Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Day I Was The Opening Act For Eric Burdon & The Animals

When I was presented with the possibility of being the opening act for Eric Burdon & The Animals, I had to pinch myself. The hard part was going to convince the venue and the management that a couple of DJs on stage could be as entertaining as a live band. Not an easy task.

Let's be honest, the abilities of a Mod DJ doesn't rely on his technical prowess. It has mainly to do with his record collection, his ability to read a crowd and one often overlooked factor, his attitude. That all sounds good but when you have 1200 people sitting in front of you, waiting, you better put on a show. And that's exactly what I promised the people in charge I was going to do.

DJs opening for bands on stage is something that I have only recently started seeing on a regular basis. When I attended a Vintage Trouble concert, a few months ago, DJ Tom Papa Ray was on stage warming up the crowd with his mix of Blues, Soul and RnB. My DJ partner, Ben Shulman, recently did a wonderful job opening for Ronnie Spector.

Speaking of my mate Ben, we decided to team up for this one. We like to feed off of each other. We devised this plan a while back where we play 3 tracks each. One will cue the record while the other introduces the track. While one is selecting the next track, the other one dances like a mad man all over the stage. You know, a Sam & Dave type of thing.

This time was no different. Except I was determined to get the grey haired masses that composed 90% of the audience look like they had a pulse. I was going wild: screaming, dancing, hand clapping and making myself look like an amphetamine fuelled 60s Mod on a Saturday night at the Flamingo Club. I have to admit, I enjoyed every minute of our hour and half set.

Now, there's this little matter about the one and only Eric Burdon I must address. Full disclosure, I reviewed his show on this very blog a few years ago. You can read all about it here. In more than 140 posts, I only made one negative review and that was the one. I have a simple philosophy. If you don't like it, don't write about it. I made one exception to date. Now I was ready to give the man a second chance. This time was going to be different. I was going to be backstage.

First of all, our set-up was right after the band's soundcheck. I was rather disappointed to find out that Mister Burdon didn't even show up for it. In fact, he wasn't even present for a single second of our act. I asked the technical team where we should exit when we were finished. He told us that we could go backstage, pack our stuff and leave. We would have to go in the audience to watch the show because M. Burdon had given specific instructions to close the stage to anybody but the band. Are these commun practices? It might be for certain big names. But what do I know, I'm just a Mod DJ. 

I might seem overly sensitive but I don't remember a single time when a band I went to see didn't thank the opening act. There's a first for everything I guess. But I still kept an open mind. The man did once sing with Otis Redding after all. He did play a part in the British Invasion. My parents slow danced to House of the Rising Sun for crying out loud!

Sorry, it didn't get any better. I'll bet you the most expensive record I played that night that he didn't even know the city he was in. He thanked Canada at what point. And if you know the slightest thing about living in Quebec, thanking Canada is not necessarily your best move. He also gave the crowd the finger towards the end. I believe he did that to a women in the front row that insisted on giving him gifts. 

Alright, let's put aside a few faux-pas. How about his performance? Let me sum it up in one word. Crap. I'm sorry. The poor man didn't hit all his notes. The only saving grace was the keyboard player. I was quite impressed with him.

On a more positive note, my wife, my good friend Daniel, his girlfriend and I didn't have to pay for tickets. One more thing, the staff and crew at l'Olympia were phenomenal. You guys can have me back anytime!

If you want to hear part of my set, I invite you to check out a special Parka Avenue mix, right here on Mixcloud.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Profiles Of the best 60s / Mod DJs in North America: Special Edition - Dig Deeper's Mr Robinson

It's not every day that you get to have a DJ of Michael Robinson's caliber at your weekly Mod Club night. Mr Robinson, as he is often referred to, is the type of disc jockey I one day aspire to be. So it was quite the honour to share the turntables with such a knowledgeable record collector. At one point during the evening, I asked him what his "other" job was. He answered: "I work in finance. But that's boring. Let's talk about music." We sure did.
Photo by Ben Shirai
Your name / DJ name:
Michael Robinson / Mr Robinson
Just hit my 25 year anniversary in NYC, originally from sunny London.
How would you describe your musical style?
Amphetasoul with a healthy mix of r’n’b and popcorn added for good measure. Have always tried to focus on all but unknown tracks. There’s plenty of great records that rightly are considered classics but those never quite floated the boat. I have always loved unearthing something new to the scene, often tends to incorporate some combination of a blazing Hammond solo, a garage band with a horn section, an unreleased acetate that blows your mind or an alternate version of a song you thought you knew.
What is your “go to” track? The one you will likely never get tired of spinning?
Ha! you know you really can’t ask this question and expect a coherent answer, close 2nd place would likely be a tie between Sonny and Mary Reed – Look Into My mind which has the most massive shimmering organ backing a killer Soul wailing vocal and the El Paso Drifters – Could This Be Love, storming impossibly great San Antonio Soul with a break to die for. But #1 will likely always be Tommy Dent – Soul Thing, from the opening drum roll and then the explosion of the music, it’s pound for pound the most incendiary piece of wax I have ever heard. The day we finally tracked him down and got to speak to him in person and tell him how much his recorded legacy meant to us was a moment I had dreamed of for years.
Regardless of price, name THE record that is missing from your collection.
Patrice Holloway – Love Walked In – it’s an unreleased Motown acetate with a song structure / chords similar to Yvonne Baker’s You Didn’t Say a Word, don’t know who owns this currently but I’ll find you!
Where can we see you spin on a regular basis? Tell us about the night or an event you would like to promote.
Dig Deeper – Brooklyn, together with Richard Lewis aka DJ Honky. For those who don’t know it’s not just a DJ night but more importantly at every show we put on a full live concert by an obscure Soul artist, very often one who hasn’t played NYC in literally decades. 
We just passed our 6 year anniversary so we have put close to 60 amazing singers on stage now. Every single one has been a “pinch me I’m dreaming” type night with countless songs having been sung live for the very first time since they were recorded. It’s been amazing. There are festivals that do this once a year or so, but no other Soul club puts nights on like these on such a regular basis. Mind you we always tell each other the same thing – if we knew how much work it is we’d never have started!
Your night is not a strict DJ night but also a platform to bring back Soul legends to the stage. Can you tell us of a few memorable moments?
The very first song in the very first ever rehearsal was Don Gardner singing Cheatin’ Kind. We just looked at each other and knew we were already hooked on doing this from right then. Actually the rehearsals are like our own private show, watching these singers unroll the years right in front of you and relive the exact time they recorded all of these songs is something special to be sharing with them that you can hardly articulate. There’s barely been a single show without at least one song being sung live for the first time ever and in some case that’s been true of almost the entire set.
It’s hard to pick out individual moments as there’s an endless list but special mention has to go to knowing Marva Whitney’s last ever show was for us and similarly to the memory of Lou Pride who’s also no longer with us but took the stage apart, hearing I’m Coming Home In The Morning from him was just epic.
I think a personal favorite story was how we started a show with Bobby Patterson. He’d brought along an unseen clip of him with the Mustangs doing Funky Broadway Ain’t Funky No More live on a local Texas TV show back in the 60’s. The venue had a big screen to the left of the stage so we aired it and the whole audience was watching it with Bobby and the band looking impossibly sharp in matching gold suits and putting on all the moves. Then the second the clip ended we hit the lights and there’s Bobby with the band on stage right in front of them instantly detonating into exactly that same song 45 years later with Bobby screaming his heart out and the band blazing. Peoples’ jaws just dropped. It was pure theatre.
Is vinyl the only acceptable format for playing your style of music?
1,000% yes. Only ever original 45’s with the minor caveat of collecting as many unreleased acetates as possible and get those copied onto 7” masters. As taking the only copy of a brittle 50 year old acetate out in a DJ box is likely going to end in tears eventually.
What is your favorite place to buy records?
Record fairs anywhere, love rolling my sleeves up. Allentown is a personal favorite but there’s plenty to choose from, have spent countless, countless days buried in places like Val Shiveley’s but also it’s hard to beat getting on a plane and heading to new places. Have had digging trips as far afield as Lima or Buenos Aires but near or far, the thrill is still there. After all, just spending a weekend in Montreal with you Pat, added an impossible local release to my box. So thank you for that!
 A trio of DJs: Patrick Foisy, Micheal Robinson & Ben Shulman admiring the Montreal skyline.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MODtreal 2014 - A Retrospective

I want to let you in on a little secret. I'm a selfish bastard. One of the reasons why I decided to throw myself in the perilous and time consuming adventure of organizing a Mod Weekender was so that I could have one to attend. In North America, they're not a dime a dozen. It was also an excuse to have some cool, like-minded friends of mine, from across the continent, come and pay me a visit in my own town.

The vastness of the American continent makes it so that it's not easy to go and attend every scooter rally or Mod friendly event you want. In Europe, if you so desire, you can be in Italy one weekend, the UK the following weekend and in Germany the next. My point is, for the first year of its existence, MODtreal didn't attract crowds comparable to an Isle Of Wight rally but the people that came were one hell of a dedicated bunch. And for that, I'm immensely grateful and feel extremely fortunate.

Friday August 29

It all started with a little VIP cocktail party at the Parka Avenue HQ. Members from the different bands, DJs and close friends came together for a Happy Hour before the festivities officially started. Some sangria and the tour of the new digs were on the menu. 

Note to self: Don't organize your first Weekender and move into a new place during the same month. My esteemed guests were the first to walk into the new loft devoid of packing boxes.

The stylish lads from RAF
Quitty and friends
A hearty meal at the our local English Pub, the Burgundy Lion, was all we needed for the long night ahead.

The opening dance party at Bar de Courcelle, with an all-Canadian line-up of DJs, had the well dressed attendees sweat up a storm. I was glad that our first three destinations for the night were all within walking distance.

The RAF gang arriving in style!
The place was packed, the dance floor active and the weekend was off to a great start.

DJ Parka Pat on the wheels of steel
No, it's not Daniel Craig calling M. Meet DJ Shado.

Mod Marty manning the decks
DJ Gaz about to hand over the reigns to Napoleon 67
RAF & Napoleon 67 looking smart like only Mods do.

Saturday August 30

While my mate Eric was off with a bunch of scooterists touring the city. I picked up the RAF gang at their hotel to drive them down to my mate Daniel's practice space. A little morning jam got all of us in the mood for the evening's show. Now, as a big fan of the band, I felt like the ultimate groupie. This was probably my favorite moment of the weekend. I got to sit back for an instant, relax and share an intimate moment with some of the classiest, most genuine bunch of musicians I've met in a while.

Yes, Mods can wear shorts too!

But this serene moment wasn't going to last because I had a vintage / record swap to host. While Daniel accompanied the band to their official sound check, I headed over to the Atomic Cafe. DJs and collectors found some bargains in the relaxed atmosphere of this space age inspired local cafe. It was also the perfect meeting place to exchange some of the previous night's gossip.

Vintage posters for sale
Marty setting the mood with Mod music.

After the record swap, I had just enough time to go back to the loft, listen to a few of the day's finds, take a shower, slip into a freshly pressed suit and prepare a few dirty martinis for my overnight guests.

Off to the Divan Orange we were for a great night of dancing with a solid crew of DJs and the long awaited international debut of RAF. Let me tell you, they did not disappoint. They are as tight on stage as any of their recordings.

Dan Melendez hard at work
DJ Karen Hartman - Photo by Jon Negri

Sunday August 31

Day 3 of the Weekender started with an event that was a Red, Hot & Blue and MODtreal collaboration.  A vintage car / motorcycle / scooter show was held at the one and only Jardin Tiki. 

The setting was just perfect. The cars were lined up outside and some live bands and DJs kept us entertained while we  tasted some of the more exotic cocktails the city has to offer.

Last but not least, our band extravaganza at the Atomic Cafe closed the Weekender with a bang. 

First off, local foursome Les Gentlemen not only looked good but they sounded great too! They masterfully played a mix of 60s Beat.

Next up, all the way from Brooklyn NY, Quitty and the Don'ts delivered big time with some 60s inspired garage. If you don't have the privilege to see them live, the next best thing would be to buy their recently released 45rpm. I had to walk around barefoot after their killer set because my socks were knocked off!

To close the first edition, we had Les Envahisseurs. You want to talk about raw energy on stage? Here you have it! They came a long way since I first introduced these French ex-pats to each other. They built up some confidence and it shows. Their cover of Go Go Gorilla at the end of their performance has already become a classic.

DJ Mod Marty and Parka Pat tied all those sets together and managed to keep the party going into the wee hours.

It might have been a year in the making and a lot of work but I would do it all again tomorrow. I want to personally thank each and everyone of you who made this 1st edition of MODtreal an undeniable success. You came from the far reaches of this continent, from as far as California, Oregon, Arizona and Manitoba. To all the DJs that made our feet move non-stop, I'm in your dept. To the bands RAF Mod BandQuitty and the Don'tsLes EnvahisseursLes Gentlemen, YOU ALL ROCK! To the venues Bar de CourcelleDivan OrangeAtomic Cafe, I am grateful beyond belief for you being so welcoming and professional. To my sponsors, We Are The ModsPunks In ParkasOn Target - It's What's In The Grooves That Count, you believed in me from the start and words can't express how proud I am to be associated with you. Thank you to Bianka Tscherne Photography and Red Devil Rocket Art for taking stunning photos. You made us look good! A "thumbs up" to my friend Randy for mentioning us on air on CHOM FM. To have your support means a lot to me.

A special thank you to Daniel Fiocco and my wife Nathalie Malartre, I could not have done it without you. I am happy, grateful and content. To all the patrons, YOU were ALL instrumental in making my little dream become a reality...