Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Friday, December 31, 2010

Baracuta, a Mod favorite

Baracuta has long been known for making the best Harrington jacket on the market. It's hard to argue with the ones who are credited with creating the first-ever Harrington in 1937. The G9 has been imitated the world over but never surpassed. With a long tradition of "Made in England" quality jackets, it's not surprising that Mods have adopted the look since the sixties. After the M-51 US fishtail parka, the Baracuta Harrington is not far behind in the list of must-have outerwear in the Mod closet.
But how many of you are familiar with the other "top of the line" products Baracuta has to offer? I have to admit that, before a few weeks ago, I never paid close attention to their clothing line. First, let's be honest, Baracuta products don't come cheap, in every sense of the word. For instance, expect to pay around £150 for your traditional Harrington jacket.

That was until I discovered their "deal of the day" promotion. I noticed one of their tweets on Twitter promoting it and decided to click on the link. I was directed to their website ( ) and this jaw dropping sale section. We are talking serious discounts here folks!

For us quality and budget minded Mods out there, these types of promotions are well worth seeking out. I first selected this navy Baracuta shawl collar knitted cardigan. It's the perfect option for those cold Canadian winters. Wear it with a clean shirt and slim tie and instantly achieve the unmistakable Mod look.  It will also pair up perfectly with a checkered button down Ben Sherman shirt, a pair of dark blue Levi's and your classic suede Clarks desert boots for a more casual look.

Next came the Baracuta cyan blue, striped 4-button polo shirt. The stripes and light blue color gives it a definite sixties vintage feel. I also like the fact that it has 4 buttons. Am I the only one who thinks that we need more polos with more than 2 buttons?

Now for the "No-way-I-don't-believe-you-why-are-you-lying-to-me-you've-gotta-be-kidding-me-get-out-of-here-stop-pulling-my-chain" moment. I got both of these wonderful garments for £16 each. You read right. Now, usually when you find these types of deals, they will only have a very limited stock, in some unusual sizes. Not in this case! I wear a large and all I needed to do is let my finger do the clicking.

So the moral of this story is that those Mod friendly brands we all love are sometimes within our wallet's reach. And for those of you, who are not convinced that Twitter has things to offer, think again. Aside from this great deal, I also got a free, yearlong subscription to the Lambretta Club USA a few months back.

To follow Baracuta on Twitter, simply search for BaracutaG9com or to follow yours truly, type in ParkaAvenue.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Mod Christmas

With the holidays upon us, I thought it would be fitting to present to you a couple of Mod friendly Christmas albums that will surely put you in a groovy festive mood. First up is a rare Christmas Garage compilation I recently discovered. Three obscure 60s garage bands from Quebec are featured on the album Noël Dans Le Vent. Les Loups, Les Intimes and Les Chantels sing the joys of Christmas in French. But the best part about this album is that all the songs are original. They might not be the best musicians you ever heard but at least you don't have to listen to another bad version of Rudolf The Rednosed Reindeer for the millionth time.

Most of the tracks are pretty slow so it might not be the first record you drop to get that holiday family gathering rockin'. It's more of a soundtrack for a quiet evening spent with your lucky lady lounging in front of the rolling log of a fake 70s kitsch fireplace.

Do NOT try this at home! Leaving you rare vinyls in front of the fireplace will result in a few choice expletives.

My favorite tune has to be Noël Étrange (Strange Christmas) by The Chantels. Clearly the most talented group of the bunch, the song recounts the struggles and perils of shopping at the last minute on the eve of Christmas. It's one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and a little garage gem through and through.

An honorable mention should be given to Les Intimes and the track Nous Allons Nous Amuser. There attempt at having horns in the song is almost laughable but it will go perfectly with those jelly cranberries in the form of a tin can.

Second is the 1968 release of Soul Christmas on Atco records. With familiar Soul greats like Booker T. & The MG's, Otis Redding, King Curtis, Clarence Carter, Carla Thomas, Solomon Burke and William Bell, it's hard to go wrong. This one is sure to please the whole family and have Aunt Gigi dance along in the living room.

A few Holiday classics have been given the soul treatment like The Christmas Song by King Curtis, White Christmas by Otis Redding and Jingle Bells by Booker T. & The MG's. Even if Otis Redding is one of my favorite performers, nobody will ever surpass Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas.

So it should be no surprise if I say that my favorite tracks are original songs. At the top of the list is Back Door Santa by Clarence Carter. With a very familiar intro, it's the perfect mix between a true soul floor filler and a holiday classic.

I will take this opportunity to wish all the faithful readers of this blog a heartfelt Happy Holidays. I hope the jolly fat guy in the red tonic suit left you some nice scooter goodies, a few rare vinyls and a couple pieces of cool clothing.

May your days be Mod and bright, and may all your Christmases be white...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Parka Avenue talks to Fraser Loveman, frontman of the 60s group The Modbeats

When you think of Mod music from the sixties that came out of Canada, The Modbeats are THE reference. They came out of the unlikely small city of St. Catharines, Ontario in the Niagara region. That didn't stop them from making a lasting impact on the thriving North American garage and psychedelic scene of that era.
Rare photo of The Modbeats given to Fraser Loveman by Ian Sinclair
Fraser Loveman, lead singer for The Modbeats, was not only in the midst of it all but also helped shape the landscape. He was there! This guy has seen it all! And he has a record collection of around 50 000 records to prove it!
Fraser Loveman in his stunning white suit bought on Carnaby Street
The Modbeats LP came out in '67. On the cover, it boldly states "Mod is... The British Modbeats". So it was only natural that I would ask him what he viewed as Mod. He didn't start by reciting the usual "smart clothes, Italian scooter, Motown" rhetoric we usually reserve for people that are not part of the in-crowd. Instead, he gave a nuanced and insightful way of looking at things. "All of the music that the Mods attached themselves to was already here in North America. In England, they liked American music and here we liked British stuff. Today, people are living out what they think it was rather than what it was. The Modbeats during the sixties went way past the traditional Mod ethic and we expanded our look and sound."

I have to admit that I never looked at it that way before and it does make sense. I think we sometimes idealize the way things were and the way things are somewhere else. It's true that in the sixties, North Americans were all about the British Invasion and at the same time, the English had a romanticized version of the American Soul scene. According to Fraser, Mod means "cutting edge, new and modern". It's hard to argue with that logic. His father, James Loveman, was The Modbeats manager. He certainly was a big influence on the band and had a reputation for being one of the few honest managers around. “Make a splash. Be flamboyant. Be different. Don’t fit in.” was the family motto.
Joe Colonna, Greig Foster with James Loveman in the back
As for the "British" that was added in front of their name on the album, that was purely a record company stunt, trying to cash in on the British Invasion wave. In fact, Red Leaf Records had them record the entire album in less then 2 days. This explains in part why there's no original material on the album. Even if Fraser had a bunch of songs under his funky belt, they were rushed into production and they never got the opportunity to have a few original tracks immortalized. He has a clear memory of the photo shoot for the album cover: "The cover shot was taken behind Beattie's stationary on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines. The funny thing is we usually went barefoot but it was so cold that we did agree to boots. Unfortunately, our pants looked way too short!"

Even if they never had a chance to record their own material, they had quite a reputation for being a band to see live. A 1967 Billboard article states: "The live performance was much louder than they sound on disk" and "[...] they are a highly professional outfit."
Greig Foster in his fabulous suit from Carnaby Street
Rob Jeffrey
 A lot of those wild shows were done in a club named The Castle in St. Catherines. "This place was better than anything they had in England or the U.S. A man named Ron Metcalfe ran it. Two stages, two dance floors, a snack bar, a coffee club where folk singers played and the greatest kids any band could hope to play for. It held over a thousand people and was usually packed Fridays and Saturdays.” recalls Fraser. A lot of well-known acts made the trip across the border to play The Castle. Mod favorites like The Marvelettes were amongst them.

The Modbeats at The Castle in 1966
The Modbeats playing The Castle in 1966
The Modbeats also shared the stage with a few sixties greats like The Barbarians, JB & The Playboys, The Byrds, The McCoys, The Four Tops and The Rascals.

Image artists roster circa 1966
The good news in all of this is that The Modbeats have been known to still do concerts in the Niagara region every once in while. So I still have hope that I will one day see them live.

If you want to stay up to date with all The Modbeats activities, make sure to visit their Facebook page and their website.

The Modbeats Facebook page

The Modbeats in 1965
The Modbeats in 1966

To hear one of my favorite tracks from the LP, check out the link below and enjoy.

Somebody Help Me - The Modbeats

I want to thank Fraser Loveman for his generosity, kindness and for providing all the great photos seen in this post.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A few Mod rarities

I thought for a long time that it was impossible to find good stuff at a reasonable price at record conventions. I'm slowly changing my mind. The thing is, I love the feeling of finding a rare 45 at a garage sale and paying 1$ for it. But how often does that really happen? And if you are lucky enough to find that obscure garage LP you've never heard of before, it's usually in poor condition.

Record conventions do the sorting out for you so you are usually left with la crème de la crème. The adage "somebody's trash is somebody else's treasure" sometimes also applies. You might put your hands on a valuable early ska Studio 1, Prince Buster or Coxsone single just because the majority of the collectors around you are only interested on Japanese Kiss releases.

I did find a few rare oddities at the last two record conventions I attended. The Pop Montreal record fair was held during the festival of the same name. Aside from a few more "common" albums like The Bar-Kays - Soul Finger, Valerie Simpson's Exposed, Al Green's Gets Next to You, I was very happy to put my hands on decent copies of two of the more influential sixties Quebec garage band Les Sinners and Les Lutins. I sometimes see them priced at up to 150$ each in record shops. So you can imagine my surprise when I only paid 20$ for both of them. It goes to show you that there are deals to be made at record conventions.

On the 7" front, 5$ was well worth the price I paid for this 4 track  2004 release from French Mod band  Les Dragueurs . The attractive record sleeve and white vinyl record was enough to convince me to buy it.

A few weeks later the Record and CD Convention of Montreal was held once more. I always wondered if it was worth paying a few extra dollars to walk in an hour before everybody else. My friend Michel, a veteran record collector and music aficionado, suggested I should do so. The seasoned crate digger was already head first in a box when I arrived.

I joined him as he was going through rows of early Quebec artists 45s hoping to come across some very desirable obscure sixties garage groups. He was flanked by another knowledgeable collector/blogger, Félix B. Desfossés aka DJ Pâté who was looking for the same thing.

As I was patiently waiting for my turn, I decided to go through the rows of English speaking artists. That's when I stumbled upon a single by The Beau-Marks. They were one of the rare groups from Montreal that had an international hit in the early sixties with Clap your hands. The song was recorded in a basement studio only a few blocks away from my place. The single, not particularly rare since it was a big hit, was 5$. There was one thing about the record that I hadn't noticed before Félix graciously pointed it out after he made sure I was going to buy it. All the members of the group had signed it! Not bad for a few bucks!

I should say that Félix is THE reference on Quebec garage rock on the web. You should check out his blog Vente de Garage. It's extremely well researched and even if it's entirely in French, there are tons of clips to listen too.

Another 45rpm that would certainly qualify as a rarity is the mint copy of Mod Socks by the Cleveland, Ohio group The Grasshoppers. The bass player and vocalist for the band, Benjamin Orr, later became one of the key members of the successful group The Cars.

But the major score for the day was not one, but two copies of the only LP released by the Canadian group The British Modbeats. Caught in the British Invasion wave that was sweaping the nation at the time , the band was actually from the small town of St. Catharines, Ontario. The Modbeats released an album in 1966 on Red Leaf Records. I don't think you can get any more obscure than that!

Why 2 copies, you might ask? One of the records is a bit rough with a few scatches but the cover is quite nice and it was signed by all of the band members on June 28th 1967. Plus it came with a couple of newpaper clippings about the band. The other album simply plays great.

The album cover is a thing of beauty. Even if they look more psychedelic, with their bell-bottoms and paisley shirts, than proper mods, I did see an early photo of them wearing suits. The music itself is actually quite good. The downside is that they only recorded covers. The good news is that more then 40 years after they seperated, they are apparently back together! And this time around, they're performing original material. I really hope I get a chance to see them live one day.

You can get more information about The Modbeats through their website.

They even have a Facebook fan page!!/pages/The-Modbeats/130175844559

If you have scored an unsual Mod record lately, let us know in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A little Northern Soul for the Mod on the run: Part II

When I first started buying music, you couldn't do it by simply clicking on your computer mouse. You actually had to walk into a record shop. The first LP I ever bought with my allowance was a Kiss album. (How things have changed!)  I was in 4th grade and I bought it in a small shopping mall, two blocks from my house. Every few weeks, my best friend Francis and I would pool our money together and buy a new album.

But it was in high school that I bought my first portable music player. After a few months of delivering newspapers, seven days a week, at 5:30 in the morning, I got enough cash to buy myself a brand new Sony Walkman. Yes, total freedom! Long live the cassette tape!

If you think about it, it was quite revolutionary. You could listen to your choice of music, anywhere you wanted. I remember when I first put the headphones on. It felt like I had the band right in front of me. Aside from the headphones, that you would have to replace every few months, the sound quality was remarkable.

I was independent. I could listen to MY music and nobody could tell me to turn it down. Since "nostalgia" is my middle name, I recently tracked down my faithful silver Walkman WM-4 on eBay and bought it again. I just learnt that Sony has finally discontinued the Walkman after 30 years in production. I didn't even know that they still sold them! You can read an online article about it here:

The mighty cassette was equally a very cool thing. You could make copies of your favorite albums and pass it along to your friends. That is how I discovered The Who, The Specials and Bob Marley. My friend Greg had made me copies of those albums.

Since I reignited my love for vinyl, I've been looking around for funky portable turntables. (See part 1) The latest addition to the collection is the Sound Burger. Made by Audio-Technica, it came out around the same time as the Walkman but it was, compared to the portable cassette player, a commercial flop. Who would want to deal with cumbersome LPs and a needle skipping when you could simply walk around with a bunch of cassettes?

This record player might not be an audiophile's first choice because of its average sound quality but it makes up in the practical department. I have since brought it with me at a few record conventions, flea markets and record shops. It has practically paid for itself by preventing me from buying a bunch of crappy records. On the flip side, it has allowed me to discover unknown artists that I would have normally glanced over without a second thought. Plus, it hits 10 on the cool scale. Just the name itself is enough to evoke a reaction or conjure up a smile.

Expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a mint example in its original box. Mine came without headphones but it did have the seldom-missing white screw at the back. The screw prevents the clamp from opening when it’s not in use. If you put your hands on one with the screw, make sure you take it off before you use it or you risk breaking the turntable. I have heard of it happening. The record player also comes in vibrant colors like yellow or red, reminiscent of the 80's.

With vinyl records making a comeback full force, Crosley came out with their modern version. It has the advantage of having a USB connection so you are able to transfer your precious vinyl collection to your computer, a wireless radio connection and integrated stereo speakers. Currently retailed at 149$, it's quite a steal.

For more info, check out the Crosley website here:

The Crosley Revolution

I bought a pair of inexpensive speakers for the Sound Burger that plugs in the headphone jack and it has proven to be very popular at parties or on my rooftop terrace. All you need is a good selection of northern soul, garage, ska and a stable surface.

The Sound Burger remains the perfect companion for the Mod on the run...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Slackers, still going strong...

You can tell that this great act from New York has been crafting it's art for a while now. The Slackers offer a mixture of sounds that any Mod craves: ska, rocksteady, RnB, soul, reggae and good old rock. They are polished, confident and they know how to whip up a crowd into a frenzy. One thing they are not, slackers! Over the years, they have built up quite a following here in Montreal. They even took requests during their encore and they looked overwhelmed by all the different choices the crowd threw at them.

The band members seemed grateful and certainly gave their all. In fact, they were so exhausted by the end of the show that a little rest was in order. Well, not quite... But I'm sure you get the picture.

I have to acknowledge the incredible performance of the saxophonist, David Hillyard. His solos are out of this world! He's a true professional that has a certain raw edge. Although the organ player, Vic Ruggerio, sings most of the repertoire and has a very solid voice, I was most impressed with the smooth, cool, soulful, crooner type voice of the trombone player, Glen Pine.

Rare are the bands that can still innovate and have a current sound, all the while having a firm grasp of the past. The Slackers is such a band.

Check out what I mean here:

The Slackers live in Montreal

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Having a bespoke Mod suit made: Part II

Only 42 days after meeting with Mr. Sethinamvong from Bangkok's Prince Henry Tailors, I received my suit via UPS. Just like with the previous suits I ordered from them, I'm gleaming with anticipation. I feel like a 10 year old at Christmas. The timing is perfect because I will get to wear it for the first time at the Slackers show. A 4-button hand made Mod suit is exactly what I need to go see this great New York ska band.

What makes a Mod suit stand out? It's attention to detail. In fact, it's all in the details. The fabric is  black lightweight wool with a thin grey stripe. It's perfect for dancing the night away. Two 5-inch vents compliment the back. The single breasted 4-button jacket is slightly shorter then the previous one I had made to give it a more distinctive English look. I had the buttons covered to add a touch more flair. The sleeves have 5 buttons but I didn't think of mentioning to my tailor that I wanted them to be functional. Shame on me! I won't make that mistake twice!

I asked that my lapels be 2 inches wide. That way I can be hired as an extra on the set of Mad Men at a minute's notice.

The pocket flaps are 2 inches wide and slightly slanted. The extra ticket pocket makes a true Mod statement. And this one is functional! I saw a decent looking Ben Sherman houndstooth jacket on sale this weekend and I was disappointed to see that the ticket pocket was in fact just a flap.

The pants have the traditional frogmouth pocket and front crease. I made sure that the pants were tapered with a 7 inch opening at the bottom.

I will most likely wear the suit with a white Oxford button-down shirt and a plain colored tie. I will certainly not wear a tie with an intricate pattern that will contrast with the pin stripe. As for the shoes, a nice pair of winkle pickers, chelsea boots or brogues will complete the look. I will most likely end up with my trusty black suede Clarks desert boots.

You want to find out more about the distinctive Mod suit? I urge you to have a look at this very interesting clip by the BBC.

The mod suit - British Style Genius

To find out when Prince Henry Tailors will visit your city next or to place an order directly from the internet, make sure to hop over to their website.

To all my Montreal Mod and Skinhead friends, they will visit our fair city on November 30th (12:30 pm onwards). They will greet us at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Montreal, 208 Saint Antoine West. Let me know if you intend to go and we can meet-up. I have a few shirts I would like custom made.

Now go on and suit up!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Mod Daily Rider - 1959 Vespa VNB

I acquired this beauty 2 years ago after a 13-year gap without a scooter. My last chariot was a yellow Lambretta GP200. I had bought it in 1997 for my 15-day trek across the continent. A bunch of mechanical problems and the fact that a scooter mate had ended up in the hospital after being run over by a car while riding his Lambretta LI150, pushed me to hang up my helmet for a while.
In 2003, I took a sabbatical from teaching and embarked in a backpacking trip across Asia and Australia. While I was in Thailand and Vietnam, I noticed a significant amount of those vintage Italian marvels roaming around. In Bangkok, I was surprised to see that there was a thriving scooter scene with its own café and rallies. 

In Vietnam, I came across a young man that was selling a restored Vespa and Lambretta. I remember explaining to him how unfortunate it was that he had repainted an original Silver Special. It was now two-tone, white and blue. Sacrilege! I had no idea, back in 2003, that those scooters, restored with questionable parts and unqualified mechanics, were deathtraps on wheels.

T-shirt bought in Bangkok. See anything unusual?
That trip did trigger, once again, my lust for those 2-stroke pieces of rolling art. The scooter bug had struck again! I had been searching the Internet, far and wide, in order to find that perfect Mod accessory. I ended up buying my first Vespa from a neighbor living a block away!

He had done a superb job of redoing the whole engine by putting in a very responsive 180cc DR kit and coverting it to a 12V system. The best part was that he sold it to me with most of the original sixties accessories you see here.

Original Falbo horncast cover
Original Stadium Mirror
Piaggio grips
Vigano legshield trim
Vigano crashbar

Ardor cowl embelishers

It's been my daily rider ever since. It may not be the showroom quality, trophy winning Vespa some of you have but I'm very happy with it. Let's just say that it's a work in progress. Some evidence suggests that the scooter used to be a seafoam green. The local scooter shop has brought to my attention the fact that it might not be a '59 but of a later year. The papers show that it has always been registered as a 1959. The former owner also explained to me that it was previously used by the Shriners organization in parades.
Now, it's my turn to parade around town…