The latest updates in our Welsh Mod blog
50 Years of Music in Swansea Exhibition
It was great to see Welsh 60s mod group The Eyes of Blue who featured in the book, take pride of place as part of the 50 years of Music Exhibition currently running at Swansea Museum. The exhibition runs to mid February 2020 and was organised by Swansea Council’s Cultural Services team, as part of the 50th birthday celebrations of Swansea being granted city status with support from Swansea Music Hub and Welsh Connections and over 100 individual contributors.
A display cabinet houses the original suit worn by Ray Taff Williams during the 1966 Melody Maker Beat Contest which saw ‘The Eyes’ walk off with the top prize of a record contract with the Decca off-shoot label Deram. Also in the cabinet is a hand-painted drum skin from their Mustangs days, which featured three members of the Eyes of Blue’s line-up, including Wyndham Rees on vocals and Ritchie Francis on Bass. Rock & Roll was their first love and the blues and soul came later.
Like the Eyes of Blue, many of the top charting bands of the 60s played The Ritz in Skewen in Neath. Both ‘The Eyes’ and The Iveys (later to become Badfinger) supported The Who there in the mid 60s. In fact there is plenty of Who memorabilia on show as part of this exhibition from their various gigs in the Swansea area, including their seminal 1976 gig at Swansea City football stadium – the last major gig that Keith Moon played in the UK.
Two signings to The Beatles label Apple also feature – Mary Hopkin, whose most well known recording has to be the wistful ‘Those Were the Days’ and The Iveys who were the first band The Beatles signed to their Apple label.
The band took their name from Ivey Place in Swansea where they used to practice. Members of the band then went on to form Badfinger who hit the big time with another Paul McCartney penned number – ‘Come & Get it’ in 1969.
It seems that South Wales musicians never stray too far from home and this is illustrated in a series of fascinating musical family trees on display at the exhibition that trace the crossed paths of so many of the areas’ artists
Sadly the story of Badfinger didn’t end well with two of its members – Pete Ham and Tommy Evans taking their own lives. A blue plaque close to Swansea’s railway station bear’s Pete Ham’s name. He was only 27. He was a talented songwriter whose legacy includes ‘Without You’ – recorded by both Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey. The problems started when Badfinger signed to Warner and a mixture of management failings and legal disputes left the band pretty much penniless. Theirs is a story that highlights the darker side of the music industry.
It seems that South Wales musicians never stray too far from home and this is illustrated in a series of fascinating musical family trees on display at the exhibition that trace the crossed paths of so many of the areas’ artists, many of who continued to forge a career in music either through playing, managing, producing and promoting music.
Take, for example, 70s progressive psyche rock group Man who formed in 1968 and were made up of a mixture earlier Welsh 60s bands including The Bystanders from Merthyr and The Eyes of Blue’s keyboard genius Phil Ryan from Port Talbot. Man’s drummer Terry Williams went on to have an incredible career working with Dire Straits and Dave Edmunds, Chuck Berry and Paul McCartney to name but a few.
Obviously this exhibition is not just focussed on the 60 and 70s. It also guides us through the punk scene, rave and the rise of the DJ right up to the present day and includes a great collection of memorabilia including some rather fabulous Beatles style boots from Swansea Indie pop outfit The Pooh Sticks.
All in all, for anyone with an interest in South Wales’ close-knit musical legacy, this exhibition is a must. It’s packed full of interesting personal artefacts from press cuttings, gig tickets and guitars, many of them donated by fans – highlighting the intimacy of the fans relationship with bands they followed in the days before the internet. A few hours well spent with a great soundtrack!
On the Mannay
Des Mannay was a familiar character on the South Wales mod scene in the 1980s, not least for his dance moves and his sharp sartorial choices. Here he looks back on the rapidly changing music scene during that decade and how this marked his move from mod to modernism, and Motown to modern jazz…
Martha and the Vandellas
“Martha and the Vandellas were one of my favourite Motown acts, so I was knocked out when my mate Irman Ali had spotted this gig advertised. She wasn’t doing much touring at the time and she was absolutely brilliant. I’m so glad I saw her when I did.”
“Squire were one of the revival bands I really rated, and they appeared to have disintegrated after being involved in the ‘March of the Mods’ tour. I’d bought all the records including My Mind Goes Around in Circles – then there was a comeback single in 1982 and a couple of gigs. When me and Irman spotted ‘em playing in Swindon, we sorted out transport. The gig itself was excellent and saved for posterity on ‘Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed…’.”
“The Alljacks gig was a real turning point for me, for all sorts of reasons. It was one of the 1984 Phoenix Society runs commemorating the 1960s Mods ‘n’ Rockers battles. It came just after one of the other runs had a huge write up in The Face magazine and it marked a coming together of some of the London Mods who’d been holding the scene together and their contemporaries from around the country.
“Yeah, we may all have written to each other at some point. Yeah, we may have read the odd piece we’d written in some obscure fanzine or whatever – but we’d never knowingly been under the same roof together. The regular Sneakers crew, Paul Hallam and Richard ‘Shirley’ Early were DJing, and I wandered up and demanded that they play ‘Watch Your Step’ by Bobby Parker on Sue Records. It was a ‘Blues Brothers’ moment, with one tapping the other on the back and saying, ‘He’s just asked for… So what other stuff are you listening to?’ Contact details and blank tapes were exchanged and within months I was making my first pilgrimage to the club that would become my spiritual home. The gig itself was great, with The Alljacks playing a raucous blend of R‘n’B.”
“Courtney Pine was another seminal gig. What I didn’t realise was that this kind of became the first step out of Mod into Modernism. Let me explain, those of us who in ‘83 were beginning to listen to R‘n’B rather than Northern Soul, were now speaking fluent Jean Paul Sartre and Colin MacInnes. We were gobsmacked when we discovered ‘Absolute Beginners’ was being turned into a blockbuster bloody movie – it was ‘ours’ for fuck’s sake. (Despite my apprehension, I still went to see the film. I was smitten by the film set – but hated some of the cod characters inserted into the script for ‘entertainment’.)
“There was also a mini revolution going on in the Jazz scene with great new acts coming through. For us Courtney Pine was our own home grown John Coltrane. This was all OK on the Mod scene – not controversial. What was probably controversial, was my take on sartorial and musical changes in some of the clubs sometime around 1987. End to end platters of Mongo Santamaria and other Latin stuff – but nothing else. It was like a Northern Soul night but with a slightly different rhythm. And the kids had started wearing Chinos…
“Now to me, a Mod night out was like a three-course meal – you had your light danceable soul starter, then your main course of R‘n’B with a salsa sauce and for pudding you had full cream Ska drizzled over chocolate fuzz chords of Freakbeat. If that wasn’t on offer anymore, then I wanted to be in the audience at a John Coltrane gig. Ok, you might be one of the few people who bothered to dress up that night, but you get to choose whether to be or not to be (and that isn’t the question). So I immersed myself in the local jazz scene for a couple of years, but still went to Mod stuff. But they weren’t ‘a tribe’ anymore. They were just my friends (and I had other friends too).”
Read more of Des’s story in the book…
Dedicated follower of fashion
I bumped into guitarist Ray Taff Williams from the Eyes of Blue at the Love gig at the Globe in Cardiff over the summer. Of course, Eyes of Blue covered Love’s famous ‘7 and 7 is’ which is featured on the their first album ‘Crossroads of Time.’
We got chatting about me meeting Paul Weller for the first time earlier in the summer and Ray went on to tell me about his own meeting with him at the Jim Cabaldi memorial concert at the Roundhouse in London in 2007. The story is very typical of those you hear about Weller and his sartorial obsessions.
“I remember chatting to John Lord, as I’d done a bit of work with him in the past, Paul came over to chat and asked where I got my jacket from, I replied: ‘from Cork in Ireland’ ”, says Ray.
“He asked if I would get one for him when next in Ireland… which I did, but haven’t seen him since. The boutique in Cork is called ‘Tony’s’. The clothes were quite unique and they would only stock about three or four of each item in different sizes. I managed to find another like mine when I was over in the winter time, there was one sitting there in the sale, so I do have a spare!
“Don’t forget, us guys in Eyes of Blue were first generation Mods, it was Pete Stringfellow who turned us on to the soul music and the clothes when we used to play at his ‘King Mojo’ in Sheffield. I suppose Paul is a sort of post punk second generation Mod… but still he has created some super music. ”
Ten of the best
We asked Paul Macnamara (Mac) to give us his top 10 most memorable mod-related gigs from the 80s in South Wales. Mac from Cardiff used to edit the 80s fanzine, One Way World, with David Owens (journalist at Media Wales). More recently he has been working with Bryn Gregory (Beggar/Co-Stars) on a new Co-Stars release – a double album out later this summer which will include some live tracks and previously unreleased material.
“Trying to whittle down my top 10 was never going to be easy. Local bands like The Colours and The Co Stars I saw dozens of times. I have tried not to duplicate the artist (although there are a couple of exceptions) and have completed them in year order.”
Afan Lido, Port Talbot, 1982
“Aged 15, parka-clad and Jam shoes on, ready for my first gig, and what a gig . Although personally I thought they peaked around the All Mod Cons/Setting Sons period they were still a fabulous live act.”
The New Ocean Club, Cardiff, 1983
“A fantastic venue which The Truth played a couple of times. I have chosen this, their first outing as the band were riding a crest of the wave with chart hits Confusion and Steppin In The Right Direction. Me and life long friend Dave Owens would interview the band for our fanzine at a later show there.”
The Kinks/The Truth
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 1984
“Old met new for the new generation of mods and what a great line up. The Kinks appeared off the back of one of their last big hits, Come Dancing. Great memories.”
Small World/Sound Reaction/The Colours
The New Ocean Club, Cardiff, 1984
“Another visit to The New Ocean Club. London modsters Small World were joined by local faves The Colours and Sound Reaction.”
Big Sound Authority
The New Ocean Club, Cardiff, 1985
“This fantastic soul outfit had a big gig with This House and me and Dave (Owens) interviewed the band at the gig. I am still in touch with bass player Martin Wilson and drummer Steve Martinez. Smashing fellas.”
Makin Time/The Moment/The Limit
The Newport Centre, Newport, 1985
“Two of the most popular bands on the mod circuit were joined by local band The Limit, in front of a big crowd who had travelled from all over South Wales. There were particularly healthy scenes in Cardiff , Newport and Pontypridd and they were all well represented that day.”
The Laverne Brown Band/The Co Stars
The New Casablanca, Cardiff, 1986
“It would be hard to find many better vocalists in South Wales than Laverne Brown and Bryn Gregory so to have them both on the same bill was a delight.”
The Central Hotel, Cardiff, 1986
“An early promotion by local mod legend Ritchie McCarthy saw mod supergroup The Rage visit this popular venue. The band consisted of members of mod revival faves The Purple Hearts, The Chords and Long Tall Shorty.”
The Jetset/The Moment/The Reaction
The Channel View Leisure Centre, Cardiff, 1987
“Another Ritchie McCarthy promotion, this time on his own doorstep in Grangetown. A fabulous all-dayer. A video still exists to this day where 50 of us had passed around the video recorder to record the event.”
Radcliffe’s, Cardiff, 1988
“A group of us had travelled to London earlier that year to see the second mod aid event (Steve Marriott headlined). Also on the bill that day were Boys Wonder. It was fantastic to see them again shortly after when they travelled to Cardiff to play the often forgotten Radcliffe’s.”
“So there we have it, a small selection of gigs. I could have quite easily doubled it with memorable events but that’s for another day.” Paul Macnamara (Mac).
Being the cover
A year ago we chose the image for the front cover for the book. So we thought it would be a nice idea to ask Peter Jachimiak – who features on it – how it feels to be the face of Welsh Mod that greets everyone who first picks up the book…
“Being told that I was going to be on the cover of Welsh Mod: Our Story was – to say the least – a surprise. I mean, a jaw-dropping kind of surprise. However, as soon as I saw the mock-up of the cover, I got it. There I was, in a mac, with my brolly, dwarfed overhead by the reinforced concrete mass of the M4 motorway as it scythes through Port Talbot. Then, with the image – slowly-but-surely – being spread across social media, other people got it as well.
“There’s Dr. Pete rocking a Style Council look” one post went. “Looks like it should be the cover of a gangster’s autobiography” went another. Others name-dropped such Cool Cymru films as Twin Town, whilst others drew Get Carter and The Long Good Friday comparisons. Of course, as a university lecturer who, amongst other things, teaches media and British cultural studies, this praise was praise indeed.
There I was, in a mac, with my brolly, dwarfed overhead by the reinforced concrete mass of the M4 motorway as it scythes through Port Talbot
“In fact, it’s been quite a peculiar six months since the book has been in print, as a number of fellow academics have made comment (by text, and in person), following their stumbling across this hardback version of myself that can be found amid the glass cabinet at Paul Reeves’ Mojo King clothing outlet at Cardiff’s city-centre indoor market. “Great shot! Great cover!” said one, a graphic design specialist. Of course, it’s hard for me to gaze at the cover objectively. Yet, I get it, totally, from an artistic point of view.
“It’s kitchen-sink (or, should I say, back-lane) realism. The pin-point perspective of it all. The use of shadows. But, yes, I also get it from a Modernist’s point of view. The vintage Tootal scarf. The polished ox-blood brogues. The moody stare… It’s just I now have to erase from my memory the amount of dog shit that was there, on the pavements, under that motorway that links South Wales to London.”
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.’”