it when younger, or didn’t have the bottle to put up with the grief we got back then.
Me? I’m contented within my own skin as to where I am within the whole scooter/fashion scene. I know what I know and don’t have to scream too much for people to know what I like. I’m not fussed either way if they care to notice or not.
Luckily for us all, these days, thanks to Chris Donnelly, Joe Shindler and the like, Mod style has a subliminal influence and cues in fashion. These days I can wear ‘Mod-based’ clothes without having to go the whole Co-Co the clown… I don’t need to shout ‘look at me, I’m a Mod’. Having said that, if it’s your thing to shout, well… (long drawn out ‘well’ a la Isley Brothers NOT Lulu for the love of God). Then SHOUT! If it makes you happy. Do it. Some of my choices of shirt fabric have raised more than one eyebrow, but this goes back to a chance meeting I had back in the mists of time with a particularly ardent Mod-psychedelic based character.
He was standing next to me at the bar in the middle of an all-nighter. He was wearing a plum velvet suit, Chelsea boots and the most migraine inducing paisley shirt you could imagine. His look was topped off with tiny bottle-green rectangular sunglasses and a total Clint Boon 1988/Walker Brothers 60s pudding basin haircut. He didn’t give a toss if anybody thought he looked a complete div. I remarked to him that I loved his shirt, but I wouldn’t have the bottle to wear it. He raised his glasses and asked why. I remarked I was concerned how I’d look.
He shook his head and sagely told me that I was lying, I was more bothered about what other people thought. I nodded. He said ‘look around’ 99% of these people you’ll never meet them ever again, so what did it matter what they thought for a fleeting second? And anyway, sod them. From that moment on my pursuit of the outrageous started.
So I guess, in summary, the difference between a ‘comedy Mod’ and an ‘ace-face’ depends on whether you’re the observer, or the one in the gear itself.
Words & Illustrations: Rik Bardsley
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