From 2005 to 2010 I played saxophone and keys in a mod themed tribute band called Carnaby Street. Unlike the two people who formed the band, I wasn’t in Carnaby Street because of any affinity to mod culture or because I’m a great fan of mod music. I started playing with them purely because it gave me the opportunity to play sax in live bands again after a long break. That’s not to say that I don’t have some credentials. I did play in a band called the Jazzboard towards the end of the sixties mod period. And the Jazzboard were the opening act for some of the top mod bands of the day – the Who, the Small Faces and the Action.
Carnaby Street performed mainly at pubs, scooter rallies and mod events to predominantly forty-somethings – people who were part of the mod revival period of the late seventies and eighties. Most of the punters enjoyed our covers of Jam, Specials, Madness songs from that period. However, the songs from the original mod era that Carnaby Street played are way out of line with the music I remember liking in the mod period of the sixties. No self respecting mod back then would have listened to some of the material on Carnaby Street’s set lists. Only a few sixties songs in the band’s repertoire by the Small Faces and the Who come anywhere near the mark. It’s a good job that there weren’t too many original mods in the audiences.
It all started for me in the summer of 1963 when I was still at school in Sunderland and I went to visit my cousin Linda in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire – about 30 miles from central London. Linda and her two friends, Maureen and Mauveen were “mods”. They were surprised that I’d never heard the word before and that I didn’t know of any mods in the north east. They spent the next few weeks educating me. This mainly consisted of dragging me around coffee bars, clothes and shoe shops. There weren’t any shops dedicated to mod fashion. Linda and her friends just mixed and matched clothes and accessories to get the effect they wanted.
As far as I remember they weren’t into any particular type of music. They had just started watching a new TV programme called Ready Steady Go featuring mod music but to them, mod culture was purely about fashion. I went to a few dances with them and they taught me the latest mod dance – the Shake. They talked non-stop about mod things and I felt sure that when I returned to Sunderland, after the school holidays, mods would have taken hold in the north east. I was wrong. There was something missing in the north east which gave young people in the south a head start – Ready Steady Go. It was another year or so before Ready Steady Go was broadcast nationwide and by that time the mod movement had become front page news in the national press. It was nothing to do with fashion or music; just the bank holiday battles between mods and rockers at south coast seaside resorts. The newspaper coverage painted both the mods and rockers as vicious hoodlums whose only interests were violence and their means of transport – scooters and motor bikes, respectively. This was the first I had heard of the association between mods and scooters. Linda and her friends had not mentioned it and, anyway, I’d been riding pillion on my dad’s Lambretta since I was ten so I doubt that part of mod culture would have impressed me.
By the end of 1964 and beginning of 1965 the mod “brand” had become very commercialised. High street clothing shops like Burtons were selling jackets, slacks, suits and shirts that were advertised as and could pass as mod gear. Even my little sister’s Sindy doll had a mod boyfriend called Paul, complete with blue mohair suit, a high collared shirt, knitted tie and Chelsea boots. Any new fashion fad was invariably described and advertised as being mod. By the time I joined the Sunderland based band, Jazzboard towards the end of 1965 the label “mod” was not being used any more. It had been done to death and was dropped from the vocabulary of young trendy people. Even when the Who and Small Faces started to chart in 1966, the word mod was not universally applied to these bands or their music – at least, not back then.