The latest updates in our Welsh Mod blog
Excerpt: Chapter Two – Bryn Gregory
Bryn Gregory was the lead singer/songwriter with Beggar a Welsh mod band who made a name for themselves on the London mod scene in the late 80s. The band featured on the legendary Mods Mayday album of 1979 alongside the likes of Secret Affair and Squire. In 2011 Detour Records released It Beggar’s Belief featuring tracks from demos the band recorded at their base in Leyton High Road…
Singer and musician, Beggar and The Co-Stars
“We moved to London because we wanted to hit the big time. We used to record demos, but record companies wouldn’t even listen to them if you were from Wales, because Wales just wasn’t cool. So we just up sticks and got this little flat in Walthamstow. Me and the drummer shared a bed-sit upstairs and the other two lived downstairs. We had to look through all our equipment to see the TV. The drummer was like the manager and got himself a job in an office where he could use the phone to ring people up for gigs.
“We were successful pretty much as soon as we went to London, because we were shit hot, like. We all got ourselves little day jobs and spent every afternoon after work rehearsing. We had a residency at The Saxon House in Walthamstow on a Monday night. All the mods in the area would turn up to this. So as well as our own songs we’d always chuck in few Kinks or Who covers. It was good, because it meant that we improved as musicians as we had to work and learn the songs quick.
I was into real old blues music as a kid such as Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. I spent an hour every night in my mother’s front room trying to get the same sound out of the harmonica as Little Walter
“I got a job working as a carpenter at Walthamstow Council. I remember walking up the road one night and it was pissing down with rain. I had my working clothes on and was carrying my tool bag. I remember a load of mods shouting at me: ‘Oi Bryn you don't look like a fucking mod today do you?’
“We also played The Bull in Hornchurch and The Bridge House in Canning Town where the Mods Mayday album was recorded. We made a few mistakes on that recording. I blew a few bum notes on the harmonica, but we were all energy and I think the energy over-took the mistakes. If we had stayed sober and went straight on stage it would have had no atmosphere.
“We used to come back to Wales and do a few gigs but even though record companies were interested in signing us, we ended up splitting up. Jeff the guitarist fell in love and left the band. We got another guitarist, but it was never the same. I ended up joining up with a guy from Cardiff to form the Co-Stars. We did a load of mod gigs – playing a rallies and that.
“Beggar was always fast RnB, while the Co-Stars were more soul and pop. I found that I could write songs differently in The Co-Stars, plus I finally learnt how to play guitar properly. With Beggar – everything was up-tempo. If I wrote a ballad the boys would say: ‘Shut-up you soft bastard!’ ”
Welsh Mod: The Exhibition
February 8th – 7th April 2019,
The Gallery, Penarth Pier Pavilion, Penarth
Welsh Mod: The Exhibition had a successful opening night at The Gallery, Penarth Pier Pavilion on Friday 8th of February. Those in attendance included Barbara Low, wife of Andy Fairweather Low, video conceptualist, Keith Williams, Welsh photographer, Nick Treharne, and Michael Kennedy of Oystermouth Radio and SoundBoard magazine.
The exhibition is free to attend and features nearly 40 photographs taken over the course of the 18 month Welsh Mod project by photographer Haydn Denman. Many of the photographs have been featured in the book, Welsh Mod: Our Story, which documents the subculture in Wales from the 60s to the present day.
The author of the book, journalist, Claire Mahoney, has been part of the mod scene for many years and wanted to create a visual document across three generations of mods in Wales – from original 60s mods, through to those who became mods in the late 70s and early 80s, to those that have become interested in the subculture today.
“I hope this exhibition gives a unique insight into the mod subculture in Wales and illustrates how the music and influences of our youth often never leave us and become part of the fabric of our lives. I think it is really fitting to hold this show in the seaside town of Penarth in this iconic building which itself has played a role in the history of the mod subculture in Wales.”
Haydn says: “I was very interested in the meaning of identity which is central to the idea of being a mod and being Welsh. It is something that I have explored through photographing various cultures and peoples all over the world – so I felt I could relate to their sense of pride and feeling part of something. I hope these pictures capture the passion and love of the mod subculture that clearly has meant so much to so many people over the last 50 years.”
Welsh Mod: The Exhibition runs until the 7th April 2019. A full listing of the pictures and prices is available in the gallery shop. You can also purchase the book in the Pavilion bookshop.
More of Haydn’s work can be viewed on his website: haydndenman-photography.com
BBC Radio Cymru interview
Thanks to Rhys Mwyn of BBC Radio Cymru for featuring the book on his show. In an hour-long slot he interviewed photographer Haydn Denman alongside Lewgi Lewis, one of the guys featured in the book and a founder of the Mag Dog Scooter Club (Porthmadog). I also selected some ‘mod-orientated’ tunes for them to play. You can listen to the show on the BBC Sounds app and or click the link below for edited highlights:
Excerpt: Chapter Four – Jonny Owen
Here’s an extract from Jonny Owen’s interview in the book where he talks about growing up during the revival and how the term ‘mod’ became a hindrance for young bands at the tail-end of the 80s and early 90s – that was until Britpop happened…
Merthyr boy, writer, film director/producer, football fanatic and mod
“Because Merthyr was a skinhead town you had to be constantly on your guard. I was always ducking and weaving about. I was like the Welsh fly-half Phil Bennett with a side step. There were a few times I got chased but I didn’t really get beaten up. I think, because I was only 12 or 13, rather than 15 or 16, I got a little more leeway than the older mods. Pontypridd was safe though, because it was a mod town and they had enough numbers to fight back. The danger for us was when we had to go back to Merthyr.
“It was a natural mod progression for me to evolve into the casual side of things. There is not a big jump between being a mod and dressing really smart and running round the beach at Brighton to dressing smart and going down the football on a Saturday. I remember the irony of seeing these really hard-looking casuals with wedges and jumbo chords dancing to the the sweetest soul songs.
There is not a big jump between being a mod and dressing really smart and running round the beach at Brighton to dressing smart and going down the football on a Saturday
“I was in a band called The Pocket Devils in the early 90s. Trouble was, we were saying we were a mod band – which was career suicide at the time. People always told us not to say it, but we did it unashamedly and I’m quite proud of that. Then when Blur famously came out on that NME cover with the headline – ‘Touched by the Hand of Mod’ – that changed everything and suddenly everyone was saying they were a mod band again.
“We certainly had to work harder as a band in the Valleys. The guy who signed The Pocket Devils once said to me, ‘I always prefer to sign a band from Merthyr than from London.’ The reason being – there was nowhere to play – so you would be rehearsing constantly and be piping hot. There was a pub by us called The Bell View, which used to put on country-and-western bands and that.
“We tried to get a gig there and as soon as we said we played our own stuff the manager went: ‘Oh no, we can’t have that.’ He agreed in the end to let us on if we played three covers. So we played something from The Stones, something by The Who and something by The Pretty Things and it was mobbed in there. So then, he was like, ‘you can come back every week If you want.’”
Welsh mods – a generation apart
Welsh Mod: Our Story includes interviews with those affected by the mod scene from three different generations – two of the most notable being – Jeff Banks the fashion designer and TV presenter from Ebbw Vale and Steve Garland, a revival mod from Pontypridd who now lives in Spain.
Both of them feature in the book, but it wasn’t the first time the two of them had been brought together. Steve was in fact interviewed for The Clothes Show as part of an item Jeff did on mod back in 1999. You can watch a clip from the show above.
As much as Jeff Banks was instrumental in changing the face of fashion in the 60s, Steve Garland, in his own way, was an integral part of the mod scene in Wales. His was part of the Park View Mods who used to frequent the Italian café of the same name in the town, he then got back into the scene in the 1990s through getting involved with the New Untouchables.
He bought a Series 1 Lambretta which he still has, that was known by everyone on the scene as The Darling of Wapping Wharf Laundrette. He also DJ’d at Cardiff’s Fabulous – its longest running mod club night. Below is an excerpt from Steve’s interview in the book:
I went to see Quadrophenia in The White Palace in Pontypridd one day straight from school. I walked in one person and I walked out another. After that, I had my uniform altered, my tie made slimmer, my trousers taken in and buttons put on my shirt collar. Everything had to be adapted.
It was a bit like Moses going to the top of the mountain and getting the 10 commandments off God. When you are in the valleys you aren’t exposed to that sort of thing. It wasn’t about wanting to be that person in the film – I was that person. So my DNA was mod without me even realising it.
Its a cliché to say you cut yourself open and it will say mod. But it’s just the way I think and the way I live my life. It’s a total mind set to me. It’s not something you can learn or buy. It’s about constantly moving on but staying individual.
BBC Radio Wales interview
Listen to my interview with Eleri Sion on BBC Radio Wales talking all about the book (at around 15 minutes in). I talk all about how I came to do the book as well as the stories behind some of the big names featured, including Andy Fairweather-Low and Jeff Banks.
The Launch Party
The stunning Penarth Pier Pavilion was always going to be the perfect venue for a celebration of the mod scene in Wales. In the 60s the beach below it was the setting every 5th of November of pitched battles between mods and rockers.
The night of November 30th saw no such rivalries, as mods from three different generations gathered for the launch of Welsh Mod: Our Story – the first book documenting the mod scene in Wales.
Around 200 guests danced, drank and caught up with old friends to a backdrop of photographs from the book and a specially created slide-show of some of the many pictures – old and new that had been contributed to the book's social media pages.
Music was provided by three of South Wales’ top Dj’s: Eddie Crole, James Parker and Siobhan Nolan-Farmer, while mod Steve Garland and his new band River came over to Wales from Spain specially to perform a selection of mod-friendly favourites in front of a home crowd.
Special guest for the evening was the leader singer with Neath’s finest mod band – ‘The Eyes of Blue’ – Wyndham Rees, who joined Steve on stage for a couple of numbers. Wyndham even brought with him the winning cup that the band won at The Melody Maker British Beat Contest in 1966, which won them their record contract with Decca.
A great night that saw three generations of mod together in one room – enjoying the same music and a love for style that has kept the mod scene strong in Wales for many years. A perfect launch-pad for the book.
® Picture courtesy: Chris Jones
Behind blue eyes
Just back from two days in Spain photographing Wales’s very own Ace Face – Steve Garland
Steve has been an instrumental part of the scene in Wales – initially part of the Park View Mods in Ponty, then onto London where he was involved in the formation of the New Untouchables with Rob Bailey, before being back in Cardiff to help set up the city’s own mod and scooterist night – Fabulous.
Here’s a selection of pics of Steve doing what he does best – posing and chatting. Him and his band, Paisley Park, will be coming over to South Wales for the book’s launch around November time. Watch this space for more.
Time it was and what a time it was
Geoff Nicholas, original mod from Nantyglo in Blaenau in the South Wales valleys recalls some of the excitement of being a teenager in the early 60s and why the music he heard changed everything for him – from the way he dressed down to his mode of transport. He was 19 when he was able to buy his first scooter.
“1960 saw me turn 13. An important time in anyone’s life. A time when I discovered dances and girls. The music of rock and roll was interesting, but this had echoes of teddy boys, and they were not the image I saw myself in.
Waiting for the music chart show on a Sunday night was the highlight of the week. New music EVERY week.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to hear some of these sounds for the first time when you are 15 and NEVER heard it before. Song writers of the day were our age and put into song lyrics exactly what we were feeling. The pains of youth expressed through the medium of music that we danced to.
“Waiting for the music chart show on a Sunday night was the highlight of the week. New music EVERY week. It was through this music and the association with boys in my school with similar tastes that I became a ‘mod’.”
It’s all too beautiful
Pledging has now closed and we have exceeded our target. A big thank you to all of you who have pledged and helped us bring this book to life
The work starts in earnest now with trips planned to North, West and Mid Wales to show off this stunning country and also the Welsh take on this fascinating subculture that has touched so many of our lives.
We'll update the blog regularly with interviews and photos and I encourage you to get in touch to share your own memories of mod in Wales. I hope to use a number of your old pics (with permission) in the book to create a sense of then and now.
But I don’t want the book to just be about nostalgia and neither should it be as Mod is about looking forward.
Thank you again.
Ilford Palais and other stories
Paul Macnamara (above right), who ran the fanzine ‘One Way World’ remembers the gigs that were the highlights of his mod revival years
“The summer of 79 and the mod revival explosion was in full flow all around the country. In every big town and city you would see a swarm of green Parkas boosted further with the release of Quadrophenia. Cardiff was no different, my older brother had already embraced the scene some months earlier so it was only natural for me to take the same route.
“By 82 I had left school and with money in my pocket I was off to my first gig, and what a gig, The Jam ( Port Talbot ). By now I had really been bitten by the mod bug and for me the place to be was London where you had a choice of events on any given night.
A book on the Welsh mod scene is well overdue but it can only happen with your support. Please pledge and lets get this thing off the ground.
“The Ilford Palais Mod Alldayers and catching my favourite bands at the legendary 100 Club were probably the highlights for me. Back home along with two old friends we started our own fanzine 1 Way World which we sold mainly at gigs at the now sadly long gone New Ocean Club.
“Into the early 90s and the scene had gone underground , numbers had dwindled and events were few and far between until Britpop arrived and gave the scene a much needed boost.
“2017 and it's great to see some old faces return to the scene and if the packed house at Porthcawls Modfest this summer is a sign the future looks good. A book on the Welsh mod scene is well overdue but it can only happen with your support. Please pledge and lets get this thing off the ground.”
A moment in time
Adrian Holder lead singer with top Mod Revival band The Moment shares his memories of coming down to Wales to play.
“Being a member of The Moment during the mid 80s meant I got to travel all over Europe with my guitar. There were, of course, many special times associated with playing countless gigs. One of the highlights was that we had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderfully diverse cross section of promoters, audiences and individuals.
“Over that time, we developed a special relationship with a select few and one such place was Cardiff. From our very first visit we became aware of the unique flavour of the South Wales mod scene. Travelling across the country, from east to west, in the back of a transit van, can be a testing environment for anyone but each time we approached Cardiff there was a notable lifting of the bands collective spirit.
The mods of South Wales never disappointed. There were some real characters about and, although there was the feeling that anything might and probably would happen, the band knew they were in safe hands.
“We hoped that each gig would be even better than the previous one and the mods of South Wales never disappointed. There were some real characters about and, although there was the feeling that anything might and probably would happen, the band knew they were in safe hands. We had been warned, by local mods, not to visit certain parts of the city but I never once felt threatened there, perhaps I might have been a little naive at the time. Some of our most memorable UK gigs were those we played in Cardiff/South Wales.
“The audience always made us feel welcome and appreciated, which made enduring the long journey from Haverhill more than worthwhile. There didn't seem to be a lot of spare money around at that time and therefore, we had to sleep on more floors than I care to remember but, if I had the chance, I would gladly do it all again. So, cheers to the Welsh mod scene and thank you for some very special moments.”
Their latest album ‘The Only Truth is Music’ is available from www.infenzo.co.uk
‘Pride and permanence’ –
growing up with mod in Wales
Boy, it didn’t get any more difficult than being an out-of-work young mod in Wales during the Thatcherite 1980s. Yes, you did bump into like-minded – and identically dressed – stylish souls in Wren’s Wine Bar, Windsor Road, Neath, but the majority of the bitter-drinking, rugby-supporting locals just thought we were odd-looking bods, who were both out of place, and out of time. Saying that, you got used to the hard stares, and the snide comments and just lived for the moment when a local ‘Face’ would give you a nod of approval, and – looking you up and down – mutter the words “Tidy, mun”.
An extract from Peter Hughes Jachimiak's contribution to Welsh Mod: Our Story on his time as a young mod growing up in Neath.
Peter is now a senior lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at University of South Wales. His research and writing involves a wide-ranging examination of both the experiencing and remembering of the 1960s and 1970s.
He is both a regular contributor to Subbaculture zine and a reviewer for the monthly music magazine, Vive Le Rock!, and has a chapter in Pam Thurschwell’s forthcoming book, Quadrophenia and (Mod)ern Culture.
His own book: Remembering the Cultural Geographies of a Childhood Home is primarily about author's memories of living in his own Welsh childhood home during the 1970s which acts as a context for examining the cultural remnants of the past and how they relate to the here-and-now.
A very good year
The Jam’s new 1977 box set covering the band’s first eventful recording year over four CDs and one DVD reviewed by Claire Mahoney for Modculture
What do we remember about 1977? Well, Red Rum won The National for the third time, the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee, Marc Bolan died in a car crash and The Sex Pistols released ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’. But it was also the year The Jam began their recording career with Polydor and this five-disc box set by Universal Music celebrates the 40th anniversary of this defining moment.
Jumping on the back of the punk juggernaut, it was obvious The Jam were determined to plough their own musical furrow. For starters, they were wearing suits and ties and their lyrics already suggested that they had an agenda that wasn’t just about rebellion and throwing bottles of piss around.
In with the old
Can reproduction clothing based on an original 1960s look ever match up to the real deal? Claire Mahoney for mod website Modculture
The original modernists of the early 60s were preoccupied with the now. They were forward facing in every way. Their clothes, their music and their attitude was totally confident in the idea that what was new was not only cool, but essential. There was no looking back.
This places those of us who refer to ourselves as mods or modernists in a bit of a quandary. We are after all, by definition talking about a movement that was excited about the future. Yet since the 80s many of us have been in love with the past. Modernism’s slightly ambivalent attitude towards any other decade that isn’t the 60s is one that has fuelled many a debate among the cappuccino classes. But there is one word that that is so much a part of the language of fashion today that it flies in the face of everything that modernism once stood for – and that word is ‘vintage’.