Friday, 17 January 2014

‘Mod for it’ – Leicester Mercury’s Picture of the day

You could see them at the top of Leicester’s High Street: Rows and rows of scooters, all parked up by the Majestic Cafe. Proof, if you were looking for it, of a rebirth one of Britain’s coolest youth cults.

“You could sit by the window and look out for the other scooters arriving," Mark Woodhouse told the Leicestershire Chronicle in 2010. "There would be hundreds of parkas piled up on the floor in the corner rather than on coat hooks and when it was time to leave you’d have to hunt through them all trying to find your own.”

Mark, who grew up in Wigston, had become fascinated by the look, the lifestyle and the music after watching a pirate copy of Quadrophenia at a party.

“When I watched it, something inside me just clicked," he said. "I wanted to be like the lead character, Jimmy.”

Based around the Who’s 1973 album of the same name, Quadrophenia supercharged the Mod revival which had begun in London around 1979.

Mark's pal Shaun Greaves, of Countesthorpe, was equally hooked. “I asked my mum if I could have a parka. She said I could but only if I dressed smartly.”

“She made a rod for her own back there. From then on I had the tonic suits, the lot. Nothing just got thrown together – it was meticulously worked out beforehand. You had to be the Face."

There were two magnets for the modern day Mod about town: the Majestic Cafe, and the Co-op Cafe, also in High Street.

Irish Clothing was also dressing the revivalists in the same sort of outfits which had proved so popular nearly 20 years before – Fred Perry and Ben Sherman shirts, Harrington jackets, Sta Prest trousers, loafers and bowling shoes.

Young Mods would leave the clothes shop and head straight to one of the two cafes to admire or, hopefully, be admired.

“We were out to impress," said Mark. "We wanted to stand out, it seemed like the whole point.”

A scooter was needed to complete the look, and as soon as they reached their 16th birthdays, Shaun and Mark hit the road on two wheelers.

It was the start of a long-lasting love affair with a mode of transport which was relatively slow, costly to maintain and hugely unreliable.

Soon Leicestershire's own ace face had emerged, riding in on the most impressive scooter on the scene.

Bryn Owen, who lived in Market Bosworth, had such a staggering array of mirrors on his scooter that the Leicester Mercury sent a snapper out to take his picture.

The image was picked up by the Daily Mirror and went national, before Leicester’s own Biddy Baxter, producer of children’s TV show Blue Peter called the teenager down to London to show off his impressive wheels on BBC1.

Bryn told the Chronicle: “The start of it all for me was Quadrophenia; that had me doodling pictures of scooters on my text books at school. This was around 1981. By 82, I had my scooter. I started with a Vespa 19. I then got a Vespa 50 and that was the one that ended up in the papers and on Blue Peter. Biddy Baxter rang me and asked if I wanted to do it. I took my scooter to London by train from Nuneaton station to Euston.

“The fashions I was wearing were influenced by the 60s and ska – loafers, shortened trousers with white socks. There was a big crossover between the 2 Tone scene and Mod.”

The new generation of Mods had a huge amount of music to enjoy, including 1960s pioneers the Who. The Small Faces and the Kinks were obvious choices too, as well as soul music, in particular Motown. Obscure bands from the 60s like The Action, The Truth and The Creation were also enjoying a newfound popularity.

The revivalists also had their own bands, including The Secret Affair, The Purple Hearts, Merton Parkas, The Chords and The Jam, led by Paul Weller.

Weller would, in time, become worshiped by the revivalists, first with the Jam, then with his new band, the Style Council.

Nick Morley, of Glen Parva, found his way into the Mod movement through the music.

“It was really from seeing the Specials and the Jam on Top of the Pops. Also hearing the stuff my older brother was into,” he said.

“I got a pair of burgundy Sta Prest trousers and a Harrington jacket. I’d go to second-hand shops to get the right clothes, too. I’d look for Ben Shermans and buy Fred Perrys. Even if they were knackered I’d buy them and sew the label on to something else. First, I just wore my clothes to be seen at school discos. Then there was some Mod nights at a church hall in Aylestone, called Ready, Steady, Go!

“My first gig was Madness at De Montfort Hall. It was fantastic really, it was full of skinheads, rudeboys and Mods. It was not really a Mod thing but it felt good being part of that gang mentality there. It felt like I was really on to something. I came from a background where my parents weren’t really into music so I was hooked by these sounds.

“I soon started getting into the bands that were influencing the new ones, such as The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces, Tamla Motown, and lesser known bands.

“It was something about the music and look that stood out for me.

"Like a lot of the Mods, I went to the Co-op Cafe opposite the entrance to where Highcross is today. It was a great time because if you saw someone else in a boating blazer or a parka you could just go up to them and talk about music. When the Style Council brought out their singles, there would be a message from the Cappuccino Kid in the sleeve notes.

“The Co-op didn’t serve cappuccino, but the Majestic did. Before we knew it we’d ditched the Co-op and were drinking cappuccino in the cafe up the street, thinking we were very cool.”

It’s now more than 30 years since the revival started, and it hasn’t really ended for those who were part of it.

“Being a Mod is in your heart," Shaun told the Chronicle's Mark Charlton. "I may have had a blip and lost my way a bit in the late 80s but I’m right back now. I buy clothes now, not necessarily to wear, but to replace ones I had. I went on a pilgrimage to Brighton to see the locations used in the film. I also still go to scooter rallies.”

“There can’t be any other youth cult like it really for getting a grip of you and making you feel part of something," added Mark. "I’ve never changed the way I felt.

Bryn gave up scootering following an accident in 1985.

He wouldn’t ride again for 22 years, until he thought it would be a handy way to get to his local train station. It didn’t take long for Bryn to throw himself into the national scootering scene, get his old records out and wear the fashions again.

“It didn’t really go away,” he said.

1 comment:

  1. the fan club leicester
    every friday 11 till 3.00am
    motown 60s rnb northern soul
    keep the faith / be there