The Borderline, London
Louder Than War’s Ian Canty checks out the Summer In The City mod all-dayer at the Borderline in London.
Now, the Mod Revival of 1979 isn’t held in a high regard by most critics, citing it as a pale shadow of the original movement and put in the shade by the Two Tone bands which emerged roughly at the same time. Whilst it is true to say perhaps it didn’t have the longevity of Punk or Two Tone, let’s look at it from a different angle. A few years too young for Punk, maybe you wanted something different – something that could be yours. Still got the same anger, feelings – remember “Millions Like Us” by the Purple Hearts, what a record. How do you rebel against your older brothers in their safety pins and chains? Simple, look smart. I’m the kind of bloke who feels that he looks scruffy even when he is dressed up so I never really made it as a Mod, though I could appreciate the sentiment.
On the first glance this gig seemed to cover all the bases of Mod bands from the 70s to the end of the Millennium. From the 1979 wave March Of The Mods tour Fiction signings Back To Zero and Squire, who played the pivotal Mod Mayday gig and released the earliest single of that wave in “Get Ready To Go”. The Moment who featured in the mid-80s resurgence spearheaded by the Countdown label (issued through Stiff and under the auspices of Eddie Pillar). And finally the Aardvarks who saw through the lean period of the 90s as Mod proceeded to embrace more garage elements. The thought of being prised into a hot Borderline on the warmest day of the year may not have been that appealing, but the bands certainly were.
However having got in there it wasn’t too bad heat-wise and I settled down to see who the “Mystery Band” advertised to start the show were. Me and my pals in attendance had been guessing at the identity of this act, but it proved fanciful as it was more a case of not knowing who was going to play rather than a name band incognito as I had assumed. Actually the Legendary Groovymen were a lot of fun – nice ramshackle garage takes of “With A Girl Like You”, “Leavin Here” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” rather than the Quadrophernia-period Who that a lot of so-called “Mod” covers bands trot out.
Now I have to come clean and state I was hardly aware of the Aardvarks in their original halcyon days – only coming up to speed with the wonderful “Sinker, Line And Hook” Anthology that came out on Cherry Red earlier this year. Despite the early slot they deliver a brilliant set of Mod / Psych, fine originals like “Arthur C Clarke” and “Cheyenne Woman” rubbing shoulders with top rate covers of Sharon Tandy’s “Hold On” and the set closing version of Wimple Winch’s “Save My Soul”. The, erm, Varks specialise in a neat update of Kinks / Small Faces circa “Ogdens” but very much with their own wit and charm. Despite tough competition to come, the best band of the day by a whisker for me.
We popped out onto the warm streets of Soho to track down some grub and by the time we returned Back To Zero were already into their set – this gig ran like clockwork! Funny band really, got signed to the Fiction imprint of Polydor along with the Cure and the Purple Hearts, put out one great single in “Your Side Of Heaven” and promptly disappeared without trace. Main songwriter Sam Burnett has spent the past few years gigging with the reformed post punkers Department S and it shows that Back To Zero are back with live chops and plenty of zing. The “Your Side Of Heaven” single is the ace, but the whole set is powerful and delivered with brio. Wish I was more familiar with the material, but a very enjoyable set nonetheless.
Another quick nip down the road and its time for Squire – band that for me sum up the romance of Mod and in fact all the pains and joys of adolescent youth beautifully with some simple but touching songs. They’re practically a family band these days and with Anthony Meynell still helming the band with a youthful charm that belies the years. “Girl On The Train” hits the spot – “Noonday Underground” pin-points the rush of excitement just before the Mod Revival went national, when it was just about a few sussed people making something their own out of the past. “Its A Mod Mod World” gets the crowd going and “Walking Down The Kings Road” so evocative of the time when that meant more than a bunch of chain-stores.
The Moment close out the show with their first show in a few years, their set a potent brew of the Clash mixed with soul inflections. With Buddy Ascott from the Chords on drums (that is a hell of a solid basis to build on – he is on thunderous form) and original members Adrian Holder and Rob Moore not missing a step, it does make you wonder how they weren’t more successful at the time. Again I’m not so familiar with the material though that doesn’t spoil my enjoyment and “Minor Emergency” welded together all the Soul/Mod/Punk elements highly successfully. They played great but didn’t say a word in between songs. I take it that was nerves which after a while away so it was understandable. They’re joined for a slightly shambolic but well meaning encore by Simon Stebbing of the Purple Hearts, but the main set was powerful and bodes well for the new LP.
It really was an excellently run and enjoyable gig, lots of great bands, people who were really into the music enjoying themselves and a real spirit of inclusiveness. A cool day out in the afternoon day underground.
All words by Ian Canty with thanks to Paul R Osborn for the Kodak snaps. More of Ian’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his authors’s archive.