Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Time For A New Symbol? Let's Make Mod History!

The Mod roundel has been associated, for better or for worse, to the Mod culture for decades now. I've discussed my love / hate relationship with the "target" in a 2011 blog post entitled The Mod Target and Other Pop Icons. You can read all about it here.

Mods aren't the only subculture that have strong, longlasting symbols associated with them. Punks have the anarchy "A" and the safety pin and you can't avoid seing a black fist whenever you attend a Northern Soul night.

The black and white checkered patern has been all over the Ska scene since the Two-Tone era. Representing the unity between the black and white community, it has a powerful anti-racist message.
When I say "boots and braces", you think Skinhead, right? The Trojan helmet is also closely tied to Skins and their love for the British Ska and Reggae record label of the same name.

Let me break it down even further. A few scenes also have animals as emblems. The night owl is indicative of the Northern Soul scene.
You see it on posters, pins and on patches adorning the iconic Adidas bag.

Photographer unknown
The Skinheads have proudly adopted the British bulldog as a patriotic symbol of strength. The dog breed has been seen on t-shirts or permanently tattooed on the body of many Skinheads.

Photo by Gaven Watson
Photographer unknown.
But what about Mods? Shouldn't we also have an animal representing us? Isn't it time we refresh our brand? You know, something a little more modern maybe? How about we make Mod history today? Join me in shaping our image and taking part in what could leave a mark on Mod culture for decades to come. Are you with me?

Let's be perfectly clear here. I'm not suggesting or advocating that we replace or change the target. In fact, all of the design offered here include the target in it. Every single one of them. All that I'm is proposing is to add something new but classic at the same time. That is at the core of what Mod is. The status quo is the enemy and goes against the essence of what a Mod truly is.

Let's be realistic, there's no link between the RAF symbol and Mods in the 60s, yet we accept it. The roundel really made its appearance 20 years later during the Mod Revival. I have never seen a single photo of an original Mod from the sixties displaying any kind of target. If you have one, by all means, please share it with us. I would love to see it. The roundel has no reason for existing except for the fact that Keith Moon had one on his t-shirt in a photo shoot 50+ years ago. And Keith wasn't even a Mod!

I always thought that Mods were forward thinking, pushed the boundaries, came up with new ideas. That is the essence of what Mod is. At least it was in the 60s.  The fundamental basis of being a Mod IS change. It's at its core. I didn't come up with the concept. That's what the original Mods were all about. They came up with new clothing styles, ways of presenting themselves and remade the world in their image on a weekly basis! That's what distinguished the Faces from the Tickets. Now, I don't hold all the answers or pretend to be the ultimate expert. But I took a chance. Dared a little.

For more then a year now, I've been pondering on what animal would best embody the Mod ethos. It's not a question I tackled lightly. It's a minefield I was prepared to navigate carefully and I did come up with an answer: the peacock!

Let me make my case. We often regard the peacock has having human characteristics that are usually prized by our tribe: integrity, beauty, pride, confidence, independance and refinement. We can add a little cockiness in there for good measure. Technically, only males are peacocks. Even if Mod culture is a very male-centric subculture, let's not diminish the contribution of our female contreparts. So if you want to be inclusive, we can call them peafowls.

But there is a little more to peacocks then that. First, did you know that a group of peafowls is called a pride or a party? Seems quite fitting if you ask me. A peacock also loses its train every year after mating season. Doesn't that sound like a Mod that will change his clothes on a regular basis simply to impress? Speaking of a peacock's feathers, they hold microscopic crystal-like structures that gives them an irredescent sheen. That sure reminds me of a Mod wearing his best shark skin suit.

Mods are the peacocks of any dance floor, struting around in their latest threads. When they hop on their Vespas and Lambrettas, they fan out their mirrors like the patterned plumage of their winged alter egos. Are you following me?

So I decided to solicite the help of two of the most talented artists I know. They graciously accepted the challenge of coming up with designs of the majestic bird à la Mod.

Mod Marty, aside from being one of my best friends and a skilled artist, is also the man behind the great radio show and podcast On Target - It's What's In The Grooves That Count. I was a fan of Marty's art long before I ever met him. Back in the 90s, he published an ultra cool Mod comic called Kinder Nacht. He has also designed all of the posters for the weekender I host every year, MODtreal.

He's also the mastermind behind the wonderful Parka Avenue Facebook logo and the logo for my podcast, Addicted to the Needle. I think his Mod credentials need no further explanation.

Julian Weber is a young upcoming German artist that has a style reminescent of all the great mid-century commercial illustrators. I love this lad's modus aparendi and he has a great eye for the Mod esthetic. I predict a bright futur for him. He worked on this year's MODtreal poster with Mod Marty and did a fantastic job. He was also kind enough to come up with this great drawing for the blog. You can browse through his work on the Julian Weber Art Facebook page.

Now is the time for the big reveal! Up first, Mod Marty brilliantly hatched a clean, smart, polished rendition of our new symbol. You have a favorite? Let us know.

Julian, in his own original style has hit all the marks. Is Julian's illustration the face of a new generation of Mods? You tell us.

Your feedback and support are crucial if we want this to work. Dessiminate the idea! Show off your favorite one! Come up with your own version and share it on the Parka Avenue Facebook page here. We all agreed that these images would be free of ownership. You want to use it for an upcoming Mod allnighter poster or banner? Please do! You want to make it part of your new scooter club logo? It's yours!

It's now time to spread the word and those wings...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Addicted To The Needle - The Podcast Where A Vinyl Addict Meets His Dealer

Are you addicted to collecting records? Do you have black wax coursing through your veins? Has your vinyl dependance gotten out of control? Amassing 45s has become an obsession? A brand new podcast will help you get you through until your next fix. Do our hosts Ben Shulman and Patrick Foisy offer a cure? No they don't. In fact, they are afflicted by the same sweet disease. Get ready for a fresh new podcast to hit your data stream. When analog clashes into the digital world, you get... Addicted To The Needle - A Vinyl Addict Meets His Dealer.

I met my good friend Ben on a cold January morning, seven years ago. He's responsible for getting me hooked on collecting records again. I blame him for being the addict that I am. I met him on the second floor of a dingy Montreal flea market. He was tucked away in a secluded corner surrounded by bargain records. He was selling the overflow of a well known local record shop.

Dressed as a Mod would in the Great White North on a glacial Sunday morning, I had my winter parka on with a couple of pins on the collar. I told him that I wanted to get back into collecting. Noticing my pins, he replied: "I think I have an idea of what you would like." He then reached in a box of 45s that was set under a table. I can't recall if I bought more then one 45 that day but one record still stands out to this day. I left with Wilmer and the Dukes - Give Me One More Chance and a dollar poorer.

THE record that started it all.
When I got home and put it on the turntable, I was hooked. I went back to the stall a few weeks later and Ben remembered me. I would later learn how phenomenal his memory is. I said that I wanted him, from now on, to find me gems like that Wilmer track every chance he got. What started has a business relationship transformed into a deep, meaningful and solid friendship.

Barely legal Ben and myself DJing at the Mod Club.

Ben has been an independant contractor for almost as long as we have known each other. In other words, he's a skilled vinyl picker. I affectionnately call him my record pimp. He'll jump into his white beat up Hyundai and drive from Montreal to Chicago or from New York to New Orelans just to scour a musky basements in search of that elusive Soul gem. Luckily, I'm his number one customer. Everything he doesn't keep to feed his own insatiable habit, I get to have first dibs on.

Set aside many exciting road trips, some successful nights DJing side by side, even having Ben perform a song at my wedding, the most memorable times were spent together down in my basement, listening to records and having long talks about changing the world.

Who would have thought that a young jewish kid from the suburbs of Montreal would become close friends with a French speaking Mod elementary school teacher in his mid-forties? Not me. For a long time, I tried to convince Ben to start his own podcast about Soul music. I'm constantly reminded of the depth of his knowledge about 60s music. I swear, he's a Soul savant! In this situation, I'm not the teacher, I'm the student. He knows every little detail about the labels, the producers, the back-up band, the kind of soda the sound engineer likes to drink when he mixes the final track. Everything! Plus, unlike me, he remembers it all.

So the last time he came over to sell me records, I had a flash. "Ben, you know how I'm always coxing you in starting a podcast? Here's the deal. Why not just record our listening sessions? A raw, unedidted version of what we have been doing every other week for the past seven years."

"I think you might have something here..." So I'm proud to official welcome you to the new kid on the block: Addicted To The Needle. You can listen to Episode 1 on Mixcloud, Soundcloud and PodOmatic. A few more providers will be added soon.

For all the latest updates, join us on the Addicted To The Needle Facebook page here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Top 10 Northern Soul and Garage Tracks from the 60s about Batman

As Adam West and Burt Ward hit the small screen in January 1966 in the widely popular The Batman TV series and amidst America's dance craze, a slew of Soul and Garage acts recorded singles praising the exlpoits of the Caped Crusader. More than any other superhero, the Dark Knight was by far the one that incited the most people to hit the dance floor. In one of the episodes of the series, they even came up with a dance called the Batusi!

Batman's popularity inspired many bands to ride the Batmobile straight to the recording studio. The show's  theme song, penned and arranged by jazz composer Neal Hefti, started it all. Seamingly simple, it's surf like guitar riffs, swinging horns and Mod Jazz organ won Hefti a Best Instrumental Theme Grammy in 1966. Covers of the theme song invaded the airways like an army of thugs descending on Gotham. Mod favorites like The Who, The Kinks and The Jam all took a stab at it.

I could write a whole blog post exclusively about covers of the original theme song but instead I'll try to introduce you to the rare, different and unsual tracks that are sure to please the Mod ear. These are the deep cuts that I managed to find on 45. The criteria are the same as for all the other "suites" that I published on this blog. If I don't own it, it can't make the list. You can listen to all the tracks, in order, on the Parka Avenue Podcast here.

1) Batman - Les Hou-Lops - Apex

I certainly couldn't do a Top 10 without including a local band from my own province of Quebec. Les Hou-Lops were a Garage band with a strong RnB influence. In 1966, the same year this single came out, they opened for The Rolling Stones at the Olympia in Paris.

They recorded a cover of the theme song and simply added some lyrics that are worth paying attention to. Being from Montreal, I have the added bonus of understanding the lyrics. The weird lyrics are, for me, what makes it memorable. At one point he sings: "Batman and Superman, beat up all the bad guys. Batman and Superman, you too will be grown-ups. If you love somebody... and if somebody loves you. Batman." If you think that something has been lost in translation, don't worry, nothing has. Trust me, it doesn't make any more sense in French.

This video of them performing on a local TV show is just a treasure throve of weirdness. Notice the singer Gilles Rousseau push away his guitarist on two accasions so he would have the spolight and show off his ackward dance moves.

2) Butch Baker - Batman at the Go Go - St. Lawrence

What's interesting about this single is that it originaly came out as Batman at the Go Go, with Robin at the Go Go as the b-side, but was quickly withdrawn after a "cease and desist" demand from DC Comics. Existing promo copies were ordered to be destroyed but a few survived. Some stock copies resurfaced years after its initial release. The label reissued it under Fatman at the Go Go / Working at the Go Go.

It is said that Butch Baker was a pseudonym for Jerome Rogers. Apprently, he was renamed by the record label for two main reasons. His grandfather was a minister and he didn't want him to be associated with secular music and his nickname was Butch.

3) Combo Kings - Batman A Go Go - Jamie

Look at that! Batman must have been popular at the Go Go because here he is again. The Combo Kings laid a solid party starter with this one. Far from being based on the Batman theme, with some infectuous horns, this is a true original. Do The Fizz on the b-side makes it a genuine double-sider.
The Combo Kings were a Philly suburbs group that formed in 1959. They were the back-up band that you turned to when you came to Philadelphia to appear on the American Bandstand Show. They performed alongside Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, Dee Dee Sharp and Frankie Beverly.

4) Lavern Baker - Batman to the Rescue - Brunswick

Holy seven inch Batman! This uptempo dancer will have you swing off your Bat-Grapple straight onto dance floor. RnB and early Rock & Roll diva Lavern Baker recorded this track in 1966 in the Brunswick studios. Batman to the Rescue was basically a sped up remake of her early 1956 hit Jim Dandy released during her prolofic time at Atlantic. The Brunswick management simply wanted to capitalize on the Batman craze of the moment and her early success at Atlantic. My copy might be a bit rough but a Canadian pressing does not come up often.

5) The Camps - Batmobile - Parkway

This Garage / Surf hybride came out in 1967 and was penned and arranged by Sunny Curtis, best known for the hit I Fought The Law. The promo copy strangely credits The Campers and even has a typo in the A-side title, The Ballard of Batman.

6) The Invisible Burgundy Bullfrog - Batman Rides Again - Panther

The Invisible Burgundy Bullfrog... What a great name for a Garage band! Hell, it could make for a perfect super vilain! I can picture a "Pow!" and a "Zoink!" suddenly appearing on the TV screen while Batman gives that nasty Bullfrog a lesson. Quick question. How do you know if a bullfrog is burgundy if it's invisible?

Not much is known about the band except that they hailed from Geensboro, North Carolina. Batman Rides Again was the b-side to their only single, a cover of Cry Me a River.

7) The Sensational Guitars Of Dan & Dale - Robin's Theme - Tifton

It's about time we give a little recognition to the Boy Wonder. Always the b-side, poor Robin doesn't get the attention he deserves. On this record, the Batman Theme gets it's ass kicked by the much stronger Robin's Theme on the flip. The crazy guitar solo is worth the price of admission by itself. It can put any cheesy 80s Heavy Metal guitarist to shame. I must admit, I really like this one.

Who are these mysterious Dan & Dale? Members of Sun Ra's Arkestra and the Blues Project making sure they wouldn't be caught making a novelty record.

8) Gate Wesley & Band - (Zap! Pow!) Do The Batman - Atlantic

Gate Wesley really hit a double whammy with this funk number, attacking on two fronts. He juiced both the Batmania sweeping the nation and the danze crazes that were popular in the 60s. Speaking of juice, you continuously hear the singer ask for some O.J. Why? Probably because Batman needs his vitamin C to catch all the meanies roaming the streets of Gotham.

9) The Spotlights - Batman and Robin - Smash

The Spolights who later became The Allman Joys recorded Batman and Robin for the Smash record label in 1966. Lou Courtney, one of my favorite Soul singers, is credited as being one of the producers. 4000 promo copies were sent to radio stations accross the land before its release. The track is a fine example of solid Garage. The lyrics recount the tales of Batman and his sidekick laying a trap to catch some criminals. Crime doesn't pay but a good song will.

10) Scotty McKay & His Orchestra - Here Comes Batman - Claridge

Watch out! Here comes Batman... at the same time every other Batman record made its way to the record shop in 1966. Released on the New York label Claridge, I own the rarely seen Canadian pressing that came out on Barry.

The song was performed by Texas native Scotty McKay aka Max Lipscomb in the 1967 made-for-television b-movie, Creatures of Destruction. Here's some footage of his band performing both the solid  b-side, All Around The World and Here Comes Batman.

Another Shag masterpiece called Batman Battle Royale
To hear all the tracks, make sure to leap over to the Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud right here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Expo 67 - A Mod Utopia

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal, Canada, better known as Expo 67. As a Montreal native that was born just a few years after 1967, I'm acutely aware of the impact Expo 67 had on my city.

But the reaches of this International Exposition goes far beyond the borders of my city or my country for that matter. Expo 67 was the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century. It was the single most important event, with the 1976 Olympics, that catapulted Montreal on the world stage.

You might wonder why this subject would be brought up on a blog about Mod culture. This is the reason why. Expo 67 has opened the door to the "modern era". Design, fashion, music, art, culture and architecture was on the cutting edge. In other words, it was a Mod utopia.

To give you a brief idea, check out this video from the National Film Board of Canada. I not only recommend it for the images but for the soundtrack as well. At the 2 minute mark you'll hear a perfect slice of Mod Jazz that is very similar to Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. My favorite track starts at 4:40. It's a very obscure, out of this world instrumental by local band Les Pharaons called La Marche des Martiens (March of the Martians). The 45 is rather rare and has been on my wish list for quite a while.

Many seminal musical acts converged on the city during Expo 67. Take this 1967 Soul classic by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye for instance. This footage of Ain't No Mountain High Enough was shot on the Expo site. The single was released on April 20th, just a week before the world exhibit opened its doors.

Another track that might be of interest to all you Mods out there is this rocksteady groover by The Melodians. Last Train To Expo 67 has all the makings of a classic 60s Jamaican track we are used to sway to.

I'm sure I will write other posts about the Expo in the upcoming months but for this one, I wanted to narrow our focus on the fashion surrounding the event. The world was right in the middle of the miniskirt craze and go-go boots.

Venezuela pavilion - Photo by Helmut Newton 

Here's a video of a Canadian Fashion Industry showcase that was held near the Canadian pavilion. Like any fashion show, some choices are questionable while others are reminders of what came out of Carnaby Street.

Always  the perfect example of poise, grace and style, Jackie Kennedy visited the sites.

[Photographer unknown]
Last weekend I had the chance to visit the Fashioning Expo 67 exhibit at the McCord Museum. You had prime examples of many pavilion hostess uniforms. No less then 62 nations were represented at the World Fair. That makes for some interesting and avant-garde styles. Unfortunately, men's fashion was practically non-existant. A sign of the times, I guess.

Uniforms from the Italian and UK pavilions.

My favorite had to be the USA uniform. The Mod appeal is undeniable. It might be a bit too bold to be worn today but I admire women that have the confidence to wear something audacious.

"The hostess in blue was an Expo icon, providing information and assistance everywhere on the site. To convey a professional image, a conservative knee-skimmimg skirt, common to many other Expo uniforms, was favoured over the more fashionable mini lenght." Designed by Michel Robichaud.

Some of the Canadian provinces had their own pavilion and the uniforms that came with it. Here's the Quebec one.

The Western Canada Pavilion dressed 16 of its hostesses in this vibrant dress and matching coat designed by the John Crowley Company.

Even the Canadian Pulp and Paper pavilion had their own uniforms. 

Many sketches look like they came straight from Mary Quant's draft book.

Uniform from the Canadian Railway Pavilion

This was the entry submitted by Rita Simard for the Master Furriers Association of Quebec design competition.
Some of the outfits seen at the exhibit were not necessarily worm by employees but instead by the public. Here are fine examples.

Label: Pauli
Designer: Helen Harper

Of course, if you're going to visit such an exhibit, you have to dress the part. Daniel and Charlie look like they could have walked out of any of the Expo pavilions. Notice the authentic Expo hostess broach on Charlie's dress.

I might be a tad prejudiced but I'm convinced that my lovely wife would have made a great hostess.

The exhibit will run until October 1st 2017 at the McCord Museum . If you're in the Montreal area, don't miss it.