The Online Mod/ern/ist Archive

archive of original modernist recollections and information .
we are glad to hear from anyone with memories of the time, but we do not rewrite history .

14 Sept 2007

The Young Mod's Forgotten Story

(by Penny Reel) New Musical Express (1979)

In the beginning - or so the story goes - there are only three real mods, and one of these is flecking Lea Davis' brother. Mind you, it is Lea Davis himself who first puts this about in general currency, which means it is not necessary true, as it is known locally and wide that Lea Davis is more than somewhat fond of his brother, whose name is Wayne and who is said to have the best collection of Jimmy Witherspoon records in London.
Personally, I always consider that Lea Davis is a real mod, but he assures me this is not the case, so I reserve judgement and buy a collarless brown Pierre Cardin jacket in Harry Fentons and wear it on a Saturday afternoon idling expedition along Whitchapel Road, which is were I run into Charlie Steiger and Yonker Malcolm Chiswick out searching for this Ben E. King LP that is supposedly on sale in some shop in Mile End - this being around the time when Ben E. King LP's are as rare as albino negroes in this man's town, or even rarer.

Well, I stand there with Charlie Steiger and Malcolm Chiswick for some time, talking of this and that, until Charlie Steiger suggests that the three of us might just as agreeably carry our conversation to Tower Hill and at the same time amuse ourselves in the extraction of enjoyment out of the pariahs and prophets, nomads, seers, racing tipsters and other lusus naturae who regularly and often congregate there, such as Derrick and Pilgrim, Fascist Frankie, Moshe Bagels, Prince Honolulu, Big Jesus, Born Again, and many other wondrous and colorful characters, this being a long established favourite pastime of Charlie Steiger and Yonker Malcolm Chiswick, and indeed of many other citizens as well.

So here I am standing on Tower Hill in the company of Charlie Steiger and Yonker Malcolm Chiswick, discussing the relative merits of Shep and the Limelites, heckling Fascist Frankie, and joining the evangelist Born Again in a loud, lusy rendition of "Whilst I was sleeping somebody touched my soul", when who should come into view brushing an imaginary speck of dust from his mohair and doing the Continental Walk, but flecking Lennie Tyler.

Now Lennie Tyler is probably the most clothes conscious guy I ever meet in my whole life, although you wouldn't really be aware of it just to look at him, as he is conservative to the conservative guy all around.
Unlike most of the guys you see about in these times, Lennie Tyler shuns the sartorial fripperies of fashionable emporiums such as Conicks Young Esq. in the Kingsland Waist and Gaylords of Shaftesbury Avenue, preferring instead to cultivate business acquaintance with old-fashioned gents outfitters in the City and arcane tailors among Pentonville Road for his wardrobe, or at least he always claims.

Personally, I walk down Pentonville Road on many occasions, but I never see any tailors down there, arcane or otherwise.
Furthermore, Lennie Tyler is a very intense and temperamental character, much disposed to extended bouts of broody, sulky silence, even in gay, lively places like Tottenham Lido and the Royal and especially in the latter.

The general consensus of opinion is that Lennie Tyler is somewhat neurotic, and probably more that somewhat.

On this occasions of which I am speaking, he is dressed casually in a simple midnight blue mohair suit, a dazzling white Fred Perry jersey shirt and wearing narrow fitting black Chelsea shoes with a slight suggestion of a chisel point on his feet.

Now Lennie Tyler is an old friend of mine, and in fact I sometimes go around his house to listen to his Jack Jones records and ogle his younger sister, Lennie Tyler having a very pretty young sister, so I give him a big hello, and he stops and the following conversation ensues: "How is it going with you, Len?" I say to Lennie Tyler, although of course I do not really care on soul how it is going with him.

"It's not too often we see you down Tower Hill of a Saturday afternoon".
"So who flecking reckons himself in his new collarless brown cord Pierre Cardin jacket that he more than likely bought in Harry Fentons?" Lennie Tyler says, referring to me in the third person, such as is a common mannerism.
Who's a little mod boy, then?".
"But Len", I say, "You are also a mod".
"Listen son", Lennie Tyler says, "there are only three real mods, and one of these is flecking Lea Davis's brother".

I never get to personally meet Lea Davis's brother, although I do see him on one occasion, hanging out by the pinball tables in the Schtip on Stamford Hill and listening to Fats Domino records.

Schtip being more than somewhat yiddish word used to describe the prodigal waste of money, and with its rows upon rows of gleaming pinball machines, one arm bandits, and a juke box containing some 50 rhythm and blues records, the Schtip offering more than ample opportunity for Lea Davis's brother to do as much, in spite of the fact that Lea Davis's brother is not in the least bit yiddish at all.

Nevertheless, although I cannot honestly claim any acquaintanceship with Lea Davis's brother, I am on reasonably chatty terms with Lea Davis himself, and in fact one time recommend a hair lotion to him, Lea Davis being slightly obsessed with fears of premature baldness, and seeking my counsel on the subject.

Seeing as Lea Davis never shows any sign of premature baldness in all the time I know him, I assume that he takes my advice about the hair lotion.
Whatever, Lea Davis always gives me a large hello whenever we meet, and I am extremely careful to respond in a like manner.

Now Lea Davis is very modernistic in his outlook and dress, and is in fact the first person to turn up in Dalston's Chez Don club wearing a brown bri-nylon mackintosh, although he discards it the following week when Grocer Peter Bendon arrives wearing a raiment of identical design.
Furthermore, Lea Davis hangs around Wolverton Mountain, where the Courtney brothers tread warily, and where he keeps the company of some very dangerous parties indeed.

Some of these parties, such as Crazy Danny Rushton and Buster Boulter, are from Shoreditch, and several are from Hoxton, including Stanley Churchill and Big Sandra O'Sullivan, who even though a girl is at least as formidable a fighting proposition as any of her companions, especially when she starts scratching, and others are from Hackey Wick, London Fields and Haggerston, and none of these parties are any concession at any time.
Of all Lea Davis associates, however, there is one who achieves singular notoriety in this town, and this guy by the name Beardy Pegley.

Standing less than five feet tall in his high heel Chelsea Boots, Beardy Pegley is a brawny, red-complexioned youth with gingerish hair and beard, shaggy red eyebrows, heavily-freckled face and hands, bronze-green eyes, a full sensous mouth, and a all-round generally hirsute appearance.
He lives in turning off Victoria Park Road and is only slightly less well-respected in the district than the Krays, this being at the peak of the twins' East End rule. Around 1965, Beardy Pegley gets his mug in the national dailies when he leads a gang of mods to the amusement arcade in Mare Street, draws a John Roscoe on rockers autocrat Buttons Walsh, and shoots him three times in the chest, apparently as retribution for Buttons Walsh's superior winning ways with the female sex.

The upshot of this is that Buttons Walsh gets a free ride to Hackney Hospital, where he wakes up close to death, and Beardy Pegley is sent to prison to repent his evil ways.

Later, a fully recovered Buttons Walsh goes on to become commander in chief of the UK Hells Angels and ends up alongside Flann O'Brien, Damon Runyon and Anita Loos in Picador Books, who publish his autobiography Buttons in the 70's.

When I know him, Beardy Pegley is already fully embarked on his profligate and primrose path, though at this time he doesn't possess a gun, but gets by fine with a flick knife, a rubber cosh and the most exquisite collections of knuckle-dusters I ever see.
Moreover, Beardy Pegley is celebrated among the leading lights of the local modernist movement, and indeed is one of its most progressive and original element.

Unlike Lenny Tyler and Lea Davis, however, Beardy Pegley positively revels in his role as mod notability, and conducts himself in a manner that would even have put Dion DiMucci's lady love Donna in the shade.

Not only is the first guy I ever see wear hair lacquer and lipstick, but he is also the earliest on the scene with a pink tab-collar shirt, a grey crew neck jersey, knitted tie, scarlet suede jacket with matching leather collar, navy blue crombie overcoat, white half-mast flares and candy-stripe socks, as well as being the first mod to sing the praises of Laurel Aitken, James Brown, the Pretty Things, the Flamingo Club in Wardour Street, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and marijuana, insult Eden Kane in the Chez Don and is still the only guy I ever meet who owns a pair of bright emerald green fur booties all this circa 1962.

Now I am a guy that keeps pretty much his own counsel, and rarely talks to anyone at all, so even though I see Beardy Pegley around and about for some considerable while, and recognise him at that I do not feel any particular compunction to introduce myself, and besides I figure he shares a similar attitude, since we never get around the exchanging even the most perfunctory of nods, until one night I am sitting in Stamford Hill bowling-alley sipping a Pepsi-Cola and thinking about slightly less than nothing when Beardy Pegley comes over to where I am sitting, orders a coffee, and says to me like this:

"I hear you reckon Solomon Burke as being keen", says Beardy Pegley. "So do I".

Now, of course, I do no feel inclined to ask Beardy Pegley how he comes by this information of my feelings for Solomon Burke, as he will probably will probably think I want to know, so I merely nod my assent and say I think "Cry to me" is one of the best records I ever hear. "Furthermore", I say, "I think Solomon Burke is the best rhythm and blues singer I have heard since Chuck Jackson".
"You check Chuck Jackson?", Beardy Pegley exclaims.
"Have you heard "The breaking point" by any chance?".
"Yes", I say, "but I don't rate it nearly as high as "I don't wanna cry", which is currently my favourite record on Top Rank, although Ulysses Samuel Bonds' "Quarter to three" runs it a close second".
"I like New Orleans' best of his", Beardy Pegley says, "although "Not me" was pretty keen, too. You ever heard of The Pastel Six?".
"Of "Cinnamon Cinder" fame", I say. "How about The Desifinadoes?".
"You mean "Mister Dillon" on HMV", says Beardy Pegley. "Same label as "Imagination" by The Quotations".
"Bit too second-rate Marcels for my liking", I say. "How about proper rhythm and blues, Bo Diddley, Hank Ballard...."
"Little Walter, Jimmy McCraklin, Howling Wolf", Beardy Pegley says. "Tell me one more thing, do you know about Blue Beat?".
"I've got "Too much whisky" by Errol Dixon", I say, "and also "Gypsy Woman" by Derrick and Patsy, which is on this new Blue Beat label called Island.
But I don't really know much about it - I mean one of them are American hits or Record Mirror new releases or anything".
"Yeah", Beardy Pegley says, "I know. I've also got this record on Island: "King of Kings" by Jimmy Cliff. I don't know what it's all about, but it's great.
You know something", he adds. "Lea Davis is right about you, you're a clever little bastard, and too cocky for your own good, but you're an okay guy".

"I mean, you reckon Solomon Burke", Beardy Pegley says.

The maiden wave of modernist youth emerges out of the East End and Essex some time around 1960, as reaction in style against the coffee-bar cowboy definition of check shirts, striped drainpipe trousers, winklepicker shoes, Tony Curtis hair styles, Marino Marini records on the Durium label, and Old Compton Street in Soho.

In short, against all things that men like Jack Good and Tommy Steele hold dearest to their hearts - men like Jack Good and Tommy Steele representing total anathema to the emergent mod movement.

Precursors of the new look wear their hair short in the French style, back-combed, and with a centre parting.
They dress in severe, clerical shirts of simple design, with detachable stiff white collars, navy-blue or grey terylene trousers tapered to a baggy 14 inches sans turn-ups, black round-toed shoes, preferably with a patent leather tip, carry umbrellas and LP's of the soundtrack from On the Waterfront, smoke Sobranie cigarettes, and put their hands in their back pockets, Bette Davis style. At first, these are very rare and wonderful people, such as you might see no more than a half a dozen, and probably not even that, on a Sunday morning saunter along Middlesex Street and Club Row markets, mods having an unsual prediction for Middlesex Street and Club Row markets, and later Berwick Street market in the West End.

By late 1962, the ranks of the modernist has swelled considerably to embrace the greater element of stylish working class youth in London and the suburbs, some still at school, but the majority of them ensconced as City clerks; working in shipping and insurance offices for the most part, for reasons that are never entirely clear.

It is around this same time that the more marked and outrageous constituents generally associated with the movement come into clearer focus, including the wearing of anoraks, crombie overcoats and G-macs, paisley and polka-dot giraffe neck shirts and pink tab-collar ones, the baseball jerseys and the inevitable crew necks, Blue Beat hats and leather trilbys, suede jackets, suede ties, suede cardigans and suede shoes, brightly coloured pants worn at half mast to display scarlet socks to their fullest advantage, the obscure blues albums, Prince Buster singles, and modern French literature.

It is also the same time as the word mod replaces the earlier definition of modernist; and the pep pills become a way of life, of endless night.

And it is also the same time that The Beatles break into the hit parade with "Love me do".

Mod boys hate Beatle boys.
Mod boys hate Beatle boys almost as much as they hate Rockers, and they positively detest the Rolling Stones.
Mod boys hate The Beatles because John, Paul, George and Ringo replace themselves in mod girls's affections, and also because the group are from Liverpool, and therefore rate as provincial louts.
They detest The Rolling Stones because The Rolling Stones are dirty, undesirable, long-haired art school beatniks who rip off riffs from mod heroes such as Benny Spellman and Arthur Alexander, because Mick Jagger has a pair of lips that just begs a mod fist, and because Brian Jones looks like a woman, or even worse an aesthete, but most of all mods detest the Rolling Stones because the Stones are mirror images of themselves, but who seem to be doing something with their lives that the majority of mods wish they had thought of first.

On one memorable occasion a crowd of over one hundred mods on scooters arrive at the television studios of Ready, Steady, Go with the declared intention of sorting out the four Beatles, who are at the time recording a session inside, and it is only the quick-witted presence of a policeman on a white horse...

Sometimes, mod aggression is put to positive use, like when Sir Oswald Moseley attempts a comeback speech in the East End and sets up a meeting in Ridley Road market on the platform of Jewish landlordism and black vermin overunning the country, whereby a united front of local mods and taxi-drivers hound the former Cabinet minister a his attendant pusillanimous blackshirts from the streets, never to return henceforth.

(Thanks to Alex M Franquet for the typing )


themusicologist said...

most authentic piece of 'Mod' writing I have had the pleasure of reading. Just like to offer my sincere congratulations on having the 'best' Mod related blog out there

being 'son of mod'and growing up on stories of them days JackThatCatWasClean always hits all the right notes.

just rolling out a week long musical tribute to the original modfather Steve Marriott on my 'musical diary' where Mod music is always on the turntable, (Sam Cooke last week)

Anonymous said...

And who was Penny Reel?
He got a mate of mine a copy of Tappa Zukie`s "Message to Porkeaters" when it was proving hard to get.But we never knew his real name and it seemed wrong to ask.Blow the mystique,kinda thing.
I`m pretty sure it was P.R. who penned "the Citizen" column in the NME around the same time.
Also ,a very periodic periodical ,named "Pressure Drop"is a must read for
In particular a piece of incredible invective called,if I remember rightly,"better must come"
Sadly I`ve mislaid my copy of Pressure Drop but do still have a few of "The Citizen" columns.
Penny Reel.Where are you?

MODNESS said...

Thanks for settling a long time arguement I hve had with one a write or one of the 'MOD' books out there..I have maintained that Mods started in 1960 and extended from teh Tomny Curtis look, grey and black striped drainpipe trousers, mock leather fronted jersey knit jackets and winkle pickers with three straps 1962 (when the writer of books say Modernists started) the scene was well I never heard the term modernist except for those who were into the jazz scene and ahiled arther from chelsea area...To me we were Mods AND where did the name ace face come from, often there was someone who was a face...and he might have worn somthing that looked ace, but he was ever called an ace face was he !

Anonymous said...

Good post, I always like them

Calvin said...

I am interested in commenting the last picture. The couple looks enjoying riding their motorcycle. With their outfit and unique motorcycle make the picture looks great.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for appreciating this authentic piece of Modernist history.

With comments like these, I now know the great effort of typing this long article was worth.

A. M. F.