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This was the MODern World

On a warm Wednesday night in November 1981, the Aurora Hotel on Pirie Street played host to a gig featuring The Vents, The Bonython Parkas, and The Urban Guerillas. There were 20-odd scooters parked out front, each one showing that it held a special place in its owner's life. Bedecked with chrome and mirrors, they also sported personalised paintwork and other unique details. They were predominantly Vespas, but there were enough Lambrettas to create a contrast.

Inside the hotel, a large number of people danced, drank and smoked the night away. The Lounge Bar was noisy and dark as the bands livened up the crowd. The clothes the people wore told the casual onlooker a little about themselves. Desert boots, Shelley's Jam Shoes, button-down shirts, braces, Harrington jackets, suits, Doc Martens, and parkas (yes, even indoors). These were Adelaide's mods, doing what they did most weeks.

From late-1981 through to mid-1983, Adelaide experienced the peak of something that vaguely resembled a mod 'movement', but seeds were being sown as early as two years before that ('senior' readers may choose to recall Adelaide in the late 1960's). In 1979, there were plenty of people who didn't particularly get into punk rock, yet didn't like the 'dinosaur' and 'corporate rock' bands of the early-mid seventies either. Something new was needed. 

Tony, Evelyn and Dave outside The Aurora

Fans of 'new music' had been importing singles from England, and discerning local kids were getting into The Jam, and other 'not-mod-but-close-enough' bands like Magazine, XTC, and Dexy's Midnight Runners. And of course, the ska revival didn't completely pass Adelaide by. There was a freshness about it that drew people in.

In these days of instant access to all manner of worldly things (via cable TV and the Internet), it is hard to imagine just how difficult it was in the early 1980s to get hold of records, tapes, clothes and current news from the UK. I have personal recollections of listening to 'DJ Roundtable' on the BBC World Service via short wave radio. I ordered singles (unheard) through Melody Maker and NME that would arrive months later, if at all. I trusted people with my 'hard-earned' as they trekked to Sydney to find me a proper fishtail parka. There were about six Fred Perry casual shirts in the whole of the state. Quite different to today's challenge of sifting through phenomenal amounts of garbage until you find what you really want.

There was (still is) a reasonably healthy alternative music scene, and Adelaide's first 'new' mod band was The Jump. An energetic trio, The Jump played a series of exciting gigs in 1980, and in true 'My Generation' fashion, had split by the end of that year. Although their existence was brief, they are remembered as one of the foundation stones of the Adelaide mod revival. They were the first band to play their frenetic post-punk music resplendent in three-button suits, standing in front of Vox amps and making full use of Jam-like power chords. They even made it as far as the recording studio, cutting a version of an original number, 'Crying for a Girl'. The track would have fitted quite nicely on The Jam's 'In the City'album. Never released, all that remains of the song today are memories. After the break-up, some of The Jump's members formed or joined other bands, which would entertain the mods until 1984 or thereabouts.

Another significant event was the release of The Who's classic mod movie 'Quadrophenia', which was shown regularly on the same bill as 'The Kids Are Alright', at various art-house cinemas. The number of scooters parked out the front of the cinemas steadily increased.

one of the few times it was actually going...
chatting at a party

In early 1981, half a dozen mods sat in McDonalds, thinking about how they might get in touch with like-minded people. They had noticed people in Rundle Mall who looked like they might be mods, and had seen other scooters tearing about the place, and they had friends who were showing interest in this new music, new fashion. After leaving notes in the appropriate sections (Jam, Madness, Who, Otis Redding etc) in record stores, expectations were high for a great turnout on a Wednesday night in March, at the Aurora Hotel.

It was a modest turnout, at best. But it was a start. The mods had a venue.

The Aurora proved the catalyst, and from those humble origins, the Adelaide mods were born. Within 3 months a mod magazine had produced its first issue, bands had formed and played, scooter runs had taken place, a nightclub had been 'adopted', and the obligatory factions and cliques had started to appear... Punk fanzine DNA carried regular updates of news and gigs, in those days the link between punk and mod was nowhere near as cavernous as it later became.

Wednesday nights at The Aurora became a popular haunt for many. The mods had even received a letter from Paul Weller; to say thanks for the birthday card. He must have been well chuffed, getting a card signed by thirty or forty pissed Australians.

Clothes were obviously important, and all the trimmings of mod style and fashion were present, although not necessarily subscribed to by all. Some wore tailor-made 3 button suits, button down shirts and parkas, others stuck to their skinhead origins and kept the t-shirt, Harrington and Docs, and some were too blitzy or punky to be called mods at all, but were nice geezers anyway. In Adelaide, you needed all the help you could get... Fred Perrys were rare, so plenty of mods bought the local Bonds equivalent and a unique element of style was born, the 'Fred Penguin' shirt (named after the logo).

The bands were noisy, and gigs were not regular. The Vents played plenty of ska, soul and mod covers, a few originals, and had a good time even if they didn't sound all that flash. 

early morning at Morphett Vale
An early Vents gig

The Bonython Parkas also played mainly covers, but were a lot more polished. They had one truly great original tune, entitled 'Until Tomorrow', which had all the makings of a mod anthem. Like 'Crying for a Girl', the track was professionally recorded yet never released. It's a pity that the Bonython Parkas didn't play more. 

Other bands like The Urban Guerillas and The Del Webb Explosion weren't mod (or mods) at all, they were popular with mods because they either played with mod bands or somewhat erroneously advertised themselves as mod, in order to appeal to a guaranteed crowd. 

The Urban Guerillas (still going, now based in Sydney) played originals. Fast, poppy tunes with elements of punk in the music, and social commentary in the words. The Guerillas have released a number of CDs, and can be easily traced via the Internet. The Del Webb Explosion were Adelaide's answer to Dexy's Midnight Runners. They released a single in 1983, 'Gardening as Finer Art'. It still sounds pretty good.

The mods listened to the types of music one would expect, as well as a few surprises. American soul, Small Faces, all of the new mod bands, ska, The Who and The Kinks were popular with most, although everyone had their favourites. Along with these 'modder than mod' sounds, you sometimes heard strains of the Sex Pistols, or the meanderings of Joy Division, emanating from a stereo somewhere. The former was obviously a legacy from previous associations, while the latter was a sign of things to come for a few of the mods. 

The Del Webb Explosion

del webb single

Whatever the preference, music played a huge part in the lives of all.

There were scooter runs to Victor Harbor on Public Holiday weekends, which featured gigs by the mod bands, a DJ spinning Tamla, ska and mod music all night, and plenty of time to hang around at the beach, living out Quadrophenia fantasies. Some of the Adelaide mods went to Melbourne for the big Easter gathering in 1981. In Melbourne they saw gigs by The Sets, Division 4, and The Little Murders, and enjoyed being part of a large group of mods. It was a treat to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gary and (the late) Don Hosie from The Sets, and fanzine editor Steven Dettre. They came home with photos, standard-8 movies, copies of singles by The Little Murders and others, and some great memories. Melbourne was also useful for establishing contacts in other states, and not long after Easter was over, copies of magazines like 'Shake and Shout', 'Get Smart' (both Sydney), 'Start'and 'Go!' (Melbourne) and 'Who What Where and How' (Perth) started finding their way to Adelaide.

The Adelaide media only made the smallest of efforts to attract mods or publicise mod acts, but Adelaide's mods managed to apply enough pressure on one local identity to stimulate the release of '4 Side Effects', a Jam sampler which made the radio 5AD music charts in September 1981.When 'TV Guide' ran a competition to win a Vespa, they used local mods as part of the advertising campaign. The local music show, 'Music Express', occasionally asked the mods to be part of the audience, especially when the show was to feature The Jam and/or ska bands.

In a couple of questionable moves, mods and their scooters were invited to take part in the 1981 Glenelg (or was it Port Adelaide?) Christmas Pageant, and to provide a scooter 'escort' to Simple Minds, from Adelaide Airport to their Hotel, as part of their Australian tour. Both invitations were accepted.

For a couple of years, mods in Adelaide had plenty to do. Scooter runs, Martini's Nightclub and Wednesdays at The Aurora kept people busy.

portrait of a scooter

The Kingbees
Photo: Rita Bruche

The mods latched onto a rhythm and blues band called 'The Kingbees', which featured ex-members of The Vents. They played from around 9.30pm until 2.00am every Saturday night, at The Saloon in North Adelaide. The place was full most weeks, and all types of people drifted in and out. R&B fans, older hippie-types, people off the street, but the audience was predominantly mods and their friends. It was a great scene, but it was also the last hurrah.

After three years of debating whether or not ' Jimmy died at the end of the Quadrophenia', and/or that ' Stax is better than Motown', people were showing signs of growing tired of the whole thing. Some of the mods surprised their friends by turning up to The Aurora in camouflage pants, wanting to talk about Oi music. Others preferred to stay at home and watch 'Brideshead Revisited' rather than go for a drink. Musical tastes were broadening. 

People were listening to Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division, David Bowie, The Stranglers and just about anything else. Various groups of mods had less and less to do with each other.

A lot of people had their interests stimulated by other things. Chemicals, various types of music, philosophy. Some wanted a vehicle that went a bit faster and/or kept you a bit warmer. Some got married. Like a lot of small communities, plenty of people were simply getting sick of seeing the same old faces all of the time. By 1984, The Kingbees had split and the mods had all but gone.

Two years after that, The Aurora had been knocked down and replaced with a multi-storey car park. All the bands had split, most of the scooters had disappeared, The Saloon had burnt down, and the parkas had been neatly folded and placed in garden sheds. Everyone was older and wiser, and only small groups stayed in touch with each other. In short, times had moved on. It was the end of the mods as far as most were concerned.

edwardstown railway station, 1983
Photo: Rita Bruche

It's probably been said before, but I can't resist a good line:

'Hope I die before I get old' had been replaced by 'Hope I get old before I die'.

Amen to that.

mods in Spencer StVictor Harbor mod weekend 1981mods at st kilda beach, 1981


© Copyright David Robinson, 2000

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author