How to be a mod girl

Things are happening fast! The Saturday Girls is selling fantastically well – thank you to everyone who’s bought it – and the audio version is out in January 2019. My interview with Robert Elms was great! You can listen to it here. My piece starts about 40 minutes in, after a track by the Small Faces.

And other things are happening. Some websites have asked me to write for them, about The Saturday Girls and my writing habits, and the first piece to appear has been published in Female First, an online magazine that covers all kinds of things – music, fashion, food and books. My article gives my top tips on how to be a mod girl, so that anyone can do it. Unfortunately Ready Steady Go! – unmissable viewing on Friday nights – is no longer airing on TV, but the magic of social media allows everyone to watch old episodes on YouTube.

So get yourself a dose of RSG!, grab your best friend and stroll round your local town centre. You’re half way there! Find all the tips here.

And as ever, there’s just one song you need to get you into the mod mood, and that’s Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Imagine yourself, on a Saturday night, walking into the Corn Exchange  with that best friend of yours, in all your mod finery, looking forward to seeing Georgie Fame or the Who or Wilson Pickett, as well as all the other cool mods from town. That’s it. You’re there.

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Hi-Heel Sneakers

I’m on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London today at 10.30 am (94.9FM) to talk about The Saturday Girls, mods, Motown and milkshakes. The big question is – when you’re going on the radio, does it matter what you wear? In bed, before I got up, I played Hi Heel Sneakers – one of the best records to put on the juke box in the Orpheus, the mods’ coffee bar in Chelmsford, a song that conjures up the excitement, the breathlessness, the cool of being a mod. I was looking for sartorial tips.

On the basis of Tommy Tucker’s advice I should wear a red dress, a wig hat and the hi-heel sneakers. It is of course a look, but perhaps it had to be 1964, in a cellar bar with very low lighting for it to work.

Is it important to wear the right clothes for any given situation, even if no-one can see you? I think so – I once represented a client in a case where the judge needed to check something as she was drafting the order, and she rang me up at home. I was in my pyjamas! It was not an easy conversation, calling someone ‘Judge’ when you’re glancing down at your slippers. Clothes are vital.

So what shall I wear today (did I mention I’m on the Robert Elms show this morning? 10.30am)? Sometimes I wish my mum hadn’t thrown away my suede (when I was 35 and hadn’t lived at home for over 15 years). A suede coat covered a multitude of sins – the not-quite-Fred Perry, the slightly wrong colour twin-set or simply the wrong blouse.

Yes, the book is out and people are saying good things about it. People have taken snaps of it on the shelves at Sainsbury’s, as far apart as Winchmore Hill and Chelmsford (well, they have to sell it in Chelmsford). My sister was on holiday and two of her friends were reading it! Of course, they may have felt they had to, but it was a nice gesture. My sister herself read it and said it was like being back in our living room in the Sixties (it is, of course, a novel Tess!).

But back to the far more pressing issue of clothes for this morning’s broadcast. I shall wear something dark but cool, straight but well cut, the sort of thing we dreamed of in those days, but never quite knew how to put into words. Or afford.

Let Tommy Tucker say it for me.

It’s today

Today the Saturday Girls appears on the shelves.

My niece went to her local Sainsbury’s first thing this morning and sent me this photograph.

People sent messages and cards. I met friends for coffee and drinks. My publisher, Bonnier Zaffre sent an enormous bunch of flowers.

I dropped into Crouch End Waterstone’s and discussed a future event there. Date to be confirmed. A fancy meal at our neighbourhood Italian restaurant rounded off a perfect day.

But before that I was asked to answer some questions for a book website. One of the questions was if the book had a theme song, what would it be? And I thought it would have to be Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Perhaps not a song, to be precise, but oh, such a cool piece of music.

Four days to go!

Four days to go until The Saturday Girls appears on the shelves! Who would have believed it? 23 August 2018 – a date for your diary. It started life as Beyond the Beehive, but now under the watchful eye of the team at Bonnier Zaffre it has become The Saturday Girls.

When I began writing the stories of Linda and Sandra I was really writing notes on what it was like to be a mod girl in Chelmsford in the Sixties, a piece of history that is often overlooked. The book describes life in the early Sixties, when rationing had finished but eggs were still considered a luxury, when the war was over but the H bomb was a threat hanging over all of us, when National Service was in its last days and teenagers had just been invented, from the point of view of mods. Mods who had the style, the scooters and … the music.

We had suffered with Radio Luxembourg under the blankets, and on TV we had groaned our way through Juke Box Jury with its old fogey panellists who didn’t understand music or youth or even life.

Of course there had been the 6:5 Special on BBC, and Oh Boy on ITV but we wanted more, though we didn’t quite know what. And then Ready Steady Go! burst onto our screens on Friday nights. Ready Steady Go! had it all – mods, music, fashion, dancing.

Ohh, just listen to Otis Redding, Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe singing Shake.

It all fed into the world that became The Saturday Girls. I hope you buy it. I hope even more that you enjoy it.

The Saturday Girls – countdown

In four weeks time The Saturday Girls will be on the shelves.

I really enjoyed writing the book, much as I really enjoyed those days. How iconic they were, and still are. Everyone has a story to tell about the early Sixties. Yesterday I was in a local coffee shop talking to someone who is at least ten years younger than me. We talked about a whole range of things – starting with her excellent choice, in this hot heavy weather, of iced coffee. Somehow, as it always does, the conversation turned to the early Sixties – mods and rockers and Italian style and the French New Wave and scooters and suede coats. And she had memories of those days. I mentioned the Milk Bar – in Chelmsford that was Wainwrights, on the corner of London Road and Tindal Street. And she, who had grown up in the Midlands, suddenly remembered their local Milk Bar, and its reputation for being a wild and crazy place that your mum wouldn’t want you to go to. I said the word ‘scooters’ and she had a story about riding on the back of a Vespa, and holding on tight.

That’s the book really. What I’ve tried to do is take you back there – so you too can remember those days of Motown and Minis and Cathy McGowan and her Cleopatra hair style. Even if you weren’t there, as you follow the paths of Linda and Sandra, dancing to Georgie Fame at the Corn Exchange and drinking frothy coffee in the Orpheus, and as you meet Sylvie, the most exotic person on the Estate, who has actually been to Paris – you’ll remember.

And it’s so close now. Things are heating up! My editor tells me I shall soon have a copy of the book to hold in my hands. And then it will climb onto the shelves of the shops.  And then you’ll be able to read it. As the Temptations said, ‘Like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow covered hill, it’s growing.’

You can of course pre-order your copy here!

The Four Tops

Yesterday I was having lunch with Val Wilmer and the conversation turned to the Four Tops. Val had photographed them at a concert they were doing. We recalled their greatest hits, and the fabulous voice of lead singer, Levi Stubbs.

Today I’m tidying up a chapter in The Girl in the Green Mac that takes place in the Orpheus, the cellar coffee bar in the centre of Chelmsford where all the mods gathered. There was a great jukebox in the Orpheus that had all the cool hits, the obscure records you wouldn’t hear on Top of the Pops. Another of its great features was that it was attached to the wall next to a mirror by the stairs, a very handy spot for checking out who was coming in, what they were wearing and who they were with. Then it was the most natural thing in the world to turn and ask if anyone had two threepences for a sixpence, or change for a shilling, to put in the slot, or to just chat about the group that was coming to play at the Corn Exchange on Saturday. You could even pose a question about the Vespa or Lambretta’s progress since the last flat tyre or flat battery. Any subject is interesting if it has a good soundtrack.

In the chapter, Carol (the girl in the green mac) is at the counter, waiting to order two coffees for herself and her friend Angie, who is sitting in their favourite seat, a dark booth at the back of the room.  As she stands there, waiting for a group of young out-of-town mods to make up their minds between Coke and lemon or a glass of milk, with a hiss and a crackle, the Four Tops come on the juke-box. The song fills her with yearning and longing for someone to feel that intensely about her. I thought I’d get in the groove while I was writing and I clicked on this track on YouTube, ‘Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worthwhile). It came out in 1964, after their big hit, ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’, and was another example of the rich velvety voice of Levi Stubbs. It wasn’t such a big hit, perhaps because the title was too long, or, it has been suggested, because it was over-produced. Who knows? Perhaps because the first line was almost a repetition of the title of the earlier hit and people were worried they were buying the same thing again. But if you keep on listening it becomes a great song in its own right. And to my 15 year old ears it was perfect.

Dream Baby

A good weekend. The sun has been shining, so having breakfast in the kitchen reading the paper is already a joy. But there was a very interesting article in the colour supplement this week, by Grace Dent, the new Guardian restaurant critic. She was writing about processed food, the comfort and the deliciousness of food that comes out of a packet. She’s a bit younger than me, but it still reminded me of the treats made by Vesta or Birds Eye, that would appear at tea-time for a special occasion. You can read the article here.

And then, this weekend the writing for the next book (working title The Girl in the Green Mac) has been going well. I’m just writing a scene where our heroine is sitting on the garden wall, gazing at the flowers, when along comes bad boy/hero Cliff . He watches her sitting there and he wants to say something sweet and soft so as not to interrupt her reverie. I wanted to use the words of a song that would be short hand for what he was feeling, that they would both understand. Dream Lover by Bobby Darin has the wrong vibe – he knows where she is. What a Day for a Daydream by the Lovin’ Spoonful is just too late – 1966. And then I remembered Dream Baby by Roy Orbison. She can make his dreams come true. Yes, it’s a rocking number. But hey, Carol likes to dance, so why not use it?

In this version, much of rock royalty appears.

 

The Saturday Girls

I am really pleased to be able to show you the new cover for The Saturday Girls. The book is about being a mod girl in Essex in the 60s and comes out on 23 August 2018. It’s great to have a new title and a new cover that I think really does do justice to the book! You can reserve a copy here. 

In those days, life began on Saturdays. On Saturday mornings I worked in the local milk bar – it was vital if I was going to pay for my ticket to the Corn Exchange in the evening. I was a mod in a suede coat and danced to the live music of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, the Animals and many more groups who played at the Corn Exchange every Saturday night. I was a Saturday girl in every sense of the word.

What a good time it was. So, I wrote a novel about it. I put in the music and the milk shakes and the magic of those days.

The first record that appears in the book is the one that could almost be called the mod anthem. Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Close your eyes and remember where you heard it first, a dance hall, a cellar cafe, a juke box in a coffee bar, a sound-proof booth in a record shop. Remember the excitement of hearing a song that no-one older than 25 liked.

While you’re waiting for the book to come out, stay in the groove by listening to that great organ sound, and maybe practise one or two mod dances, The Block or the mod Jive.

 

Essex Rock Groups

 

Yesterday I went to Braintree – a town in North Essex that I have never knowingly visited before. I went by train, passing through Witham, Cressing and White Notley. The train stops at Braintree and goes no further.

It is a small market town (population 45,000), set on the River Brain. In fact, my mum was a social work assistant here (one of the famous Braintree Five – my mum is on the far left).

I went to hear old friend John Power give a talk about Essex Rock Groups.The talk took place in the Braintree Museum, which was originally a junior school, built in the middle of the 19th Century.

John and I go back many years – we met first in Chelmsford and then later at Colchester Tec College where I was doing my A-levels (see my earlier post about the student newspaper, Outlook). John was doing art and went on to do a degree in Art and Psychology. He paints, but he also writes about Chelmsford and Essex history.

And yesterday he was talking about Essex Rock Bands.  The Graham Bond Organisation, the Fairies, the Small Faces (Ilford), the Kursaal Fliers, Dr Feelgood (Canvey Island), Blur (Colchester), Prodigy (Braintree’s own), to name just a few. What is interesting is how the members move from one group to another – Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were members of the Graham Bond Organisation. Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart all had a part to play in the Small Faces.

The talk ranged wide – from Suzi Quatro who lives in Chatham Green, through Ian Dury from Upminster, through to Eddie and the Hot Roads from Canvey Island and beyond. A good afternoon.

I wrote last year about the Saturday that my best friend Christine bought the record St James Infirmary, after listening to it in a booth in Daces, Chelmsford’s music shop. It’s still a great song.

You can read John’s book about the Essex bands here on the website Chelmsford Rocks. In the meantime, listen to Back in the Night by Dr Feelgood, who came from Canvey Island. Dr Feelgood, the first Thames Delta Blues Band.

Here they come, ‘The Saturday Girls’

Here is the News.

As you know, last year a new publisher, Bonnier Zaffre, bought Beyond the Beehive – my book about life in Chelmsford in the 60s – and after some additions and some editing, it was decided to rename the book ‘The Essex Girls’ and publish this April – next week in fact.

BUT

things have changed. The title of the book has changed (I think Essex Girls gave the wrong idea) and now it will be called The Saturday Girls and have a different cover and will come out in August.

I’m sorry for all this chopping and changing. I, for one, was getting very excited about the publication date – but I think the new title serves my Essex Girls better.