Rob the London Mod - part 2

This is the second part of Robert Nicholl's memoirs of the London Mod scene which he is kindly sharing with other aged Mods (like himself) or younger people who find Mod styles interesting. The first part of his story can be found here.

Robert Nicholls
"Ready, Steady, Go would show some Mod fashions and dances by the studio audience of which I was a member (however, it was filmed live, so I never got to see myself). Some great artists performed, including Solomon Burke, Millie Small, Martha and the Vandellas, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rufus Thomas, Isley Brothers, the Who, Kinks, Animals, and many more. The sister and brother duo, Inez and Charlie Foxx, also appeared. Their "Mocking Bird" was released on Chris Blackwell's Sue label in September 1963 and they were a support act on the Rolling Stones tour in 1964. They performed at The Scene Club and I got Charlie Foxx's autograph. Following Michael Jackson's tragic death (25 June, 2009), news commentators asked whether Jackson got his Moonwalk dance from James Brown. But prior to Brown's use of the step, Charlie Foxx did the same Moonwalk during his performances. In actuality it is probably much older."

Early Days - pre Mod

At the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 60s, it was hard to find American R&B on British radio. Aunty BBC didn’t play it at all, but the Light Programme appeased us with Skiffle Club on Saturday mornings. Radio Luxembourg did a bit better although the reception wasn’t very good. Overall, we were familiarized to the latest R&B by occasional records on juke boxes, at local dances, and in record shops that played music over loudspeakers. Hot sounds emanating onto Edmonton High Street at that time included, “One Way Ticket” by Neil Sedaka (released 1959); “Save the Last Dance For Me” by The Drifters (1960); “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles (1960) which was hip, clean and cool, and way ahead of its time; “Mama Said” by the Shirelles (1961); “Hide and Go Seek” by Bunker Hill (1962); and “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” by Bobby Socks and the Blue Jeans (1962) a vanguard for the Phil Spector sound. In order to dance to such music we attended “Under 21 Night” on Tuesdays at the Royal, a large dance palace in Tottenham. There was a dress code—No Teddy Boys. So although my hair was still brilliantined with a DA at the back, I’d wear a dark Italian style suit and tie, with winkle picker shoes. The Royal had an impressive play list which included: Johnny Otis’ “Willie and the Hand Jive (released 1958), “Sea Cruise” by Frankie Ford (1959); “Money” by Barrett Strong (1959); “Shop Around” by the Miracles (1960); “Stay” by Maurice Williams (1960); and “New Orleans” Gary U.S. Bonds (1961). Around October 1962, I began to develop a new sense of style. At the Royal I saw young men with neat clothes, soft hairstyles, and a clean, well-groomed look. I made friends with Jerry T and Mel H. Both had been wearing modish styles of clothes for a year or more. These young men and their circle were a cut above others of my peers in that they had passed the eleven plus and had the self-assurance of Grammar school graduates. When I met them both Jerry and Mel wore Pierre Cardin style collarless jackets (later known as Beatle jackets). Mel’s was dark blue and short and was cut away and rounded at the front, appearing a little like an Eton jacket. The collar of his white shirt was high in Eton style and although his tie was quite broad it had a tiny knot that almost disappeared under the collar. Jerry’s and Mel’s friend Roger D was notably dapper and when we went to the Royal he wore old-fashioned spats over his shoes and carried a brolly.

Early in 1963 we came across the Rolling Stones playing on Sunday afternoons at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 in the West End and became regular attendees. At that time the Stones weren’t considered a pop group, but an R&B group which gave them the intellectual status equivalent to a jazz band. It’s odd to think of it now but Studio 51 was not very big and audiences were often sparse, sometimes consisting of only a couple of dozen individuals. We identified with the Stones, but they weren’t Mods, rather they dressed like Art students or Beatniks. They might be considered pre-Mods like Jerry and Mel and like them (but unlike Rod Stewart and me) they never became fully fledged Mods, a designation that came to describe a distinctive youth faction more closely associated with working classes. Following its release in June 1963, the Stones version of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” sold well and they began to attract a wider “pop” audience. Their last gig at Studio 51 was in September 1963 and following the release of their version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” they had a large show at Edmonton’s, Regal Theatre on October 2. I didn’t enjoy it, it was too crowded, and in any case by that time I considered myself a Mod and had different predilections. With the exception of the free concert in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969, two days after Brian Jones death, that was the last the last time I saw the Stones live.

The West End 1963-64

The clubs we attended included large clubs in the West End such as the 100 Club on Oxford Street and the Marquee which featured live bands—formerly jazz groups but R&B by the early-mid sixties. The Whisky a Go Go, La Discotheque, and Georgie Fame’s milieu, the Flamingo, all on Wardour Street, were smaller, smart, a bit gaudy and were often too crowded for my tastes. I preferred The Scene which was usually rather lightly attended. I hold both Pete Meaden and Guy Stevens in high regard as cornerstones of the whole emerging Mod movement. The irony being that the both paid the price and died young, on 12 August, 1979 and 31 August, 1981, respectively. Although I knew Guy I never knew Pete Meaden. I must have seen him because he was at The Scene when I was. I probably recognised him but didn’t know who he was. As he said in an interview with Steve Turner published posthumously in the New Musical Express, “There’d be all the faces and people I knew. A face is just someone you recognise, you might not even know his name, but he’s known as a face.”

However, I take issue with the following statement by Pete Meaden:

“There was as little club called The Scene, at Ham Yard … [and] the greatest records you can imagine were being played … eminently danceable by people who were not emotionally involved with other people. There was a lack of women in those things. I mean we all dig women, but if you are in the West End, you know that you pay for your women, and well, you don’t get them, ‘cos the girls that come up are mysteries, right.” (New Musical Express, 17 November 1979)

Mod Girls

That is not true, people were emotionally involved and of course there were girls. Yes, the clothes, music and dance were important, but we went to The Scene Club to meet girls. Agreed Soho is known for women for hire, but The Scene Club didn’t deal with that. I had a number of good dates at various times; with office workers in bedsits from Knightsbridge; middle-class young ladies who’d adopted Mod styles and come into town, for example from Epping such as Bunty W; or East Enders such as Elaine B who lived with her parents in a high rise in Poplar E14. I met Pat B at the Scene Club at the beginning of November 1963. Pat was a pretty Mod girl who was wearing a dark roll-neck sweater and slacks when we met. Ike and Tina Turner’s “Its Gonna Work Out Fine” evokes that auspicious time. We danced and because the music was loud inside, we sat outside in Ham Yard and talked. She lived with her mother in a flat in a four story Georgian row house on St. Georges Avenue, Nags Head, Holloway. I remember sitting in her kitchen while she played the Ray Charles in Person live album to me. It opens with the honking sax of David ''Fathead'' Newman as he launches into the opening bars of the classic "The Night Time is The Right Time." Great LP, it was the first time I’d heard it. I don’t really remember much about Mod’s makeup, but Pat’s heavy eye-shadow remains in my memory. Her upper eyelids were totally shaded in black which emphasized her eyes and made her look a bit like a cute little owl. Pat became my scooter girl until we broke up about a year later.

(the next part of Rob's story can be found here)

Photo 1: Portrait taken in 1964.

Photo 2:Early 1963: Photo at Royal Dance Palace with unidentified friend. My hair is soft with a brushed over fringe. I’m wearing my grey double-breasted suit, a white shirt with a high winged-tip collar, and a tiny knot in my tie.

Photo 3:Summer 1963: Rob (left) with Ann and Jerry at Rockley Sands. I am wearing a dark blue Nehru shirt with two collar buttons with dark green tweed Pierre Cardin style jacket. Jerry is wearing a brown corduroy collarless jacket over a light colored high-necked shirt (two buttons at collar level). My hair is messy and wind blown (we are staying in a caravan).

Photo 4: Outside The original Marquee Club.

Photo 5: A photo of Pat B that she gave me with intruding and unidentified arm, ca. 1964.

This work is the copyright of Robert Nicholls, Ph.D. The views expressed are purely those of the author and are not attributable to any other person or institution.

I know Rob would love to hear any feedback on this article. You can discuss it with him in the forum here or I will pass on any messages to him using the contact address.

Rob is also interested in publishing his memoirs and would like to hear from anyone with any advice or with an interest in publishing them.