I was a Mod - in my head, I still am. With a capital M. Once a Mod, always a Mod as they say. I don't wear the same clothes as I did 50 years ago, but I like to think the sense of style is still there.
I was never a 'top' Mod (too young, not enough money) and most people I knew then possibly wouldn't remember me. But for two or three years, I lived, breathed and slept Mod, nothing else really mattered apart from the freedom, the good times, the clothes, the music and especially my mates. I've never thought too much about the 'origin of mod' - that's for the academics and revisionists - it was just a way of life that suited me then and has stayed with me ever since.
I was born in 1948 in Godalming, a quiet Surrey market town, stockbroker belt/commuter land, roughly half way between London and Portsmouth.
Being a kid in the 50s and a teenager in the 60s, I always think that I had the best years to grow up in (but then I never experienced growing up in any other decades !). I spent the first ten years of my life on a new Council Estate on the outskirts of town, with lots of other kids more or less the same age. The 1950s still had a aura of pre-war innocence where kids could run wild and, being surrounded by open countryside, the fields, woods and rivers were our playground and we were left free to spend our weekends and holidays doing just what we pleased - mainly playing cowboys & indians, war games or just kicking a ball around.
Television arrived in our street for the first time to show the Queen's Coronation in 1953, but it wasn't long before the Westerns and cop shows like "77 Sunset Strip" gave us all a taste for Americana.
Sweet rationing didn't end until I was about five, so we were mostly skinny kids - any one called 'Fatty' probably just had a round face! We could play in the street as well because there were only two cars in our road (one of which didn't work), so we all stayed pretty fit.
Harold McMillan told us in 1957 that we'd "never had it so good" and, by the early 60's, it was beginning to come true.
National Service was abolished in 1960, and the threat of having to spend 18 months in the army had disappeared. Jobs were plentiful, so you could pick and choose what you wanted to do (if anything) with your life. And from 1963 onwards, what I wanted to do was be a Mod.
I suppose I was almost middle-class, my Dad was an Architect for the local Council and I passed my 11 Plus exam and went to the local Grammar School, which I hated. I know it's often said that Mod was almost exclusively working class, but the majority of kids at this school who had any pride (!) were eventually Mods, at least fashion wise, and many of the Mod crowd that I eventually knew had good office jobs etc. and came from comfortable, let's call them upper working class, homes.
POINT OF NO RETURN
For me it started around the summer of 1963 when, aged 15, I met up with some lads from Enfield, North London, in the holidays who were about a year older than me, and told me all about their local Mod scene - riding scooters, wearing berets and matelot shirts, listening to jazz and blues music, etc. - all sounded pretty exotic to a suburban school kid and a few of us back home soon started wearing the matelot shirts with bell bottom jeans with frayed bottoms and lovely square toed black lace up moccasins with 'crinkle cut' crepe souls. The look was somewhere between art student and Mod. There was also a fashion for royal blue anoraks with bright red linings that a lot of scooter boys wore for a while before the parka completely took over.
Starting back at school, September 63, there was a new kid, Bob, who had moved down from Southend, and who already had the Mod look and lifestyle completely sewn up, so it wasn't long before I, along with a few others followed his lead. Record Mirror, the hippest weekly music paper, Merseybeat and the Stones, had already sparked an initial interest in Blues and R'n'B and Bob introduced me to the early soul of Solomon Burke, James Brown and Arthur Alexander. He often went back to Southend at weekends and so knew all about the latest fashions and where to buy them. Light grey crew neck jumpers with a good shirt and straight Levis became the order of the day. Bob later worked in Squires when it first opened.
A SHOT OF RHYTHM & BLUES
October 63 saw us at Guildford Odeon where, for 8/6 (42p) we got to see the legendary Bo Diddley (complete with The Duchess and Jerome of course) as well as the Rolling Stones (on their first UK tour) and the Everly Bros, but two months later, the music and the style came together.
In December there was a concert held in the local Civic Hall, promoted by the Ricky Tick guys and headlined by the Stones, supported by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, The Graham Bond Quartet and The Yardbirds (with Clapton in full Mod style), the evening being compered by Johnny Gunnel from the Flamingo . All for the princely sum of 8/- (40p) !
The audience must have included virtually every mod from a ten mile radius, a lot there to see Fame, Bond and the Yardbirds as much as the Stones.
That was the first time I saw Georgie Fame and, for me, he and the Blue Flames will always be the number one English band for Mods - the Who or the Small Faces wouldn't even get in my top ten.
SOME OTHER GUY
It was also at this concert I met my lifelong friend, Malcolm, who was introduced by a mutual friend who knew we had similar tastes in music. Malc was 18 months older than me, was working, had money to spend and rode a scooter. He was funny and gregarious and he also already had the beginnings of a great R&B record collection.
I decided the only way I could emulate Malc was to leave school as soon as I could and start earning, so summer 64 saw me leave the Grammar School. Some of my contemporaries stayed on for 6th Form and went to University, but I was just glad to walk away from what I considered the most miserable five years of my life with enough 'O' Levels to get me a decent job.
Later, Malc and I were joined by Will, who was bit younger than me, and Nick, who had been at my Grammar School, and the four of us set out to have as good a time as possible. Many other friends and acquaintances came and went - some lasted a year or so, and some appeared almost from nowhere, had some fun, and then were never seen again.
YES I'M READY
Before I started work in a local drawing office (£4.10.0 a week !) I worked for a few months in a local timber yard. There was an older teenager working in the yard who was obviously a pretty sharp Mod (even in his working clothes) and I remember him saying to me, soon after I started - "I thought I was the only Mod working here" - which was very generous of him and I knew I'd cracked the look, even though I was still doing Mod on a budget !
A trip to the only club in Godalming showed Malc and I that the local lads were more interested in fighting and drinking than looking good, so we decided that we would migrate to nearby Guildford where things were (slightly) more hip and there was a proper Mod scene. From now on, if I mention 'town', I mean Guildford.
Our love of good music took us along to the Guildford Ricky Tick Club. Apart from the main club in Windsor (originally opened in December 62) which had its own premises from May 64 on (the legendary Clewer Mead), the guys who ran the Ricky Tick circuit, Phillip Haward and John Mansfield, would book regular weekly evenings at various suburban dancehalls, and put on the best of the British R'n'B groups (they weren't called 'bands' until later). Guildford was their second club, opening in February 63, and the most regular after Windsor, but they also held clubs in Reading, Harpenden, Hounslow, Newbury and several other towns. As much as anyone, they were responsible for spreading good quality live R'n'B and soul music over the South East of England.
A bonus was that a Ricky Tick Membership card would also get you into the Flamingo Club in Soho, Richmond Crawdaddy and the Birdcage in Portsmouth.
After 6 months at the Wooden Bridge Hotel (where they had the Stones on once a month) and 3 months at a local village hall, Guildford's 'Tick finally found a home at the Plaza dancehall (a converted cinema) where, every Friday, 5 bob (25p) would get you in to see the likes of John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Charlie & Inez Foxx, The Yardbirds, Graham Bond, Zoot Money, Chris Farlowe and, of course, Georgie Fame. We also seemed to get John Mayall at least once a month, which was slightly boring (even with Clapton on board)! Between the live music, a DJ played great R&B sounds, old and new.
The 'Tick was where all the local Mods met up to listen to good live music, check out the fashions, dance, and plan their weekends. Malc knew a couple of them which meant that we were soon accepted by them all and quickly became fully fledged members of the 'Guildford Boys'.
We then progressed to the Windsor 'Tick, the Flamingo, Kingston Cellar, Portsmouth Birdcage and various other clubs in the south east. Never went to the Marquee (not really our sort of music) or the Scene (slightly hostile).
Now read Part 2
and continued in Part 3
Looking Back Brook Benton (1962)
Young Blood The Coasters (1957)
Point of No Return Louis Jordan (1963)
School Days Chuck Berry (1957)
A Shot of Rhythm & Blues Arthur Alexander (1962)
Some Other Guy Ritchie Barrett (1962)
Yes I'm Ready Barbara Mason (1965)
Ricky Tick ("Rickey Tick") Noble 'Thin Man' Watts (1958)