Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mod Is Dead:Psychedelia Is King

 "Martin Stone, who now works for Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, started off playing for this ultimate mod band called The Action. Then they went hippie. One day after, everyone had gone hippie overnight and grown moustaches and sideburns, they went down to some gig in Bournemouth. Their van was met off the motorway by the local mods and given a presidential entry, a scootercade into Bournemouth. All the mods turned out and then they get on stage and start playing twenty-minute brain-damage madness".
-Martin Cropper in "Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground 1961-1971"

                                                 The Action 1967
It must have been something to watch the transformation from "mod" to "psychedelic" in Britain in the Sixties. These days people refer to it as "freakbeat", but that term did not exist until the 80's. For all intents and purposes the bands that were mods that were getting freaky or out there were still mod bands, rhythm n' blues combos, beat groups or pop acts. There were loads of bands like The Action, The Animals, The Small Faces, Zoot Money, Graham Bond etc who were still heavily into soul and r&b, especially onstage, but who started dressing way out (kaftans, beads, bells etc) and were creating commercially psychedelic sounds in the studio. On the other hand there were way out bands with some of the most twisted post freakbeat/ proto-psychedelic records like Virgin Sleep, The Score, Tintern Abbey, Herbal Mixture, and The Flies who in photographs, were mod as hell with the bouffant hairdos, Ben Sherman shirts, vertical striped sweaters, suits and chisel toed shoes. No one can pin point the precise moment it lapsed but it almost certainly followed The Beatles "Revolver". After The Fab Four sported mustaches soon everyone had them from The Smoke to The Move, even Ray Davies and Steve Marriott are glimpsed in photos from this period sporting a hairy upper lip. And after the Fab Four got psychedelic in the studio everyone followed suit. Think about it, before "Revolver" (or maybe "Pet Sounds" depending on who you favor) everything was not terribly "strange". "Revolver" kicked the door in on the old decaying house of mod, and "Sgt. Pepper" was the blockbuster bomb that flattened it and sent its remaining bits to far flung provinces where long hair was still unheard of. I'd have loved to have seen the reaction from some gum chewing teeny booper dollybird who sang "She Loves You" incessantly the first time they'd heard "Tomorrow Never Knows" or what those scooter riding mods thought of the proto-Mighty Baby Action doing Coltrane's "India". Psychedelia and mod did not always go hand in hand. The Pink Floyd griped about gigging with The Move because "they brought too many mods with them". This was presumably when the Move were still doing syncopated stage moves, West Coast harmonies and soul covers, before they donned beads and caftans and Ace Kefford and Trevor Burton got those dreadful perms! Simon Dupree and The Big Sound led the Ben Sherman wearing contingent with their soul covers and lively stage act. I'm sure their hit "Kites" with it's airy fairy dreamy Eastern feel did not indebt or endear them to their modernist flock. I guess the whole "swirly" vs "modernists" thing in England years back might have mirrored what was happening in '66 and I suppose that the shudder and chill I get when seeing "Austin Powers" mods must be how the r&B/soul loving bunch felt the first time they heard "Odgen's Nut Gone Flake".
     Virgin Sleep:Incredibly mod looking but lethally musically lysergic.

             The Move 1967:the Hendrix perms are just days away

         Herbal Mixture: Mod  music? Not!

Hear The Action's "Strange Roads" from 1967:

Hear Herbal Mixture's "Machines":

Hear Virgin Sleep's "Love" from 1967:


Aida Apple said...

I'm a mod girl who like soul, R&B and Freakbeat. It makes me sad that other mods might shudder when I tell them I'm into Freakbeat :( Can I ask if you felt the same way towards 'swirlies' even before Austin Powers came out, because a lot of Mod/Swirly boys/men get called 'austin powers' even though he's not their style reference

A Mod girl

Wilthomer said...

Aida, I was cursed by Austin Powers because before the film came out I made the error of buying my very first pair of glasses. Black framed French Zylowear that looked like the glasses The Zombies or Harry Palmer wore. The "Austin Powers" catcall became a burden. Back in 1986 I was derisively called "a psych mod" because of the way I dressed and the music I listened to by some of the more narrow minded Fred Perry/Sta Prest/2-Tone/Jam mods I knew. Being an American I was fortunately never part of the whole "swirlie" controversy. I guess these things tend to happen in places where you have really large scenes and very different opinions on things. I've never lived anywhere where there was a large enough "scene" to create such a massive backlash. Soul, psych, r&b, jazz and ska it's all the same to me in my little mind....