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The Sharpest Word: Tootal Blog Talks Modzines With Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland

This February sees the welcome publication of ‘Modzines’, which is – as the cover explains – a look back at “fanzine culture from the Mod revival”. Tootal blog caught up with the books authors, Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland.

What was the inspiration for your ‘Modzines’ book?

Steve: I’m a graphic designer, I’ve always loved subcultures and ’79 was my ‘coming of age’, if you like. The big thing at the time was the Mod revival; it was ours, as in my age group. All the older lads and big brothers had The Jam but we had the Mod revival.

Growing up, drawing logos at school and eventually making a living as a designer, I’ve always had that interest. And when the digital and online thing came along, fanzines and that whole art form kind of got lost. So, it was a time to record it, and to put something out there.

How did you go about assembling your list of featured titles?

48 Thrills, Issue 2, 1976. Direction, Reaction, Creation, Issue 7, 1980.
Jamming, Issue 8, 1979. Maximum Speed, Issue 8, 1979.

Steve: When I first got the idea for the book I sent it to Ed straight away, because I knew he had to be involved at some level. And going back to the internet there’s people like Neil Allen, who has a Facebook group for Mod fanzines, and is an avid collector. He’s a contributor to the book and was a great help.

Eddie: Neil bought most of my collection. My Mod fanzine Extraordinary Sensations started in 1980 and ran until about 1985, and because it was so successful other editors sent me their fanzines for review. I amassed a collection of at least a thousand but sold it about six or seven years before Steve first approached me, so we were working from memory. And basically, with Mod fanzines … it’s like a pyramid. You have Maximum Speed at the top, then you have Direction Reaction Creation, Shake and, dare I say it, Extraordinary Sensations, and so on. But we managed to find fanzines that were literally just circulating in a Derbyshire pit village amongst fifteen friends, you know?

Fanzines were ubiquitous in the Mod scene because it was the perfect storm of accessibility, desire and the market. Accessibility, as in anyone could make a fanzine – you needed a pen and a photocopier. People weren’t writing about Mod bands in the mainstream music press, and if they were they were disparaging. So, kids in south Wales, Huddersfield, Essex, wherever, they weren’t reading about their bands. So, there was a desire to tell people about your local bands, and that created the market. There were more Mod fanzines than any other genre ever. I’d say probably two or three thousand different titles since 1978. We were only able to scratch the surface.

Were there many titles that you couldn’t track down?

Eddie: Some of the editors had passed away, or moved to Jamaica or just felt that they were no longer interested in it. From my perspective, we wrote about most of the fanzines we wanted to feature. There were some that I wish had spoken to us, and some I wish I’d found; Roadrunner and Patriotic didn’t feel they had time. Shake, the guy had moved to Jamaica to be a Dancehall MC in 1984 – DJ Dominic, “The Cheeky Cockney”. But, in principle, we got what we wanted to get. This book could have been ten times longer, and it would have taken ten times longer to write.

Steve: Ironically, the one cover we wanted to feature and couldn’t get was Issue 1 of Extraordinary Sensations. No one can find it and people did scour their collections.

Eddie: Yes, the Holy Grail for fanzine collectors. I originally sold it at The Bridge House Hotel in Canning Town, right towards the end of ‘Mod Monday’. We’d gone to see the Leyton Mod band Beggar. I made twenty copies of Extraordinary Sensations and sold them all in twenty minutes for 10p each. Twenty-four hours later they were probably all in someone’s bin but that’s what fanzines were supposed to be, disposable. I never kept a copy; I never even thought I’d do a Volume Two, let alone be talking about it forty years later. I found one original typed page in my archive, but the rest of the fanzine… I’ve never seen it since that day. There might be one in existence but I doubt it.

Generally it sounds as though the response from other editors was good?

Steve: I think early on it went over peoples heads a little but as we got closer to finishing it, that’s when people realised it was actually happening and then they were like, “I want to be in it”. There was a lot of good will, people wanted to get involved… globally, as well.

Eddie: Goffa Gladding from Maximum Speed was very forthcoming, gave me a lot of time and advice, just as he did in 1979 when I was a fifteen year old Mod. I looked up to these people, the fanzine editors, and when I became one myself it was like joining a private club. Other fanzine editors suddenly treated you in a different way. People like Ray Patriotic and Steve Roadrunner became some of my best friends. Mind you, no one ever called me Eddie Extraordinary Sensations – too much of a mouthful.

From a design point of view, did you look at any of the fanzines and think, ‘There’s something a bit special there’?

Roadrunner, Issue 5, 1981. Extraordinary Sensations, Issue 4, 1981. The Café Society, Issue 1, 1983. Beyond All Limits, Issue 5, 1985.

Steve: There’s a thing now about getting your hands dirty, using pencils and paint and only scanning it after, and that’s what you want to do as a designer, not just staring at a screen. And that’s the beauty of doing this book; we could have done a blog but…

Eddie: When we started this book we both assumed the world of Mod fanzines has been replaced by blogs and by websites but there are some fabulous magazines now like Heavy Soul and Icon. They don’t sell in huge quantities but obviously there’s not millions of Mods around the world.

We do a whole section on design and how it grew from literally being a typewriter, a pair of scissors and a PritStick, up to when the first printers got involved. It was either a kid cutting it out, sticking it down and photocopying it or someone approaching it as a magazine, and you find a lot of the people in that second category became journalists. People like Chris Hunt, who wrote Shadows & Reflections fanzine and became editor of Shoot! Magazine; Steve Detra, the editor of Shake & Shout in Australia, he became a successful journalist, Tony Fletcher at Jammin’, that became a full-on magazine and he became an author…

Steve: A lot of the fanzines were hand written, hand drawn and photo-copied, just to get it done, but the part where they really start to come alive and that I really love is when they discovered Letraset, that took it to a different level. Seeing which fonts they pick out and use, that gave me a bit of inspiration for the book as well – a lot of inspiration, in fact.

Is there any international element to the book?

Eddie: We had a fantastic response from all round the world. A guy in Argentina called Kevin Fingier, who is in a band called Los Aggrotones on Acid Jazz, he heard that we were doing the book and asked, “Is my fanzine in it?” I had to phone up Steve and say, ‘Have we finished the book, because I’ve just had some Mod fanzines in from Argentina, can you squeeze them in?’ This was right at the last minute.

Steve: I was on the Modcast boat when one of the regulars, Jason, said, ‘I’m gutted my fanzine’s not in it’. He grew up in eastern Canada, where he produced the only Mod fanzine. I said, ‘Can you get it to me? There’s an off chance…’ So he got in touch with his Mum, who found the fanzine, scanned it, sent the images to me and it got in at the very last minute.

Eddie: We also got an all girl Mod fanzine collective from Sweden, very Socialist. What were they called?

Steve: Gloria International. Beautiful covers, one of my favourites.

Did the fanzines have a broad agenda or was it limited to reviews of the same old bands?

Eddie: We came across a guy from Birmingham who ran a fanzine called Hey Sah-Lo-Ney, after the Mickey Lee Lane / The Action song. He got bored doing a fanzine so he did a Mod comic book, called Lumbaba after the African politician. He drew every cell by hand but it would take two weeks to do a couple of pages. It was much easier to cut out ‘Batman’ and fill in the speech bubbles with your own writing. There’s so much of that in Mod fanzines. There’s a whole section on appropriation and copyright in the book – at the time we didn’t know it was illegal. We thought it was Roy Lichenstein style ‘Pop Art’.

Do you think Mod fanzines left a lasting legacy?

In The Crowd, Issue 14, 1985. The Catch!, Issue 1, 1985. The Hipster, Issue 3, 1986. Gloria International, Issue 2, 1990.

Steve: Ironically I think there is, if only because of the internet. There’s fanzine Facebook groups, there’s collectors sharing images of their collections. The book is really the story behind it, going from those earliest titles that Eddie mentioned. We’re just telling the story of where it came from. It’s almost like finding the source of the river. Hopefully we provide some background, some interesting facts, the story of why it happened and the knock on effects… shining a light in forgotten corners, and on fanzines as an art form. It was unique; it’s interesting that none of the fanzines have resurfaced as blogs.

Eddie: It was a very, very special thing but they all came to an end for one reason – time. The real world catches up. It’s a hobby.

I think it summed up a time and a place, and an attitude you could do anything. Don’t forget, the reason that Modzines became so popular is Mod was an underground, working class movement, ignored by the mainstream press after 1979. By 1980 it was a dirty word, so we had to do it ourselves. Roger Allan, who wrote Can’t Explain fanzine, told us the early Punk scene was everything he could have wanted; you could make your own fanzine, make your own record, put your own gig on but gradually the powers that be, the establishment, the music papers, the record labels, they created this stereotype of the turgid, depressive, downer taking, motorcycle jacket and Mohican wearing ‘Sid Vicious’ style moron – and that wasn’t for us. Punk had lost it’s ‘do anything you wanna do’ attitude, as Eddie & The Hot Rods said. We looked at those people on the Kings Road and thought ‘Mug’. We took over the attitude and we carried on doing it, against contemporary music media dictats.

A box set edition of ‘Modzines’, limited to 750 copies includes a 7” single ‘If I Was You’/’That’s What I Want’ by Long Tall Shorty (originally issued as a free flexidisc with the Direction Reaction Creation fanzine), a reproduction of issue one of Maximum Speed and a certificate of authenticity. It is available now from Acid Jazz for £51.99. https://bit.ly/2Djfuu0

The paperback version is published on 7 February 2019 and available from Amazon for £11.89. https://amzn.to/2WAYiYs