Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts.

Label: Kent Dance.

Ever since the birth of rock ’n’ roll, youth cults have come and gone. Some have proven to be nothing more than passing fads, and nowadays, are mere footnotes in cultural history. Some youth cults have endured, and played an important part in British culture. However, none of the youth cults of the past sixty years have enjoyed the same longevity as the modernists. 

The modernists came to prominence in the late fifties, and their name came about because of their love of modern jazz. However, by the early sixties, things were starting to change and the modernists had become the mods. 

Musically, mods had eclectic taste in music and embraced American R&B and soul music. Especially singles that were released on Stax, Atlantic Records and Tamla Motown.This lead to the mods investigating some of the smaller American labels during their frequent trips to local record shops.That was where the mods ordered imports, and discovered new musical genres. 

This soon included ska and reggae, which they discovered whilst looking through the racks of new arrivals and imports. While  the mods enjoyed soul, R&B, reggae and ska, they didn’t turn their back on British music. The mods also enjoyed pop and rock music, and especially groups like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Small Faces and The Kinks, who were perceived as “mod” groups. That is still the case even today. However, music was only part of the mod movement.

Image was everything for the mods. They carefully tried to cultivate an air of coolness. The suits they wore were often tailor-made.  Sometimes, their suits were made out of cashmere, with narrow lapels. They also sported button-down collar shirts, thin ties and wool or cashmere jumpers. All this was de rigueur for a mod around town. So too, were fishtail parkas, desert boots, Chelsea boots and bowling shoes. A few mods even took to wearing makeup. In sixties Britain, this didn’t go unnoticed. However, the mods were unlike no other youth subculture, and even had their own mode of transport.

The Lambretta or Vespa scooters were the mods’ choice of transport. They drove them around town, where they visited dance-halls, coffee bars,  and cinemas. At cinemas, mods took to watching French and Italian films. This was all part of a sense of continental coolness they were attempting to cultivate. After all, image was everything to the mod. So was music and the two go hand-in-hand.

Every time there has been a mod revival in the last fifty years, at the heart of the revival has been the music. Whether it was in the late-seventies or mid-nineties, music and fashion was at the heart of these mod revivals. The music being made during the mod revivals during the late-seventies and mid-nineties, was inspired by the music of the sixties. For mods of all vintage, this was a golden era for music. It still is.

That is why Kent’s two mod compilations have proven to be so successful. The first was Modernists-A Decade Of Rhythm and Soul which was released on CD in February 2015. Fifteen months later, and Kent Dance released Modernism on CD in May 2016. Now just over a year later, and Kent Dance have released Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts on vinyl. It features fourteen of the finest tracks from Modernists: A Decade Of Rhythm and Soul and  Modernism plus a some songs from the Mod Jazz series. For mods of all ages, Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts is sure to bring back many happy memories of their younger days.

Side One.

The Merced Blue Notes who open Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts with Sundown,were formed in high school in Merced, California, in January 1957. This was the start of a career that spanned the best part of fifteen years. Despite enjoying a degree of longevity,The Merced Blue Notes didn’t enjoy a prolific recording career. Their back-catalogue amounts to a handful of singles and one album, Music With A Beat That Won’t Stop. It was released in 1984, and featured fourteen previously unreleased songs recorded between 1960 and 1963. These songs were from the private collection of The Merced Blue Notes’ manager George Coolures. He had the album pressed as a limited edition on blue vinyl. It’s an incredibly rare album that features Sundown, which was written George Coolures and Ken Craig. When Sundown was played by DJs in the early sixties, this hidden R&B gem was guaranteed to fill a dance-floor. Even after one play, you’ll realise why.

Troy Dodds’ recording career began at the California-based Penthouse label in 1962, when he released Rise Up And Walk. Four years later, and Troy Dodds was still looking for her first hit single. She signed to the  El Camino label in 1966, and recorded a song she had written with Richard Appling, The Real Thing. When it was released later in 1966,commercial success eluded The Real Thing despite its soulful and dance-floor friendly sound. Nowadays, original copies of the single are incredibly rare, and the B-Side Try My Love is a firm favourite on the Northern Soul scene.

Saxophonist Chuck Higgins is best known for his 1952 hit single Pachuko Hop. This was the start of a long musical career, for Chuck Higgins. By 1968, he was signed to Money, and covered Titus Turner’s All Around The World. However, the song wasn’t released until forty years later. Somewhat belatedly, All Around The World made its debut on Further Adventures Of Mod Jazz in 2008. It makes a welcome return on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts, and is a reminder of one of Frank Zappa’s finest saxophonists in his prime.

Leroy Harris only ever released the one single, Crow Baby Crow. It was released on the Swan label in 1966. Hidden away on the B-Side was I’m Gonna Get You. It was written by Leroy Harris and Ellis Taylor, who produced the two sides. They feature Leroy Harris and his band The Teardrop Review. They’re the perfect foil for Leroy Harris’ vocal, and create a jaunty, dance-floor friendly arrangement that sounds as if it’s been inspired by an o James Brown track. The result is a real hidden gem. Alas, this was Leroy Harris’ only single. He returned to Kansas, where he was a regular fixture on the club circuit.

In January 1964, Bessie Banks’ made her debut as a solo artist when she released Go Now, which later gave The Moody  Blues a number one single. Nine months later, in October 1964, Bessie Banks released Do It Now on the Spokane label. Tucked away on the B-Side was (You Should Have Been A) Doctor which was penned and produced by Larry Banks and Tony May. It’s an irresistible slice of club soul that has filled many a dance-floor.

Bob and Earl released (Send For Me) I’ll Be There a single on Crestview Records, in 1969. Hidden away on the B-Side was the Charlotte Cronander composition Dancing Everywhere, which also featured on the album Bob and Earl. It was arranged by Gene Page and produced by Fred Smith They help to bring out the best in Bob and Earl on Dancing Everywhere, who roll back the years on this timeless soulful dancer. 

During his career, Chet Ivey released around twenty singles. This includes Chet “Poison” Ivey and His Fabulous Avengers’ 1969 single The Poo Poo Man. It was released on Al Sears’ Bee and Cee label, but failed to find an audience. How different things might have been if the B-Side Soul Is My Game had been released as a single? This Chet Ivey composition is stomping slice of dance-floor friendly boogaloo.

Side Two

Little Johnny Hamilton and The Creators only released a trio of singles during the mid-sixties. This includes Oh How I Love You, which was meant to be released on Dore in the summer of 1965 with Burn on the B-Side. However, the Watts’ race riots in August 1965 put paid to this. The single was withdrawn, and reissued in 1966. By then, Burn had been renamed as Go. Alas, the single didn’t sell well, and commercial success eluded Little Johnny Hamilton and The Creators. Since then, Go has  become a favourite amongst mods, while Oh How I Love You has become popular on the Northern Soul scene.

In 1969, Teddy Reynolds’ released his composition Ain’t That Soul as a single on Speciality Records in. By then Teddy Reynolds’ career had spanned two decades. It began in 1950, and for the next twenty years he continues to release singles. This included Ain’t That Soul in 1969. However, the version on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts was recorded at an earlier date. Despite that, it’s funky, soulful and guaranteed to get the mods on the dance-floor.

After signing to Al Sears’ Arock Records, The Corvairs went in search of a hit singles. One of the songs they covered in 1965, was Ron Miller and Lee Porter’s A Feeling Deep Inside. However, after the recording session, the song was never released. That was until 2002, when it made its debut on Kent Soul’s The Arock and Sylvia Records Story. Back then, this hidden gem something of a mystery. The original artist was unknown, and the song was billed as Deep Down Inside. This has been rectified and The Corvairs are receiving the recognition they deserve for A Feeling Deep Inside.

The soulful delights of Floyd White’s Another Child Lost opens Mod Jazz and Then Some! in 2014. It’s a Floyd White composition that was recorded in 1964. However, the song was never released, and lay in Invader’s vaults until 2014. That was when the made its debut on Mod Jazz and Then Some! It returns for a well deserved  encore Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts.

Clarence Daniels and Obie Jessie penned Hard Working Girl, which was released as a single on Affiliated in 1966. It’s a mellow, laid back slice of jazz. Since 2014, it lay unloved in Affiliated’s vaults. That was when it made a welcome return on Kent Dance’s Mod Jazz, and Then Some! Three years later, and Hard Working Girl also returns for an encore on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts.

Closing  Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts is Hank Jacobs’ instrumental East Side. It was written and arranged by Arthur Wright, and was released as a single on Call Me Records, in June 1967. East Side is lovely laid-back, slice of funky, mod jazz, that is sure to have been the last song in many a club. This is the perfect way to close Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts.

For many an ageing mod, the music on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts is sure to bring back many a happy memory. Some of the original mods will be well into their seventies. It’s a long time since they were a mod about town in the early sixties. Back then, they would dawn their cashmere suits, complete with narrow lapels. Completing the look were button-down collar shirts, thin ties and a wool or cashmere jumpers and Chelsea boots. This was all part of their carefully cultivated image that they wore about town.

To get into town, the original mods would head out to their Vespa or Lambretta. Many of the most fastidious of mods would even dawn a fishtail park. This wasn’t so much a fashion statement, as a means of protecting their precious tailor-made suit. The mods would head climb abroad their Vespa or Lambretta and head into town. Usually, many mods would travel together, their reasoning being, safety in numbers. Often, there would be clashes with their arch enemies, the rockers. Mostly though, the mod about town would arrive at their local coffee bar, pub and club. That was when the music would start to play.

This was just like the fourteen tracks on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts. For the original mods, the music on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts is sure to bring back memories of their glory days. It’s a similar case for those who were part of the mod revival in the seventies. Many of them are over fifty, but remember the days of the mod revival. So do those that were part of the second mod revival in the nineties. What they remember is the fashion and of course, the music.

Much of that music is timeless. Proof of that is Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts, which features tracks from Modernists: A Decade Of Rhythm and Soul, Modernism and the critically acclaimed Mod Jazz series. They make their debut on vinyl on Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts which was recently released by Kent Dance, an imprint of Ace Records.  It’s a tantalising reminder of a time when mohair suits, button down shirts, fishtail parkas and a Vespa was de rigueur for the mod about town.

Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts is also a reminder of one of the most important British youth cults, who have enjoyed an unrivalled longevity. Nearly sixty years since the birth of modernism, the music is just as popular as ever. Who knows, maybe compilations like Modernists: A Decade Of Rhythm and Soul, Modernism the Mod Jazz series and Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts will spark a third mod revival. Let’s hope so, and once again, mohair suits and fishtail parkas will be de rigueur  again?

Modernists: Modernism’s Sharpest Cuts.

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