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Fleshing out the story of Britain's original youth cult,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Sharper Word: A Mod Anthology: A Mod Reader (Paperback)
About 20 years ago Eel Pie published Richard Barnes' "Mods!", an authoritative account of the lifestyle that flourished in the sixties. Rich with fine detail, it is difficult to underestimate the influence of his book (and the collection of photographs it contained) on many later twists and turns in the world of youth culture and fashion.
Despite Barnes' precision, however, the distant black and white photos that fill the pages of "Mods!" seemed to somehow confine the story to the past. Hard though you try, it is difficult not to view the mods' London in glorious monochrome.
With "The Sharper Word", a collection of some 30 essays from various sources, Paolo Hewitt now paints us a brighter, more vivid picture.
Whilst the collection contains a great deal of Richard Barnes' "insider accounts" of the original modernists, texts from many admiring and not-so-admiring observers compliment and help to frame the story in it's true social and economic context.
Nik Cohn perfectly describes the new sense of economic freedom and individuality that the teenagers of the early sixties experienced and the expression of this through clothing.
"The Noonday Underground" is Tom Wolfe's eye-witness account of the "lunchtime scene" at Tiles nightclub in Shaftesbury Avenue. It is a vivid snapshot of the clandestine world of the mod, barely inches below the surface of sixties London.
Elsewhwere, colourful accounts of the London Gay scene in the early sixties, an extract from a rare novel by Samuel Selvon describing London from the perspective of an early West Indian immigrant and a selection from Colin MacInnes' "Absolute Beginners" detailing the Soho jazz scene of the late fifties help to demonstrate the influence of these elements on the mod lifestyle.
In the midst of this careful unravelling of the mode code, an extract from "Heaven's Promise", Hewitt's own novel, shows how perfectly the lifestyle transposes to a more contemporary London.
"The Sharper Word" is flesh on the bone of the story of Britain's original youth cult. More than that, diving off Soho's streets and down into the clubs and dance halls of sixties London, it manages to convey the 'sense of now' of the first wave of mods.