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