Mods: Shaping a Generation

Day trip to Leicester to see the Mods: Shaping a Generation exhibition in the New Walk Museum. Some of you may know that once I lived in Leicester so it’s close to my heart. I wasn’t there in the 60s but I was a student and then taught there in the 70s so I was hoping for many nostalgic highlights.

                 

The exhibition was great. Fab exhibits – suede and leather coats to die for, sparkling Vespas and Lambrettas, wonderful music – Green Onions was playing as we walked in, followed by Harlem Shuffle.  Milling around with the other visitors was like being at a Corn Exchange reunion. Everyone talking, remembering their coffee bar and their dance hall, sharing stories.

One item was a silk headscarf (we all wore them) that had been soaked in perfume. The note beside the scarf said that in Leicester in the 60s girls wore Youth Dew – who knew? In Chelmsford it was always Avon.

           

I spoke to a woman who said she had always worn Youth Dew. We discussed the North South divide. But our experiences were so similar her husband asked me if he’d met me before in the Dungeon (answer no).

    

To the sound of Harlem Shuffle I stood looking at the scooters next to a man who was almost sighing with nostalgia. He had had a Lambretta 175 he said. He preferred Lambrettas to Vespas because he felt you could personalise the panel, and I talked about the advantage of a Vespa bubble. He had been at Art College and then gone on to Coventry. I did my A levels at a Tec College that was also an Art School. We discussed our life experience.

I saw this quote from an old mod – how alien it was when flower power hit the scene. I felt that too, when I got to Birmingham in 1968 – nowhere near enough ironing with hippies.

Then I noticed this article about mods and rockers.

Who knew we were considered so radical? ‘overdressed mannequins’ indeed! The chance would have been a fine thing. But really I was a mod because I wanted to listen to great music and wear the fashions of the day. And sit on the back of a good scooter. And have fun.

The New Walk museum is a lovely building. The exhibition is very well laid out, everything is clear, and there’s a lot of room to stand and gaze. Read what the Independent had to say about it.  A history to be proud of.

On top of the exhibition in New Walk, there was Richard III in the cathedral, and the market in the centre of town (a place I always loved) and a great meal in a very nice restaurant.

Get down there. The exhibition is free and it’s on till 30 June 2019, every day 11am – 4.30pm. It was a very good day and well worth the trip.

#generationmods  Leicester Museums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Girls from Greenway

The Girls from Greenway, the next book about mods in Chelmsford has just gone to the typesetters and it will be out on 19 September 2019! The book features all those iconic aspects of Sixties life – scooters,

the Orpheus, Wainwright’s Milk Bar, the Golden Fleece, the Bus Station,

 

plus a few more – Carnival Queens,

The Saracen’s Head,  the County Hotel, and Bonds Department Store.

All accompanied by the great sounds of Motown, Stax and Mark Shelley and the Deans.

There’s also a slight peppering of fashion and a few magazines, like Honey and Vogue.  And a new men’s boutique in town. Everything to look forward to! And here’s a synopsis

1960s Chelmsford

Angie Smith lives on the Greenway estate in Chelmsford, with her elder sister Doreen, their struggling mother and their drunk, violent father. Bored of her job, and of her dull, ordinary boyfriend Roger, Angie dreams of bigger and better things.

But then she meets boutique-owner Gene Battini, older, handsome, charming – and married. She is completely swept off her feet. Little does she know that Doreen too is falling for Gene, and that their affair will have disastrous consequences.

As things at home go from bad to worse, Angie and Doreen must struggle to fight for what they want.

Can the girls from Greenway ever achieve their dreams?

o o O o o

And in other news, The Saturday Girls is out on 1 May in large print!

What to do

It’s been a long time since my last post. I’ve been working on the next book – The Girls from Greenway. It’s out in September! It’s another novel about the Sixties – life in Swinging Chelmsford, mods, Motown, frothy coffee and Ben Sherman shirts. The editing process has been long, but it’s almost over. And now I have two weeks before the next stage begins.

So I decided to go mad and have a weekend in Paris. But then news began circulating about industrial action by French customs workers, talk of 5 hour queues at the Gare du Nord for trains back to London, and I began to wonder if I should risk it. So I found myself walking along the road humming What to Do by Buddy Holly. And I found I remembered all the words.

I loved Buddy Holly’s songs when I was at school, and would walk home in the afternoons, singing whatever song suited my mood. ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ ‘Oh Boy,’ ‘Raining in my Heart’ and ‘Rave On’ were all on my singing playlist. If there was homework that just wasn’t going to get done, if there was a good group due to appear at the Corn Exchange next Saturday, if the weather wasn’t too hot, I would swing my bag, hold on to my beret and sing out loud. I probably looked quite stupid in my navy-blue school uniform and my sensible lace-up shoes, but I was happy.

In the end I didn’t go to Paris – the advice from Eurostar was not to go unless my journey was absolutely necessary, and by the time I took the decision, there was talk of 6 and 7 hour queues. Well, ‘Maybe Baby’ I’ll go soon.

 

Listen here!

The best thing is going to happen. From 1 January 2019 it will be possible to listen to The Saturday Girls through your very own headphones. The Saturday Girls is now available as an audio book. It’s unabridged so it’s 11 hours long. But think of it – a long car journey, an overnight flight, taking down the Christmas decorations, all those tasks that you dread – all will be so much easier and, let’s face it, more enjoyable, if you can step back into the Sixties, the music, the milkshakes, the money (all in pounds, shillings and pence) with a dash of danger, dancing and delicious Angel cake. Or if you’re just sitting at home, by the fire, maybe sewing on a button, or changing a flat tyre, think of the pleasure of a listening to a good story as you work.

Order it from the library or – hey, splash out on your own copy!

It is of course, still available in paperback.

 

Hi-Heel Sneakers

COMING UP!

Thursday 13 December 10.45am – Hi-Heel Sneakers – Morals, Motown and Milkshakes in the early 60s

As part of the Crouch End U3A series of monthly meetings I’ll be talking about the music, coffee bars, and fashion of the Sixties, and how young working-class people made their way in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. It’s the Christmas meeting so there will be mince pies and tea and coffee. There will be one or two cracker jokes from the 60s and a load of really good pictures. I’m doing a power point and I’ll do some readings from The Saturday Girls and A Sense of Occasion, and maybe even the new book! working title currently The Greenway Girls.

Union Church and Community Hall, Weston Park, N8 9TA  –  doors open 10am

o o O o o

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.

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!