I first heard about Paul Hallam's photos of the early-80s mod scene while making the documentary series Street, Style & Sound. Ewen Spencer, the creator of the series and a many-time VICE interviewee, told me there was a guy who had obsessively documented the scene for a few years, and that he wanted to put a book of his photos out.
That book is now out. Called Odds & Sods, it's a vivid, primary account of a time in which revivalism meant so much more than it does now.
I caught up with Paul to talk about the book and his experiences in the scene. Seeing as he talks about a thousand words a minute, I decided not to interrupt him too much.
VICE: Hi Paul. How did you first get involved in documenting the scene in the early 80s?
Paul Hallam: In 1981 I went on an a ski trip and took an old Olympus Trip with me. I thought I took some pretty good pictures with it, so the next year, when I was 17, at the height of the mod scene, I started taking pictures again. There's a few from 82, but the bulk are 84. There's no pictures from 83 because I bought a proper camera and had no idea how to use it.
And now all those photos have made their way into a book. Why put that together now?
I'd put them all in tins, just for whenever people wanted to see them. But last year I started scanning them, putting them out on the ol' social media. Then Ewen [Spencer] turned up with a film crew and filmed me talking about them in my shed.
What was beautiful for me is that I publish books – pulp fiction books, like the old Richard Allen skinhead books. So it was lovely to have somebody else publish it. A guy called Greg Faye wrote the foreword, who was this young kid on the peripheries [of the scene]. There'a a few faces in it – there's Andy Farley, who was a massive house DJ, and Andy Drake, who trained the Olympic walking team, Jim Masters, who toured the world with Carl Cox.
Can you remember your first impression of the mod scene?
I was obsessed with it. I was too young for the mod scene in 79, plus I lived in Sunbury [in Surrey], which ain't exactly the centre of the world. End of 1980, I went to my first club, which was Feltham Football Club. It was a really scary experience. I went down with all the Ashford mods. I borrowed a Fred Perry. It was a scary time; all the old subways were full of skinheads. We were going to walk, but I bottled and got in a van. I remember it stinking of cheap aftershave. I went to this club, really excited – I was 15. This Asian kid in a boating blazer came up to me saying the same thing over and over again; I later realised he was on speed.
A year later, me and Ronnie the Mod Plumber – who's still my plumber – went to this mod club in Richmond called Cheeky Pete's. His real name is actually Ronnie Diamond – what a name. Then we started going up to Shepherd's Bush on the bus.
There was a book I was obsessed with, Mods, by Richard Barnes, who was an old mate of Pete Townsend's from art school. In 1979 he wrote this seminal book. A lot of the photographs are of the "hard mod" element, but the words were just amazing; I read the book over and over again. He talked about rare RnB, and I got into this music rather than the commercial northern soul all the clubs in west London were playing at the time.
So I went back to Feltham Football Club, where I'd been two-and-a-half years earlier, and I opened my own night playing rare RnB. Of course, nobody was fucking interested in it, and every night there'd be a fight there. I did it for about four months, which is a big thing to do at 17 – I wasn't even old enough to be there.
At the time this organisation called the Phoenix Society started, which was supposed to be the top mods, who would meet and discuss what should be done. So I got invited to come along to this meeting above a pub called The Griffin, which recently shut down. I'm in there telling them that I thought the music that was being played wasn't good enough – I thought they were gonna fucking hit me.
People started wearing smart clothes; people were travelling all over London to buy a pair of shoes. A guy called Mick Franti used to go to old shops round Whitechapel and Aldgate, and he'd go along and ask if they had any old stock, and of course he'd go upstairs and find boxes of old Levi's.
Yeah, dressing absolutely right quickly became an obsession for a lot of people, right?
There was a couple of guys from Cardiff who used to travel up [to London]. They maintained that they'd stand up all the way from Cardiff to Paddington because they didn't wanna get creases in their trousers.
Why did you end up falling out of love with the scene?
I did it 'til about 86, but then I had to grow up. I got engaged, discovered acid, discovered the Beastie Boys. Who wants to dance to John Lee Hooker if you can do all of that?
It's funny, I stopped doing the mod thing, but it was still in my heart. I'd go to acid house clubs and see a load of old mods, dressed down a bit. It's almost as if, for a while, the hard mods went towards football violence, the others did the revivalist thing and then we all met up at the end of ecstasy.
It's funny, I used to go down to Carnaby Street and park up my scooter, and somebody would've kicked it over. People hated mods then, but now everybody's a mod. Fucking Bradley Wiggins is a mod, the bloke off Gavin and Stacey's a mod. Everybody in Shoreditch is a mod with a beard.
Do you still consider yourself a mod, even in your middle age?
That whole clean living under difficult circumstances thing is true. When I get up in the mornings I've probably got a pair of old tracksuit bottoms on, and a Millwall shirt. But if I'm gonna get something from the car, or get something from the post office, I won't do it unless I've brushed my hair.
It's about having a bit of pride in everything you do, in the clothes you wear, the records you play. A friend of mine from Watford was a road digger, but he was always a road digger in a clean shirt.
Buy 'Odds & Sods' here.
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