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London's Mod Scene

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by Brownie (subscribe)
Freelance author, editor & DJ living outside London. Worked for music weeklies & record companies back in the day - contributes to magazines & websites. Visit my website at www.ministryofbrown.co.uk
Published January 7th 2012
London has always been an established centre of the mod scene, some would argue the centre. Whether it was posing down Carnaby Street in trendy treads or the practicality of choosing a scooter for transport in around the city, the mods were a distinctive part of the iconic image in those swinging Sixties.

Tribute to Keith Moon, drummer with The Who, at 90 Wardour Street, once the address of the legendary London music venue The Marquee.


With their roots in 'modernists' this was a culture drawn from the coffee bars where young people would gather to show off their latest fashion purchases, chat and listen to R&B songs on the jukebox. Mods were all about scooters, clothes, music and attitude. I recently chatted with an East End mod who, now aged 64, was proud of the fact he could still wear his original Parka coat, complete with self-applied RAF roundel, one of the symbols adopted by mods. For him the fun went out of it all when it became compulsory for scooter riders to wear crash helmets. Despite that, you will still find classic Lambretta and Vespa scooters used on a daily basis around the capital, together with their more contemporary counterparts.

Small Faces wall plaque in Carnaby Street.


If you want to trace elements of mod history in London you will have to look up, as some of the familiar pop band names of the period have been honoured with commemorative wall plaques. For example, in Carnaby Street you will find a plaque dedicated to The Small Faces and their manager Don Arden, while in Wardour Street there is a plaque linking The Who's former demon drummer Keith Moon with the site of the famous music venue The Marquee. No.90 Wardour Street was the second home of The Marquee (1964-1988), it had been at 165 Oxford Street before that. The Soho Lofts flats now occupy the site of the club in Wardour Street, where upstairs there had once been offices for organisations such as The National Jazz Festival (forerunner of today's Reading Festival) and Tony Stratton Smith's Charisma Records label.

Pete Townsend of The Who famously encapsulated the mod spirit in the 1973 album and 1979 film 'Quadrophenia' with the 1960s-based adventures of Jimmy (played in the film by Phil Daniels) in London and Brighton. Several London locations were used in the film such as Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush, the S&M Cafe in Islington and the old Royalty Dancehall, Southgate. The original albums were recently given a 'deluxe box set' release.

Saturday night in London - the mod spirit lives on!


There is little doubt that the original appearance of 'Quadrophenia' contributed to the mod revival in the late 1970s, with the emergence of talents such as Paul Weller of The Jam, often nicknamed 'The Modfather'. In the wake of the post-punk/new wave bands later in the Seventies, record companies were keen to sign young pop bands with power and attitude. One such band was New Hearts, signed to CBS Records. When that band split, their creative core of singer Ian Page and guitarist Dave Cairns busied themselves writing songs and formed a new band, Secret Affair. Their first gig was supporting The Jam at Reading University in February 1979 and they soon found themselves very popular figures as part of the period's mod revival movement with Page's 'Glory Boys' lyrics and style adopted by their supporters.

Mods paradise in The Face, Marlborough Court, off Carnaby Street.


Cairn's 'Time For Action' became a rallying call for the youth movement, providing not only a new anthem but a chart hit, the single reaching No.13 in 1979. They soon followed this with more hits, 'Let Your Heart Dance' the same year, 'My World and 'Sound of Confusion' in 1980, with 'Do You Know' following in '81.

Music rarely stands still and by mid-1982, Secret Affair had called it a day and went their separate ways. In the 21st Century, the band have reformed and appear from time to time at London venues such as the 229 Club, Great Portland Street.

Secret Affair at 229 Great Portland Street


There have been several mod revivals so you might have lost count exactly where we are now. Or maybe it just could be that the spirit of the mod scene has never really gone away?

So how can you recreate the mod lifestyle today? There are a few ways to keep the spirit alive. Why not start shopping at Ben Sherman, the brand clothed mods all over Britain back in the 60s, and still have some of that mod style today. You'd also need to buy a Vespa, or another kind of scooter, if you want a mod's transport of choice. Obviously, it also comes down to the music, so while you can still catch some old favourites hitting the stage, head out, get a record player, some old Who vinyls, and enjoy.

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Why? Listen to music like it used to be
When: Now
Where: London
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Your Comment
Interesting article, must get some more of those Classic albums
back on my turntable (have just bought new one!) - Although still listening
to the Who - a timelesss band!
Tony S
by aspen (score: 0|2) 3494 days ago
any 1960s mods out there could possiby let me know what London was like in 1964 ? I need to know how big a city london was in 1964,what life was like in 1964 and the atmosphere feeling flavor and vibe of london that year,as well as any memories and recollections of london in 1964. i only want to know about london only during 1964. (I;m from Stockton ,California and know of no one from London so please don't be upset with me_I'm serious for any info and recollections on London from 1964 very much. thanks mucho gusto. hank
by www.m (score: 0|2) 3451 days ago
Great article Brownie, please let's have more of these! Very interesting to read about the Mods in and around London and of course the recent Mod revival where some of the great bands of the day are back in full swing once more. Bands like Secret Affair and The Lambrettas playing recently along with many sell out dates from The Specials, The Beat and Bad Manners in 2011 has also increased the awareness of the Mods and the 2-tone scene in general. The Selector are also playing dates in 2012 so long may it continue!

Perhaps more articles on the bands, the clothing and the way of life in general would go down well - long live Ben Sherman, Lambretta and Fred Perry!
by geoff (score: 0|2) 3493 days ago
Excellent articles, brings back memories of me riding round Spalding (Lincs) on my Vespa!!
by mail (score: 0|4) 3493 days ago
Fascinating stuff - you don't see such depth in events writing these days - epecially on t'internet.
I wasn't a fan of The Who first time round - too young - then I went to see them live a few years ago and realised what a huge influence they had on bands stretching through the 80s, 90s and 00s.
The Who's DNA is traceable in the work of just about every major British band of the late 20th century - and it's a real treat to touch and feel the environment which spawned this seminal band's brilliance.
by salar (score: 0|2) 3493 days ago
Great article Brownie. I never had a sccoter but my 150cc Francis Barnet and choice of clothes qualified me to be a Mod. Some of my fondest ,but fading, memories of my youth include evenings at the Whiskey a GoGo in converstion with Long John Baldry.
Tony now in Canada
by tvs (score: 0|4) 3494 days ago
The old saying proves true agsin "You learn something everyday"

Thanks Brownie. You have made my next trip to London more interesting.....

Peter
by peter (score: 0|2) 3495 days ago
Great Piece, more like this please 'Weekend Notes'...
by Miley (score: 0|2) 3495 days ago
I wish I could still fit into my parka... I only bought it two years ago and all.

A nice piece, I'm tempted to tour the Quadrophenia locations on the strength of this.
by punky (score: 0|2) 3495 days ago
I remember going to the mod nights on a Friday, 17 years old, at the Crystal Palace hotel in the Mod revival of the late 70s. Always liked the Who, Small faces, Kinks e.t.c. as my older brother was an original mod and always played such music in the house then I discovered the Jams "all mod cons" LP & I was hooked. Also saw The Jam, Merton Parkas, Secret Affair, The Chords, Purple Hearts, Lambrettas, Sta- Press & many others live. GAM
by G.MOR (score: 0|2) 2638 days ago
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