I did a summary of my Mod origins in the ‘How?’ page, but thought it would be good to get down some more detailed stories before they evaporate from my ageing memory and are lost to the mists of time. Start at the bottom of the page to read in chronological order …
Part Four – Thirty Years Of Carnaby Street: 1980 – 2010
Carnaby Street is widely recognised as being for a while the epicenter of Mod clothing once the style broke away from the purview of only a scattered band of elitist young enthusiasts who either had access to the skills of their family tailors or had the wealth to acquire those tailors’ goods.
The story goes that Scottish transplant John Stephen had a shop in nearby Beak Street which was damaged in a fire, so he took up in Carnaby Street because the rents were cheap. I understand that the place was far from glamourous in those days. Richard Barnes describes the street having a huge windowless warehouse owned by the Gas Board and a tobacconists – which was still there when I first went in the eighties!
In one of those convenient accidents, Stephen’s ideas about providing ready to wear clothing and how to present it – not in cabinets and drawers but on racks and shelves allowing punters to feel and try on the clothes, with young people serving and loud music blaring – were in perfect sync with the desires of the burgeoning youth demographic. Before long Stephen had several shops in and near to Carnaby Street and became a Rolls Royce-driving millionaire in his twenties. There’s a touch of irony in the success story, in that by bringing Mod style into the mainstream and espousing a ‘fast fashion’ approach to retail, this was most likely at odds with the original faces who put quality above quantity in their wardrobes and were no doubt unimpressed with the easy access and frivolity of ready-to-wear. On the other hand, for those who were into one-upmanship and were constantly tweaking their style to keep up with – or keep ahead of – the prevailing trends they would no doubt have loved the quick turnaround of short runs of clothing that was Stephen’s sales method. The success of his shops soon attracted other retailers to move in close by and the reputation of Carnaby Street at the centre of London’s youthful fashion scene was fully established .
Before long Carnaby Street became a victim of it’s own success and the serious Mods moved on, leaving the street as ground central for the ‘Swinging London’ of the second half of the sixties. The pervasive one-upmanship of the Mods along with the fast-moving fashions meant that the look diluted into several offshoots, and eventually shops on King’s Road like ‘Granny Takes A Trip’ and ‘I Was Lord Kitcheners Valet’ soon occupied the limelight in providing for the more outrageous psychedelic evolution that became popular – paisley shirts and vintage military jackets.
I first became aware of Carnaby Street having seen the street sign sticker on Paul Weller’s Rickenbacker guitar. I even got one to put on my first bass.
This would have been around the time that ‘All Around The World’ was released by The Jam with ‘Carnaby Street’ on the B-side, and soon thereafter ‘News Of The World’ came out with a picture of the lads actually walking down the famous thoroughfare.
I first got to Carnaby Street in May 1980. There was a school trip to London, going down on the overnight coach one night, a day to spend in London then returning home overnight that evening. The coach left from school at midnight, so what were we going to do until then? Well we did what any self-respecting brainless fifteen year old lads would do – we got some booze from the off licence and got drunk in the park! This was the first time I’d ever got drunk and I’ve never been able to stand the smell of vodka ever since! Two of the lads – Russ and Steve – were so bladdered they weren’t allowed on the trip and were sent home. The rest of us had several hours on the road in a bumpy bus to sleep it off and recover!
As soon as we’d arrived in London the next morning and guzzled some Pepsi to stave off the hangover we got in a taxi and made a beeline for Carnaby Street. At this point I don’t think I’d yet acquired Richard Barnes’ book, in which he describes how revolutionary it was in the early sixties, “especially if you see what it has descended to these days” (1979), so I was not prepared to be disappointed. It really wasn’t very good. There was a greasy spoon cafe named ‘Chubbies’ on Foubert’s Place at one end where we got some breakfast and waited for the shops to open. The street had been pedestrianised in the seventies and was at that time paved in that yucky yellow tile which was hardly improved that day by the predictable London drizzle. There were crusty old signs with ‘Carnaby Street Welcomes The World’ hung at both ends of the street.
Even though the Mod revival was in full swing in Spring 1980 the place was far from impressive, so I can only wonder how bad it might have been in that interim after the swinging psychedelic period wound down but before the revival renewed some interest in the place. Me and my mates were too young and dumb back then to be very discerning but even then we weren’t too enthused. It was at least somewhat exciting to be in an environment in which there were several Mod shops side by side, catering to our specific clothing interest. Back home you had the slim pickings of what was on offer in a small selection in the high street shops, only a few of which had embraced Mod clothing and bothered to stock the kind of things we were looking for, but quality was evidently lacking. This is probably part of the reason why the revival period of the late seventies to the early eighties isn’t remembered fondly by many. At first glance there may have been access to three-button suits to get us started on the look, along with button-down shirts and slim ties, mocassins and Hush Puppies and desert boots, parkas and badges galore but the variety was fairly narrow and the quality of manufacture often severely lacking.
Most memorable to me of the shops on Carnaby Street were Melanddi and Shelly’s Shoes which we recognised from their ads in the back of weekly music newspapers Sounds and NME. They stocked black and white Jam shoes and bright-coloured Chelsea boots. Several other shops had button down Ben Sherman shirts and sta pressts but there’s was nothing there that was attractive enough to make us part with our money.
Later that year I returned to London for a long weekend trip with my Mam and brother. I’m not sure what the provenance of this trip was but I was happy to go along. We had rooms in a hotel across the street from Bond Street tube so it was a short walk up to Oxford Circus and down Regent Street for me to go and have another snoop around. I wrote about my lucky experience in getting to see The Jam at the Rainbow Theatre during this trip below in Part Two. I got a pair of blue suede Jam shoes with white stripes (later known as ‘badger shoes’) which certainly weren’t too common in my home town.
I also walked around to the Carnaby Cavern which was actually in Newburgh Street, adjacent to Carnaby Street. This was another place I’d learned about from their ads placed in the back of Sounds and NME in which they advertised suits ‘as worn by The Jam’.
It turned out that I’d narrowly missed meeting my heroes as they’d just been in there to pick up some stuff. The lad behind the counter pulled out a pair of strides that he said were the model for Bruce Foxton so whenever Bruce wanted some new gear they were made up from that pattern. I noticed the frogmouth pockets … never liked ‘em! I was hardly the most particular fashionista at that tender age but even then I wasn’t very impressed with what was on sale, suits in black, grey and pale blue polyester material. I can only guess that The Jam got their stage gear made there as it could be easily washed while on the road, and saved their big money to spend elsewhere on much better quality threads.
My next visit to Carnaby Street was during summer 1981. After finishing our O-Levels me and three mates stayed with my uncle in Barnet and during this trip I returned to Shelleys and got a pair of electric blue suede Chelsea boots. The photo below was taken on the King’s Road during that trip – note the Setting Sons tour t-shirt from the previous year.
In the next few years I visited London several more times but didn’t bother much with Carnaby Street. I was much more interested in original sixties Mods rather than the restrictive boundaries of the revival look, so I was much more intrigued by shops on King’s Road and the late-lamented Kensington Market where I picked up a couple of vintage suits and loved scouring the racks at the likes of Flip and Strip for ‘one-off’ gear. Carnaby Street was for a while looking ever more tired, stuck in the rut of providing for what might now be called ‘identikit Mods’. Poor quality clothes made of cheap materials.
In 1987 I spent the summer break from college living in London and don’t even remember going over there at all, although I was so broke trying to work and live in London I was on the bones of my arse and had no money for clothes. In 1990 I moved to America and never thought about the place for a long time.
I came to be passing through London on the way up north just before Christmas 2008 and after a marvellously memorable night on the town with some lads from my home town, wandered over to Carnaby Street the next morning to kill a couple of hours before picking up a rental car to drive home. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the place had had an impressive makeover, and although obvious Mod brands were represented – Lambretta clothing and Merc among them – the place looked bright and cheery and was lively with shoppers. It was certainly more impressive than my first visit. I went back in 2010 and on the subject of identikit gear got a boating blazer from Sherry’s around the corner in Broadwick Street. That was ten years ago at the time of writing this and as the influence of Mod styles cycles in and out of fashion, so the Carnaby Street shops and the relevance and quality of their gear will continue to wax and wane. I’m not sure if there’d be much to tempt me there right now. I understand that Merc has moved out and gone to e-trade only and who knows what will happen to retail in the post-corona world, but whenever I’m back in London I wouldn’t mind a stroll along there again to see how things might have changed over the years. It certainly seems a lot less depressing these days than my first visit, and they appear to have bricked over those yucky yellow tiles!
Part Three – The End of The Jam: November, 1982 – December, 1982
With apologies again for the wall of text – we didn’t all have camera phones in the seventies and eighties so we have to rely on our memories – here’s another recollection from my youth! The gist of this appeared in the excellent Jam-related fanzine ‘Disguises’ Volume 4, created and hosted by my cyber-pal Gareth. Check it out at disguisesfanzine.bigcartel.com.
In the autumn of 1982 my band had been together for around eighteen months and had achieved some success locally but were looking for some way to step up to the next level. We had made a demo tape and schlepped it around various radio stations and record labels without much response. In the late summer of 1982 we had heard about a new TV show that was going to be broadcast from the Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle. I was friends with Maxine Deas at school, and her Dad Max Deas was a big cheese at Tyne Tees Television, so we asked her if she would pass our tape on to her Dad, with the naive aspiration that we might get on the telly!
We did get a response from Tyne Tees along with a handful of passes to the inaugural episode of the show, which we found out was going to be called ‘The Tube’. You can imagine how chuffed I was to find out that The Jam were going to be playing live in the studio.
So me and the other lads from my band made it through to Newcastle. The entrance to the studios resembles the eponymous Tube and whilst we were waiting in there Jools Holland – who had probably been chosen as presenter following a documentary he had done following The Police around the Caribbean – walked down the queue cracking jokes with those of us in line. Who knew he would go on to have such a successful career as a TV host?
The Toy Dolls were playing some cacophonous power pop in the lobby. I nodded at Olga as we walked past, as I used to often see him down at Pete Dodds’ rehearsal rooms where both of our bands practiced and stashed our gear. Then we were ushered into the main studio for a lot of standing around while various interviews were going on around us. Sting was on camera and Pete Townshend too but I don’t really recall if they had anything earth-shattering to say.
I was right up front to see Heaven 17 perform a few songs. I used to frequent an ‘alternative music’ nightclub with my band mates around this time where along with the likes of Kraftwerk, early Human League, Bauhaus, Killing Joke and Japan, ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang’ was regularly played. I was surprised Heaven 17 were on the bill as they had no new stuff coming out and they often stated that they had no interest in touring or playing live. True to form their keyboards weren’t even plugged in but they had a horn section who were playing live over their pre-recorded backing tapes. Keyboardist Martyn Ware would soon go on to produce Tina Turner’s comeback single, a copy of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, and a few years later he was at the controls for the recording of ‘Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby’ – one of the best debut albums ever in my opinion. Too bad Terence swiftly faded away, but I digress …
During the next interval (commercial break – this was live TV!) I bumped into a lad in the crowd I knew who told me he’d heard a rumor that The Jam were packing it all in, but I didn’t want to believe it. Due to being in a non-Mod band I had naturally started to expand my music tastes way beyond what would normally be expected from a revivalist Mod in 1982, but I was still fully dedicated to The Jam and couldn’t believe they would throw in the towel when they seemed to be at the height of their success and setting up for world domination. To this day I don’t remember when I finally heard the news. On reviewing the video of the whole performance, prior to The Jam going onstage Tube presenter Muriel Gray announced ‘… As most people already know The Jam are splitting up’ … I certainly didn’t know, and that bit wasn’t shown to us in the studio so I lived on in blissful ignorance for a little while longer. Anyway, when The Jam finally took the stage Weller made no mention of it, either to the live audience in the studio off-camera, or to those watching on TV.
By now I would guess that most people reading this who were interested in The Jam will have seen this show, either on TV or on the ‘Complete Jam’ DVD. I got near the front and was surprised to see Bruce’s bass. He had previously exclusively used a series of Rickenbacker 4001s in the early years and more recently a black Fender Precision, but he came out sporting a beautiful gold-coloured neck-through Aria SBR. I had just happened to get the exact same bass in padouk red a few weeks previously and still own it now!
Anyway the band blasted through a short set of nine or ten songs which was a pretty good cross-section of their career to date. There was a huge trolley camera right behind me, so if you’re really sad you can take a look at the DVD and see the back of my spikey head bobbing up and down in the foreground in many of the shots. Towards the end of the show as ‘Move On Up’ is playing out, the camera angle reverses and there’s a clear close shot of me clapping.
The show ended, the crowd were ushered out and that was that! I was on the train home in a bit of a dazed state not quite believing my luck that I’d just seen my heroes in such an intimate setting. Of course, not long after this show the news filtered through that the rumours were true and The Jam really were breaking up. Because it was obvious to so many people that I was a big fan (even if they didn’t know me they could tell I had that look!) I was asked over and over what I thought about it. I was friendly with an older Mod named Rob Baker and ran into his brother – who I barely knew – in Annabel’s nightclub. He came rushing over to commiserate with me and told me he had been growing his hair out like Jim Morrison’s as he’d become a huge fan of The Doors but when he heard the news about The Jam he’d cut it all off in mourning!
I went on a school trip to London in December 1982 and we stayed at one of those small hotels in Paddington situated in a large converted townhouse. As we sixth-formers were all gathered in the communal lounge waiting to head out on the town a repeat showing of this episode of The Tube was on the TV. All my mates were pointing out my head on-screen and I had to chuckle as the other guests were looking back and forth between the TV screen and me to see if my mates were serious that it really was me up there or just having a laugh.
Looking back I don’t think I was in mourning too much at the demise of The Jam. I think the death knell of the Mod revival had already sounded. In emulation of the one-upmanship of the sixties Mods, me and a few stalwarts had been in search of cool bands that nobody else knew much about, whether old stuff from the sixties (I got a bit obsessive about the Yardbirds for a while) or new little-known bands coming through like Nine below Zero, but if we were honest with ourselves we knew the writing was on the wall. Secret Affair’s third album in 1982 barely dented the charts and the likes of the Chords and Purple Hearts never had a following broad enough to break out of the revival tag and resonate with the mainstream. I actually felt a bit liberated by this seeming punctuation on the whole scene, and found myself getting more and more into the new sounds of the eighties. I still look upon those days fondly – you could look around our sixth form common room and tell instantly what kind of music anyone was into purely by the way they wore their barnet! That kind of convivial eclecticism is sadly lacking these days.
Anyway, back to The Jam. I know I wasn’t happy to find out the farewell tour wasn’t coming anywhere near the north east but I did manage to get a combination bus ticket and concert ticket for their show in Bridlington about a hundred miles away. It was all a bit depressing. I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to go and even on the bus I don’t remember seeing anyone I knew well, so I went through the whole experience solo.
A few months later The Style Council released ‘Speak Like A Child’ and once again I was interrogated over and over as to my thoughts. It just sounded like a song from the more mellow period at the end of The Jam’s career to me, but being how I was always a bigger admirer of Foxton than Weller, I missed his intricate bass lines and couldn’t understand why Weller couldn’t have kept Foxton and Buckler around whilst expanding the scope and style of the band’s sound and membership. Later I found out that the next single, ‘A Solid Bond In Your Heart’, had originally started life as a Jam song thus proving that there was some crossover in sound at least in the early days. My own theory on the motivation behind Weller’s decision is the answer to 99 percent of the world’s questions – money! Notice how ‘Funeral Pyre’ and ‘Circus’ include Foxton and Buckler as writers? Even erstwhile Weller fart-catcher Paulo Hewitt states that many songs going out as written by Weller started life as a result of Foxton and Buckler jamming, and I find it hard to believe that Weller was instrumental in telling them both what to play, in particular some of Foxton’s unique bass lines. I believe that the rhythm section started to see the amounts of royalty money rolling in, or perhaps not rolling in to their own bank accounts, and rather than deal with impending dispute, Weller’s reaction was to start a new band with hired guns who wouldn’t make waves in the studio or claims on the royalties. Nothing new here, Sting did the same thing soon after.
I started to listen to a much broader range of music around this time and maintained a detached interest in The Style Council for a while, boosted by my long-lost friend Rebecca Farmer (if you’re reading this Becky – contact me!) who gave me a mix tape which included some bootleg tracks and some cuts from ‘Introducing The Style Council’, but before long I was splitting my weekends between one club which played The Chameleons, Spear of Destiny, Comsat Angels, Killing Joke, Danse Society, Sisters of Mercy, March Violets, Death Cult, Shriekback et al, and another which played Bowie, Roxy Music, Michael Jackson, The Commodores, Luther Vandross, Chic, Gil Scott-Heron, Cameo and Prince among various others. So ended an era for me!
Part Two – Live Gigs: December, 1979 – December, 1980
Somehow, Sunderland went from being a musical Mecca in the sixties and early seventies to becoming a musical wasteland. Stories abound of all the talent that would play in various venues around the town, in particular at the Bay Hotel at Seaburn and the Mecca, known as ‘The Fillmore North’ just across the bridge from the town centre. Geoff Docherty’s book ‘A Promoter’s Tale’ gives an excellent insight into those golden days.
Despite the Sunderland Empire Theatre being the biggest theatre between Leeds and Edinburgh, which had played host to The Beatles in the sixties (as well as being the venue where Syd James gave his last breath, as his ghost continues to haunt the place), the story goes that due to the damage done by fans during a gig by The Boomtown Rats, the nearest to contemporary acts they would book thereafter was Showaddywaddy. This meant that my generation had to travel through to Newcastle to see any worthwhile musical entertainment. Being the days before the Internet and Ticketmaster, the only way to score tickets was to go to the City Hall box office in person.
I would call their number on a weekly basis in the hope that along with “Northern Symphonia and the wrestling” I would hear the name of a band I wanted to see on their recorded message. In Autumn of 1979 I finally heard “The Jam” amongst the usual list of American rock bands. I could barely believe my ears, and nicked off school the next day to get the train through and be there as soon as the they opened (“box office hours are 10:30 to 5:30”) to get three tickets.
The date was for December. Soon after it was announced that the school trip to Derwent Hill Outdoor Centre in The Lake District was going to be the same week, so the other two lads I’d bought tickets for dropped out and sold their tickets on. In my ‘To Do’ list, seeing The Jam came higher than rock climbing and canoeing, as I’d recently done that anyway on a trip to a similar place named Langdale, so I stuck with the original plan.
On the night we got the train through and walked up to the City Hall. This was my first ever gig. The stage was already set up, with a backdrop logo of The Vapors. They duly played their set and seemed to me to do a decent job but I’d never heard of them and wasn’t familiar with their songs so viewed with vague interest. I did end up buying ‘Turning Japanese’ later, and thought the album ‘New Clear Days’ had some great tracks on it (‘America’, ‘Trains’, ‘Bunkers’) all with that signature chugging rhythm guitar, but their career was short-lived.
Finally The Jam took the stage. My seat was towards the front centre of the balcony so was in a decent spot but at some remove from the stage. Gig reviews are often boring to read and my memory is getting fuzzy for details anyway, but I do remember it was one of the most exciting nights of my young life, to see my heroes in person. I know they played with loads of energy and I heard most of the songs I was hoping for. This was the ‘Setting Sons’ tour, among their strongest albums in my opinion, and most of the tracks were played along with other songs from ‘All Mod Cons’ which were already becoming anthems in the soundtrack to my youth.
I returned to the City Hall in April and again in September of 1980 to see Secret Affair, scoring tickets near the front both times and meeting the band afterwards. At one of these gigs the support band was The Step. They had a brass section and did a great version of Smokey Robinson’s ‘Get Ready’, but unfortunately not much more was heard of them.
In October of 1980 The Jam came back to Newcastle City Hall and this time I scored tickets for a bunch of my Mod mates. We all managed to swoop down to the gap about eight rows back from the stage, and were able to take turns squeezing into the front row for a few songs before having to withdraw due to heat exhaustion. This gig, with Weller wearing a yellow polka dot shirt and gray strides, was recorded and shown on TV. If you look closely there’s a glimpse of me, drenched in sweat, leaning over a seat with arm raised, wearing a red Fred Perry V-neck and parka. I wasn’t even sure it was me when I first saw it on TV (we didn’t have a VCR so didn’t have the luxury to record and review in slow-mo!) but the next day at school one of the lads verified that he’d seen me, and with future viewing of the ‘Complete Jam’ DVD he was right! Anyway, a good time was had by all. Witnessing so much power and energy, so close to the front of the stage, for a fifteen year old on the threshold of breaking out into the world, it really was a great time to be alive. Well, apart from things like parental-imposed curfews, lack of funds, and approaching O levels!
A few weeks later, in November 1980 I went for a long weekend trip to London with my Mam. We stayed in a small hotel right next to the Bond Street tube. As soon as we got settled I nipped across the street for a snoop around in the HMV shop and as I walked in they started playing ‘Burning Sky’. I thought I was leading a charmed life, but there was more to come. I pulled out my tour t shirt and saw on the list of venues that The Jam were playing at the Rainbow that weekend. On the Saturday afternoon I took the tube over to Finsbury Park. There was a queue of Mods round the side of the building, hoping to get in to see the sound check so I joined in. I got on talking to a girl and asked her if she knew of any tickets going. She told me she had one spare and wanted to give it to me for free. I made her take five quid and sacked off the sound check as I now had to get back to the hotel to get changed for the night and tell my Mam what was up, this of course being before the age of mobile phones.
So back I went to The Rainbow that night and got to see The Jam all over again. It was strange seeing them in such a large venue, with the atmosphere much more subdued than at the City Hall. I had heard that Weller had mentioned in an interview that they got the best reception from fans when they played in the Northeast. Maybe seeing The Jam wasn’t such a huge event to Londoners, maybe they got to see their heroes more frequently, or maybe they were just less effusive down south, but as happy as I was for the windfall opportunity, the event wasn’t as good as gigs at the City Hall. Still, I scored a few Mod credibility points at school the next week, and was lucky enough to see The Jam several more times after this.
Part One – Rod’s Mod Roots: September, 1978 – December, 1979
I mentioned on the ‘How?’ page that it began for me when I discovered The Jam, before I really knew what Mods were all about, and little by little I discovered they weren’t really a punk band at all.
There was a shop in our town (not Durham!) called ‘The Durham Book Centre’ which, along with books and vinyl, sold badges, posters, belt buckles and all manner of other schmutter catering to youth cults of every stripe and hue. There was a sickly stench of patchouli in the back where they sold all that disgusting hippy juice. After some contemplation over the summer holidays in 1978, at which time I’d seen The Jam perform ‘David Watts’ on ‘Top of the Pops’, it slowly dawned on me that they were a Mod band, and the Durham Book Centre was where I bought my first Mod acquisition – a one inch wide square-ended black satin tie with ‘The Jam’ printed on it in white. Yeah, I was completely clueless, but you’ve got to start somewhere and this was it for me. This was me marking out my territory, nailing my colours to the mast. I’d seen some slight merits in the rebellion of Punk and the ‘chicks dig it’ factor of the fifties revival, but something about the Mod look drew me in much further. Uniform rules were quite strict at our school but you could usually get away with a discreet badge or two, and wearing a target badge along with my Jam tie in place of the school colours was my way of ‘coming out’. It was also the only overtly Mod piece of clothing I owned!
Since I’d grown out of the seventies-styled broad-check jacket that had been bought for me in 1975 to wear to my Nana’s Golden Wedding celebration, and it hadn’t been replaced in three years, I begged some money off my Mam for a new ‘smart’ jacket. This was the age when many young lads were wearing ‘box jackets’ – faux tweed one-button jackets with long thin lapels, square fronts and no vents. Instead I found one in similar tan tweed-like cloth, but with three buttons and side vents. Looking back it really wasn’t a very auspicious highlight of my sartorial journey. I had a tan and white mini gingham button down shirt, a Fred Perry V-neck sweater, brown strides and eventually got a pair of brown loafers. Like I say – it was a start! (Curiously these were the last items of brown anything I had ever owned until recently getting some chilli calf boots and some snuff suede shoes 35 years later!)
This outfit saw me through the extremely rare social events on a fourteen year old’s social calendar over the next several months (my sister’s twenty-first party and … well, that was about it really!) until the school Halloween disco in October, 1979. Wearing probably much the same outfit as above, doubtless augmented with several lapel badges, I entered the fray at ‘The Hotspot’. This was a dingy teen disco in the basement of a huge terraced house on the edge of town. Back in the sixties when licencing laws were lax, it had been a coffee bar and nightclub named ‘El Cubana’ and had hosted many regional up-and-coming acts. The owner Eric Punshon told me he remembered Alan Price humping his organ down the steps for a gig there. There’s an interesting write-up by Eric about the glory days of the place in the sixties here:
By the time we started going there, it had long since been renamed, and was well-established as the only regular haunt exclusively for (under-aged) teenagers in the town. They served soft drinks only and it reeked of stale shandy and burger meat.
Tonight the place was packed. You went down the steps outside, paid for your entry just inside the door, then went down some more steps, crossed through the basement bar/seated area where you could buy soft drinks and burgers or try to cop a snog with a hopefully willing lass on the couches, then went upstairs where there was a cloak room (remember them?) and a dance floor with a tiny stage at one end and a glassed in DJ booth at the other. On this night there was a queue snaking all the way down the stairs of people waiting to check their coats in. As I hadn’t yet acquired a parka I was OK in my jacket. Cute girls seemed to be everywhere. I was in the fourth year (ages 14-15) and we were sharing this momentous occasion with the fifth year (ages 15-16), so getting to mix with mature girls several months older, who were out of their school uniform, was a novelty. I don’t recall a lot more from the night. It was packed in there as such events were few and far between. There were a lot of hippy-rocker types doing their pathetic air guitar and head-banging to the likes of Status Quo, but there were also several Mods too (mostly from the fifth year) and in all honesty we were probably not much less pathetic doing some kind of shuffling, two-step, running-on-the-spot to The Jam and The Specials. All of us, most likely, really trying to figure out what the hell to do and how to be cool doing it. Still, the night was a minor triumph for me as several lads from the fifth year had to begrudgingly acknowledge that I was ‘there’ on the Mod journey before them, even as I’d had to endure their snarky comments in the previous months, as they were quizzing me about where I’d found certain badges and trying to ponce them off me!
I remember returning to The Hotspot a couple of months later with a mate of mine who had got tickets for some pre-Christmas party there, and soon after the school Halloween disco scenario was replayed for our official school Christmas disco, about which I remember very little, but still don’t think I managed to pull a snog downstairs!
By this time several of my mates had joined the Mod bandwagon, and as we were looking for a place to go, and mostly looked too young to get served in pubs or gain entry into over-18 nightclubs, The Hotspot became our regular weekend venue.
It was a crappy old place really, dingy and dark with pictures of Kiss on the wall, and those luminous lights that show up any vestiges of lint or dandruff on a dark outfit. We referred to it as ‘The Grot’. But they did occasionally play decent music (The Jam, Specials, Madness, Secret Affair, the Who, Kinks, Beatles, plenty of Motown, and of course ‘Green Onions’) and there were always plenty of girls there. When I read about the cramped, sweaty basement clubs from the early sixties where the original Mods hung out, like The Scene and The Flamingo, it seems like The Grot wasn’t a million miles away. The place became a bit of a Mod stronghold for us, news of which filtered through to punks and skins around town who would wait outside for us and cause some interesting running of the gauntlet athletics at closing time.
Amongst the Mod music, the DJ played a lot of contemporary dance music. Along with cheesy stuff like ‘Dance Yourself Dizzy’ by Liquid Gold, and ‘D.I.S.C.O’ by Ottawa, he played the likes of Michael Jackson (tracks from ‘Off The Wall’); Tom Browne (‘Funkin’For Jamaica’); Sugarhill Gang (‘Rappers’ Delight’); David Bowie (‘Fashion’); Chic (‘My Forbidden Lover’) and Sister Sledge (‘We Are Family’). Whilst I wasn’t really interested in this stuff at the time, and impatiently waited for something from Two Tone to be played, I didn’t realise that this kind of music was subconsciously getting under my skin, so several years later after The Jam had disbanded and the overt Mod Revival bands were just a memory, I came to acknowledge the merits of these artists whom I’d previously dismissed, and still play some of them regularly today. (Nile Rodgers is one of my guitar heroes!)