Possibly the most enduring expression of a youth culture, the Mod movement has spawned its own fashions, music and a lifestyle that refuses to go away. Mods tell the colourful history of their subculture and bring the story bang up-to-date, calling in on the various ‘mod revivals’ along the way. From the lovingly crafted scooters, to the bands who provided the soundtrack to millions of lives via the fashions and people who made - and still make - the Mod scene so vibrant, Mods tells the story like it really is.
June 1968 – I was 16 on the eighth – and though the first wave of Mod had been around in the south for several years and was starting to wane, in the southern suburbs of Manchester it was a strong as could be. Thanks to the fact that I had no problems getting up really early in those days (how times have changed) and had a weekend job working on a milk round, I had already saved up as much as I needed for a really good scooter.
I knew just what I wanted; it had to be either a TV or an SX. No question. No point getting something from the second division; my mate, who only had a paper round (which paid far less well) only had an Li, and by the late 60s that simply wasn’t good enough. Everyone I knew had a Lambretta, by the by; Vespas weren’t thought to be as cool, and were seen as a bit ‘southern’.
It took me just days to find it. A TV175 with an SX150 engine – I saw it in the small ads in The Manchester Evening News, and got a mate to take me up to the badlands of north Manchester on the back of his scooter. It was perfect; ivory in colour and with just a few accessories – front crash bars, rear spare wheel rack (vertical, not horizontal!), and red and white striped seat. Plenty of scope for adding more. And more. He was asking 50 quid and we settled on 45.
I’d never ridden a scooter before, just my dad’s old two-stroke commuting motorcycle, but nothing daunted, I jumped on and rode it home. No insurance – I got round to that eventually; cost me £3 as I remember – and certainly no Lplates and no helmet. The latter bit wasn’t an offence; you didn’t need to wear a helmet until, I think, 1972. I passed my test in November 1968 bare-headed.
It was one of the most glorious moments of my life. No two ways about it. I was no longer limited by how far I could cycle or where the bus when; I had my own wheels I could go anywhere. Freedom. Glorious freedom. Plus, of course, I was suddenly on the inside. I was one of the guys. I think there was a hard core of about 20 of us, though if you rode a few miles in any direction you’d find scores more. We all had Lambrettas and they all looked terrific. Getting the bits was never a problem – whether you haggled with mates for a set of second-hand Florida bars or mirror stalks, or went to Ron’s scooter shop for mirror lenses or a pair of lovely, long-trumpet scarlet air horns. If you had to, if you wanted something really special like a megaphone exhaust you could always go into Manchester, where there were any number of accessory shops down the south end of Deansgate. Then there were the clothes of course. No problems there.
I was tall and skinny, and to be honest I looked pretty good in Mod clothes – my only problem was that I wore glasses, and I hated that. I got a pair with big black rims, like Manfred Mann’s, and that was the best I could do. A mate spent a wet Sunday afternoon teaching me how to dance – God bless him – and I never looked back. The weekend started on Thursday night. We’d usually go to whoever had the most indulgent parents, and all squeeze into the front room to watch Top of the Pops, then we’d ride over to a youth club on the other side of town. What was more glorious than riding through your home town with a whole bunch of other guys, looking good, and just knowing that everyone – everyone – turned round to look at you. And when we got there we’d park diagonally, all exactly parallel. Perfect.
Thursday was an alcohol-free night, and an early finish, but Friday was better. It was a similar start, but with Ready Steady Go this time, then it was off to a club – loud, sweaty, frantic, brilliant; four halves of lager and lime, maybe a bag of chips just before the chippie shut, and then the ride home – with each guy pealing off from the pack as we got the end of their road.
Saturday was just the same – laughing at the jerks on Thank Your Lucky Stars on ITV and Juke Box Jury on BBC first – as was Sunday. How I ever got up for school on Monday morning, I don’t know. Saturday afternoon was brilliant. After lunch we’d gather at the bus station in the middle of town – scooters parked off to one side, by the baths, all pointing out on exactly the same angle. There was a Wimpey bar and a coffee bar, and we’d hover between the two – making plans for the night, laughing and messing about, looking at girls, talking about our scooters and the latest singles, then walking up George Street and into Market Street – checking out the clothes shops. I was lucky; my auntie worked at the Oxfam shop (the very first charity shop) and she was brilliant. She told me if there was ever anything good in.
She got me an RAF greatcoat and I pinned a line of medals to the chest. It was in the window for all of 10 shillings. I gave her five and she put the rest in the till herself. That was 1968 – half a lifetime ago – but the memories are as strong as if it was last week. Heaven only knows where my TV/SX is now, but I very much hope it is still around and being loved and ridden. Thirty-seven years on and here I am with The Mod Years, which I very much hope you enjoy. Funny old world, isn’t it?