Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Young Mod's Forgotten Story - Part 2

Pete Townshend coined the term power-pop back in 1967. He said it was what the Kinks, the Small Faces and the Who were playing. Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy nails it. Fourteen singles spanning the years 1965-69. The Kids Are Alright; Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere; I Can’t Explain; Substitute; Magic Bus – each one a worn thin groove on an old LP. And that album sleeve, the sepia toned Who circa 1971, bearded and long-haired, leering out the window at a bunch of scruffy kids on the steps of a derelict terrace. It says, ‘that’s who we were and this is who we are’.
By 1978, the Jam have infused power pop with the anger and energy of punk. Weller writes songs of frustration, youth, lost love and broken promises. Rickenbacker poetry that speaks to suburban kids and pisses off Tony Blackburn on Radio One Round Table. But fire and skill’s not all the Jam cut and paste from the 100 Club days. There’s that get off your arse and do it yourself attitude.
Summer 1981 and I’m trying to make up for a wrecked education. I’m reading for myself, Orwell, MacInnes, Larkin, Auden. Tony Fletcher and his fanzine Jamming! received the Weller stamp of approval. Fletcher and Weller create Jamming Records. Weller also creates a publishing company, Riot Stories, that puts out themed collections of new writing. And because this new world of mod sensibilities and expression is ours too, Jamming! fanzine and Riot Stories give me a first shot at getting into print. The poems are raw, direct, published and pretty awful. I meet up with Fletcher at a Jam gig in Hammersmith Palais at the end of ‘81. He’s on the Jamming! merchandise stall, there’s a hello and a brief handshake – ‘Cheers mate, nice to seeya’. No time for anything else. It’s the night The Jam record the live version of a new song – Town Called Malice.
It’s late Sunday night before Monday morning. You’ve got an early start and I’ll be on the 7.42 to Charing Cross and from there, the Jubilee tube to Bond Street. Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy is one of a handful of records in the rack under your bed, between Motown Mod Classics, Glory Boys, All Mod Cons and Changestwobowie. There are others, but these are the albums we’ve played over and over in this room. Unless you’re winding me up by playing Marilyn’s single on repeat. This boy’s myopic taste in music is changing, but please, not Marilyn. Again. Downstairs we smoke a last cigarette, kiss goodnight – one of those teenage kisses that burns into you – and I’m out into the dark and the cold, bump-starting the Vespa down the street so as not to piss off the neighbours.
The morning sees a bleary-eyed catch-up with a few mates as the train crawls into town, stalling interminably outside Grove Park. Too tired for conversation. At Charing Cross we’re gone, lost in a stampede  – office temps and shop assistants, bank clerks and salon juniors, making a few quid. Keeping up with the Smithers-Joneses, avoiding the Mr Cleans.
I don’t mind the job, not that bothered about the commute most of the time. I take what I can get. And what I’ve got is a full time version of my old Saturday job on the shirts and ties at Selfridges. We get regular bomb scares now, which means searching the racks for suspect devices. It does have some perks, a discount on clothes for starters and decent money – enough to keep up the payments on a new Vespa PX125. Lunchtimes I leg it down to Chappells in Bond Street and check out guitars.
Monday morning’s generally a bit slow. I’m loafing behind the Van Heusen counter with Leigh, Crazy Harry Shah and Mrs Nadler. The boss is on the trail and I’m looking to avoid cleaning the same glass display cabinet I cleaned in a half-arsed way half an hour before.
On the shop floor there is a maze of twenty or thirty carousels loaded with ties. Yves Saint Laurent, Cardin, Balmain; silk, polyester, wool; paisley, polka dot, plain, stripe, regimental or just mental. You get the picture. A lot of ties. The deal is you approach a customer ask if they’re looking for something specific; a tie to match a particular shirt perhaps? You find a similar shirt, match ties, makes sales. Only the boss is on commission.
I serve a couple of customers. I finish with one, then I see this guy checking out the ties. I’ve never been the type to get excited about the minor telly personalities or film stars we occasionally get in; there was a bust up among the Jewish contingent on the staff when Topol came in a couple of Saturdays back, won by Mrs N. But this one says he’s looking to match a blue suit, a white shirt. I’m thinking something extravagant, a designer number. Nah, he wants something more classic. In the end we settle on a club stripe, mid-blue and brown silk.
He pays. Over at the cash desk. Question is, do I ask for an autograph?
The Jam always meant more to me than just the records and gigs. The energy and togetherness of the band and audience live was something else. But I also got a scrap of self-belief which otherwise in those days was hard to come by.
Some memories are worth trying to protect, keep safe. And whether you take your opening cue from the style, the scooters, the music, the dancing, the credo, the friendships, or all of the above, the deal is what you do with it. Where does it take you and where does it leave you? If it ever does.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

EVENT: Summer Murders in the Library

Another great initiative at Cleethorpes Library this summer. I'm taking the British gangster session 'From Brighton Rock to Lock Stock...' to the East Coast and running a crimewriting workshop afterwards. Be prepared for classic British crime in film and fiction and a smattering of Get Carter.

'Who's Brumby?' said Keith.
'Cliff Brumby?' I said. 'Ever been to Cleethorpes?'
Keith nodded.
'Ever walked into an arcade a put a penny in a slot machine?'
'Yes,' said Keith.
'Well, ten to one the slot machine belongs to Brumby...' 

from Get Carter by Ted Lewis.

For more information or to book a place, contact Cleethorpes Library (01472 323650).

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Young Mod's Forgotten Story - Part 1

It’s Saturday, a chill spring evening in a suburban high street. It’s a while ago, years in fact. The early 80s. Another of those ‘low, dishonest decades’ as it turned out. So far it is a time unshaped by the media and not yet written off with lazy montages of riot police, blooded miners, city traders, yuppies and ubiquitous breeze-block mobiles. We're creating our own images.

Between the parade of shops set back from the high street is a broad sweep of pavement. Vespas and Lambrettas are parked up in front of the Wimpy. Some are vintage,  some custom paint jobs, a couple of DIY cut downs; others are more recent models, Vespa P-Ranges. None really subscribe to that ‘Chrome By Colin’ lights and mirrors shtick – way too slow and by now, a stereotype.

The lads, their mates and girlfriends hang around in small knots, smoking, chatting,  taking the piss.  A few of us nip into in the Wimpy for a cuppa, others emerge from the graffiti covered alleyway by the Commodore – the fleapit. Standing slightly apart are a group of younger kids, 14, 15 years old: ‘the smalls’ with Home & Wear Fred Perrys and parkas below their knees.

There’s an assortment of mod and scooter-boy clobber on show - Levi denim jackets, run-patch covered flight jackets, fishtail parkas, three button tonic jackets, boating blazers, sta-prest, combats, boxing boots, loafers, DMs, cycling shoes, jam shoes. The girls are in high-street mod or 60s charity shop retro; Saturday trips to Carnaby Flea Market, Flip in Covent Garden, Kensington Market. One or two in US Army trench-coats. A small group, those without scoots or rides, break off and make their way along the High Street. Some jump a bus up to the station, others walk, crossing the road by the war memorial. They go past the Fryer Tuck and head up Station Road to the Civic.

An old bill car cruises past, slows down, checks us out. It’s a matter of routine. Saturday night has its patterns, its own rehearsed choreography. Move on, before they move you on. They know us by name. We know them by reputation – they’d probably say the same. They know where we live. They know we’ve got somewhere to go and it’s about time we got there. They’ll be waiting outside later.

Twenty or so two-stroke engines kick over. Vespa 50 whines, throaty AF exhaust growls, revs and smoke. Some bump start – second gear, run to speed, open the clutch and wait for the catch, jump, close the clutch and rev. We get it together and ride out. Stop the traffic. Turn right for a 30mph drive down the high-street, a head-turner, a procession around the one-way system, past the Priory Grill and back. At the war memorial we break in ones and twos, opening the throttle, belting up Station Road, past The Maxwell, under the railway bridge and turn right into the Civic Hall car park.

Some songs only come into their own in a big room. It’s a right time, right place thing. No matter how often I hear There’s A Ghost In My House – in living rooms, on radios, car stereos, on record, cassette, CD, whatever – it carries with it a Civic Hall sized echo. Loaded with reminiscence, like The Night, Out on the Floor, Do I Love You or Mary Wells’ My Guy, or any one of a hundred other songs from Saturday nights past that carry the power of transformation. Songs of youth and certainty. Songs of once belonging that open the door to remembering with such clarity it is almost a sixth sense.
Dedicated to anyone who got bitten by the bug '79 - '84.