The Mods of Northern Soul

If there’s anything that gives young people the opportunity to express themselves and their individuality, it’s music and fashion and the Northern Soul scene of Manchester came with the finest of both.

One of the things that made Northern Soul and Mod style of the ’60s go hand in hand was that element of youth culture and rebellion against the traditional societal values. Richard Wright in his book ‘Mod: A very British Style’ defined the Mod culture of the 1960s as a ‘movement that originally that was supposed to be by and for the young.’

Creative and Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, David Leathlean told us about the Mod culture that stemmed from the 1960s into the Northern Soul era and how the fashion and style made you stand out as part of the subculture.

He said: “The thing about Mod was that it was very aspirational and about kind of a follow on from Teddy boy culture in that they were showing a flash persona.

It’s known a lot of these people were working class and had virtually no money, so their appearance was the only thing that gave them any credibility in society and with mod, it kind of moved them a little bit further where it wasn’t just about the clothes but also about the accessories such as Lambretta’s and vespers.

“It was used in a way to highlight your identity and to be seen as somebody who’s important.”

A lot of old Mods are now in their 60’s and 70’s and it’s not too dissimilar to what people are wearing today and it highlights the longevity of what the subculture is all about.”

This iconic British subculture that expressed itself through style is what inspired the likes of the skinhead and glam rock era, but it was the Northern Soul scene that kept it alive combining British style with the love of black American soul music.

Music Journalist Paolo Hewitt has said that Northern Soul was the “friendly face of Mod, as its roots lie in the North with more focus on friendship with little time for pretention”

Here are some of the main looks of Northern Soul mod fashion:

A lot of the way that these young club-goers dressed on the Northern Soul scene was influenced in the way that they danced, this included the men wearing sports vests or bowling shirts so that they could be free to dance without restrictions, to which they would bring a bag with a change of clothes in, but still keeping the classic mod style of the brogues or loafers with the high-waisted baggy trousers.

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Gary Ashead, pictured above, is a current Northern Soul DJ at various venues around the country and says he still has the vest to this day.

He talks about how this picture of him in the typical scene get up had quickly become a famous face of the Northern Soul scene. The dancing is what was supposed to be captured but you can tell what makes it stand out even more, was the clothing and hair:

“This photo was taken 45 years ago after a dance competition and was then featured in Black Echos magazine. As far as I’m aware, it had become an iconic photo on the soul scene all these years later being printed on record covers, magazines, newspaper articles, beer pumps and even a tattoo on someone’s arm!”

 

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You would also commonly find Northern Soul fans dancing in the Twisted Wheel in suits as a lot of venues in the 60’s required you to wear this kind of smart attire. This was before people started the transition to vest tops for dancing and is also a prime example of the smartness of mod culture as well as making you easily recognizable as part of the underground crowd.

 

Sylvia Dean and her husband Joe circa 1967-68 in Manchester. Photo: Sylvia Dean

Sylvia (pictured above) and her husband, Joe were regular attendees of the Twisted Wheel and talked us through about what they would wear to the all-nighters on the weekends:

“A large group of us would travel up to Manchester for the Wheel allnighter regularly and this is us in our normal ‘Wheel’ clothing for the ’60s. Joe is in a Kid mohair suit in a soft green two-tone which would have cost at least 25 guineas which was a lot of money for the working class lads to wore them in those days!”

You can also see that Joe is sporting the classic ‘skinhead’ look, also known as the ‘hard-mod’ look which was influenced by the sounds of Soul, Reggae and Ska music, music predominantly associated with black culture.

Sylvia Dean (middle) pictured with a group of friends at the Twisted Wheel during the 1960s. Photo: Sylvia Dean

Hairstyles were also very telling of the scene with women sporting short chic bobs inspired from 1960’s female icons such as Twiggy, and the men rocking the suedehead look, as pictured above, or the ‘page boy’ mod hairstyle that can still be seen today on artists such as Liam Gallagher.

Photo: Graham Fairhurst

The above picture was created by photographer and ex mod Graham Fairhurst who attended venues like the Twisted Wheel back in it’s prime in the 1960s.

You can find notable things that mark the Carnaby Street style such as the blazers, the shoulder bag and the record player.

He told us more about some of the style worn at the wheel:

“The mod style varied from a “small faces” hipster trousers, backcombed hair and an elephant cord epauletted jacket with an accompanying girl with a short bob, mini skirt and flats. Soul Mods had long been associated with the travelling football gangs and out of this came hard mods that became the “skinheads”, known for their haircuts.

Because of the travelling fans coming to the wheel, however, the wheel dropped the dress code so you could go in at night without a suit and tie which suited the travellers and Levi jacket and jeans teamed with desert boots became the standard. Most local mods, however, were still using the wheel as a call0in to watch a specific band at the all-nighter, so you had to be suited and booted.”

The developments of the mod and ’60s fashion is just another thing that Manchester is influential for and it would also seem that it’s Northern Soul scene at the Twisted Wheel would have contributed to this.

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