Did Mods Have a Cause? Or Just a Sound and a Look?

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This week for Throwback Thursday we’re looking at a subculture that has a close affinity with Brighton. Descending from the Teddy Boys, the modernist movement started in the late 1950s and continued into the early 1960s. An increase in youth employment and disposable income meant that the Mods continued in their predecessor’s footsteps by taking a huge interest in fashion and music, and by the early 1960s had become associated with tailor made suits, Fred Perry polo shirts and R&B music such as The Who and The Small Faces. Though very much a working class movement, the Mods infiltrated culture in every way, from dominating high street style to influencing music and even the popular television programme Ready, Steady, Go! was aimed at a Mod audience. A target became a symbol for the Mod movement, seen on Parkas, Scooters and as worn by The Who on more than one occasion. One of the logos for The Who involved a target on the background, of which they still use today. It was also adopted by Lambretta, a brand most commonly associated with the Mod movement. The Union Flag also became a symbol for the Mod movement, very often seen on Pete Townshend, and is also seen draped across The Who like a blanket on the cover of their album, The Kids are Alright.

Eventually though, the Mod movement faded, subcultures lose their appeal when they become commercialised and many of the original founders of the Mod movement had moved on to marriage and having children, therefore unable to continue the late night parties and drug taking. Also you can’t get a baby on the back of a Vespa. However, the Mod movement was already immortalised in the concept album Quadrophenia by rock icons The Who. This was then adapted into the cult classic film Quadrophenia starring Phil Daniels, Sting and Ray Winstone. In the late 1970s the Mod movement achieved a second coming when a small band called The Jam stormed onto the music scene with their belter In The City. Heavily inspired by The Who, The Kinks and many other associated with the original Mod movement, frontman Paul Weller helped revive a scene that still continues today. This was around the same time as the film Quadrophenia was released, which further fuelled the desire to revive the movement. Bands such as The Lambrettas, Missing Persons, The Purple Hearts and the Merton Parkas also enjoyed fame from the Mod revival. There was also a revival in the use of the target and Union Flag, of which became symbols of the Mod movement. The Jam  posed in Union Flag blazers similar to that of Pete Townshend and also incorporated targets into their logos and album covers.  

Of course, we can’t talk about Mods without talking about the trouble that followed them. Youth subcultures had a penchant to head down to seaside resorts on bank holidays to fight each other. At the same time as the original Mod movement, another subculture emerged that was completely the opposite. The rockers centred their culture on motorcycles, wore leather jackets and motorcycle boots with slick backed hair and listened to 1950s rock and roll played by artists such as Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. In May 1964, the BBC News reported that mods and rockers had been jailed for rioting in the quiet seaside towns of Southern England. The term ‘moral panic’ was coined following the persistent fighting between the two opposing cultures, and once again it was the news outlets that demonised the youth subcultures as violent criminals. I mean, it was sort of true but it probably wasn’t as bad as they say it was. During the Whitsun weekend of 1964, thousands of mods descended upon Margate, Broadstairs, and our lovely Brighton to find that there were also quite a few rockers there who also wanted to enjoy their weekend at the beach. It wasn’t before long that the fighting began, some even using deckchairs to deck their opponents. The worst fighting was in Brighton, where the fights lasted two days and moved along the coast to Hastings and back. At one point it was called the Second Battle of Hastings. The newspapers had a field day and reported the mods and rockers as ‘sawdust Ceasers’ ‘vermin’ and ‘louts’ and fed off the mass hysteria they were creating. It was no different during the Mod revival, with Mods and Skinheads fighting Teddy Boys and bikers. This continued with the various opposing subcultures for the next decade, with sunny Brighton being one of the main battlegrounds. 

The Mod movement slowed down, and all but disappeared from British culture, though there were elements of the Mod culture seen throughout the future youth subcultures. There are still Mods about, riding around in their Fred Perry polo shirts and Pretty Green parkas, listening to Paul Weller, but it will never achieve the great subculture heights it has done previously.

Holly Martin

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