London Boys (mods and casuals)

Extract from by Gavin Henderson’s excellent article/interview for Mod Culture on that moment in history when two subcultures collided

casuals in london

Mark, an old Mod from the Shepherds Bush area of West London, gives an insight into the late 70s London scene and the subsequent rise of the Casual movement to Gavin Henderson.

I think the first time I remember Mods was at a Jam gig just around All Mod Cons coming out. I was 15 years old, and was bang into the band, along with some of the other punk stuff. Being a West London boy I was also a huge Clash fan, but in all honesty The Jam shaded it as far as I was concerned. Anyway the gig was at The Lyceum, and a few of us went along from The Bush. I’d saw the band once before the previous year and their following was all Punks and I expected much the same this time, however things had changed a bit.

Don’t get me wrong there were still a lot of Punks, but there were also a lot of geezers dressed like the band. Wearing suits, shirts and ties, and almost all of them wearing green army surplus Parkas. I knew they were Mods and although I didn’t know much about the Mod movement I knew that I wanted a part of it. Those geezers looked spot on. I was never into dressing like a Punk. You wouldn’t have lasted long in bondage trousers down Shepherds Bush. It was either the Skinhead look which had made a big comeback or dressing in the Soul Boy style of Gabicci Tops and Farahs and going over to The Goldmine Club in Canvey Island. The latter certainly didn’t appeal, and although I went over Chelsea and to the odd Sham gig with a few geezers who were Skinheads, I wasn’t too into having a crop. The Mod style was perfect for me. Smart, sharp threads and short hair …but not too short.

Once the football season started again it was back to following Chelsea every Saturday again so I wasn’t out and about much as Chelsea took up all my spare cash. The wardrobe took a bit of a back seat as well. However I’d been up the record exchange and traded in some of my old punk records for some sixties stuff. It was just the general mainstream stuff that I bought. The Who’s My Generation album, some Small Faces and Kinks stuff. My old man had told me that was what all the Mods were into back in the sixties. I suppose I should’ve been showing an interest in all the old sixties soul stuff at that time, but that came later. It wasn’t aggressive enough for me back then.

The next time I went to see The Jam was at Wembley during the Great British Music Festival. A few of us from the Bush went up on the Wednesday night. Some of us Mods, some of us Skinheads, as both The Jam and Skinhead favourites Slade were playing on the same bill. At the gig there were a load of Mods from the east end calling themselves the Glory Boys. They were a tasty firm, but were all West Ham, so I didn’t really want too much to do with them. There was a large mob of Skinheads there as well, and the atmosphere was getting a bit heavy. Violence at gigs was a regular thing back then. I was no stranger to it having seen it kick off on many an occasion at a Sham gig between football firms or between Skins and Punks, or even just areas, so I knew that trouble was ready to go here.

None of our lot wanted anything to do with it, and kept well out of the way when it started. It seemed to be all East London geezers fighting anyway so it was fuck all to do with us. Anyway the end result was that a Skinhead got cut, so fuck getting caught up in all that. That was the first time that I had saw Mod/Skinhead violence. The two cults had got on quite well with each other up until then, but I suppose with the numbers on each side increasing it was inevitable that it would go.

As well as all the Mod gigs, I used to go along to some of the Ska gigs as well. I saw The Specials at The Moonlight Club in Hampstead and they were superb. Also Madness and The Bodysnatchers a few times as well, usually up in the Dublin Castle in Camden Town. I really liked the Two Tone sound, especially The Specials and The Bodysnatchers, but to be honest their gigs were always packed with Skinheads and by the autumn of 1979 the honeymoon period between Mods and Skins was coming to an end, and a few scuffles were breaking out.

The Ska acts were also doing well in the charts and in all honesty they were doing a lot better than the Mod acts. However the Mods and Skinheads were by now fully at war not just in London but all over Britain, so we couldn’t go and see bands like The Specials anymore and they couldn’t come and see The Jam. They did turn up outside Jam gigs in London on a few occasions, and I can remember a big row with Skins outside The Rainbow in Finsbury Park after a Jam gig.

By the end of 1980 the Mod thing was finished really. The music press had totally slated it and the bands were going nowhere… After that run it wasn’t long before I knocked the Mod thing on the head. I sold the scooter in November and at Christmas I started buying clothes similar to some of my mates at Chelsea and down the Bush. Pringle jerseys, cords, Lois jeans, Nike Wimbledon trainers and the rest. I became a Casual.

The change from Mod to Casual was a pretty obvious step for me. Obviously at that time it was really taking off at Chelsea but in reality it had been around since the late seventies. There had always been mobs of geezers from West London at Chelsea who were wearing stuff like Slazenger, Pringles and Farahs. It was a ‘spiv’ look and the whole London Casual movement stemmed from this. The competition amongst the Casuals and the attention to detail was an exact mirror image of the original Mods. In fact it was easy to see that we had far more right to call ourselves Mods than the revivalists did.

Back then it was hard to get a hold of the gear, just as it had been for me in 1978 to get the Mod stuff. However once again I was catered for locally. Stuarts in Shepherds Bush has to be THE Casual shop. This was a place that was as important to the Casuals as John Simon’s Ivy League shop in Richmond had been to the Mods and Skinheads in the 60s. It was an Aladdins Cave of all the latest designer labels that were cutting it at Chelsea. You’d walk in and look in awe at the latest tracksuit tops from Sergio Tachinni or rain jackets from Fila.

The thing is Stuarts was an old fashioned dingy mens outfitters, and they just happened to be the most clued up shop in London at that time. The story goes that they had some old Pringles and Lyle & Scott gear which got big during the 81/82 season. They noticed that there was a huge demand for this, and as quick as they got new stock in, it would go. From this they got a couple of assistants who were clued up on what was happening and they managed to keep up with the ever changing fashions of the Casuals for a few years.

The good thing about the Casual movement at the start was the fact that no-one had any idea about what was happening. Because we weren’t really a music based youth cult the music press didn’t have a clue about us. Okay there were a couple of so called Casual bands such as Accent (who were okay) and the press tried to pick up on them but that came quite a bit later (around 83/84). The letters pages in Sounds was good though, as you often had Casuals from all the different football mobs from across the country slagging each other off about fashion.

The mainstream press eventually picked up on the look when they started going on about ‘designer hooliganism’ at football but again that wasn’t really until around 1984. Up until then they thought that all football hooligans were Skinheads. It was good for a few years, having our own little world that the media didn’t have a clue about.

The fashions soon moved away from the sportswear and soon the Chelsea Firm were leading the way, getting into stuff like Burberry, Aquascutum and Italian makes such as Armani. Going up north was great, as we had the edge on them when it came to labels. The Scousers and Mancs had been into it when the sportswear was all the rage, and the Scouse will always try and make out that the look started up there, but by the time the contemporary mens designer labels were being paraded the Northerners couldn’t keep up. The Shed at Chelsea becoming the most critical catwalk in the country. The true Mods of the eighties.

On the music front as well as the Soul influences, we got into a mixture of Jazz Funk, and also the early Rap acts gave us the new influences. Clothes, an interest in black American Music, and a liking for a punch up and a line of speed, sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it? And yet the Revivalists sneer down their noses at us as they retreat further into an obsession with the sixties. Modernist a contradiction in terms, and an irony that they didn’t get. Diadora Trainers, excessive amounts of gold jewellery and Wedge haircuts complete the image.

The eighties carried on, Top Of The World Northern Soul allnighters at Stafford, having a go at taking the Stretford End with the Chelsea Boys at Old Trafford. You always got a buzz on your trips up north. An underground scene that the mainstream press couldn’t possibly understand. Born on the streets and the football terraces, places where the journalists stand out a mile.

There were a few exceptions to the rule though, Mick Mahoney, Robert Elms, Gavin Hills and of course the fanzine of the time. No not Extraordinary Sensations, but the voice of the Scally – The End! This was an essential read for anyone interested in Casual culture. We used to buy it down in Kensington Market and it was always full of letters and articles by Casuals from all over the country. It was put together by Pete Hooton who was in the band The Farm who had a strong Casual following.

Things were getting out of control at the football though. Designer violence – what was all that about? Violence is violence, the assistance of my old mate Stanley doesn’t make it designer. It had to end in tears. Those tears were called Heysel.

Heysel changed a lot of things. Kids like me saw the result of football violence taken to its extremes and walked away leaving only the dedicated. It was always more the excitement, clothes, camaraderie and music that attracted us anyway. The violence was incidental. The Stafford niters had stopped and the centre of Northern Soul had moved south to the 100 Club. The scene had died out quite a bit, but all us retired hoolies had to expend our energy somewhere. Some followed the road to Modern Soul and Funk spending their weekends at the Top Rank in Reading, Caister and Camber Sands, others discovered Sunrise on the M25, pure Ecstasy.

May 1991… 300 Chelsea marched down The Old Kent Road for the last match of the season. You have to turn out for Millwall away. Acid House is in the news, Duffer of St George is on our backs and Adidas Superstars on our feet. The sound of Manchester which had ruled the airwaves for a couple of years is in retreat, and Boys Own is the magazine to read, whilst their dos attract the smart but Casual with a capital C brigade. Flowered Up are rocking London but once again the (not so) Young Soul Rebels are on the march. The true spirit of the Mods alive and kicking in London and not a parka in sight.

Fast forward to the end of the century and I’ve just come off the dancefloor at the Manchester Ritz, Major Lance blasting out the speakers. Stone Island is the label of choice, Northern Soul the soundtrack. Fashion and music are still there for us. Something called Sky has stolen football from under our noses, but two out of three when you’re approaching 37 ain’t too bad. As Tony Michaels said..’I Love The Life I Live.’

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