Mod Ghosts a first book by new author Andy Morling who grew up in a working class family in the Suffolk market town of Ipswich.
This book resonated with me in so many ways, it is a detailed account from many people who grew up in urban Britain featuring first hand accounts from the people who influenced a Mod Revival together with period and present day photographs. The book explains each individuals account on discovering how mod changed there outlook on life, How it shaped their existence and identity. Showing how it lead them from young teenagers into adulthood. Each persons interpretation of mod is different and it means something different to many who attach themselves to the phenomenon. Each persons account is different but it doesn’t mean its not mod. The book also highlights the places these people grew up in and how modern Britian has changed somewhat forty years on. The thing most interesting thing about the book is how the subculture affected people in many different ways and the different experiences each individual had growing up in the respective hometowns across the UK.
As mod continues to evolve and many young people discover the scene today each person brings their own adaptation. Despite the book being called “Mod Ghosts” the subculture has stood the test of time were others have faded.
I highly recommend this book and its definitely something you need as part of your collection. This book is everything I want to say about mod but don’t have the intelligence, intellect, and vocabulary to explain.
I wanted to find out more about the man behind the concept and was excited, honoured and privileged to interview him.
What is the main concept of the book?
Mod Ghosts is the first product from The Mod Project which I began in 2016. The thinking behind the broader project is to offer a series of slightly different perspectives on the Mod experience. My ambition is to follow up the book with further multimedia sub-projects hopefully including film and the visual arts.
To answer your specific question, the idea behind Mod Ghosts was threefold. Firstly my aim was to identify and contrast iconic photos of original and revival Mods with shots taken at precisely the same location in the present day. I’ve always been very attracted to these ‘then and now’ type image comparisons and, as a lifelong Mod, this was a natural choice in terms of subject matter.
I’ve been doing this on Twitter for a few years now and, in time honoured fashion, the positive reaction led me to consider publishing a book. As a child of the sixties, my thinking was that books are somehow more permanent than social media. I’m not sure that’s actually true but either way, I really wanted the memory of these places and these people to endure.
In addition to the photographic comparisons in the book, I was also lucky enough to secure first hand accounts from revival Mods by way of interview. Each story was unique and fascinating and I hope this adds context and a human dimension to the atmosphere created by the photos. In simple terms, I wanted to illustrate how both the urban settings and the people depicted in the photos have changed over the last four decades.
The third and final element of the book is my own commentary on the Mod phenomenon. Quite apart from the external, visible signals of Mod observance, for me, Mod has been a powerful internal driving force. A philosophy. Astute readers of the book will no doubt notice references and quotes from the great Stoic philosophers from ancient history. I’ve long believed that Stoicism captures the very essence of Mod. I would hazard a guess that this is the first time this school of thought has featured in a book about Mod! As a friend of mine said in jest recently, the Romans were the first Mods.
I also wanted the book to capture some of the lasting emotional impact of the subculture on me as a person. Sounds a bit introspective and indulgent, I know, but I hope at least some of that resonates with many others. I’m also an opinionated old sod so I had one or two controversial views that I simply had to surface!
This book highlights how mod changed the life of those who followed it. Why was it important to tell their story?
I’m under no illusion that Mod Ghosts isn’t the first book to tell the story of those who were there during the Mod revival. In fact, its not even the first this year. With the very greatest respect to those featured in the book, what I wanted to do with Mod Ghosts was to focus on the lives of the subculture’s more ordinary participants from across the country.
By the start of the 80s, every village, every town and every city supported a population of Mods. These folk made the movement the culture tour de force it was to become. These were the last generation truly to have experienced youth subculture in its purest sense so their experiences need to be recorded. They are also good people whose lives have been shaped to some extent by their experiences forty summers ago.
Forging an identity from the assimilation of musical, stylistic and other cultural cues in early adolescence was standard fare for those of us born in the sixties. I think sometimes we fail to appreciate what an unusual trajectory this is for our 21st century counterparts. For that reason alone, I think these are stories worth telling.
The book covers accounts from various people throughout the UK. I imagine this meant a lot of travelling. What was that like and did this become challenging?
Fortunately I was able to carry out interviews by correspondence so travel wasn’t an issue in that regard. Where I racked up the miles was in identifying the locations for the period photos and then taking the present day shot. There were one or two Homer Simpson moments when I arrived home after a day on the road only to find that i hadn’t quite captured the correct angle or, in one notable case, I’d taken a fantastic photo of the wrong house. I’m indebted to John Gale for saving me from having to make a third long trip to Hastings in as many months for a few shots I’d totally messed up twice previously.
Why was it important for you to tell the story of the people but also the places in which they grew up, discovered the subculture and attached themselves to it?
I think we are all the product of the place of our birth and upbringing. The history and culture of these places imprints itself on our personality, attitudes and beliefs more than we recognise. Location leaves a trace on our DNA. I like to think of it as the human equivalent of terroir in wine production.
So in the book I wanted to contextualise the lives of these young Mods by telling a small part of the history of the geographical backdrop of their young lives. I’m particularly fascinated by the spiritual artefacts that attach themselves to certain places. Tens of thousands of special moments lived by tens of thousands of ordinary people leave a palpable feeling in a single place over the course of history. Hard to explain satisfactorily but I find it mind boggling. I particularly enjoyed researching the historical origins of the legendary Phoenix in London’s West End. I don’t think I’ll ever walk past the pub again without thinking of its near and very distant past.
A lot of books highlight how the mod scene grew in London. Did you purposely choose how the mod scene affected many of those beyond a particular place?
As our political and cultural capital it was impossible to ignore London when writing about Mod. I take my hat off to the influential London based figures that gave the rest of us this wonderful thing and those that have written so eloquently about them.
But yes, it was a conscious decision also to focus on the small town Mod experience. I lived my Mod life in nondescript town in Suffolk with fewer than 100 others of a similar persuasion for company. The passion and commitment we provincial peacocks had to Mod’s core principles was in no way diminished as a consequence. I was never a face by any measure, not even in my home territory of central east Ipswich, but I certainly gave it all I had. I think the same can be said for those whose story I had he privilege to tell.
The book demonstrates how the urban landscape has changed over many years. Why was this an important factor to depict through photography showing the places then & now?
As I said earlier, I’ve always enjoyed comparing ‘then and now’ images. The urban environment has changed dramatically in the last forty years, particularly with the slow collapse of high street retail, the decline in the pub trade and the cultural vandalism of the working class home. I wanted to say something about this pictorially. Few of the present day photographs illustrate an improved landscape so I also wanted to stimulate conversations between the generations about why this might be. I don’t have the answers but I hope my book will at least pose the questions.
Why do you think mod means so much to many different people and why it has stood the test of time from a small group of young teenagers in the 60’s to become a worldwide phenomenon?
That’s a tough question. In the blurb to the book I say that it is the capacity of Mod to change with people that ensures its continuing relevance today. What I mean by that is that Mod remains accessible, even in middle-age, in a way that no other subculture can manage. I enjoy the knowing glance of recognition when my eyes meet those of a fellow Mod on a crowded underground train in London, for example. The signals are generally subtle but we both know instantly. I love that about Mod. It’s not about parkas or patches but about heavily nuanced influences and vanishingly small stylistic cues.
I talk at length in the book about the way in which Mod provided a robust platform from which to launch into adult life. From my own perspective, I believe my life would have been very, very different had I not discovered Mod. I think this is the same for many of my peers. The continuing value of a comparatively sophisticated appreciation of music and clothing and a broader sense of style should not be underestimated.
The book has already had many great reviews in a few short weeks of being published. What has people response to the book been like?
Truly humbling. I’ve been genuinely staggered by the enthusiasm with which the book has been received and the kindness of the comments made about it. As a first time author rather than an established name in Mod literature, an investment in my book was always going to be a leap into the dark financially. I’m extremely grateful to those who are open-minded enough to make that leap and I hope the content of the book repays their faith. My aim all along was to offer something a bit different and something that is beautiful to look at and own. I’ll be more than happy if I’ve managed to achieve those things alone.
Can we expect any further books, projects or anything else in the future?
Oh yes. I’m already planning Mod Ghosts 2 and as I mentioned at the start of the interview, I hope to take the concept into other areas such as film, television, photography and maybe even poetry and fine art. Watch this space.
Despite a healthy catalogue of Mod related books in recent years, I still believe there is more to be said about this thing of ours. I’m less interested in showcasing the razzmatazz of Mod culture and the bigger ticket aspects of the scene. For me it’s all about the ephemera and those beautifully elusive, almost indefinable subtleties that give Mod it’s unique meaning.
Is there anything else you feel you’d like to highlight about the book?
It would unforgivable if I didn’t thank the wonderful people that allowed me to tell their stories in words and pictures. To John and Ed Silvester, John Gale, Dave Ratcliffe, Billy Drinkwater, John Nicholson and Del Shepherd, I thank you all. True gentlemen each one. Many more contributed original photographs for which I’m eternally grateful.
I also really appreciate the opportunity to have this interview and I wish you continuing success with Mods Of Your Generation.
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