Wish you were there: The High Numbers, 1964

Before they were the Who, they were the High Numbers. Very little exists of their work in this guise, except in the memories of those who were there. Even The Who’s ‘My Generation’, their first album, does not capture the excitement of their live act.

Before ‘Tommy’, ‘Quadrophenia’ and 10 minute epics, they played intense, electrifying versions of Tamla and James Brown hits – ‘Please Please Please’, ‘Heatwave’ and this, the Miracles’ ‘I got to dance to keep from crying’

Before Monterey Pop, Woodstock and America’s enormodomes, they played to young mods here, the Railway Tavern in Harrow, as well as the Watford Trades Union Hall and a dozen other pubs and clubs in North West London.

I love this clip because it captures the purity of their vision – uptempo, danceable records, played as loud as possible. Music of black American urban youth reinterpreted by their white British counterparts. Sunglasses indoors. Cool.

John Cooper Clarke on Mods

A brilliant quote from John Cooper Clarke:

”I was a mod – it’s the only youth cult I’ve ever actually been a whole hearted member of. The great thing about mod was that it was a very snobbish movement. We went to a club in Manchester called the Twisted Wheel – it was the mod club of the country. We used to get people from all over. It was the first place I heard soul music. You never heard any guitar music there – it was all Stax, Motown, Memphis Horns, Booker T and the MGs. Guitar solos not allowed. Strict dress codes, no guitars. At the Twisted Wheel, by 1965, you didn’t actually call yourself a mod any more. People in Burnley called themselves mods, people with targets on their parkas. We called ourselves “stylists” – and shoplifting was the big national sport of the stylists. You’d go to John Michael and pinch things – £80 sunglasses. It was a full time job. Food wasn’t high on the agenda, there was no hip food. You blew your wad on cloth, not even records.”

and even more insightful comment from Gibsonssyllabus, whose site I found this on:

Perhaps, at 48 years old, one shouldn’t still find this sort of stuff engaging, but I do. Like John Cooper Clarke, quoted and pictured above, I remain a working class snob, struggling to resist the pressure to conform to bourgeois notions of normality. Let’s strip away all the stuff that really matters, but is rather dull, like housing, education and health, and keep it simple – when it comes to clothes may the Lord keep me safe from the Satan Boden and his followers in West London in their rugby shirts (collars turned up) and sensible value for money Timberland shoes. Mod has always been about subversion of upper class dress codes, understanding then fetishising elements within a given style to produce your own version of it. I cringe at the term stylist, such an overused word with dreadful modern associations, but perhaps the best expression of the stylist mentality described by JCC is that an individual defines his own look within a given framework. So given that criteria I am prepared to put my head above the parapet and declare “I am a stylist”. There, I said it. Now don’t mock…

via The Syllabus –  ”I was a mod – it’s the only youth cult I’ve ever….

To me the author offers the most succinct and clear descriptions of what style really is – ‘an individual defines his own look within a given framework’.

The snobbery is what it is all about. All youth cults should be elitist, and the rules stay with you long after all the other paraphernalia has evaporated.

Paul Morley’s Rolling Stones article, 31/03

I am permanently envious of Paul Morley. He makes a living writing at length about pop culture, having witnessed large chunks of it first hand. He can seem pretentious at times but I quite like that. If I got paid to talk about New Order endlessly I’d indulge myself occasionally too.

Anyway, I loved his article on the Rolling Stones playing Glastonbury, especially this section:

‘Spoilt by all the immediate access to abundant pop culture, to a near infinity of packaged sensation, the current generation, unlike the boomers, have no need to strain forward and chase new forms of freedom that react against previous stultifying values. They are trapped inside a world of their parents’ making but, unlike the stale, broken world the boomers inherited, this one supplies them with purpose-built, easily accessed pleasure and escape. It numbs any appetite to develop new ways of opposing the system, of inventing a disobedient internet-era counterculture that would make the old counterculture look as quaint and wasted as it actually is.’

via The Rolling Stones will reign supreme until there is a new counterculture | Paul Morley | Comment is free | The Observer.

The point about the youth cultures celebrated here is that they were always forward, not backward looking. The music was always the latest thing – new sources, new technology. We have, however, become retro-obsessed – another hero of mine, Simon Reynolds, has written a book about it.

Everything today is available everywhere. There is no secret club or code of entry. You can hide behind an avatar and be who you want. Seeking out, discovering, joining is done at the click of a mouse.

More democratic perhaps, but the best subcultures are always elitist. Otherwise they wouldn’t be subcultures.

This blog is about pop cultures of the past, so is therefore in theory part of Morley’s problem.

However, as he says later, future subcultures may well not revolve around rock music as they have in the past. In which case, I defend myself as a preserver of a short period of history rather than a reactionary Luddite holding back youthful progress!