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.

Mod Clothing and Fishtail Parka Specialists…….

Quadrophenia Tour Will Provide Further Focus On Mod Life

the who quadrophenia tourWith The Who once again bringing their Quadrophenia tour to the UK and Ireland in the summer of 2013, there is no doubt that there will be a media wide focus on mod culture. The film, for all of its successes or failures, remains one of the most potent visualisations of mod culture and it remains a huge influence on so many people turning to the mod way of life. Great music, fashion, spending time with friends and having an attitude towards life lies at the heart of the film and it is easy to see why the film lies at the heart of what is important for so many mods and people who hold mod culture close to their heart.

Long before the film was released in 1979, The Who released ‘Quadrophenia’, their sixth studio album in 1973. It was billed as a rock opera, the band’s second release of this nature after ‘Tommy’. Weighing in as a double album, songwriter Pete Townshend classed it as the peak of writing career and it was the album that re-connected the group with a younger audience.

The narrative of the album was based upon the social, music and even psychological state of minds for teenagers in London in 1965. While the album was focused on the lead character Jimmy and his different personalities, the film took a more rounded approach and drew heavily on mod culture.

Music is always a part of youth culture

Virtually every youth culture movement of the last 100 years has been linked to music so it is no surprise that music is central to the image and identity of a mod. The Who provided the majority of the soundtrack for the film but a number of other major artists who were popular on the scene in the mid-1960s were also included. With cafes and parties packed to the rafters with people and powered by the up-tempo soundtrack, it is no surprise to see dancehalls as being the main places where people would congregate.

Whether people flocked to hear the latest songs, to show off their dancing skills, to look good in their latest clothes, or to catch the eye of someone they were attracted to, music was the element that brought people and the whole culture together.

Everybody wants the party to keep on going

While the use of drugs remains a controversial subject for many, and it is possible to be a mod without the use of illegal substances, many people will agree that mod culture and drugs went hand in hand. The film captured this very well with the liberal use of amphetamines from all of the lead characters. Whether it was to keep partying all night or to feel more liberated and in touch with the music, amphetamines featured strongly in the film. It is not as if mod culture is unique in having a close relationship with drugs. At the time, Northern Soul was similarly linked to amphetamines, rock n roll is strongly associated with various drugs and in modern times, dance music has been almost universally linked to ecstasy use by the media.

For music and cinema fans outside of the mod scene, the liberal use of amphetamines in the film may have been shocking but, it was a true representation of the average weekend lifestyle of many mods.

The above factors formed the basis for the life of a mod and this is one reason the film Quadrophenia touches on employment. Throughout the first half of the film, the monotony of Jimmy’s working life is reinforced but of course, anyone that wants to be able to afford the music, the fashion, the scooter and even the drugs needs to be able to pay for it all. When Jimmy is chided for taking a day off work, he is reminded that if he wants to be able to afford the good life, he needs to be able to pay for it all, emphasising the need for balance in life.

Even today, even though times have greatly changed since the height of mod popularity captured in the film, or even the resurgence which came after the film’s release, many of the driving forces which encouraged people to turn to mod culture are alive today.

The feeling of living for the weekend and looking to enjoy yourself as much as possible outside of work to take away from the humdrum nature of work and family life is as prevalent today as it was back then. While the album stands as one of the best Who albums, the film managed to connect with so many people and the tour will be a great way for young and old to see the story of their lives played out in front of them once again. The price of the tour may cause debate and conjecture but the stories and songs played out on stage will resonate with every attendee, regardless of age or background.

The Who Parka

Functionality At The Heart Of Mod Culture Too

While fashion sense and not wanting to be the same as everybody else will always remain at the heart of mod culture, it would be fair to say that other aspects have been an influence on the style and development of what is seen as mod culture. The term mod is almost used as a by-word on staying up to date and being in the latest fashion, which is certainly some of the story and culture of being a mod, but it is far from being all of it.

While the fine-style and good cut of clothing is one of the most important factors in the choices a mod makes, there have been many instances where functionality has been the important element in introducing something to mod culture.

With public transport stopping early, there needed to be a way to get home late at night after clubs and coffee bars closed up for the night. Walking home wasn’t always a safe idea and the idea of walking for hours was an unappealing idea. This meant that mods needed to find a vehicle that would allow them to travel safely late at night, but also be within their budget. Nowadays the scooter is seen as one of the most important icons of mod culture, but when the culture was just starting out, there were options available before the scooter found itself to be the number one choice for a variety of different reasons.

Price is always a factor

The price of a scooter was a strong factor in why it quickly became the vehicle of choice. While many mods would think nothing of ploughing all of their disposable income into their lifestyle, there were still a lot of choices to be made. Music, clothes, entertainment and even drugs all had to be factored into the calculations of how money would be spent so anything which provided a good transport solution, but ensure that there was money left for other elements was going to be a great option. In this respect, the scooter was an obvious choice being available for a more affordable price than a car or motorbike.

The financial benefits of buying a scooter were soon added to by their convenience. In comparison to bikes, scooters were a far cleaner vehicle. Grease stains were a common complaint for many bikers and in some ways necessitated the wearing of leathers. Very quickly the whole culture of the youth groups started to become tied up in their vehicles and the clothes that would go well with their vehicles.

Rockers on motor bikes would inevitably get messy so the use of black leather would ensure that grease was never too much of a problem. This was not as prevalent for mods, but while the vehicle itself was not a problem with regards to clothes getting dirty, there was little protection provided by the scooter itself.

Stay clean and look good

In many ways, this is why the use of a parka became synonymous with mod culture. When driving a scooter, splashes from puddles, dirt and rain could all mess up the best clothes so wearing a long parka was a convenient and functional way to keep a mod’s main attire clean while driving. Very quickly, the parka became strongly associated with the mod movement, but its initial introduction was linked to the convenience it brought drivers and passengers.

A lot is made of the use of amphetamines in mod culture and many people have focused on the fact that taking drugs can be viewed as an act of rebellion, or as a way to alter the current reality. In reality, the use of amphetamines was so prevalent because it allowed mods to stay awake and have more time for fun.

With the working week impacting on the lives of so many people, there was a need to squeeze as much fun out of the weekend as possible. Time spent sleeping on a Friday night into a Saturday morning or a Saturday into Sunday was time lost from the pursuit of breaking away from the monotony of the working week. Using amphetamines provided people with the impetus and drive to stay up for much longer, providing them with the chance to dance and socialise for a lot longer. It also helped to ensure that drivers were more awake when driving late at night.

Even though there were less drugs to choose from during the initial mod era, the benefits and functionality of amphetamines made them the obvious choice.

Given that mod culture managed to impact on every aspect of a person’s life, it makes sense that many of the elements were initially chosen to make life easier, or to make life better. Fashion may always be a major factor for mods but functionality has played a big part too.

Mods V Rockers

The riots on the beaches of Southern England in May 1964 were the culmination of ill feeling and frequent altercations between British youth sub-cultures the mods and rockers.

The mods saw rockers as hasbeens who listened to outdated 1950’s Rock & Roll music; they had greasy slicked back hair and rode around in dirty oily leathers. Mods were the new youth of sixties Britain and they wanted  to live a completely different existence to their parents and previous generations. Mods did not want the norm of a mundane low paid job, followed by marriage and children. Mods were rebellious in every conceivable way and were depicted by the media at the time as troublesome, no good and devilish.

Rockers on the other hand saw mods as effeminate weedy ponces. Neat haircuts and an obsessive desire to look good were opposite traits to the macho image and beliefs of a rocker. The Italian scooters adopted by mods were seen by rockers as pathetic, incapable of speed and once again, the complete opposite to the more powerful motorcycles rode by themselves.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see how two cultures so completely different, with opposite beliefs, would clash and that such confrontations would lead to the infamous beach riots in early sixties Britain.

The riots took place at such southern English seaside resorts as Clacton, Hastings and Brighton. In Brighton, the riots lasted for two days and led to many arrests. The famous British cult film Quadrophenia, produced by iconic rock band the Who, portrayed the riots between mods and rockers in Brighton.

It is ironic that two youth sub-culture movements who ultimately despised one another are permanently etched together in British history. There were youth clashes prior to 1964 and there have been many clashes since, most notable being rivalry between football hooligans which occurs on a weekly basis. Why is it then that the mods and rockers riots received such notoriety? Obviously, mods and rockers were very much in the news prior to the riots and they are clearly opposites in every conceivable manner. What ultimately separates these youth sub-culture riots to all others is the scale of events. The pure numbers involved is pretty unique and the press had a clear distinction to make between the two youth movements.

Watching the riot scenes in cult British film Quadrophenia you cannot help but join in to the famous chant of ‘We Are The Mods, We Are The Mods, We Are, We Are, We Are The Mod!!!’

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