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John Hellier – Dressed to Kill (A Mod’s life)

Written by Brents Yeomans
sixties mods john hellier zani 3.j


ZANI – What type of music were you and Mods generally listening to?

John Hellier -  Mods in the 60s listened and danced to mainly Black American artistes. At the time that was seen as the real thing, it was fairly snobbish really. British bands in the main got their material from this source and even the early Beatles and Stones records are peppered with covers of American R&B classics. Very early Motown (pre- Supremes, Four Tops) records were particularly desirable to Mods, things like “Money” by Barrett Strong, “Shop Around” by the Miracles,

“Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes and the Contours original  “Do You Love Me?“. James Brown records (pre-funk) were always popular particularly “Night Train” and “Please Please Please“. Also American blues artists like Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker would regularly be played in Soho mod clubs. Very few British artistes were held in high esteem.  

There were many excellent British mod bands playing the clubs at that time. Most of them never had hit records and disappeared into oblivion but as I said before their sets were largely made up of US Soul/R&B classics. This included the so called biggies such as the Who and Small Faces, whose stage acts back then didn’t include the hit 45’s.. They saved that material for pop package tours but doing the clubs was so very different. Mod bands that spring to mind include The Action, The Eyes, The Chasers, Scrooge And The Misers, who went on to become the Attraction (no, nothing to do with Elvis Costello) and the great Johns Children with whom I played, albeit very briefly.
Their drummer Chris Townson walked out after a European tour, I got to replace him for about 3 weeks unfortunately for me he decided to come back and they took him. Chris had ‘depped’ for Keith Moon on a Who European tour that tells you how good he was. I had no chance Chris is still a friend of mine today as is Andy Ellison, the lead singer.  (Chris sadly died on 10th February 2008)
By 1967 Mod turned into psychedelic Mod. The bands were no longer playing the R&B classics and the style was now very firmly influenced by what as going on in San Francisco. Incidentally one of the very best live acts on the London scene at this time was Winston’s Fumbs led by ex Small Face Jimmy Winston. Don’t let anybody fool you that he couldn’t play, this band really cooked

What a lot of people don’t realize is that many of the seventies superstars had roots in sixties mod. Rod the Mod we all know about, but David Bowie, Marc Bolan, David Essex (yeah, David Essex was the drummer in a very cool mod outfit called Mood Indigo) and even Status Quo were strutting the stages in their peacock suits.(Check out pictures of Quo from 1968 with Rossi sporting a Marriott haircut)

As for songs about the London mod scene well you’ve got the fairly obvious Kinks “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” and the Small Faces “Here Come The Nice” but much more importantly check out the REAL mod anthem which has to be “London Boys” by David Bowie from 1966. This tells the tale perfectly of pill-popping Soho in the mid sixties.

ZANI – Which bands/artist did you see perform live in the sixties?

John Hellier - Recently I was telling somebody that I got to see all the major players from the sixties and seventies  live but thinking back on it now I overlooked the fact that I never got to see the Kinks play. Of course, I rated them very highly and still do in fact I don’t think I know anybody that doesn’t like them. Ray Davies was a real wordsmith and just about all the self penned singles and most of the albums were real classics. The Kinks were very much part of that whole Carnaby Street set of the mid sixties.
Particular favourite numbers of mine are “Waterloo Sunset”, “Set Me Free”, and a wonderful b side called “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” but most all the truly wonderful “Lola”. A song about a guy who picks up what he thinks is a gorgeous looking woman in a Soho bar only to find out that “she’s” a transvestite. Ray Davies’ writing is certainly right up there with, not only the best from that era but, the all-time greats. Other than the Kinks I saw all the leading British bands and lots of American ones. I even got to see Blues legend Howlin’ Wolf in a pub in Dagenham

ZANI – Which were your favourite Mod venues ?

John Hellier - Favourite venues eh? I loved the Wardour Street Marquee. Very intimate atmosphere where the only drink on sale was Coca Cola (well it was back in 65/66). I saw many bands there that went on to ‘superstardom’ including the Who, Small Faces, Cream and Jimi Hendrix Experience. Also saw the first gigs from Humble Pie and the Faces in there. I loved the Scene club just off Great Windmill Street in Soho. That was pretty elitist and very snobby and owned by the guy that ran Radio Caroline. You’d only ever hear original American artists in there, with the possible exception of Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe or Zoot Money. That was where I first met Pete Meadon, a fast talking, over the top sort of guy who managed the Who in the early days as well as working with Andrew Loog Oldham and the Rolling Stones.

Pete was a mate but he was a bit of a pain and the type of guy you went out of your way to avoid if you could. He died young and has now achieved legendary status amongst Mods. Dying before your time is certainly the way to achieve that  Other groovy clubs of that era include Tiles in Oxford Street, Billy Walkers Uppercut Club (he was a famous boxer) in the East End and the fantastic Lotus Club in Forest Gate. There were also some great venues near to my home in Romford such as the Wykeham Hall and Willow Rooms, tiny places but very atmospheric.

ZANI – What is your opinion on today’s live scene?

John  Hellier - I’m not really clued up enough on today’s bands to answer this one really. I hear a lot of sixties influence in some of the new guitar bands i.e. Arctic Monkeys, White Stripes etc.. but a lot of the mod bands that I’ve been associated with over the past ten years or so including a lot of the bands that play conventions for me are probably more influenced by The Jam than say the Small Faces or The Who. But there again The Jam got their influence, well a lot of it anyway, from the 60s.

So I suppose it goes around in circles really. Going back to the original question though, in my mind none of the current crop  make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as say, the Small Faces and The Who did  (and still do), they’re now part of my DNA. NICE, I think so…….….

© Words - Brents  Yeomans   of the band 17 Black

Read 6637 times Last modified on Saturday, 10 April 2021 13:54
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