JASON BRUMMELL'S BOOKS
ALL ABOUT MY GIRL & ALL OR NOTHING.
Part two of our Lockdown long read sessions welcomes the amazingly talented Jason Brummell to the fore. Jason, author and owner of Suave Collective publishing captures the very essence of the early Mod scene in these beautifully written books All about my girl and his second offering All or nothing. Both books stick closely to the original scene whilst taking you on a journey through adventure and mystery. Here he gives us the first two chapters of each masterpiece to give you a taste of splendid things to come if you choose to buy the books which are still available in limited quantities through the Suave collective website at the bottom of this page.
Also available at the bottom of the page is a link to exclusive interviews with Jason and one of his other 'Suave' writers Jason Disley from 2017 for now, sit back relax and let Mr Brummell take you to a place where the coolest of Modernists hang out........
ALL ABOUT MY GIRL - CHAPTER ONE
Bang! I’m out of the underground. Dead centre of London! Dead centre of the world…well dead centre of my world! Nothing else matters!
Its still early, it was easier to just go rather than try to explain it to my parents… I mean they’re alright but how could they ever understand? My elder brother kind of knew, he was one of the original Modernists, following Ronnie Scott’s Modern Jazz dream, but he was lost to the music. He dressed like his heroes Chet Baker and Miles Davis, but he did it because they did. His prize possession, well save his albums and his saxophone, was his genuine Brooks Brothers shirt, that he literally bought off the back of one of the American GI’s attending one of his gigs. Not a bad way to spend a night’s pay!
The shirt is admittedly beautiful, brilliant white and with a roll on the collar that was just perfect, button down collars of course. He would wear that shirt with one or the other of his black suits, everywhere he played, often with his growing collection of ‘Modern Jazz’ ties which to my mind are just too ‘Jazzy’ and not enough ‘Modern’ if you know what I mean… but as I say he’s lost to the music. He’d be dissecting it, breaking it down, hoping to put it back again, with a little of him in it, but really it is just a copy, it isn’t new… To me this misses the point, but hey he was one of the originals, and could have been a real face but he missed the boat and as they say time waits for no man!
I’m walking up Shaftesbury Avenue, the two blues I took before leaving the train are starting to kick in. Blue is the last thing I’m feeling when I look in the widow of Austins, and check out the best thing in the window. My reflection! Yes that Brooks Brothers shirt looks perfect; man is my brother going to go spare when he gets back from work and finds it missing, but right now tomorrow is a lifetime away. The white shirt is offset by a dark blue knitted tie, with two thin parallel ice blue stripes, held perfectly in place by a pearl tie-pin. Actually it was one of Nan’s old hat pins that I lifted one day and sorted it out with the aid of some of my old man’s tools from the shed at the back of the house, but it looks the par. Of course I tell everyone that it’s a tiepin, only I can’t put it on until I leave the house in case the whereabouts of Nan’s genuine pearl hatpin becomes apparent.
The suit is looking slightly black in this half light, reflection but I know it’s actually Mohair and as blue as midnight, I’m still paying for it now, but it’s worth every penny. I smile to myself remembering how frustrated the tailor was with the constant revisions; but I wanted what I wanted. I think even he is quite pleased now its finished; hand sewing the lapels as I’d asked, even more pleased now that others have been in asking to have a suit just like it. The lapels are narrow but with the top lapel slightly longer than the bottom. God that took some explaining, as did the three clothe covered buttons, but I’m sure he’ll be first to agree that they really work. It has eight-inch side vents, which were originally five, then six as we went along but hey that’s the nature of this game. The pockets are sloped at forty-five degree angles and flapped, but with the front of the pocket lower than the side. If you drew a line along the pocket and beyond it would line up exactly where the side vent started. Ticket pocket of course, but inside the jacket, everyone has theirs on the outside. My favourite touch which cost an extra five guineas each but make all the difference are the cuffs; which have hidden buttons, like the fly-fronted Mac Dexter Gordon wears on one of my brothers Blue Note albums. Naturally every so often I have to leave one of the buttons undone, just to be seen doing it up again. The only thing I am slightly unsure of are the narrow legged fifteen-inch bottomed trousers; that have a two inch slit up the outer seam and two tiny cloth covered buttons either side. I have only been wearing the suit for about a week and I’ve already seen my friend Paolo, do the same to his trousers, and although I could say I am flattered, truth be told I don’t want anyone else to be the same as me. That said he always wears his suit with desert boots, which although now very popular, I don’t think look as smart as my shoes, which I bought with my first weeks wage packet from Anello and Davide. They are loafer style, and wine coloured, yet cut lower than I’ve ever seen a pair cut before. They said that they’d been made to order for some pop star who’d faded before Mr Larry Parnes, Shillings and Pence ever came back to collect them… so I know at least they can’t be so easily copied.
I comb my hair in the reflection in one of the widows although I know its perfect. French crew style but with a slight backcomb at the crown, not too much as although it had to be right I prefer the shorter look that was prevalent about three months ago. The pearl tiepin catches the light and winks conspiratorially. Yeah! I am ready for the Scene.
I hear the piston pop of a Vespa and look around to see Nicos a friend of mine waving at me while steering his GS one-handed through one of Britain’s busiest through fares. He is headed to the Scene too but I dismiss the offer of a lift. I don’t know what it was about scooters but they didn’t float my boat, I mean I love the kick-start, and the explosion into life, Drinamyl has the same effect on me, but I live in London and there is plenty of public transport about and besides my money is strictly for clobber, not for Scooters. There is always talk of trips to Brighton and that but it just reminds me of those old scooter-boys and their gymkhanas… and why leave London, the centre of the universe? Nah not for me thanks!
A quick glance left and right and I pop another leaper that I have got ready with the other hand while combing my barnet, just to keep the momentum upward…
The Scene doesn’t serve alcohol, not that we drink much, but I fancy one or two, take the edge of the leapers until I am on that dance-floor. I nip into the Crown in Brewer Street and as luck would have it Paolo and Kit are also in there, standing all at angles and talking out the sides of their mouths to each other. They must be blocked as they keep picking up their Rum and Coke and letting it hover near their mouths for a few thousand words before setting it back down on the bar untouched. I order one for myself and take a large sip to whet my whistle and join in the fray.
‘Alright old son’ I say to Kit, who I haven’t seen for a while, but as it transpires has been working on a big project out of town, where he has a load of new council houses to paint and decorate as is his trade. But now he is back and has money burning a hole in his pockets, some of which he’s obviously spent on pills as his eyes are burning a hole right through the pub like X-Ray vision or something, Paolo is obviously the lucky recipient of Kit’s generosity as he’s chewing away ten to the dozen and popping fresh sticks of gum into his mouth every five minutes.
‘’Andsome’ he says, feeling under the lapels of my new suit, ‘Paolo told me you’d decided to join the smart set’.
Cheeky get! It was alright for him working with his Old Man and making some good money. Then again work takes him away from the world for up to six weeks at a time… maybe working in that Advertising firm isn’t so bad, it keeps me in touch with the scene.
‘It’s alright for you part timers’ I say, but I know they are both genuinely impressed with the whistle and its moments like these that make the three pound a week worth every penny… those that know. Yes my mum thought I looked smart and my dad chided me ‘is that all the go now then?’ But, it’s only the cognoscenti that see all the detail.
‘Show him the cuffs’ say’s Paolo and so with great exaggeration I proceed to undo and do up the cuff buttons like a Magician showing that nothing is up his sleeves except in my case the magic of my tailor.
‘Nice!’ agrees Kit. ‘Very nice indeed!’
I down the remaining rum and coke, and tears momentarily dance into my eyes as the three of us head out into the Soho night, past the mixed stares of the ignorant and a couple of Queens that are vada-ing away in a corner booth. We slip into the velvet, each one of us dressed like high street jewels.
Kit is resplendent in his favourite suit, a beautiful dark brown double breasted number with a rose pinstripe and matching rose silk lining, that flashes every time he dances due to the outrageous 12” side vents. He has a matching rose silk handkerchief that is held in place by a gold stud, that he had engraved with his initials, as were his matching gold cufflinks, which is typical of his flash attitude, but don’t the birds just love it! – He’s always had a thing for posh birds, but the relationships don’t last too long once the parents find out he is a painter and decorator from Acton, no matter how well turned out he is.
Paolo is quieter, more studious and is at Ealing Art College, studying graphic design. As such, he never has much of the folding stuff although I once managed to sell one of his pieces of art for one of our Ad campaigns, which brought him in a few quid, which he duly invested in an enviable wardrobe. His speciality is designing shirts, which have old WW2 medals and patches and other odds and sods on them that made him look like a walking advert sometimes, but they were saved for special nights out, to see bands and stuff. Tonight is the Scene. That means smart first and foremost. He has an Italian box jacket and hipster cut trousers in matching Prince of Wales check, with a cream tab collared shirt and brown knitted tie with a feint black stripe. On his feet are the obligatory desert boots, but these he’s dyed black with Indian ink at college. He’s a really creative and talented guy and it’s ideas like these that hold him in such high standing among us despite his frequent lack of funds.
We arrive at Ham Yard where the most important part of the Scene is. The yard is a veritable parade of style and the stylish. There are a few scooters too, they are getting more popular and chrome panels are obviously the done thing as they all bar an older Lambretta LD, which looks dated among the newer machines, have Chrome bubbles and side panels glinting in the sodium light glare of Soho’s neon streets. Nicos was still leaning casually half sitting on his bottle green GS, he sees us and walks speed-wise to us hands in his white Levis, thumbs out pointing at the crotch just so. He has a Breton shirt in Cream with Dark Green stripes, under a matching Bottle Green Baracutta Harrington and has obviously dressed to show off his GS to its greatest effect, although by far and away the greatest part to my eye are his pair of ‘basket’ shoes, that he had returned from Greece with after his Mothers funeral. They were actually made of wicker with a rope sole, and simply no one else has a pair like it, quite what good they’d do if he ever fell off his GS I dare not imagine… but as I say why live for tomorrow, it’ll be here soon enough.
ALL OR NOTHING - CHAPTER ONE
You forget! The sunshine makes you forget… forget how grey London is. How grey everything is. Ashen faced people shrouded in drab suits. Their begrudging steps resound on the grey-paved streets as they plod ever onwards across soot flecked brick bridges. And forever beneath their sullen march slides a soupy river; oily reflecting the leaden skies above, just like milky London tea, all grey… it’s good to be home again!
Three years of Milan sunshine and fresh air… fresh air… Christ it’s nothing like London.
S’funny the magazine I work for is always on about ‘Swinging London’ and its colour-drenched effect on the Milan fashion houses or how the Milan fashion houses dictate the colourful fashions of ‘Swinging London’… both sell magazines… but once you’re here it seems so dull and dirty. Even the sparrows seem to bicker here. In Italy the birds sing arias giving thanks to the heavenly sun… here they just argue amid the grey-ness.
‘Swinging London?’ they should have seen it when fashion really meant something, when it came from the kids, not from some high street diktat. Commercial awareness of the teenage pounds, shillings and pence… live now pay later… its already dead, it just doesn’t know it! Three years ago I could tell you a kid’s tailor by the stitching on his lapels. Whether shoes were Ravel’s or Stan’s of Battersea. Nowadays that subtlety, that individuality is gone. Pile them up high; bang them out cheap. Today’s fashion is archaeology by tomorrow. If it isn’t who’s going to keep buying it?
The ubiquitous grey; or possibly this knowledge, is seeping into my flesh and I shiver, my Italian-made suit; star-fish quality material in a discreet mid-blue is too light-weight for London climes even with my off-white Brioni Mac on.
The distinct chain-slap motor of a blue and white slim-style Lambretta, bereft of any chrome or adornments makes me look up. I’m clocked by the rider and I can see a tiny simmer of jealousy. He knows I’ve got it down pat and I smile to myself as he passes. I guess he is what passes for Mod these days, but it’s not the same. His hair is too long, the clothes just too lairey, shoes too pointed. It’s not the same… like Milan and London I guess.
I cut up through a still lively Covent Garden and down Old Compton street taking a right about halfway down at Frith street to see if the Italia is still here. My heart is gladdened as I’m greeted by the familiar clock and bounce in for simply the best cappuccino outside of Italy itself. Truly little cups of sunshine amid the perpetual grey! The waiter’s brow narrows at the sight of the mac and looks at me as if I may be a compatriot but although I’m now rather fluent in Italian I’m not up for a conversation so I leave my sunglasses on and give it the cockney patter ‘Cappuccino please old son’. He gets the message and busies himself polishing the other tables, pausing only to bring me the cup of hot froth and a small chit.
Out of habit I peer over the top of my tortoiseshell half-rimmed sunglasses and check out my neat reflection in the mirror that runs the length of the Bar. I pat down the sides of my hair and deciding the waiter will leave me in peace I get my notepad out and reflect on what brings me back to my home town after three years.
A couple of scooters parking-up outside drag me from my musing. Two guys, younger guys, maybe sixteen, but markedly different to their longer haired kin of earlier! The clothes are sharp enough but more drably functional, Fred Perry shirt, red V-neck and hounds-tooth trousers, cherry-red shoes with yellow stitching. I’m struck by the hair; short, very short… reminding me of the Mile-end lads… hard-Mods they called themselves, the fair haired one’s scalp virtually visible as he pulls the Vespa back on to its stand. He pats down his beige Harrington and pulls at the collars momentarily showing a shock of red tartan lining and assured in their youthfulness they bounce in.
They place their drinks order and taking a seat a couple of tables in front of me they start off by talking about the World Cup kicking off this afternoon and England’s chances. I’ve been here less than three hours and you can’t move for Union Jacks and rosettes. Right now amongst the purveying greyness, the colours of Swinging London are definitely red, white and blue. Presently I drift away again with just a casual reference to some Blue-Beat track or other piquing my interest as they sip a couple of freshly delivered cokes. I haven’t heard any Ska in three years.
I stare into the remains of my three-quarters-drunk cappuccino growing cold and I decide against finishing it. I check my watch. Ten past three; he’s late, but time keeping never was his forte. I’m half way through ordering another cappuccino reassuring the waiter the first was fine and I am just tired is all when I can see a familiar looking Vespa pull up ‘better make that two please’. I pick up my pad empty apart from two words; ‘Kit’ and ‘Why?’ and slip it into the pocket of the mac, it was going nowhere fast.
His hair is longer, the curls more evident, and he’s filled out into a man. The limp isn’t as pronounced as I thought it would be and he still cuts as dash in a rather sharp dark brown and black Bengal stripe jacket and a vibrant orange and yellow paisley giraffe-collared shirt, he steps around a departing attractive blonde with a flourish and flashing his inimitable grin after her continuing his pirouette round, smile still in place, his eyes meet mine. ‘Hello stranger’
‘Nicos’ I embrace him and we hug each other hard in silence.
We take our seats as the cappuccinos are placed on the table by the waiter who discretely gathers up the payment for the previously one, wiping the table with a flourish before retreating back to the counter.
‘Nice to see your keeping Italy’s finest tailors and hairdressers in business’ says Nicos as he feels under the lapel
‘Doesn’t look like you’ve seen either of yours of late’
‘John Stephens mate’ pulling at his own lapels, ‘he’s moved on a bit since your day’
‘What into? Soft furnishings?’ I nod to the shirt
‘Harry Fenton… he does lovely paisleys’.
The conversation dries up a little, a great weight of the unsaid passes between us. Now is not the time.
Between swigs of cappuccino the moment fades and the conversation is changes to more comfortable territory. ‘How long are you over for?’
‘Not sure… I’m supposed to be taking shots of ‘Swinging London’ for work’ I answer tapping the camera on the table ‘but I’ve got some holiday owing so maybe a month… I dunno see how I feel… I told them I was coming back to see my parents and I know they’ve done a series on London fashions and I blagged them into paying for the airfare by and large… I upgraded to an open ended ticket myself’
‘Just in time for the World Cup… nice one!’
‘That’s what they thought initially I think… but hey I’m here now’
‘You’ve seen your Mum and Dad yet?’
‘Nah I only got back a couple of hours ago, I’m heading off over there next’
‘Want a lift’ says Nicos, nodding to his scooter outside.
‘Is it the same one?’
‘Yeah it wasn’t too badly damaged. My cousin did the repairs and it’s as good as new. I don’t use it so much these days but with the game this afternoon I figured it would be easier to get around town than the motor’
‘Yeah go on then…’
Nicos chucks a couple of bob on the table for the coffee’s and I follow him out, around the table where the two young hard-mods are sat, laughing raucously ‘I mean who the bleedin’ ‘ell are Uruguay?’ and I think to myself I can’t remember feeling that young and free.
The GS still looked good; bottle green with chrome mudguard and bubbles, two jag-lights flashing back memories of the cream coloured 2-seater Jag they came from. After bungee cording my small case securely to the chrome rack on the front he kicks the bike over and it fires into life instantly belching blue smoke out of the twin-piped Ken Cobbin exhaust. He pulls it off the stand, blipping the throttle and stands back as I climb on leaning back as he gets on in front of me. I lean back into my locked arms holding onto the underside of the back of the seat. Nicos perches on the end of the seat in front of me, his feet pointing out ‘ten to two’, just as it was… just as it should be, as we weave through the West End and out towards West London, familiar sites and surprisingly updated parts passing us by on the way.
Both of Jason's books can be bought direct from the Suave Collective website HERE
For more fantastic reading read his exclusive interview with Suit Yourself HERE
Jason is currently working on a new title which we shall promoting soon.....