Wednesday, 16 October 2013

This is the Modern World.

This is the modern world

I was thinking how could I explain what being a mod was about and how it was that the most internationalist and progressive youth movement of them all came out of the racial segregation of 1950s America?



Why do mods drive scooters, wear fishtail parkas and Italian suits?

Or Ben Sherman shirts with Levi’s 501’s and Italian shoes?

Or Wayfarer shades, straight ties and black jackets.


It all started in the late 1950’s, when you either liked Rock n’ Roll or Jazz. It was a real problem if you liked Modern Jazz, because the British and American Musicians Union’s had a longstanding dispute and there was a mutual ban on musicians crossing the Atlantic to tour.

Of course, all the biggest stars in Modern Jazz were American. So no Jazz, man. London sucked – until Ronnie Scott set up shop and the unions did a deal.

For late 50’s/early 1960’s kids there was only one solution. Racial segregation in America meant that many black jazz musicians touring Europe found the European attitude to race so agreeable that they stayed on. The most agreeable place to stay was Paris.

As a result from the late 40’s onwards you could hear fantastic Bebop in Paris and nowhere else this side of 52nd street. It was like the pied piper of Hamlyn – youngsters from all over Europe were drawn to the clubs of the Pigalle for the weekend.

From Germany they came wearing fishtail parka anoraks – they’d been conscripts doing national service and either kept them or bought them from army surplus shops.

From Milan, Turin and Rome came smart and stylish young Italians in good shoes and well cut mohair suits – the cappuccino kids. After all that they didn’t have any money left so they drove their everyday little Vespa’s and Lambretta’s over the Alps to get there. Not an easy journey and a cold one too, so the Tifosi also bought up those surplus German parkas for the cold alpine passes.


From London, stylish youngsters from the world of advertising, fashion and the arts headed over the channel with cool haircuts, Rhythm and Blues and a load of attitude to spare. They also brought Ben Sherman and Fred Perry along for the ride.

And Paris?

h You didn’t have to look too far to find existentialism, wayfarer shades and the black, black clothes of the pavement caf├ęs of St. Germaine and the left bank.

Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, ennui, gauloise and the cool new wave movies. In black and white, naturally.

They took it all back home to London and mixed it up with a dose of sweet soul music which had just arrived from the States.

That’s how the mods came about.

Think of The Beatles arriving in Hamburg and the incredible effect Klaus Voorman and Astrid Kircherr had on them – and the Beatles weren’t even mods.

Next time I’ve got to try to explain how Northern Soul came about and what on earth it is.


Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)


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