Modernism: Part One – A two handed viewpoint
Wikipedia tells us that “Mod” was a British youth subculture of the early to mid-1960s which was briefly revived in later decades. Martin Copland-Gray, however, takes it further with this, his explanation of what being a “mod” really means.
So you think you’re a Mod, right?
You work in sales or accounts or some such drudgery in a tired, nondescript, grey office block on a random industrial estate in Barking with straight-laced nobodies called Ken, Derek, Sandra and Melanie who spout on endlessly about Top Gear, X-Factor and Eastenders, because if it isn’t on the telly it’s not worth knowing about. They snort at your style, laugh at your haircut and are amazed when you fail to know anything about Cheryl, Simon & Co, because you’re different.
You wear a well cut suit that was made by your tailor, a little Italian guy in a tiny workshop in some back alley down the Elephant or off Brick Lane. Two button, three button, single or double vent, high waisted, tapered trousers – all to your taste and specifications.
You only play vinyl…of course. Vinyl that you spent hours searching for in some vintage store in Soho because you need that obscure track by Tubby Hayes or the original pressing of Midnight Special by Jimmy Smith because it’d sit so well in your collection next to Chet Baker Sings and Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard. In fact, vinyl runs through your blood, day in and day out. Not for you the once a year, queuing outside Rough Trade East madness with the bearded hipsters for their annual Record Store Day pilgrimage to buy some over priced schlock marketed by the record companies because it’s the cool thing to do.
Building a record collection takes time, research, patience and a lot of hard earned cash but you know what? It’s worth it! To see that beautiful piece of black vinyl in its sleeve brings a smile to your face and a feeling of warmth in your heart. The sleeve can be just as beautiful as the vinyl and maybe even the song itself. The colours, the type face and the feel of the paper against your fingers as you slowly slide the circle of black gold from its resting place into your expectant hands. Cradling the seven inches with care you slowly lower it down onto the spindle of the 1960 Dansette Record Player, slip across the bar to hold it in place, flick the switch and watch with barely contained excitement as the arm begins to move and the vinyl drops gently onto the turntable to be introduced to its willing accomplice the needle that with a crackle touches down at the beginning of its magical, soulful journey around the grooves of musical pleasure.
You read Sartre, Camus & Kerouac, pouring over words of existentialism, words of loneliness, words of life on the road, of being an outsider who dares to walk on the other side of the tracks on the wrong side of life. All this whilst sat in some uber cool café bar in Soho, soaking up the vibes from the other Modernistas around you, silently ingesting their endless cups of roasted gold in their Alain Delon trench coats, watching the smoke curl up from the umpteenth Gauloise that they slipped from the small blue pack that rests nonchalantly on top of the neatly folded copy of Corriera della Sera or Equipe, then placed on the edge of a pink lip, lit swiftly but cooly by an ancient Zippo and sucked on with great panache just like Marcelo Mastroanni in La Dolce Vita.
You live for the weekend when the greyness turns to colour and you’re a face, a god, the personification of cool and the envy of all those nine to fivers who live in their suburban, photocopied, two up/two downs on some bland housing development within 45 minutes of work, watching box sets of period dramas over meals for two for £10, a nice bottle of Lambrini and bed by ten, cause it’s a school night! They’re not even tickets, they’re nobody!
No early night for you because you’re only just heading out at that point to some small hall in a dark corner of the city centre with a sprung wooden dance floor to groove out to tunes by Frank Wilson, James Fountain and Alice Clark. The music man, oh the music. It takes you to a place so high that you’re floating. Yeah you’ve done some stuff in your time but nothing got you higher not even the all those pills you popped and left you feeling more elated than a few minutes in the company of those legends of the Soul 45.
And now as the sweat dries on your forehead on the night bus home you see the light still on in their lace curtained safe houses shielded from the dark world outside and you allow yourself a smile at the futility of it all and marvel at your own greatness because you’re not like them…any of them. You’re a Mod and you’re proud of it. You’d never call yourself a Mod like, Steve the Mod, Dave the Mod and so on because that’d be a crass thing to do. Mods are invisible and don’t need to advertise themselves so blatantly. It’s something that can only be identified by the depth of a collar roll, the cut of your suit and your moves on the floor.
So this is you right? No? But surely…???
Ok so, you’re still trapped in that hell hole of a workspace this time perhaps as a stock controller in some dull as fuck warehouse near Solihull, with the Tonys and Tracys of this world with their monotone desks piled high with photos of pre-pubescent pop stars, cuddly toys that hold rubbers, sit on the end of pens and signs that scream & declaim ‘You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Work Here But It Helps!!! Tonys playing squash tonight with Clive, eating the same BLT from the canteen and sometimes/always thinking of leaving his wife (but never will) for the skinny, short skirted blond with the big prospects who works in the Sales office and Tracy’s trapped in a perpetual cycle of fad diets suggested by prettier friends, boy bands who wouldn’t know one end of an instrument to another and dreaming of being taken roughly over the photocopier by that strapping UPS driver who looked at her once back in 2007 and now just wants her signature for another umpteen rolls of fax paper.
You’ve christened your domain, the stock room – The Mushroom Department – because they (the management and everyone else) keep you in the dark and feed you on shit! But at least you can wear an old Fred Perry polo under your overalls, adorn the warehouse shelves with photos of lambrettas & vespas and listen to Ocean Colour Scene all day long.
You own a suit that came from Ben Sherman in the same colour that Sting wore as the Ace Face in Quadrophenia. In fact that film is your life and you live and die by the ‘message’ that it carries and when you’re out on a Saturday night with your mates in your Parka, Pretty Green & Perry you chant the same words as Jimmy did – WE ARE THE MODS, WE ARE THE MODS, WE ARE, WE ARE, WE ARE THE MODS!
Your wardrobe is filled with button down collared, short & long sleeve shirts in a myriad of checks, stripes and plains. In fact you’re single-handedly keeping some factory in Bangladesh in business for the foreseeable future. You only own Adidas trainers because those New Balance things are for the hipsters. But you own more pairs of shoes than your missus – Penny Loafers that you bought in some vintage shop just off Carnaby Street, brogues and desert boots, lots of desert boots because that’s what Noel Gallagher wears.
Nestling next to your array of shirts are your collection of tonic suits in reds, blues and greens. Many bear the label of erstwhile Mod brand Merc. No longer a mainstay of the street where British youth culture roared into life they are now consigned to the vagaries of the internet. You still lament the day back in 2012 when after 45 years their store on Carnaby Street closed down, but at least you hung out with the rest of the pilgrims in Bar Italia before you climbed back on your hairdryer and headed up the M40.
In the drawers next to your wardrobe are cotton t shirts a-plenty declaring your unswerving dedication to this movement that you’re just so proud of. T shirts of many colours with prints of Union Jacks, Guitars, Targets, Brighton Pier and slogans that declare ‘March of the Mods 1963’. On days off and weekends you wear them with pride around the house and at the supermarket so that all who see you know where your loyalties lie, even though they probably couldn’t give a toss.
In the next drawer down carefully ironed and folded is a small selection of your vast collection of polo shirts. These are the ones that you wear. The rest lie in a plastic tub underneath your bed, some duplicates, many brand new and mint fresh, still in their polythene bags for protection. They rarely see the light of day except when your fellow disciples visit and then you coo and paw at them like kids with a new toy.
One however has escaped this hallowed tomb of musical fashion history and is hung behind a frame on the wall facing your bed. Stretched out flat, carefully ironed and still bearing the original sweat marks is the Fred Perry Polo that Weller sent you himself because you’re his no.1 fan. Actually you wrote to his fan club and they sent it to you because you wouldn’t leave them alone but no one needs to know that now do they?
For years now your long suffering girlfriend has begged and pleaded with you to take it down and hang it somewhere else so that she can re-decorate your bedroom in chocolate and duck egg blue! But you always refuse because ‘The Modfather gave it me and he’d be offended!’ She’d better count herself lucky that you don’t paint a huge and beautiful target above the bed. That’d shut her up!
On the shelves next to your bed are books by Colin Innes, John Hellier and Paolo Hewitt. In fact he’s your mate isn’t he Paolo? He spoke to you at that Northern Soul gig two years ago and now you’re friends on Facebook and he liked that posting about the March of the Mods gig you’re going to next month so he must be mustn’t he?
Away from work and home you’re in a band. Not just any old band but a Mod band with a name like The Coopers, The Targets or The Shermans. Sure you play covers but only the best ones. Stuff by The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces. and you play your own stuff too don’t you? You call it original but it just sounds like something The Who played whilst tuning up, regurgitated over and over again to the rest of those photocopied, identikit Mods who you spend your spare time with.
You play bass because it’s cool just like your heroes Bruce Foxton and John Entwhistle. You’re a regular down at the local boozer and you play two 45 minute sets alongside the local DJ Glyn The Mod who only plays vinyl and looks down his nose at anyone who even owns a CD. He does that stupid little dance behind the other DJ’s backs and one day he’ll do it to the wrong one, to the guy with the bigger record collection who’ll put a gold encrusted fist through his own personal 45 and leave him broken on the floor of the pub toilet like an old piece of vinyl at the bottom of a used record box.
You’re a historian of the world of Mod. No-one knows more than you do and you were even in that DC Fontana video three years ago. In fact you’re thinking about going on Mastermind in your new Bradley Wiggins polo to show the dick heads down the local just who’s boss. You’ve met Townsend, Cradock and Weller, even talk about them as if they were you’re mates. But they aren’t really are they? You just got their autographs one night at an Oasis gig back in ’97. But as far as the rest of the identikits are concerned you’re the living, breathing image of what being a Mod is all about.
At weekends you squeeze into your best Mod outfit, climb onto your scooter and head into the city centre to the Mod Barbers for a trim and then down to the same Vintage shop you go to every weekend, to have the same conversation with the same Mods you always see there, wearing the same clothes, looking at the same records you looked at last week and thinking that you’re cool.
Well put down that single estate espresso and pull up an Eames chair. Park your scooter and leave well alone that dog eared copy of Quadrophenia that you’ve been eyeing up and let me ask you something –
So you think you’re a Mod right? Or are you really just a fan?
All words by Martin Copland-Gray. More work by Martin can be found in his Louder Than War archive.