Photography by Paul Henni©
“Clean living under difficult circumstances”
I don’t consider myself to be a Mod. Nor am I an expert on Mod culture or the bands which we have come to associate with the Mods. I remember discovering The Kinks and becoming fascinated by Dead End Street. It was the first time I'd heard about politics and equality in music. To be honest I never really got what Mod represented, and I'm quite sure I still don’t. Developing my music sensibilities in the late 90’s, Mod has never really been my gig. But then Mod has influenced every generation since the 50’s somehow or other, even my beloved 90's rock and roll stars. So who are the Mods of today and tomorrow? To answer, I take a look at the Mods of yesterday with help from Stuart McKay from Edinburgh’s Mod rockers Chil, who answers this question with the shining example of one of Mod's greatest ambassadors; Stuart Blackie AKA Pud.
Now as far as I am aware, and through no lack of BBC 4 documentaries, there have been several different waves of Mod. The first Mod came to be in the west London Jazz clubs of the 50’s. In a time of swing, rhythm, and brass, dance halls were lined with sophisticated suits and the sound of The Teddy Boys. Men’s fashion took a kick up the arse and Cecil Gee slacks became the in thing. These guys are the original Mods, and it was sunglasses in a nightclub cool.
As Chil’s front man Stuart puts it, there have been some guys who have always lived the Mod life as prescribed by Quadrophenia’s protagonist Jimmy Cooper.
"The Who have always been a huge influence on me, I bought Live at Leeds when I was 11 and it turned my head for the rest of my life. I was too young to be a Mod the first time round but caught the revival in the late 70’s. I got slagged for wearing an original army issue fish tail parka to college. As 'Quadrophenia' states “I wear my war time coat in the wind and sleet"".
Stuart fronts Chil, a four piece rock band who cover classic songs from the 60’s through to the present day. With the addition of their original song-writing arm Demi-Chil, a three piece version of the same band, Chil continue to preach the Mod mentality in the pubs and clubs of Edinburgh. But what really gets me about Chil’s story, is the story of one of their biggest fans by the name of Pud. An ordinary man, with an exceptional mentality.
This is important. Whilst finding out more about Mod and 'Mod music' over the past few months, I have come to realise that the actual style of music matters less than you would think. Mod is about standing up to oppression, fighting against the normalities of life, and if you don’t win, then at least you get back on the Mod horse with your Parka zipped up with pride. It’s much less to do with guitars and bass lines than you would think! Pud understood this, so much so, that when Chil formed in 1999, over a 15 year period Pud never missed a single Chil gig in Edinburgh. It was the mentality that he craved.
“He used to stand as close to the front of the band as possible, he liked it loud. His knowledge of rock music was vast and he took great pleasure in correcting anything we said which he was unhappy about. One of his favourite points of clarification was that 'I Fought the Law' was not a Clash song as it was written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets. He used to shout things like this at gigs which often led to great banter with the band and the crowd”.
Sonny Curtis and the Crickets! How many people would be able to pull you up on that? It’s this knowledge and a 'going against the trend' mentality which is the musical legacy Pud leaves behind, along with the library on vinyl Stuart is still trying to catalogue. How interesting, then, though we can talk about the mentality of Mod, which I believe is the most important aspect, like being a die-hard red fan and still wearing your colours in the blue end; if you don’t have a colour to attach your mentality to, then you’re left wandering. Pud nailed his colours to the Mod mast a long time ago. And like a true Mod there’s only one place to start.
The Who are the kings of the Mods. They are a band who bring red, white and blue together like no others before or since. But thankfully, there have been those who have endeavoured to knock them off their perch. It's what any good Mod would do, right? The last band worthy of taking their title, and the greatest live memory for Mod duo Stuart and Pud, was fronted by a man Pud named the Guv'nor.
"Pud and I had every The Jam and Weller album, and although we had seen Weller more times than I could remember, neither of us had ever seen The Jam. I managed to get us a box at the Royal Albert Hall for the 'Wake up the Nation' tour in 2010. We knew that Bruce Foxton, bass player from The Jam, had collaborated on the album. This was the first time they had worked together since The Jam split in 1982. What we did not know was that Foxton would join Weller on stage that night for the first time in 28 years. When they went into the opening riff of 'Going Underground' I thought Pud was going to fall out the box given the way he jumped in the air. As it was he didn’t, but lost his very expensive glasses which flew off as he pogoed! I have a picture of Pud from that gig and I swear I never saw him happier. In a run of four nights at the Albert Hall, that was the only night Foxton played.
It's the kind of thing that happens when all of the Mod stars and planets align in the sky, and sadly since the summer of 2014 there has been one more up there. But just like the likes of Entwistle and Moon, Pud has left his own lasting legacy. Survived by his Mother Sheila who at 86 has just as many beans as Pud had himself, Chil organised a gig in celebration of his life. In true Mod fashion the evening kicked off with Demi-Chil's The Last Plot Remaining and of course, as you'd expect from a list of a Mod's favourite tunes, a very British theme prevailed throughout the evening. "I could hear him in my head saying “Dear boy, you really will do anything for a gig”", says Stuart, but in reality, if Pud's mentality teaches us anything, it's that we should always turn it up to 11.
Which leaves me asking about the future of the Mod? Since The Jam there have been many bands influenced by Mod culture. Non more so than Oasis. But who will be next? After all, as we have learnt from Pud, the man may move on, but his mentality will always survive. Enter, who in my opinion, will take on this challenge. Below is one of the first ever radio appearances of Nottingham's Sleaford Mods, despite coming from their 3rd studio album.
Such resilience epitomises the Mod. It's the same as Jimmy in Quadrophenia and the same as Pud. It's the ability to do your own thing and attach it to the music which represents you best. Sleaford Mods are bridging a gap between an underground youth culture and a need to have a rebellious attitude in the public eye. But all of these great mods stand for the same thing. The Who, The Jam, Oasis, Chil and Pud; what is a Mod? As Pete Meaden rightly stated, it really is nothing more than clean living under difficult circumstances.