Styles & Forms | Mod | Pop

‘Are you a mod or a rocker?’ a reporter asked Ringo Starr in A Hard Day’s Night. ‘Uh, no,’ he answered, ‘I’m a mocker.’ The question was a pertinent one. On 18 May 1964, just over three weeks after the film was completed, the English seaside town of Margate saw a violent showdown between packs of fashion-conscious mods and leather-jacketed rockers.

Throughout that and the following year, there were further clashes at resorts such as Brighton, Hastings, Southend, Clacton and Bournemouth, resulting in chaos, destruction and plenty of arrests.

Little was resolved between the motorcycle gangs, who were still championing 1950s rock’n’roll, and the hedonistic ‘modernists’ who lapped up American soul and R&B in addition to Jamaican ska. Indeed, up until the start of 1965, the mods belonged to a movement that was yet to spawn its own music. Even when that did take place, it was limited to just a couple of domestically well-known exponents and a handful of nearly-rans. Melding R&B with rock guitar and an idiosyncratic, British edge, they nevertheless defined a short-lived sub-genre that bridged the gap between the beat boom and psychedelia.

It was in 1963 that the working-class, male-dominated mod lifestyle really took off in Britain. Based in and around London, which was increasingly turning into a hub of high fashion and pop culture, this embraced a colourful, ‘New Dandy’ dress-code of button-down shirts, narrow trousers, and sharp-looking mohair and two-tone suits, as well as the more casual parka, which was de rigueur for riding about town on economical Italian motor-scooters manufactured by Vespa and Lambretta. Attending any number of parties and clubs that catered to their musical tastes, the mods bolstered their nightlife by way of amphetamines, anxiety suppressants and other drugs such as Dexedrine, ‘Black Bombers’, ‘Purple Hearts’ and ‘French Blues’. It was this scene that gave rise to The Who.

Performances With Aggression

The Who started out as The Detours in the west London neighbourhood of Shepherd’s Bush in 1963. The band’s name was changed to The High Numbers by manager/publicist Peter Meaden, who dressed the quartet in mod attire and rewrote Slim Harpo’s ‘Got Live If You Want It’ as ‘I’m The Face’. (In mod slang, a ‘face’ was a fashion leader.) The single flopped, but its target audience began attending the group’s pub performances, featuring a set that consisted entirely of soul, Motown and R&B. Taking note of this growing fan following, the aspiring film directors Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp assumed the management reins, switched the band’s name back to The Who, and encouraged the singer Roger Daltrey, composer/guitarist Pete Townshend, bass player John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon to lace their performances with an aggression that would match that of the mods in their battles with the rockers.

So while Entwistle remained stoic onstage, Daltrey assumed the air of a brash thug, Townshend leaped into the air with his guitar while spinning his right hand in a windmill...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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