Bask In The Afterglow Of The Small Faces

The name of the group alone should indicate exactly what they were and still rings true today. The line-up was all rather diminutive in size, although certainly not in stature or talent. This accounts for the first half of the name and the second half of the name is simply down to the fact that they were all “faces” on the mod scene.

In interviews that have surfaced from the band members in more recent years, a truism comes to light. It would be correct to say that the Small Faces were mods before the majority of people knew what mods were. They were in the right place at the right time and the group was massively influential in the combining of music, fashion and lifestyle choices in creating what is considered to be mainstream mod culture. There is always an argument that the influence of modernist jazz fans in London in the late 1950s, early 1960s needs to be acknowledged but the Small Faces more than played their part.

The band’s manager Don Arden had an office on Carnaby Street even before the sterling reputation of this street took off. At the time, there were only three main outlets for fashion on the street. Topper’s was the place to shop if you were looking for shoes while Lord John and John Stephens were the choices for the main clothing options. The fact that the John Stephens store was located directly below the offices of Don Arden made it a natural choice.

It was all or nothing with the Small Faces

With stories abound that the group were being paid in clothes as much as they were in cash, the fashion sensibilities of the group are understandable. This was a band wearing the finest of mod gear before it was known about and it is only right that their influence on the emerging mod culture was acknowledged.

It would be wrong to bypass the musical output of the group though. At times dismissed as being a mere pop act (albeit at a time when pop acts were deemed important), the overall importance of the band’s music is much stronger than the one or two tracks that are continuously rolled out on soundtracks and adverts today.

here comes the niceEarly single ‘Here Come The Nice’ was an obvious paean to drugs and the drug culture that was growing at the time. The BBC censors failed to pick up on the not so subtle message of the song but for kids listening up and down the country, it was clear that this was a band that was tuned into what was happening. Mod culture has always been closely linked to stimulants, providing the impetus to party into the small hours and making the most of the free time that was available to people.

Very quickly, the band grew in confidence and their musical output expanded largely. As well as being a mod fashion band, the group were one of the main parties in the mod psychedelic movement that came around in the late 1960s. The band’s masterpiece, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake stands today has one of the best albums from the psychedelic era, although it possibly pushed the band to their limits. Being unable to replicate the album in the live arena had a huge impact on the confidence of Steve Marriott, who was the most concerned about being bogged down with a pop tag.

It was Marriott who sensationally quit the band on New Year’s Eve in 1968 although singles and a posthumous album were to follow in 1969.

The universal appeal of the group lives on today

The band was also cited as a large and regular influence on the Britpop movement of the mid-90s. No matter what your opinion of this musical movement was, the influence of mod culture was central to many bands of the time and a whole new wave of mods came to the scene from this genre. A lot of the new converts moved away over time but many of the mods who came to the scene at this time are still around today and are as committed to the mod scene and culture as any of their older members of the scene.

The role that the Small Faces had on mod culture and music should never be overlooked or underestimated. In a short few years, the group managed to create a legacy that lives on to this today and is sure to be around for many more years to come.

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Mod knitwear inspired by the sensational Small Faces

There Was A Need For Speed In Mod Culture

mod culture and amphetamines
While there were many ideals and over-riding philosophies that are associated with mod culture, one of the most pervading ones is the focus on clean living. In comparison to other youth groups of the time, mods were neatly turned out and put a lot of thought and attention into their clothing and fashion sense. This was one element of their clean living policy but it also extended into other areas of mod life.

There was less of a focus on alcohol and getting drunk in mod culture than there was with the rockers or in the local youth community focus. This is not to say that mods didn’t drink alcohol, of course they did but as a collective group there was not the same focus and need to get intoxicated in this fashion. It was interesting to note that one of the most frequently visited social hang-outs for the mod generation was the coffee shop.

Some would argue that this was because there was an opportunity to socialise in large numbers while listening to the music of the day but it would also be fair to say that the later opening hours of these coffee shops was a great attraction too.

Coffee shops provided the perfect setting for mod culture

Drinking soft drinks and coffee was par for the course in these venues and it wasn’t as if having no alcohol was causing mods to miss out on any fun. Given the opportunity to relax in a comfortable environment with their peers while listening to good music and for longer hours, the absence of alcohol from these venues was a minor issue with the positives far outweighing any negatives that may have arisen from using these venues.

It should be remembered that amphetamines were not illegal at this time in the United Kingdom, which fitted in perfectly with the ideal of clean living. It may be hard to look back at a different time while the current laws and regulations regarding drug use are in your mind but when the early mods were taking amphetamines, they were not doing anything illegal.

There was the opinion that amphetamine brought about alertness and stimulus to awake for longer, which was a different impact compared to the other drugs on the market at the time. Even alcohol, while perfectly legal for those over the age of 18, brought about a state of intoxication, which was not apparent in the use of amphetamine.

Amphetamines allowed mods to have more fun

Mods wanted to make the most of the weekend and time away from work so the use of amphetamines allowed them to maximise the amount of time they had available to socialise with others. Time spent sleeping could be better spent in the company of friends, or dancing into the small hours so the use of amphetamines allowed mods to stay awake and alert for a lot longer.

Given that mods travelled home from these late night coffee shops and clubs on their scooters, being awake and alert was a great bonus for the mods. While drink-driving was not viewed in the same manner as it is today, it certainly posed more danger and difficulties when driving in comparison to driving while on amphetamines.

Like many of the fashion choices or even the use of a scooter, the benefits of amphetamine use dovetailed perfectly with the lifestyle and culture of the mod movement.

Most youth movements, and certainly those movements that were closely associated with a musical genre, could be closely connected to a drug of choice. While the swinging 60s were partly fuelled by the emergence of mod culture and the fashion styles, many people consider the hippie movement to be as much a part of this period as the mod movement. The hippie and free-love movement was one which was heavily dependent on drugs, whether it was cannabis or LSD, or both! With The Beatles and other top musical acts of the time making it very clear that they were using these drugs, there can be no surprise in the links that were being forged between movements and drug use.

Even in the decades since then, music and youth movements have gone hand in hand with illegal substances and drugs. Punk saw a rise in all manner of drug use, including solvent abuse while the emergence of dance culture has been consistent with the rise of drug use like ecstasy.

There is no doubting that the impact that amphetamines had on mod culture was as significant as fishtail parka coats, fine clothing and the drudgery of the working week.

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The Italian Influence Of The Mod Scooter Movement

While the overtone of Britishness is written large throughout the story of mod culture, it would be wrong to describe the movement as being one that was solely interested in Britain. Many of the best most loved musical genres of the mod movement originated from outside Britain, whether it was American soul or the Jamaican ska tunes that sound tracked the era. It would also be fair to say that there was a strong Italian influence on the first mod movement and this should always be celebrated when examining the importance of mod culture over the years.

Lambretta Jean ShrimptonWhen it comes to Italian culture impacting on the modernist movement, many people will instinctively think of the fashion element. Fine suits with a well-cut finish or high quality shoes brought a touch of Italian flair and style to the movement but for a lot of mods, the most important Italian element came in how they got around town. When you think of scooter brands, it is likely that you will think of Lambretta or Vespa, both of which originated in Italy.

In many ways, the role of Italy in the war, the end of the war and then the imposing limitations placed on Italy, especially with respect to creating aircrafts, had a huge impact on the scooter industry and in turn, mod culture.

Economic factors influenced the need for scooters

The Piaggio company was one of the many firms that suffered through this and their Pontedera fighter plane plant was not only limited by the impositions placed upon them, the plant was also demolished in a bombing raid. The state of the Italian economy was in a very bad way, as were the roads, and there was no money to repair them to a good level. The decision was made by Enrico Piaggio, the founder of the company’s son, to exit from the aeronautical industry and set about providing affordable transport for the Italian people. This led to the creation of the Vespa company in 1946.

Vintage Vespa PosterThe Vespa company, was the first to be founded although it was a close run thing. There was a very similar story for the Lambretta company, who were also looking to rebuild their business after the ravages of war. In an ironic twist, the future and success of the Vespa and Lambretta companies had a lot to do with the influence of the American military in Italy. The style and impetus for these companies came from the Cushman scooters which arrived in Italy in huge numbers to provide field transport for the Marines and Paratroops that were in the country. Even with the German’s having a tactic of blowing up bridges and destroying roads in the Dolomite region of the Alps and the borders of Austria, these scooters provided an effective and efficient way of getting around the region.

Design features would be great for mods

Although not constructed with the mod in mind, some of the design features of these scooters would provide exactly what the culture was looking for. The Lambretta and Vespa scooters both had front shield areas which provided an added level of protection to ensure that the rider kept their clothes clean and dry at the front. In comparison to the motorbike, this would be a tremendous element for the fashion conscious. There was also the thought that the design of the scooter was far more suitable for women, again especially in comparison with motorbikes, which would be a boon in mod culture. Without wishing to delve into a major topic too lightly, many were of the opinion that the mod culture placed women on a more equal basis with the men, especially in comparison to the rocker youth movement and the choice of scooters as the main form of transport was of benefit to both genders.

While these scooters found success in Europe, there is no doubt that the success in the UK outstripped the rest of the continent. The mod culture came about at the right time and the scooter came along at the right time to be the perfect vehicle for this youth movement. The affordability of these vehicles were perfect for a youth movement who were looking for an affordable traffic solution but the sleek and stylish design also fitted in superbly with the mod outlook with regards to fashion.

The peak of popularity of mod culture can probably be indicated by the fact that in the mid-1960s, the biggest market in the world for Vespa’s was in the United Kingdom. Even to this day, the UK market is the second biggest market in the world for Vespa and that shows no sign of changing.

British Rhythm And Blues And The Path To Mod Culture

Small facesNowadays, rhythm and blues, or R&B, represents what can be best described as fairly bland and insipid US pop music but this wasn’t always the case. There may be an element of thinking that everything was better in the old days but of course, this is not the case and it is certainly not something that a mod would readily agree with. However, when it comes to R&B, the music that came through in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a world apart from the music that bears the genre today and its role on mod culture is undeniable.

While the music of the ground-breaking blues artists of the 1950s would play a part in inspiring and influencing many of the great 1960s mod musicians, there were other musical genres at play too. The influence of jazz, folk and even skiffle music all played a part in developing the mod culture and music that drove it in the 1950s and 60s.

Jazz was at the heart of the development of mod culture

Given that the term mod is seen to derive from the modernist jazz scene and culture, there shouldn’t be too much of a surprise at jazz having an influence on the music of the movement. One of the key players in this genre was Chris Barber, a traditional jazz band leader. Amongst his many achievements was helping to set up the Marquee Club, a hugely important venue for the major British R&B bands. Barber was also a keen promoter and worked hard to get some of the biggest US performers to the UK including names like Josh White, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Memphis Slim.

The influence of skiffle music should never be underestimated, even taking into consideration how quaint and simple it looks in modern times. There was an explosion of interest in being in a band and making music, which really came to the fore when the youth of the 1950s realised how simple it was to form a band and make music. Estimations at the time indicated that in the UK in the late 1950s, there were up to 50,000 skiffle bands up and down the country. Like many of his peers, Roger Daltrey first started making music in a skiffle band and the genre dovetailed well with the burgeoning folk movement.

Blues and folk music went hand in hand

It should be remembered that the blues was commonly viewed as being folk music in the UK, even though both musical genres are considered as being completely different by modern listeners. Artists such as Leadbelly were initially classified as being folk artists in Britain, even though many of his songs would find their way into the set lists, singles and albums of British R&B acts like The Animals, Manfred Mann and even The Four Pennies.

All of these different musical genres were crossing over and inspiring the up and coming musicians with a new way to play. It is easy to see the influence of R&B on acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks and The Animals, with each being big components of the British R&B scene. How their musical path would take one direction, whilst other acts such as The Who, who would become the cornerstone of mod culture, would take another.

The initial peak of British mod culture, which came in the mid-1960s was certainly based upon rhythm and blues, although the influence of soul music was notable too. The most notable bands of this genre would include The Who, The Small Faces, The Creation, The Smoke, John’s Children and The Action.

If there was any doubt about the rhythm and blues nature of the music, The Who tried to ram the point home with their “maximum rhythm and blues” tagline but very quickly, the group started to diversify. By late 1966, The Who were no longer just making the music that made mod culture dance, it was referencing it and driving it forward in their music. All good musical movements need a starting point to kick off from and the influence of rhythm and blues on these groups was evident.

Of course, these bands and the music of the time would later go on to influence many other musical cultures and in turn, youth movements too. The diversification as well as the desire to look for new things would see what was known as mod culture and music dissipate into different genres and styles. This led to other exciting styles of music being created but the unifying mod culture was lost for many while others followed new styles.

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