“In the early sixties a lifestyle evolved for young people that was mysterious, exciting and fast-moving. It was directed from within and needed no justification from without. Kids were clothes-obsessed, cool, dedicated to R&B and their own dances.
They called themselves ‘Mods’ “
— RICHARD BARNES 1979
There was a time when young people in Richmond and Twickenham dressed to impress. They wore hipster trousers and button-down Ben Sherman shirts, Biba dresses and Mary Quant skirts. Hairstyles were by Vidal Sassoon and John Anthony, the hairdresser in Heath Road. Shoes came from Ravel and suits from Italy via the East End of London. The ‘faces’rode motor scooters and went to clubs like the Pontiac, Klooks Kleek, the Carousel in Farnborough and the Ricky Tick in Windsor. They listened to music by singers their parents had never heard of - Howling Wolf, Betty Everett and Benny Spellman and they danced to R&B - Rhythm and Blues. They were the Mods.
The expression R&B first appeared in the American ‘Billboard’ magazine in 1943 as an umbrella term covering popular music originated by African Americans and included blues, doo wop and dance music. The music was uncomplicated, repetitive and catchy. The bands at the time often consisted of no more than a piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, a saxophone, a vocalist and sometimes backing singers. They could go into a studio in Memphis or New York and knock off a hit record in an hour or two. It was club music, gutsy and very popular, particularly amongst black audiences. When black service men came to Britain during the forties and early fifties they brought their music with them and it stayed for British teenagers to hear and enjoy.
There are many reasons why Rhythm and Blues took off in the UK. The first was because it provided a challenging and ‘hip’ alternative to the gold lame “Dicky This”, “Tommy That” rock and roll that was permeating the airways at the time. The R&B singers of the time like Sam Cooke and Gladys Knight had style and class which is more than you could say about our own Wee Willie Harris, bless him.
But the main driver of the popularity of R&B were the new UK groups like the Animals, the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones who were picking up on R&B songs and recording them. The Who, avid fans of the music, even promoted themselves as playing “Maximum R&B”.
As with all things the Mods had their day and slowly mutated into hippies, their scooters into Minis and their music into psychedelia. But authentic R&B still lives on as Northern Soul - far removed from the hyper polished, digitally tuned soul music that young people like to call R&B today. The Mods also survive. Now in their late 60s and early 70’s and no longer wearing fishtail M51 Parkas or blue ‘Kelly Bumble’ nylon raincoats they breeze down the street with a conceit that belies their age. 50 years on they know they are the originals and as the 1964 mod song ‘The In Crowd’ says “We originals are still the greatest!”
There are still bands out there playing the R&B music of the 60s and 70s. Some are former Mods, managing to clamber onto stage with the help of a Stannah Stairlift. Others are just revivalists, playing the dance floor filling music that their parents grew up with.
‘Walking the Dog’ are one such band and on Friday 6th September will be showcasing their first gig at the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, playing music from R&B legends like Don Covay, Chuck Jackson, Doris Troy, James Brown, and Barbara George. Admission is free - so slip on your Fred Perry’s and get out on the floor!
You can catch ‘Walking the Dog’ again at the Ailsa Tavern, St Margarets Road TW1 1NJ on Friday 13th September from 8.30pm. You can park your scooter around the corner in Northcote Road.
– from Martyn Day