Once A Mod - part 4

(by John Leo Waters)

Free a
t last……

1967 saw me back on the street. I had spent the better part of a two years banged up and I was ready to party!! What I found was a huge disappointment. Whilst locked away we had religiously adhered to our Mod ideals as best we could. The world I found on release had changed drastically. Many of the clubs had closed (or been shut down). Others had changed their musical policy and were now featuring the sounds of psychedelia. Flower power had arrived! Many of the old gang had moved on and most of the remainder were content to spend their time in pubs and drinking clubs. Although the Mod tradition was still in evidence subtle changes were taking place. Whilst most would not have noticed these changes in musical tastes and fashion to me it was a huge culture shock.

Otis Redding
I was on license and had to take up an honest job! Initially I joined in with this new culture of drinking. We would spend time in drinking clubs such as the Regency and the City Club in the company of villains and their hangers on. Occasionally I persuaded a few friends to venture to a club or dance hall but it was becoming increasingly difficult. I was on my way to work as a landscape gardener (of sorts) when I heard about the death of Otis Redding. They say everybody remembers where they were when the news of Kennedy’s assassination was announced but for me it was the death of Otis that had a more profound effect.

TheFestival of Flowers world was changing rapidly. One of the gang decided it would be a good idea to travel up to Woburn where there was to be a ‘festival of the flower children’. This was something new in the UK. Amongst the headliners were the Small faces, the Animals and Zoot Money so it seemed that UK R&B would be well represented. How wrong we were! Eric Burdon was espousing ‘San Franciscan Nights’. The Small Faces were into ‘Cockney Flower Power’ and Zoot Money was off in outer space! There was no sign of any Mods just hundreds of spaced out ‘weekend hippies’ spouting garbage about flower power and ‘free love’. We couldn’t find any free love anywhere!! At one stage they had balloons dropping flowers onto the crowds below. The crowning glory came when I spotted Terry Downes (former world middleweight champion and ex US marine) clad in a kaftan with shades and a headband. Terry had always been considered a real ‘geezer’ so this was the last straw (although to be fair he did have his customary Cuban cigar between his teeth!).

Movin’ on up ……

In 1968 I was offered the opportunity to travel up to Newcastle to carry out some work. There were four of us who made the journey,two from the Archway, one from Walthamstow and one from Bedford. We had a vision of Newcastle as being dark and wet, populated by men dressed in cloth caps and mufflers clutching their ‘Broon Ale’ in one hand and their whippets in the other! Arriving at Central Station on a wet Sunday afternoon we crossed over the road to the ‘Long bar’ and found it was exactly as we had imagined!! Newcastle was the equivalent of the Promised Land! The city was alive with nightclubs. It seemed as though we had stepped back in time a couple of years.

Dolce VitaAlthough the musical tastes and fashion were pretty much in line with the ‘Smoke’ the club scene was entirely different. We were working for a guy who was connected to the music industry as a manager ( I believe he had something to do with the Moody Blues) and was also a part of the Bailey Organization. At one time the Bailey Organization had the biggest chain of nightclubs in Europe. Their headquarters were in the North East and they had several clubs including The Dolce Vita, Cavendish, Latino, Chelsea Cat and Sloopys all within the Tyneside borders. In addition there were may other clubs such as Changes (Bloomers), Grays Club, Sombrero, Top Hat and Ruperts all within travelling distance. The Dolce Vita was the top club on Tyneside and big names such as Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey would feature there. A fair number of ‘Soul acts’ also appeared on stage. I can remember the Chairmen of the Board, Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, Tami Lynn, Jimmy James, The Real Thing/Chants, B.J.Arnau, Sweet Sensation. Other venues featured Robert Knight, Fantastics, Platters, Root and Jenny Jackson, Bob and Earl, Desmond Decker, Junior Walker, Ben E. King, Edwin Starr, Chris Farlowe, Clyde McPhatter, - the list went on and on. As we were working for a guy that was involved with the Bailey Org. we were given preferential treatment in that we never had to queue to get into La Dolce Vita. We would arrive in style (one of our lads had a white Jag!) – walk straight to the front to be greeted by the door staff and ushered in. Our ego’s went through the roof!

We were working at a tailoring factory in Gateshead which employed around 600 women. Heaven on earth!! I would go and get measured up at their Newcastle shop and make sure the factory manager’s name went on to the ticket. This ensured that the garments were followed around the factory and checked at every stage. Any flaw and the garments would be scrapped and restarted! It wasn’t Aubrey Morris but it was the next best thing!

Marcus PriceOur wages were almost three times the national average at the time so we made sure that we dressed the part. Suits, trousers, coats – all were made to our strict requirements. Shirts were bought at Marcus Price in the Bigg Market which was the only shop in town where quality clothing could be purchased. I had all my shirts taken care of by the local Chinese laundry and underwear and socks were simply discarded after use and new supplies bought every Friday for the following week! We were living the life of Riley. The young ladies were fascinated by these young Cockney lads who dressed in style and had money to burn. Who were we to disappoint them? Of course, the local chaps were not so keen but what the hell; a few choice words usually did the trick. The Krays and Richardsons trials were in the news at the time so anyone with a flash suit and a Cockney accent was accredited as a villain and who were we to dispel the myth!!

Soul music was big in the Newcastle clubs and I soon slipped in to a heady lifestyle spent in pubs and clubs. I religiously purchased a copy of Blues and Soul every month and tuned in to the Mike Raven R&B show on Sunday evening. Armed with the latest information on what records were hot I would spend Saturday afternoon in Callers on Northumberland St buying the top sounds.

The girl that changed my life...

It was at this time that I met the girl that changed my life. Pauline was a typist at the factory. She was a top Mod, loved Soul music and dancing the night away – a match made in heaven! We were married within nine months (I had a beautiful two piece navy blue Tonik suit made for the occasion) but settling down was not on our agenda!

Every weekend would find us at one nightclub or another. Tastes had started to change and the sound of Funk was making itself heard. The Philly Sound was becoming popular and Disco was rearing its ugly head.

The club scene shifted slightly and we moved with it. By the late seventies we were visiting Annabel’s in Sunderland, Scamps, Incognito the Playground and best of all, Julie’s on the Quayside. Clothes had changed also. The mod look had gone completely. Suits were now much more fitted with wide lapNewcastle Modsels and flared trousers. Shirts were grotesque and worn with kipper ties. Shoes styles were extreme (I must admit to owning both a purple and a blue patent leather pairs!).

Live acts still featured at venues such as the Mayfair ballroom and Madisons and we managed to catch some of the big names of the day such as Brass Construction, B.T. Express and Crown Heights Affair. Stalwarts such as Junior Walker and Edwin Starr still made appearances but most of the top Soul acts were now featured in concert settings. Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, Commodores, Four Tops, Supremes, ChiLites, Rose Royce, George McRae, Stargard, Heatwave, Tavares are some of the acts that come to mind. But gradually Soul music was featured less and less. Many clubs closed and live music virtually ceased to exist.

Our Mod days had come to an end. In the eighties we moved down to Northamptonshire (three miles from Wellingborough Borstal – cannot keep away!) and settled down to a happy family life. We still take a trip down to London and catch the odd visiting Soul act at the Jazz CafĂ© or Hammersmith Apollo but any dancing these days is strictly for embarrassing the grandchildren!

They say that in the mind we are ‘forever eighteen’, well if that is the case then it follows that in my mind I am forever a MOD.
John Leo Waters

John has been very kindly sharing this tale of his very eventfull Mod yearsOtis Clay. The first part of his story can be found here.

The work is the copyright of John Leo Waters. The views expressed are purely those of the author and are not attributable to any other person or institution.

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