Local Mod squad
As Paul Weller plays Belfast tonight and Georgie Fame performs in the city on Sunday, Maureen Coleman talks to the local Mod squad about the cult that refuses to go away
It’s a Saturday night in a busy city centre bar and Tin Soldier by the Small Faces is blaring out from the loud speakers.
Sharply-clad men in three button suits and Ben Sherman shirts take to the dance-floor, alongside women in geometric-print shift dresses and Mary Quant bobs.
It’s like a scene straight from the Cavern or Soho’s Scene Club, circa 1964.
But this is not Liverpool or London in the Swinging Sixties. This is downtown Belfast in 2010.
Modism — the sub-culture that took hold of a young British generation in the early Sixties — is still well and truly alive in modern-day Northern Ireland. Having enjoyed a huge revival in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the scene became more underground when other cults like New Romanticism and Rave took over. But the emergence of Brit-pop bands like Oasis and Blur put the spotlight back on Modism again, with their obvious nod to the likes of The Kinks, Small Faces and The Jam. Then there’s the Modfather, Belsonic-bound Paul Weller, who has always ‘kept the faith’ and whose music continues to influence many of today’s young bands. Weller famously said ‘I’m still a mod, I’ll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod’.
In latter years the Mod scene has once again flourished across Northern Ireland, with many new recruits too young to remember the second-time-around, let alone the first, joining the old-timers from the 1979 explosion. Mod clubs have sprung up all over Belfast and revival bands like the Purple Hearts, Secret Affair and The Chords have hit the road again.
Like their original counterparts, this new breed of mods — and the second-time diehards — live their lives for music, fashion and the ultimate accessory — the Lambretta or Vespa scooter. But just what is it about this cult that makes modism a way of life?
‘Paul Weller taught me how to dress well’
The Modfather: the legendary Paul WellerHugh Burns (44), from Belfast, is an electronics worker. He says:
I first became a Mod through The Jam and recall wearing a black box jacket, brown shirt and thin black tie. But when the album All Mod Cons came out, I had a better idea how to dress and spruced up my image.
I come from a big family and two of my older brothers were original Mods in the Sixties, so I grew up listening to the music.
Looking back, I probably copied Weller, he taught me how to dress. When the scene started attracting too many scooter boys I packed it in and began listening to stuff like The Smiths.
Then I got into The Stone Roses and realised that my look hadn’t changed much. I was still dressing like a Mod, so I went back to it. I played in a couple of mod bands called The Cinnamon Firm and The Keepers. Our manager Jim Reilly, who looked after Stiff Little Fingers, arranged for us to meet Weller back in 1998 at the Point in Dublin. He was an absolute gentleman. For me, being a Mod is first and foremost about the music.
I love stuff like Ocean Colour Scene, jazz, Tamla Motown and bands like the Small Faces. I own two scooters, a 1959 42 L2 Vespa and a 1998 Baja.
My look is quite Sixties with a modern twist. I love the way the Small Faces look. I do take a slagging from time to time about being stuck in the past, but it doesn’t bother me.
I’ll never give it up, it’s who I am. I’m married to Debra and we have two kids. She was a Mod when we met but she’s not any more, though she still loves the music.
'I love the Mod social scene'
Noelene Shelmerdine (45), from Belfast, mum-of-four and florist. She says:
I got into the Mod scene in the very early 80s, just when the revival was kicking off. Back then I wore ski-pants, little ‘granny suits’ and anoraks and used to spend my time rummaging in second hand clothes shops.
But then I moved to Blackpool, met Steve, who was a Mod, and got married. When we had the children we both got out of the scene, I suppose.
But about six years ago or so, with the kids grown up, we started to socialise again and found that there was a great social scene among many former Mods, who were coming back to it.
We moved back to Northern Ireland, where the Mod scene is massive at the moment.
I guess it’s an age thing, there’s not a lot for people in their 40s to do socially. We don’t want to go clubbing all night or to old men’s social clubs. So this is perfect for us. It’s like we were never away. Now I dress quite casually in a French Sixties style, capri pants, button down shirts, that kind of thing. My music tastes are wider too, I’m more into the Hammond organ sound, proper r‘n’b and Latin stuff.
Our kids aren’t into it at all though and tease us all the time — ‘Are you listening to Paul Weller again?’. But they understand how important it is to us.
For me, it’s all about the music, the clothes and the brilliant social life we have.
‘I like my look to stand out’
Wayne Taylor (23), from Belfast, is|a factory operative at Brett Martin. He says:
I’m one of the new generation of mods. I’m a huge Oasis fan and like the way Liam Gallagher dresses, in that very stylish, mod way. In fact, everything I wear is from his clothing range Pretty Green.
It was the music first for me, but I was fascinated with the fashion and whole Mod scene, so over the last year I started getting into it seriously. My mates who aren’t mods do give me a bit of stick about wearing cravats and the like, but I don’t mind. I like to stand out.
Like most Mods, I have a scooter, a red LML. My family think it’s funny that I’m a Mod now. My mum was into it when she was younger.
Music-wise I love listening to The Who, The Kinks and Small Faces, and, of course, Weller.
The only thing is, there are no Mod girls around my age, which is a pity. Or if there is, I just haven’t met her yet.
Mind you, I wouldn’t rule out someone just because she wasn’t a Mod.
‘Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis’
Marty McAllister (44), originally from Belfast, now runs a cafe in Donegal. He says:
I got into the Mod scene through New Wave in the late 1970s. I bought The Jam album All Mod Cons and was converted. It was a huge cult at the time and my life revolved around it.
I remember buying my first tailor-made suit and scooter with money my dad gave me when he took redundancy from the Belfast Docks. The suit was three-button, blue, mohair-mix and cost £120. I paint-sprayed my Vespa 90 metallic blue. I remember going to the Midland Mod club in Belfast, everyone made a real effort and looked really smart.
But the scene died out and in the late 1980s I started going to raves. I was actually DJing at a rave in Donegal when I met my future wife Antoinette. We got married in 1995 and a few years later I bought myself a scooter again.
I never really stopped wearing the clothes, the white Levi’s jacket, the Fred Perry tops, and found myself getting back into the scene again. About six years ago it really exploded.
Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, but I guess it never really left me. I love being a mod, it’s a huge part of my life. I have two kids now and my wee boy Ethan is into the music and clothes too. There is a degree of vanity to being a Mod.
Look at Paul Weller, he still looks the part after all these years. Music-wise I still love the old Mod stuff — Small Faces, The Action, The Who — but there are loads of good young Mod bands coming up like Modus and The Universal.
Paul Weller and the Courteeners, Custom House Square, Belfast, tonight, 6pm. Tickets, £31.50, visit belsonic.com or ticketmaster.ie.Georgie Fame, Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast, Sunday, 8pm. Tickets, £24.50, tel 9024 6609 or visit belfastcityblues.com/full