London Boys (mods and casuals) by Gavin Henderson

by Modculture 29 October, 2017

The mod revival

The mod revival

Mark, an old Mod from the Shepherds Bush area of West London, gives an insight into the late 70s London scene and the subsequent rise of the Casual movement to Gavin Henderson.

I think the first time I remember Mods was at a Jam gig just around All Mod Cons coming out. I was 15 years old, and was bang into the band, along with some of the other punk stuff. Being a West London boy I was also a huge Clash fan, but in all honesty The Jam shaded it as far as I was concerned. Anyway the gig was at The Lyceum, and a few of us went along from The Bush. I’d saw the band once before the previous year and their following was all Punks and I expected much the same this time, however things had changed a bit.

Don’t get me wrong there were still a lot of Punks, but there were also a lot of geezers dressed like the band. Wearing suits, shirts and ties, and almost all of them wearing green army surplus Parkas. I knew they were Mods and although I didn’t know much about the Mod movement I knew that I wanted a part of it. Those geezers looked spot on. I was never into dressing like a Punk. You wouldn’t have lasted long in bondage trousers down Shepherds Bush. It was either the Skinhead look which had made a big comeback or dressing in the Soul Boy style of Gabicci Tops and Farahs and going over to The Goldmine Club in Canvey Island. The latter certainly didn’t appeal, and although I went over Chelsea and to the odd Sham gig with a few geezers who were Skinheads, I was’¹t too into having a crop. The Mod style was perfect for me. Smart, sharp threads and short hair..but not too short.

The next thing on the agenda was to sort out some gear, which was easier said than done in London during the 70s. There was f**k all for you unless you wanted to be a Kings Road punk, a hippy or a Soul Boy. My Skinhead mates told me about a few shops up in Willesden which had old stocks of Bennys and Sta-prest trousers. Those shops were tips. They used to be around on every local high street. Dark dingy and not the cleanest of places. By the late 70s their days were numbered as they were unable to keep up with the ever changing fashions. The stuff they sold had been in stock since they were popular first time around in the late 60s and early 70s.

The shopping trips were fairly successful for me. I managed to get a few pairs of Sta-prest including one pair of two-tone tonic blue strides which were my pride and joy and a couple of shirts. I also picked up an original Korean issue US Army fishtail parka down Portobello Road market and my old man had an old three-button dark blue suit from the sixties in his wardrobe which he gave me. It was those Saturdays in the summer of 78 shopping around the local area that I clocked onto the fact that there were a few other Mods around the Bush.

I was on nodding terms with a couple of them anyway but had never really noticed what they were wearing before. However the first time I was out wearing my Parka and I bumped into a few of them all kitted out the same it just seemed natural to start talking. I suppose that was right at the start of the Shepherds Bush Mods.

Once the football season started again it was back to following Chelsea every Saturday again so I wasn’t out and about much as Chelsea took up all my spare cash. The wardrobe took a bit of a back seat as well. However I’d been up the record exchange and traded in some of my old punk records for some sixties stuff. It was just the general mainstream stuff that I bought. The Who’s My Generation album, some Small Faces and Kinks stuff. My old man had told me that was what all the Mods were into back in the sixties. I suppose I should’ve been showing an interest in all the old sixties soul stuff at that time, but that came later. It wasn’t aggressive enough for me back then.

The next time I went to see The Jam was at Wembley during the Great British Music Festival. A few of us from the Bush went up on the Wednesday night. Some of us Mods, some of us Skinheads, as both The Jam and Skinhead favourites Slade were playing on the same bill. At the gig there were a load of Mods from the east end calling themselves the Glory Boys. They were a tasty firm, but were all West Ham, so I didn’t really want too much to do with them. There was a large mob of Skinheads there as well, and the atmosphere was getting a bit heavy. Violence at gigs was a regular thing back then. I was no stranger to it having seen it kick off on many an occasion at a Sham gig between football firms or between Skins and Punks, or even just areas, so I knew that trouble was ready to go here.

None of our lot wanted anything to do with it, and kept well out of the way when it started. It seemed to be all East London geezers fighting anyway so it was fuck all to do with us. Anyway the end result was that a Skinhead got cut, so fuck getting caught up in all that. That was the first time that I had saw Mod/Skinhead violence. The two cults had got on quite well with each other up until then, but I suppose with the numbers on each side increasing it was inevitable that it would go.

By the beginning of 1979, a few of us had started knocking about together around The Trafalgar pub down the Bush. We started going to a few gigs over in different areas and up the West End. The Mod scene was really taking off by now and there seemed to be Mod bands popping up everywhere. Secret Affair were the main boys, and musically they were the best out of all the Mod acts, but I always preferred The Chords and The Purple Hearts. I also loved The Teenbeats and used to go to see them with some of my Skinhead mates who were also into them when they played in London.

Fairly local places such as The Windsor Castle on the Harrow Road were putting on Mod acts regularly and I can remember seeing The Teenbeats a couple of times down there and also Small Hours. To be honest Gavin, it’s hard for me to remember all the bands that I saw. I had started working by then and looking back it seemed like I was going to a gig every night. Mod bands had taken over London, and for the whole of 1979 things were superb. I used to go down to The Wellington fairly regularly and saw The Chords down there . They were fucking awesome. They sounded more like a punk band, they had the anger and the attitude, but they were better musically and they had the look. A Chords gig back then was mental. Total 100mph stuff. Squire were another lot I saw at The Wellington. They were the exact opposite of The Chords, and had a real poppy sound. I didn’t like them on vinyl but they were pretty good live.

The Bridgehouse pub over in Canning Town seems to be considered the centre of the Mod revival, but to be honest I only went over there once to see Secret Affair. All the East London and Essex Mods used to hang out there, but that was also the same for the local Skinheads. People may think of it as a Mod hangout, but just as many Skinhead bands played there as Mod bands. It just became famous because of the Mods Mayday gig. I didn’t go to that as I went to see the Purple Hearts at the Music Machine in Camden on the same night.

I always regarded venues such as the Wellington and the Music Machine to be more Mod venues than the Bridgehouse. Maybe it¹s just because, being a West London boy I never felt too welcome over in the East End. Of all the clubs around then though, my favourite was Vespas down at The Global Village. I saw some good bands down there. I was there the night that The Directions got blown out by The Teenbeats and The Sta-Prest. As I said before I was well into The Teenbeats, and I was also bang into The Directions as they had started playing at The Trafalgar. As a result we started following them around. Down to the Greyhound in Fulham and all the other shit hole venues of London. We even took a coach load down to a dive called the 101 Club in South London for one gig.

Anyway, I’m sure you know the story of The Directions at Vespas as they sang about it on the single ‘3 Bands Tonite’. Basically the bands came on late. We were all wondering what the fuck was going on, but when The Sta-Prest came on stage we thought everything was sorted. However there wasn’t enough time for The Directions who were bottom of the bill to do a set so we were well pissed off. They should never have been bottom of the bill anyway. They were up there with The Teenbeats, Purple Hearts and The Chords in my opinion and were a far better band than The Sta-Prest who were shit.

Another group that a lot of us from The Bush were into were a Mod/Ska crossover style band called, Guns For Hire. They were absolutely superb and got loads of mentions in the fanzines of the time, but unfortunately they never recorded anything. Some of the lads in the band went onto form the group, Department S, who had a hit with the song, ‘Is Vic There?’

As well as all the Mod gigs, I used to go along to some of the Ska gigs as well. I saw The Specials at The Moonlight Club in Hampstead and they were superb. Also Madness and The Bodysnatchers a few times as well, usually up in the Dublin Castle in Camden Town. I really liked the Two Tone sound, especially The Specials and The Bodysnatchers, but to be honest their gigs were always packed with Skinheads and by the autumn of 1979 the honeymoon period between Mods and Skins was coming to an end, and a few scuffles were breaking out. Even without any Mods, there was still trouble at Ska gigs as the Skinheads seemed to kick it off wherever they went. Don’t get me wrong there was aggro at Mod gigs as well. I ended up in a massive ruck over in Bracknell at a Purple Hearts gig, but even then that was caused by Skinheads. Most of the trouble at Mod gigs occurred when the bands toured outside London, as many of those towns didn’t really have many Mods so all the local Punks and Skins would turn up to have a go at the new kids on the block.

The worst time I had at a gig though was at a fairly local venue, The Acklam Hall down Ladbroke Grove. I can’t remember who I went to see. I think it was Back To Zero, but it was well naughty afterwards. The venue was in the heart of the Ladbroke Grove Skinheads’ manor who were a very tasty mob. They didn’t like outsiders full stop, never mind Mods, down the Grove. Also with the proximity of Shepherds Bush there has always been an area rivalry as well so that didn’t help me either. To be honest the Mods got a hiding there. I can’t remember being so scared on any other occasion when I was a Mod. There have been a few occasions at Chelsea games that were just as bad. An away League Cup match at Millwall in the eighties for example, but Acklam Hall was definitely the worst during my time as a Mod. In fact I never went to another gig there again.

As the summer came in the next obvious step for us was to resurrect the day trips to the South Coast seaside resorts on a Bank Holiday. Scooters were very scarce in London at that time and very few Mods owned a scooter.

I eventually got a Vespa 90 towards the Autumn through an advert in the local newspaper, but for the 1979 Bank Holiday season the vast majority of us were scooter less. A few kids went down to Brighton on May Day, and also in July the mainly northern members of the Lambretta Club had a run to Rhyl in North Wales.

A few from London took the train up to Rhyl and there were a few rows with Rockers up there but I didn’t bother, I was waiting for the August Lambretta Club run to Southend. Those that did go to Rhyl seemed to have a good time and they were raving about a Northern Mod band called The Killermeters who had played there. I think most of us up until then had thought that the only Mods were from the London area. I suppose with the release of the film Quadrophenia it had helped spread the news a little.

We had gone mobbed up to see the film up in the west end shortly after it had come out. You can’t argue against the fact that it was a great film, but I think that all of us had mixed feelings as the media hysteria around the film would attract all the bandwagon jumpers to the scene. Up until then it had been our own little movement. Our own bands, clubs and our own fanzine, Maximum Speed from north London, but from then on it would be taken away from us. Then you had the Merton Parkas who were the first Mod Revival band to get on Top of the Pops. A lot of the lads hated the Parkas but I personally thought they were okay. They were another band who I used to see at The Wellington. However it has to be said that they must have used their worst song as their debut single. ‘You Need Wheels’, was an embarrassment. They had some really good tunes so fuck knows why they used that one. The B side, ‘I Don’t Want To Know You’, was a great song so why didn’t they release that on the A side?

Anyway the August Bank Holiday was mental. On the Sunday night most of us were at The Lyceum to see Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts play. Also on the bill were Ska bands, Madness and The Selector so the crowd was mixed Mod and Skinhead. It was the same the following day. Going down on the train in the morning from Liverpool Street the Mods and Skinheads, and even a few Punks mixed quite happily. And once in Southend we all teamed up to have it with gangs of Teds and Rockers who were gathered around a few pubs.

To be honest, although there were quite a few incidents of isolated violence going off, the Old Bill were always well on top of things and managed to prevent it going off on a major scale. Garry Bushell done a spot on review of the day in the following week’s edition of Sounds which accurately summed up the whole day.

The Autumn and Winter of 1979/1980 saw loads of Mod bands releasing singles. There were a few classics from the likes of The Chords, The Purple Hearts, The Teenbeats, The Directions and The Circles and some shit from the likes of The Lambrettas and Secret Affair (I hated Time For Action). The Chords, Lambrettas and Secret Affair even made it onto Top Of The Pops and had hit records. Also The Jam had hit the top spot as well around then and were probably the biggest and best band in Britain at the time. Despite Weller trying to distance himself from the Mod Revival The Jam¹s following then in London was almost 100% Mod.

The Ska acts were also doing well in the charts and in all honesty they were doing a lot better than the Mod acts. However the Mods and Skinheads were by now fully at war not just in London but all over Britain, so we couldn’t go and see bands like The Specials anymore and they couldn’t come and see The Jam. They did turn up outside Jam gigs in London on a few occasions, and I can remember a big row with Skins outside The Rainbow in Finsbury Park after a Jam gig. This rivalry with the Skins also made it a nightmare travelling around London to gigs. Before we would think nothing of travelling to the other side of the city to see a band. If it was accessible by tube then we¹d turn up, but now you had to think twice. The last place you wanted to be was ‘Down In A Tube Station At Midnight’, on your own when a gang of Skins turned up. It was a certainty that you’d cop a kicking. No question about it and there were no CCTV to keep an eye on you in those days.

Going south of the river was always the worst in my experience. South London is like a different world at the best of times as far as all us civilised people north of the Thames are concerned. They really are a different breed. But you felt even more paranoid walking about Peckham in a suit and a parka than you would normally. Skinheads, Blacks and just your normal South London nutters all hated us. Having the scooter helped a bit, especially when we were mobbed up, but a lot of the places that we went to see bands weren’t exactly in the nicest areas of London, and you really didn’t fancy leaving your scooter outside the venue.

You were also getting more Mods on Mods aggro as the post Quadrophenia crowd invaded the scene. Why would you want to travel all over London to go to a gig just to get your head kicked in by your fellow Mods and then legged all over the place by Skinheads? That’s what it was like back then. Violence all the time. Us and the Paddington lot used to kick off regularly with the East London Mods. Then there was a lot of problems between the Shepherds Bush Mods and the Borehamwood lot. There was a gig at The Notre Dame in Leicester Square where it kicked right off between a combined firm from the Bush and Stevenage who joined up with us, and them.

I suppose that was one of the things that we did that were true to the sixties Mods. You always read about how gang orientated it was back then as well. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t mind a tear up now and then, but it just got too much sometimes. It seemed like there was trouble every time you went out and it got too on top. You must remember that I was still going over Chelsea regularly then and it was kicking off there on a regular basis as well.

By the end of 1980 the Mod thing was finished really. The music press had totally slated it and the bands were going nowhere. The Chords were still releasing good singles but they weren’t charting anymore, and the groups were either being ridiculed or ignored in the press. The Mod movement was just full of little kids who knew nothing more than The Jam. Despite this I stayed with it. I started getting more involved in the scooter side of things and joined a Scooter Club. I traded my Vespa 90 in and bought an old Lambretta LI125 series 3, which I done up and started going on the scooter runs more regularly. However the end was in sight for me and I jacked the whole thing in not long after the August bank holiday run to Brighton in 1981.

That, in actual fact was a bit of a laugh. It got well naughty, scrapping with the Old Bill and also a few offs with some Skinheads who were there as well. The highlight was petrol bombing the station of the seafront fun railway thing that they had. Petrol bombs were the in thing at that time as there were loads of riots all over Britain that summer. After that run it wasn’t long before I knocked the Mod thing on the head. I sold the scooter in November and at Christmas I started buying clothes similar to some of my mates at Chelsea and down the Bush. Pringle jerseys, cords, Lois jeans, Nike Wimbledon trainers and the rest. I became a Casual.

The previous year I had started dressing in a more casual Mod style and had really knocked the live music scene on the head. I had got right into the Northern Soul thing, and although I didn’t go up to the Wigan Casino or anything I started going to soul clubs nearer home. The main place I went to was a boozer down the Kings Road called The Wheatsheaf which was a good gig. You used to get a few of the more clued up Chelsea lads down there, and it was a good, mainly hassle free night, with some excellent music being played. Other soul clubs that a lot of us would go to were The Astoria and Notre Dame Hall. All good places, although the Astoria was always full of Gooners.

The change from Mod to Casual was a pretty obvious step for me. Obviously at that time it was really taking off at Chelsea but in reality it had been around since the late seventies. There had always been mobs of geezers from West London at Chelsea who were wearing stuff like Slazenger, Pringles and Farahs. It was a ‘spiv’ look and the whole London Casual movement stemmed from this. The competition amongst the Casuals and the attention to detail was an exact mirror image of the original Mods. In fact it was easy to see that we had far more right to call ourselves Mods than the revivalists did.

Back then it was hard to get a hold of the gear, just as it had been for me in 1978 to get the Mod stuff. However once again I was catered for locally. Stuarts in Shepherds Bush has to be THE Casual shop. This was a place that was as important to the Casuals as John Simon’s Ivy League shop in Richmond had been to the Mods and Skinheads in the 60s. It was an Aladdins Cave of all the latest designer labels that were cutting it at Chelsea. You’d walk in and look in awe at the latest tracksuit tops from Sergio Tachinni or rain jackets from Fila.

The thing is Stuarts was an old fashioned dingy mens outfitters, and they just happened to be the most clued up shop in London at that time. The story goes that they had some old Pringles and Lyle & Scott gear which got big during the 81/82 season. They noticed that there was a huge demand for this, and as quick as they got new stock in, it would go. From this they got a couple of assistants who were clued up on what was happening and they managed to keep up with the ever changing fashions of the Casuals for a few years.

Nowadays of course every shop in the west end is pushing designer label gear. Even Burtons are trying to get in on the act, but back then there was nothing like it. Lillywhites sports shop at Piccadilly had some of the gear, but that was about it. There were no training shoe shops like JD Sports or anything like that. It was due to the Casuals that shops like that exist. Stuarts really was that important to us. There were also a few shops over in the East End around Roman Road and also a couple down in South London but with Stuarts right on my doorstep as it were, I very rarely went over there.

The good thing about the Casual movement at the start was the fact that no-one had any idea about what was happening. Because we weren’t really a music based youth cult the music press didn’t have a clue about us. Okay there were a couple of so called Casual bands such as Accent (who were okay) and the press tried to pick up on them but that came quite a bit later (around 83/84). The letters pages in Sounds was good though, as you often had Casuals from all the different football mobs from across the country slagging each other off about fashion.

The mainstream press eventually picked up on the look when they started going on about ‘designer hooliganism’ at football but again that wasn’t really until around 1984. Up until then they thought that all football hooligans were Skinheads. It was good for a few years, having our own little world that the media didn’t have a clue about.

The fashions soon moved away from the sportswear and soon the Chelsea Firm were leading the way, getting into stuff like Burberry, Aquascutum and Italian makes such as Armani. Going up north was great, as we had the edge on them when it came to labels. The Scousers and Mancs had been into it when the sportswear was all the rage, and the Scouse will always try and make out that the look started up there, but by the time the contemporary mens designer labels were being paraded the Northerners couldn’t keep up. The Shed at Chelsea becoming the most critical catwalk in the country. The true Mods of the eighties.

On the music front as well as the Soul influences, we got into a mixture of Jazz Funk, and also the early Rap acts gave us the new influences. Clothes, an interest in black American Music, and a liking for a punch up and a line of speed, sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it? And yet the Revivalists sneer down their noses at us as they retreat further into an obsession with the sixties. Modernist a contradiction in terms, and an irony that they didn’t get. Diadora Trainers, excessive amounts of gold jewellery and Wedge haircuts complete the image.

The eighties carried on, Top Of The World Northern Soul allnighters at Stafford, having a go at taking the Stretford End with the Chelsea Boys at Old Trafford. You always got a buzz on your trips up north. An underground scene that the mainstream press couldn’t possibly understand. Born on the streets and the football terraces, places where the journalists stand out a mile.

There were a few exceptions to the rule though, Mick Mahoney, Robert Elms, Gavin Hills and of course the fanzine of the time. No not Extraordinary Sensations, but the voice of the Scally – The End! This was an essential read for anyone interested in Casual culture. We used to buy it down in Kensington Market and it was always full of letters and articles by Casuals from all over the country. It was put together by Pete Hooton who was in the band The Farm who had a strong Casual following.

Things were getting out of control at the football though. Designer violence – what was all that about? Violence is violence, the assistance of my old mate Stanley doesn’t make it designer. It had to end in tears. Those tears were called Heysel.

Heysel changed a lot of things. Kids like me saw the result of football violence taken to its extremes and walked away leaving only the dedicated. It was always more the excitement, clothes, camaraderie and music that attracted us anyway. The violence was incidental. The Stafford niters had stopped and the centre of Northern Soul had moved south to the 100 Club. The scene had died out quite a bit, but all us retired hoolies had to expend our energy somewhere. Some followed the road to Modern Soul and Funk spending their weekends at the Top Rank in Reading, Caister and Camber Sands, others discovered Sunrise on the M25, pure Ecstasy.

May 1991..300 Chelsea marched down The Old Kent Road for the last match of the season. You have to turn out for Millwall away. Acid House is in the news, Duffer of St George is on our backs and Adidas Superstars on our feet. The sound of Manchester which had ruled the airwaves for a couple of years is in retreat, and Boys Own is the magazine to read, whilst their dos attract the smart but Casual with a capital C brigade. Flowered Up are rocking London but once again the (not so) Young Soul Rebels are on the march. The true spirit of the Mods alive and kicking in London and not a parka in sight.

Fast forward to the end of the century and I’ve just come off the dancefloor at the Manchester Ritz, Major Lance blasting out the speakers. Stone Island is the label of choice, Northern Soul the soundtrack. Fashion and music are still there for us. Something called Sky has stolen football from under our noses, but two out of three when you’re approaching 37 ain’t too bad. As Tony Michaels said..’I Love The Life I Live.’

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  • Wwcpltd

    The shed – the most critical catwalk in the land? You were always a bunch a scruffs mate. And as for 300 Chelsea marching down the old Kent road, I do believe you never got much further than the elephant. Apart from that not bad. Up the lions

  • Very interesting article…thanks! If you’re talking about The Chords’ gig at Acklam Hall in May ’79, yep that was one very scary night! BTZ were supporting us, we could’ve done with the Coldstream Guards too! Cheers, Buddy Ascott

  • john

    I was in the Bush (SBM) back in the day. I would say that Stuarts were on the ball well before the early 80’s, remember many of my black mates getting there stuff from there, pringle slacks, gabicci etc. I remember Wellingtons (shit hole), and many of the flare ups south of the river that you mention, but I don”t remember you? That said, your article is spot on, so we must have rubbed shoulders some where, maybe in the Mitre, or Hercules – who knows. Oh, one other thing, the first casual crews were at QPR and West Ham, simply because of Stuarts and Man at War in the Bush,and the shop on the East side , Chelsea were still in the boot boy stage when the casuals first appeared in Shepherds Bush. Apart from that, quite a good effort, brought back a good few memories