A Sense of Style: Modzines

Modzines: Fanzine Culture From The Mod Revival, Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland, 2019 (Omnibus)

“The US Army parka, the trilby hat, the Harrington jacket, desert or monkey boots and a Fred Perry t-shirt made up the basic look. Small pockets of adherents sprung up in certain areas, like East London, Paddington and Waterloo, as they grew in number, these new mods began to coalesce into a scene.”

It may read like a casting for Call The Midwife extras, but in 1979 it was a chance meeting of some West Essex schoolkids in the queue for Who documentary The Kids Are Alright outside South Woodford’s ABC cinema which sparked a resurgence in the gospel of scooters, amphetamines, frenetic guitars and the written word, at least on the part of Modzines author Eddie Piller.

modzineAs Piller also rightly points out, the music press other than Garry Bushell’s Sounds (“like a great big fanzine”) had little time for the post-Jam acts associated with the 79’ Mod Revival, which saw major label deals for the likes of Secret Affair, a top 10 hit for the Lambrettas, the lower reaches of the charts for The Chords and widespread indifference by the time Accent bagged their own Sounds cover in 1984.

Modzines is as much a potted history of the Mod Revival and spirited defence of its associated acts, as a visual compendium of the zines as the soft infrastructure which enabled the scene to flourish beyond the fleeting fad of Quadrophenia and a reemergence of scootering as a youth cult (as editor of the Extraordinary Sensations zine alongside future mod historian Terry Rawlings, Piller gets to write himself in the story into the bargain, away from his considerable other works as 80s label boss and 90s club owner). Commensurate with that music press hostility, Piller acknowledges that the burgeoning DIY culture of the zines also allowed for a more insightful fan’s eye questioning of bands, while documenting life as it was experienced on a thousand council estates across the country.

Sniffin’ Glue was the template which led to considerable abuse of employer printing resources by YTS Britain, but the titles came as thick and fast as the eighties marched on through Tory terms of office, inasmuch as scooter clubs came and went (including the notable ‘Maggie Thatcher’s Left Tit SC’) – the likes of Maximum Speed, Direction, Creation, Reaction, Sense of Style, Patriotic, Northern Mod, See You in Court to name but several, before the advent of Weller-tipped Modculture on the web.

Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue wasn’t the only aspect of post-Buzzcocks punk resonance for the parka-clad youth, with the Bridge House in Canning Town being as much about Mod Revival (the Mods Mayday LP being testament to this) as the likes of the 4 Skins and Cockney Rejects – as with The Chords, Long Tall Shorty being swept into Sham 69’s chaotic Polydor orbit before spawning a future Angelic Upstart. As DJ historian Bill Brewster recalls, the zines flogged at the Bridge House “were as essential back then as an original pair of Sta-Prest trousers”.

modzine1Yet Piller can’t resist the odd wry pop at skinheads and so-called “skinhead wars”, legitimately perhaps noting the routine kickings dished out to provincial mods who’d made their obligatory pilgrimage to Robot (which was to mod what the Last Resort was to skins themselves, later badged for both as the better-known Merc) on pre-tourist trap Carnaby Street, relieved of their zine spending ‘pretty green’ into the bargain (at a recent panel talk on the mod revival alongside Rawlings and Brewster, he even mentioned a kind of imagined historic ‘victory’ on the part of the mods by dint of enduring legacy). This would be more understandable, forgivable perhaps, if the likes of Glasgow’s sussed skinzine Spy Kids hadn’t championed Medway’s proto-mod Prisoners on Piller’s Countdown label (and even jazz funksters the James Taylor Quartet out of loyalty to the former), showing the lines were perhaps quite blurred at times (as with casuals).

Modzines itself is a thing of beauty though and functions not only as a visual guide but with substantial commentary and interviews with many of the featured zine editors themselves. 40 years on from that teenaged cinema queue to catch an ageing Who in pomp rock mode, Essex’s England’s Own Scooter Club are still topping up their tanks with two-stroke and will be at this year’s Mods Mayday with all the classic bands of the era on the bill. Legacies don’t come any more enduring than that, on paper or off.

Text: Andrew Stevens

Q+A with Paul Hallam, editor of the Sense of Style zine featured in Modzines, DJ, Old Dog Books publisher and photographer (Odds and Sods)

paul hallam 1
Paul Hallam back in the day

What zines were you yourself buying back in that era and where were these zines coming from?

I was quite an avid buyer, as it happens. Right Track was probably my favourite and Scooter Mania was good. Should also mention Life After 66 from Leicester and Hipster from Coventry. Extraordinary Sensations, obviously. Des from Cardiff and his, The Inset? And loads of others I’ve probably forgotten.

And you, how did you come into it all with Sense of Style? It had quite firm production values, as the book shows.

In 1983 I was working in typesetters in Feltham. At that time production of magazines with typesetting/PMT cameras etc. was pretty expensive. I did all the layout/typesetting/PMT work photomechanical scanner etc. myself after working hours. I think I paid my firm a tenner for the supplies I used. I then took it to a local printers in Hounslow and they printed it. It’s 36 years ago now so I can’t remember what they charged me (laughs). But I’m sure the ad sales covered it. I think my concept of doing it as a monthly with news mainly fell down as there probably wasn’t enough mod news to fill a monthly mag. Plus, remember in pre-internet days anybody supplying an article would have to post it to me all typed up and then I would take that to work, retype it, print it out on bromide, do the layout out and so on. We only managed two issues, the second one I’m really proud of. Then I met the wife, started to DJ five times a week and generally ran out of spare time…

It doesn’t look a million miles from Street Sounds now?

Well, the size and quality of the paper was different. Sense of Style was A5 and printed on glossy paper. So, more like The Face, I suppose. Also, back then, because of the communication breakdowns, it was hard to get the news out in time. The second one the front cover was that Fast Eddie had been cancelled for the trip to Milan, but by the time it came out the trip had happened and we had a whole article about the trip, so it was kinda a bit of a mix-up with that one really. The idea was similar to Street Sounds, but Sense of Style had a lot fewer articles on Cock Sparrer in it!

Simpler times: Eddie Piller pointing cine-8 camera

Speaking of The Face, ‘The Resurrection of Chad’ in its 50th issue (1984) was something of a landmark in documenting the scene.

I don’t remember how it came about really, just that The Phoenix List said Britain’s best-dressed mag, The Face, is coming to mods’ best-dressed club, Sneakers. I think it was just a fact-finding mission and they didn’t write about the club in the magazine. But the writer [Lesley White], a really good female journalist, came to Clacton that weekend, drove around on scooters and came to the club etc. The wrote that amazing piece of writing to tie up with the 20th anniversary of the Clacton mod riots, with the alleged death of a young mod and to work in the Easter story was amazing. Journalism at its very best.

You never tire of telling me about how many miles you put in that weekend.

Easter 1984 I was young, full of life and had far too much energy. I left on Friday midday, got to Clacton and DJ’d Friday night. Got up Saturday morning and drove to Morcombe — how did we manage to meet people without mobile phones? DJ’d at an all-nighter, slept in the car for a couple of hours, drove back to Clacton, DJ’d at the big do, jumped on the speakers to have my photo taken for The Face, though my button popped off my trousers and for the next few years Big Bob and others mocked me for it! Then after the club, I drove back home to parents and slept, a lot!

icfIt really comes across in that article how fragmented things had become between mods and erstwhile mods as casuals.

Casuals had been the enemy of mod since about early 82 or so? Maybe earlier. The day I left school I went to Cheeky Pete’s — a venue in Richmond that held a 60s soul club with Ronnie the Mod Plumber. While waiting for the bus we were attacked by a gang of casuals. Proper vicious attack that was. And from then onwards there was always trouble when casuals were around. I remember being on a train on the way back from DJing in Birmingham, October 83′ and was stupid enough to get the train back to King’s Cross about 6pm. Oh, lo and behold it was full of West Ham casuals who had been to Villa. I got a lot of abuse for the first 30 minutes, til one of the lads said he had been a mod a few years before and to leave me alone. Thank you, ICF chap!

Sense of Style, that was the ethos?

‘Sense of Style’ was actually a slogan painted on the side of a girl I went out with called Kate’s scooter in 1983, or was it on her ex-boyfriend Kevin’s scooter? Anyway, I liked the wording, so I came up with the title. Mick Mouskos, my partner with the mag, was big into scooters and the mod revival. Hence the Squire article in issue two. I was less so. I think we kind of compromised on the content.

The mod revival then gave way to Acid Jazz, Eddie’s label, as the decade went on?

By the end of 86′ I thought I’d done most of what I wanted to do within the confines of the 80s mod world but I stumbled across a Paul Murphy night at the Sol Y Sombre earlier in the year and that really impressed me. A dark club selling warm cans of Heineken — not even sure if it had a drinks licence — full of people dancing non-stop to records I was struggling to fill floors with back in mod world. And in between those, obscure and mad Latin sounds faster than anybody I knew, apart from Ferrante and Shirlee, dancing to them.

I think Acid House, and to some extent, Acid Jazz were the 80s mods’ Sgt Pepper moment. And it was strange to see many old mods who had turned casual years earlier re-appearing at these events. My group of mates who would go to house dos late 80s to early 90s were pretty much 90 per cent old mods who gradually just stopped going to RNB clubs and were now in loud shirts, dungarees on Es. I think the whole Gilles Peterson thing was kind of a stepping stone. He did a pub in Richmond on Sunday nights and me and mod mates had been there once in early 86′ when Sneakers was shut, for a scooter run I think, then onto his nights at WAG — where we would have been on acid — to house clubs. That was my progression, but I was still DJing at the 100 Club during this time, 1989 to 1999, pretty much every week!

acid jazzAcid Jazz wasn’t just Jamiroquai, it has to be said. There was post-Prisoners Medway Towns stuff like JTQ, which you put out on Countdown Books. 

In June, maybe July, 87′ me and Ed put on the JTQ [James Taylor Quartet] on a riverboat allnighter — they were big back then. I’m sure, though I may have imagined this, JTQ had Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames’ old conga player with them. It was their first ever proper gig — they had done a media party at the Limelight few weeks before, but that was just a VIP fashion thing this was the real deal. A year or so later Ed came up with the name Acid Jazz. I thought it was a bit odd at first, but who was I to speak? By that time I was married with a mortgage and first daughter born. I do remember Ed coming back from a studio out west with a copy of the first JTQ proper album, not the 10-inch thing, that he signed and gave to my Emily as a being born present — signed by him not the band.

I kind of lost the Acid Jazz connection for a few years from then onwards. I went to some nights and gigs but I was busy raising a kid, taking acid and going to Millwall — not necessarily all at the same time! I kind of forgot about Acid Jazz til I went into HMV one day and they had an Acid Jazz section. I was like ‘Oh, that’s Ed. I didn’t know they had got this big.’ Then they moved office from Hackney Road to Denmark Street and then Greek Street. I don’t think anybody has mentioned a really good publication called Acid Jazz News — which was an A5 thing that was basically a fanzine about Acid Jazz but made by them, does that make it a marketing piece rather than a fanzine?

The mod revival is 40 this year? And in a glossy book on a big name publisher?

I remember clearly the 20th anniversary really well. Me and Ed had been DJing in Germany that weekend. I came back on Saturday and he flew back on Sunday. I picked him up from City Airport, and we both went to the Town and Country Club to do some talking in between bands.

That was kind of odd as that, along with The Chords at the 100 Club in 1996, was the first time I’d seen a lot of old mod mates in years. 20 years seemed a very long time then, 40 years now is all a bit surreal. The fanzine book isn’t glossy! It’s on uncoated paper, I’ll have you know. My bookshelf of ego, as my wife calls it, is getting wider it has to be said.


2 thoughts on “A Sense of Style: Modzines

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s