Most people’s views of 60s mods are of effeminate West End dandies. Original 60s mod John Waters gives us the lowdown on a less familiar side of the Mod coin.
Hard ModsWith regard to the Mod scene back in the sixties, to my way of thinking there were two distinct types of Mod within the London area. The first was the familiar scooter boys which has become the generally accepted face of sixties Modernism. However, there was another type of Mod back in those days.
These were the members of the many Mod ‘firms’. These were members of street gangs each with their own manor e.g. The Highbury mob, the Archway, Somers Town, Elephant and Castle, Mile End etc. These gangs consisted of anything of between 50 to a couple of hundred in strength at any one time.
Turfs were strictly patrolled and borders laid down. Gang members intruding on other’s turf risked a severe beating if caught. Gang members were meticulous in their dress, the order of the day being the mohair suit, velvet collar overcoats and as often as not a ‘blue beat’ hat. Each manor had its own caff’s, snooker halls and sometimes dance hall or club.
I lived in Upper Holloway and therefore was a member of the Archway mob. One of the smaller gangs numbering around eighty to a hundred. We congregated in two or three local cafes and pubs and our main enemy was the Highbury and Mars (Finsbury Park) gangs.
There were many and sometimes violent skirmishes but the odd thing was that on occasions the mobs would align with each other to take on other gangs. I remember one instance that sprang to mind when both gangs combined to ‘visit’ the rocker enclave at Alexandra Palace.
Members of these gangs would not be seen dead on a scooter there preferred mode of transport being a car. Like most other Mods at the time we were fans of Motown, Soul and the Who, Faces etc. We frequented the pubs of the East End and clubs of the West End. Although we visited many clubs such as the Flamingo, Scene, Whisky and Marquee we tended to stick to one particular club. In our case it was the Discoteque and regarded this as ‘home’ turf. Again on the annual visits to the coast we would often meet up with other firms and head off, in our case, to Brighton.
My own particular memories of that era are mainly concerning music as an ardent follower of Soul music. Solomon Burke at the Flamingo; robes, crown and all being joined on stage by Dusty Springfield belting out ‘Everybody Needs Somebody’. The Who at St.Josephs Church Hall, Archway just after they hit the charts with ‘I Can’t Explain’ and having a few ‘sherberts’ in The Cat next door with Moon. Friday and Saturday nights up West.
First a few pints down the East End at The Green Man or Blind Beggar then off to the Coffee An in a cellar down the bottom of Wardour St. Then up to The Discoteque to dance the night away to some of the greatest music ever to make it on to vinyl. Early next morning meeting up at the all night cafe ‘El Passant’ on the Strand (what a great juke box). Heady days ! People often find it hard to understand the reverence that the sixties are held in by many. In these days of clubs on every corner, high tech, computer aided music etc everything is pretty much en-passe. The thing about the sixties was that everything was so new. The clothes, music, clubs etc and for the first time we had some money in our pockets to indulge.
I do not live in the past by any means and there is much to be said for the present day but it will never match the absolute excitement of the sixties.