Context is everything, so it was interesting to find my old copy of Something Beginning With O by Kevin Pearce on top of a cupboard in my mother-in-law’s house. Unlike said cupboard, the world has changed a lot over the ten years (or thereabouts) since this book was published. How much has the book itself had to do with those changes?
I don’t know how many books about mods existed before this one (does Moon the Loon count?), but there are plenty now. Books like The Sharper Word: A Mod Anthology, edited by Paolo Hewitt, which contains an extract from Pearce’s book. Other books, such as Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties, by Ali Catterall and Simon Wells, are wrapped in eye-catching mod iconography.
The music referred to in Something Beginning With O remains largely underground, but its influence, fed through the kaleidoscope of Paul Weller’s ever-changing, yet curiously ever-so consistent, musical moods, has been a dominant factor in the last ten years’ Britpop explosion and the Campaign for Real Music led by Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene. A much frowned-upon movement, it seems to have died down and been swiftly and safely anthologised, again in mod-inspired packaging. Weller’s work, the kernel of it all, stands up pretty well, the supposed sloppiness and excess largely imagined by panicking popologists. Perhaps his bare-chested free-form festival jams veer slightly away from the mod aesthetic, but the singles seem to me to fit in nicely with the Weller chapter in Something Beginning With O. Or at least they did three weeks ago, when I started writing this. Now as then, Weller’s the odd-one-out in a bunch of odd-one-outs. Kevin Rowland is back (in the company of Mick Talbot, excitingly enough). Post-Punk is back, sort of.
Mod clobber has been commandeered by the clothing companies, from haute couture catwalk calamities in the Sunday supplements to the remarkable transformation of Lambretta from iconic scooter status to a vaguely pricey, vaguely mod-styled corner in Top Man. The pop-art union jack threads of The Who have been reduced to the cultural flaccidity of union jack dart flights. Then again, Kent’s Mod Jazz series of CDs would have us believe that the original modernists liked nothing more than to shuffle their loafers to Andy Williams’ ‘House of Bamboo’, so perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much.