I must be a Mod – I read it in the newspaper
Tonic supporter Steve Robson writes about becoming a Mod in the spring of 1979.
Steve Robson on a scooter
My Dad never considered himself a Mod. He was however a teenager growing up in south London in the late 1950s and early 60s. He rode a Lambretta Scooter, wore Italian slim-fitting suits, winklepicker boots, and hung around outside Italian coffee shops. He was obsessed with R&B and Modern Jazz music. Every Saturday he would head into the West End to buy new records and clothes.
“Dad, you were a Mod”, I would say. “No”, he replied, “they came later – people used to call us the Italian boys.”
Italian scooters, Italian clothes, Italian coffee shops – it made sense.
The mid-50s leading into the 60s must have been a great time to be a teenager – plenty of jobs and an explosion of great musical young talent and youth culture!
Teenagers were discovering new things and making them their own. They wanted to be different to their parents. Unlike generations before, who had mostly followed their parents’ dress sense and musical tastes, the teenagers of the 50s and 60s were individuals – they weren’t following a tribe, they were creating one!
It wasn’t until the media picked up on this youth culture in the mid-60s that the label ‘Mod’ was created. To be fair, the word Mod pretty much summed it up. As well as referencing the Modern Jazz that they were listening to in West End clubs, it was a scene all about being new and modern.
Steve’s parents on a Lambretta scooter
By the time the term Mod was being used, my Dad had already settled down to family life, with me on the way, but he most certainly would have been classed as one.
I became a Mod in the spring of 79. As a 14-year-old lad, I managed to sneak into our local cinema to watch the 18-certificate film Alien. In those days, you would have a 20-minute short film before the main feature.
The short film for that screening was called “Stepping Out”. It followed a young Mod revival band called The Merton Parkas. They bought the clothes, picked up the scooters and headed to Carnaby Street, meeting up with many other London faces. I loved it – the music, the clothes, the scooters, and the sheer sense of excitement and energy these guys had for the new Mod scene.
I never got to see Alien, having been asked to leave by an eagle-eyed usher, but I wasn’t bothered. I was excited about discovering the new Mod subculture, and then, in the foyer, I spotted a film poster for “Quadrophenia” with all the cast lined up in their Mod gear.
I stared at the poster for at least 10 minutes, studying all of the details – the slim suits, the desert boots, the Parkas, the skinny ties – this was Mod education – I couldn’t Google ‘Mod’ when I got home, so I had to remember it all.
That was it – the start of my Mod journey. The next day at school I turned up wearing my school tie with the skinny end at the front and the wide bit tucked under my shirt. “Why are you wearing your tie like that?”, my mates and a few disproving teachers asked. “Because I am a Mod”, I would defiantly say.
By the end of the week, there were four of us wearing our ties skinny side up, and this was before Quadrophenia had even been released!
I would read the weekly music papers NME, Sounds and Melody Maker to find out about the latest Mod releases. I loved looking through the classifieds for rarities and original releases of The Who, Small Faces, The Kinks and The Jam, even though my paper round pay wouldn’t stretch anywhere near buying one of them.
We had one decent record shop in my hometown – Ryde on the Isle of Wight – and there was also an underground market in the cellar of an old Victorian shopping arcade with a brilliant record stall, selling both new and used records. Most of the bands that became the soundtrack to my life were found on this stall, many of them chosen because they seem to be wearing the right clothes on the artwork.
I became fanatical about bands like The Chords, Purple Hearts, Secret Affair and, of course, The Jam. I bought all of the singles, 2 or 3 a week, and then I started a job clearing a graveyard for a local church. It was my job to clear 10-foot brambles – nasty work – but it meant that I could afford albums!
The Jam’s “In the City” and “All Mod Cons”, The Who’s “My Generation” – original 1965 copy found on the market stall – and “Quadrophenia”, were the first ones to get well-worn on my turntable.
I enjoyed nothing more than lying on my bed listening to my music, staring at the Mod clippings plastered on my walls, dreaming of one day going to a gig.
That day came on 5th November 1980, when my mum finally agreed I could travel with a friend on The Jam fan club coach from Portsmouth to Brighton to see them perform at the Brighton Conference Centre... aged 15, I was about to have one of my best nights of my life...