Modzines: Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland – book review
New book Modzines written and compiled by Acid Jazz records supremo Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland features their own personal archive collection of Mod fanzines, celebrating these publications like never before. Containing extensive details of modzines from 1980’s to the present day, this is a feast for the eyes of every Ben Sherman wearing boy about town. Matt Mead reviews the book for Louder Than War.
Before the invention of the internet, to be able to find out what was happening in the current music scene or to reflect on archive music material and discussion you had to either wait for the weekly music papers/magazines to be released, listen to John Peel’s rumbling tones on Radio 1 or if you were lucky you’d have tracked down a fanzine with similar tastes to your own, this was especially the case with the birth of the mod revival scene in the late 1980’s, and that’s where Modzines, Fanzine Culture From The Mod Revival come in to lift the juggernaut of a publication back on to the Launchpad.
Eddie kicks things off with a heartfelt introduction of his personal induction to the Mod phenomenon, how he started his own modzine, Extraordinary Sensations, furthermore he goes into detail of the reason why Modzine’s have carried on for the past 30 odd years to be embraced, loved and cared for by so many Modernists and fans alike.
There is overload of love that has brought these old, sometimes battered and well-worn modzines to life. The visual content in the book is a adrift with front cover scans to exhibit the visual appeal the modzine creators were trying to bring to their Sta-Prest wearing audience, we also get articles that were originally published in the likes of Heavy Soul, Roadrunner, Maximum Speed, In The Crowd. What is also evident is before the modern age of computers, every means available was used to conjure up these modzines. Blue Peter type Cellotaping, colouring in, sticking, cutting and pasting was all evident with these publications, which makes the visual appeal tug on the heartstrings to see the time and effort given to bring the love of Modernism into every home of the reader.
The bands featured across the book is as you would expect, including mod favourites The Jam, The Small Faces, Secret Affair who all get some breathing space across the pages, we also get a time line of how the modzine has evolved through the years with many of the original editors contributing their own memories how they got involved and created their masterpieces including the famed Adrian Thrills of 48 Thrills, Tony Fletcher of Jamming and Bernadine Wood of Go-Go.
The overriding emotion that immediately washes over the reader of the book is it will be a lasting loved document for many years to come which gives a refreshing rebirth of long forgotten publications and how the Modzine will carry on until we’re all brown bread. As Mr Weller once said ‘I’ll always be a Mod, I’ll even be buried a Mod!’
Interview with Eddie and Steve:
LTW: What was the first music you remember hearing as a child?
Eddie: The answer to this should really have been The Small Faces as my mum ran their fan club in the 60’s but sadly I didn’t find that out until I became a 15 year old mod and my dad told me about it. He then showed me a picture of me and three other kids holding an Itchycoo Park sign that had been taken by Gerard Mankowitz in 1967 and used on the artwork for the US sleeve and for the sheet music! I suppose I remember the Beatles and specifically Simon and Garfunkel growing up, although my dad was always playing a lot of jazz…I couldn’t tell you which artists they were at the time.
Steve: Bands on Top of the pops mainly in the early/mid 70s onwards, as kid I was an avid watcher. Remember glam, disco and then punk happened – infiltrating the TV screens. On the radio first memories are bands like the Beatles, Stones, Rod Stewart and lots of Motown on Sundays.
Who were your first musical influences?
Eddie: I have a life changing experience as a 14 year old when I first heard The Saints guttural punk snarl, I’m Stranded. This set my life on a completely different direction and from that point I fell in love with punk. The main bands I liked were Buzzcocks, 999, Stranglers and a little later Crass. I had a holiday job in Walthamstow and spent all my money in the incredible Small Wonder Record shop. Almost forgotten now, it was the best shop I had even been to and the staff (well, Hippy Pete at least) were brilliantly helpful, completely different from Rough Trade which I actually found intimidating.
Then I first saw the Jam in 1978 and that completely changed my life again. By the early months of 1979 I had bought myself a parka and firmly embraced the mod life. We wore parkas as a badge of identity, a way from distinguishing ourselves from punks, this was really important as the music was pretty much the same, at least it was in the ’79 revival.
Steve: I guess the early New Wave bands around 78/79 stood out for me – the energy and power pop of bands like Buzzcocks, Generation X, The Jam, Skids (as seen on TOTP) first single I bought was Skids – Into the Valley and from there the revival bands in 79. Although they sounded similar to new wave punk bands of the same period, the Mod revival bands came with the clothes and attitude of Mod. 2 Tone was also a massive influence on me, especially the Specials – Mod and 2 Tone came hand in hand at first in 79/80 before splits emerged.
Were your families big music influences?
Eddie: Well, they were both mods in the 60’s so I suppose for my dad it was Jazz. He was a massive fan of Tubby Hayes and Harold McNair and my mum was slightly younger so it was more about the Small faces and the Hollies. They both liked soul though and I managed to pick up most of their record collection as a teenager and it had some crackers in it. All the Small Faces singles on demo too. Happy days
Steve: My older sister used to bring home Motown records and was into Northern Soul played at the youth clubs so that definitely rubbed off, in fact never left me really.
When did you first hear about the Mod movement?
Eddie: In the winter of 1978 me and a couple of mates from school had been to see Stiff Little Fingers in Camden. I absolutely loved the band – especially Suspect Device, Johnny Was and Alternative Ulster. I can still hear the opening chords of that and this hit you like a train. In a packed and sweaty carriage I was inking SLF on a carriage door when a tall, skinny lad in a target T shirt and wearing a tonic jacket (the first time I had seen one) and wearing mirror shades (on the train at night time!) tapped me on the shoulder. I thought he looked really cool. He asked if he could borrow my pen and promptly wrote Mods! with an arrow on the ‘d’. I asked him what he meant. It was the first time I had heard of mods as I had no memories of 60s mods and was only 14. He patiently explained that they followed The Jam and a few other groups including one called The Chords, who were playing at The Kings Head in Deptford in a week’s time. We arranged to meet outside the pub on the night of the gig. Two days later I went to the Army & Navy in Manor Park and bought myself a parka and some hush puppies. It was The Chords 4th ever gig and they were fabulous. It is a great feeling being involved in something from the very beginning and there were about 60 people there but the atmosphere was electric and the crowd were really friendly. From then on I started following The Jam around and ended up seeing them over 50 times.
Steve: Well I’d seen the Jam on Top of the Pops and noticed something a bit different about them compared to punk bands of the time but didn’t really connect them with Mod. It was the older kids and brothers of mates who lived on our street – they started getting into it via The Jam, hanging out I got to listen and look at records they had, especially All Mod Cons with its iconic inner sleeve, parkas and scooters start to appear, and of course when Quadrophonia came out the whole thing blew up across the country. To a young kid into music this was massive with new bands The Chords, Purple Hearts, Secret Affair, etc. coming through Punk felt ancient and Mod revival became our scene and no longer something the older kids had. Around 1979 I also became aware of the music press and started buying Smash Hits, quickly moving onto Sounds and NME.
Eddie: your mum used to run the Small Faces fan club, I’m guessing your love of Mod started from a very early age?
Eddie: As I said, I knew nothing about the Small Faces until I told my dad that I was going to be a mod and he then told me the family history about it. He still had some decent clothes in his wardrobe so I had them off him.
What interested you about Mod? Was it the clothes, the music, both or other elements of the movement?
Eddie: It was basically that I really didn’t like the Sid Vicious clone that had taken over punk by the end of 78, although I loved the music I really didn’t like the people. They were a lot older than us and I found them pretentious and a bit wanky to be honest. We were still going to see bands like The Ruts and Joy Divison, The Fall and especially The Mekons and Gang of Four but as mods, not punks! Within six months there were hundreds of mod bands about so we concentrated on them and then in August, Quadrophenia came out and the scene blew up nationally!
Steve: It was both elements – music and clothes. Having just started secondary school, entering a world where the right music and clothes meant everything in the youth club and playground – being part of this new thing, the weekly visit into town on Saturday’s to buy the latest records, clothes, badges and magazines. I even loved the adverts in the back of music mags for all the clothes, gigs, reading the interviews and lyrics.
How did you get to purchase your first modzine?
Eddie: I picked up a copy of Maximum Speed in March or April 1979 down in Green Street on the way to see West Ham at Upton Park. Punk fanzines like Adrian Thrills’ 48 Thrills and Tony Fletcher’s Jamming! had been knocking around for a while but MS was the first time I had seen a fanzine aimed at mods. It was issue 2 I think. From there I bought them whenever I could – Get Up and Go! (run by Tony Lordan and Vaughn Toulouse who later formed the band Department S) Shake, and Direction Reaction Creation. I had to sell my collection six or seven years ago as I needed the space, I had over 1500 modzines in the end. Bought myself a new car with the proceeds!
What was it about the modzines that you liked?
Eddie: They were a journalistic torpedo fired into the bows of the lumbering inky music press. They were designed to be disposable and had two main functions, to inform and educate. In the days before social media and given the reluctance of the established music press to write about mods and mod bands after 1980, they were often the only places you could read about your bands, the ones that you followed week in week out. You could throw them away and buy the next one. By issue 14 of my fanzine, Extraordinary Sensations, me and my co-editor (the now author) Terry Rawlings were shifting close on 15,000 copies an issue. That takes some serious work and in the end, like all fanzine editors, we lost interest and gave up, it happens to them all in the end!
Steve: I liked the fact kids just got on with it, in the face of no media coverage and created their own fanzines from the early cut n past days thru to slick typeset production. It was very much a ‘in it together DIY ethic’ and bands gave their time and support to the fanzines from the early days.
Did you prefer the modzine publications to reading the weekly music papers NME etc..?
Eddie: I think in ’79 they complemented each other. You had journalists like Thrillsy at the NME and Garry Bushell at Sounds who did enthusiastic features on the up and coming scene but most journalists didn’t like the mod revival and only wrote to disparage it. By late 1980 I had stopped buying Sounds which up to then I got on a weekly basis because they ignored our bands. I actually went for a job at Sounds but didn’t get it. Instead, when Dave Henderson set up his own magazine called Underground, he got back in touch and asked me to write for that instead. In fact, the press backlash against mods in 1980 and 81 proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to many of the bands who simply gave up in frustration.
Steve: The 79 revival coincided with me discovering the music press and I enjoyed reading Sounds, NME and Smash Hits – I even loved the adverts in the back for all the clothes and gigs as well as the interviews and lyrics. But getting a fanzine thru the letterbox and reading cover to cover felt like getting closer to the source, in the know, one step nearer and made you feel like part of something (that goes for any fanzine). During the 80s there wasn’t a choice as the mainstream press ignored the scene altogether despite bands like Untouchables, The Prisoners and Makin’ Time being around at the time.
I remember buying modzines and they seemed like a little exclusive publication that only the knowledgeable few read, which would make purchasing and being in the possession of them even more special. Did those same thoughts resonate with yourselves?
Eddie: Well, I think it was always like that because if you didn’t read modzines you quite simply wouldn’t find anything out about the bands. This is particularly true about the second mod revival in ’83/4 which in many ways was even bigger than the first but without the hype of Quadrophenia around it. Mod was definitely back underground at that time and although The Truth, The Untouchables and The Style Council had hits, many bands like The Times, Making Time and The Prisoners didn’t. I found it quite ironic that in 1999, the NME named their top 100 most important British albums of all time. The Prisoners’ The Last Fourfathers came in at something like number 35. You wouldn’t have thought so though. I doubt the NME ever did a feature on the band at the time.
Where did the idea come from to create the book?
Eddie: It was Steve’s idea so I will let him answer that one. I am pleased he asked me to do it with him because I am very proud of it.
Steve: A few years ago I was listening to Ed’s The Modcast (Podcast) which often talked about the revival scene of 79-80’s bringing back fond memories. As I was working on a couple of projects with Ed around that time I’d always ask him about the punk/revival period and when he gave me a few fanzine copies he still had left it sparked a journey of research and whilst there are some great websites and groups online I wanted to dig deeper into the story of fanzines as more where produced than in any other subculture. Originally I thought about doing an online blog style thing until one day Jeff (Barrett) at Heavenly Recordings put me onto a download PDF he created for his Caught by the River site called ‘Remember Roger Eagle’ (of Twisted Wheel, Eric’s club fame), a beautifully crafted and put together modern day fanzine. Holding the printed version made me realise Modzines should be in print – a tangible object you could hold and turn pages – a book format. There was never a question of asking Ed to be involved from day one and happily he agreed to write the book with me
How many modzines you both have in your collections?
Eddie: I have one copy of 15 of the 16 issues of Extraordinary Sensations. I never kept a copy of issue one and have never been able to find one since.
Steve: Actually, just a few sent to me for research on the book – most are collectable now and some go for hundreds of pounds.
Who are your top 5 favourite mod bands?
Eddie: Ooh, The Action, The Jam, Small Faces, Style Council, Chords, Purple Hearts, The Prisoners, JTQ, Corduroy…erm, that’s more than five, isn’t it?
Steve: In no particular order: The Small Faces, The Jam, Purple Hearts, The Chords, Style Council
Finally, what mod related tunes are on your turntable at present?
Eddie: I am a big soul fan and have a new compilation that I did with Martin Freeman called Soul On the Corner – it’s out in April and I tend to be listening to that at the moment
Steve: Always some Northern Soul, R n B and Ska never far away and as we’ve got the Modiznes book in production I’ve been revisiting the late 70s early 80s bands.
Modzines, Fanzine Culture From The Mod Revival by Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland is published by Omnibus Press on 7thFebruary. Pre-order here: HERE
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.