It was just a look for our rock and roll band, initially. Me and Derek Riley (my friend from The Horse's Penis, and the drummer in the band) were sat in my bedroom, guzzling Royal Dutch lager (40p a can, of which we had fifty), listening to Ian Hunter, smoking dog-ends and waiting for the arrival of Dangle, the guitar player, who was always late and usually absent. His real name was Timmy Dingle, but he was unfeasibly tall and rubbery, and used to literally dangle from the point in the air where his head was.
Anyway, Dangle wasn’t there yet, and we were excitedly discussing our first gig, which was to be the following week, down at the local youth club.
“I think we need a new look,” I suggested, “to make us stand out.”
“Ah, yes,” he nodded sagely, “to make us stand out from all the other bands that play down at the youth club, of which there are… let me see… none.”
He had an infuriating logic about him, did Derek, but it must have done something to his brain, because he also had a gigantic afro.
“Well, alright then, but we need an image. All bands have an image of some sort. We don’t have any sort of an image at all, unless you count your pink ski jacket and ludicrous hair, Dangle’s acne…”
“… and your huge nose.”
“Big nose, big hose.”
“Rubbish. Your mum just told you that to make you go to school. Anyway, what did you have in mind?”
What I had in mind was an early picture of the Who which I’d seen in a book called “The Swinging Sixties”. It was in a chapter called “Mods”. The singer was wearing a blue polo-necked jumper and checked trousers; the drummer had cool hair and a target on his shirt. My mum had got the book for my birthday, from Marks and Spencer; it had come with a cassette tape. The tape had stuff like Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Hollies, and Peter and Gordon on it. It was shit.
The book was ok though, and I got it out now, so that Derek could peruse the said picture.
“The Who, eh?” Derek muttered to himself, and then: “Mods, eh?” Finally, after some minutes, he said: “Ok then, let’s be Mods.”
It was just then that Dangle finally lurched in through the door, battering the cat with his guitar case.
“Dangle,” we announced in unison, “we are now Mods.”
“Ok,” he replied.
It was one thing deciding to be Mods, but it was another thing actually being them, because we really didn’t know what they were. It said in my sixties book that Mods wore parkas and rode scooters, listened to soul and R&B, and popped pills. We didn’t have any problem with the music – we listened to rhythm and blues all the time – but the scooters were going to pose a bit of a problem (we were all under the age of fifteen and usually too drunk to ride even our bikes), as were the pills: we didn’t know where to get any, or indeed, what kind to get. My only experience of pills up to that point had been the occasional course of antibiotics and the valium that I stole from my mum. A few years later I’d be making my first trip to rehab, but that’s another story.
So we decided to focus on the only things we could: the acquirement of parkas from the army surplus store in town, and the renting of Quadrophenia from the video shop down the road.
We learnt a lot from watching Quadrophenia.
One of the things we learnt was that we’d bought the wrong parkas. The ones they wore in the film were American fish-tail parkas; ours were German. This was a crushing blow, but we made the best of it by covering them up with patches and targets and Union Jacks.
One afternoon I was on the bus when I noticed an older lad on the seat next to mine. He looked like he’d just stepped out the photo in my book, and was observing me coolly.
“Are you trying to look like a Mod?” he said, eventually.
“What d’you mean, trying?” I replied with indignation. “I am one.”
“No you’re not,” he said. “You don’t have the first idea.”
I knew he was right, so – bristling with resentment - I said nothing. He appeared to think for a moment, and then said: “I tell you what. I like the fact that you’re trying, even if you do look like an embarrassment. My name’s Ralph. Why don’t you come back to my house and meet my girlfriend and listen to some records. I’ve got some old stuff at home that would probably fit you. How would you like to be a real Mod? Not some ticket, but a proper Mod? I like a challenge. I can teach you everything you need to know.”
“Yeah, that’d be great!”
“I can drop you back home later, on the scooter. Lambretta, it is. Made in India though, so it rarely starts. And bits keep falling off it. I wish I’d never bought it. It’s a piece of crap, it really is.”
Although neither of us knew it then, Ralph and his girlfriend were about to change my life.