LOOKING BACK INTERVIEWS SUIT YOURSELF'S M.D CRIS DAVIES
When Paul Martin, the successful producer of the fantastic Facebook group 'Looking Back' tapped Cris up for an interview for his group there was no way he was going to turn this opportunity down and began waffling on about all sorts of stuff, Thankfully he was curtailed slightly and below is an insight into one of the Suit Yourself partners way of thinking, Alan, Cris' partner in crime thinks he may have got away with it but he will be up next month as part of the Christmas special along with Mr Martin's own interview on his life within the Mod scene and his Facebook Super group.
You can join LOOKING BACK HERE
Looking back.. When did you become a Mod and what attracted you to the scene?
Hi Paul, thanks very much for inviting me to do this interview, I’m a huge fan of the ‘Looking back’ group so feel honoured to have been asked. This is going to make for an interesting read, for some it will be a bit of a toe curler but for others who follow slightly different paths they will ‘Get it’.
I’m 51 this year and doing something like this has given me time to reflect on what has become a bit of a cool life story, I’ll keep it to the shortened version so as not to bore the Looking Back readers, but my wife Beck keeps telling me to write a book about it, maybe one day….
I hit the ripe old age of 11 in 1979 and moved from my junior school to my senior in the London overspill town of Bracknell in Berkshire, I took a couple of very close friends with me who later became instrumental in starting The Hidden Traces AMSC, we are still very close now and recently celebrated our 35th Anniversary of the club. The secondary school was as all secondary schools were back then in the heyday of youth culture, filled with 1300 kids all sporting different fashions, Punk, Mod, Skinhead, Casuals, Goths and a few normal people. It was a real cultural melting pot of fashion, gangs, scooters and music and the odd scrap, it wasn’t until 1983 that school uniform was eventually made compulsory, so we had a few years of fun before then. I still remember the day I got called into the headmasters' office and told to take off all the patches from my Parka, I wasn’t a happy 13 year old!
The thing that struck me the most in those early years was my pre-secondary school days in about 78/79 as there were lots of older kids on scooters covered in lights and mirrors, I used to admire them from a distance but never understood it until I joined my secondary school where the sixth form used to come in on scooters looking really sharp, I looked up to them and soon I started listening to the Jam, Two Tone, early soul records and The Who, I was hooked. I remember at 12 years old checking out my swagger one night in the shadow of a street lamp, Parka on, both hands in jean pockets, thumbs out (Obviously) swaying from side to side thinking I was the nuts, yep Mod had hit me BIG TIME, the next few years was spent earning bits of money here and there, buying clothes and records hanging out at the local youth clubs and discos, heading to Carnaby street in London, more shopping, more posing and getting involved in a thing they used to call ‘The Walk’ where all the Mods from Carnaby street used to stroll round to the Kings Road to scrap all the Skinheads, either there or in the tube stations, it wasn’t that we were fighting all the time it’s just that youth culture was exciting and tribal at the same time and being young meant you mended easier.
I was lucky enough to hit the sweet old age of 16 in 1984, Boom! After the release of Quadrophenia a few years earlier it seemed like youth culture had swept the UK and it was time for the 20th anniversary Mod rallies, Brighton here we come, Imagine that. 16 and in Brighton in 1984, 20 years after the originals, I think I had about £20.00 to see me through the weekend but what an incredible weekend it was, thousands of scooters and hundreds of Mod scooter clubs, scooters were two a penny back then so pretty much everyone had one, we weren’t far off setting up our own club at that point. I can’t begin to tell you how that made me feel, we arrived on the Friday evening as the sun was setting to see these beautiful machines being ridden by proud owners with lights on and air horns blazing, fantastic stuff. The music and bands back then were incredible as the DJ’s were finding Mod classic after Mod classic and playing them in the clubs and rallies across the country. this was in the days before prejudices against chrome on scooters and Mod snobbery, it was about being with your mates having fun, belonging to a tribe, looking good and being awake for days……
At this point, I bought my first of many scooters, found a great tailor, Charlie in Carnaby street, bought material from Textile King in Soho, had suits of various variations and colours made and started hitting the clubs, this is where my real love of music and DJ’ing took hold that would later change my life…….
Looking back.. What are your favourite Mod events and rallies past and present?
As music quickly became my forefront of my Mod addiction, I tried to get to as many cool clubs as I possibly could, being from Berkshire spent a lot of time in the local and London cool hangouts, notably Paul ‘Smiler’ Anderson’s Kings Tavern nights in Reading, Sneakers at the Bush, the Bizz in Tooley Street, Drummonds and others promoted by the London scene, it was a chance to hear amazing music played by incredible DJ’s, it was the same with the rallies and all-dayers that had been organised by the Phoenix Mod Society and Tony Class’s C.C.I organisation, at the time we had set up The Hidden Traces and were seen at all the major rallies, I was one of the ones spending lots of money on vinyl, starting to build up my own collection with a view of promoting and DJing in the future. We then started promoting our own club events in Bracknell and my DJ career had begun.
If I had to pick a few favourite events, do’s and rallies from the past other than our own, a few that stand out would be the Birmingham events at the Polish club, The all-nighters at the Wirrina centre in Peterborough, The Mod Aid all-dayer in Walthamstow, the Isle of White Rallies held on Shanklin pier before it blew away and the aforementioned Kings Tavern run by the then ‘Reading Stylists’
As for today, I still have a big place in my heart for Brighton, we (Suit Yourself) have one foot in the city and on a more personal note I had my honeymoon there, in the old days when the scene split from the C.C.I into the Untouchables I was heavily involved with the Untouchables helping the guys setting up the events, all these years later I’m proud to be part of the New Untouchables and involved in the Brighton Mod weekends in August. It doesn’t matter what people say about Brighton it’s still a very special place that holds a lot of great memories for me.
Looking back.. Do you think the scene is in a healthy state at the moment, is there anything that you think could improve it?
I think the scene couldn’t be healthier! There are clubs, major events, weekenders, all-nighters/dayers being promoted on an international scale, lots of fantastic social media interaction, more and more young people finding the scene and more and more ex-lovers of the scene rekindling the old flame. Saying that there are downsides, there is a lot more money in the scene driving prices of records and scooters up almost making it impossible for youngsters to buy the things they want and then feeling alienated when buying things they can afford, i.e represses of records and cheaper replica scooters. Thankfully for the most, the older generation are welcoming but there is an element of Mod snobbery that should quite frankly ‘do one’.
Looking back.. Can you tell us some of our funniest memories?
Oh dear, a few, dragging my sister out the back of a police wagon in Bournemouth after getting into a row outside the venue with a load of casuals at a rally, wondering where one of our pals had disappeared to one night in the Isle of White from the B&B to have him return in the hands of the police, he had been chasing small people after a night on the funny tablets, trying desperately to stop my mirrors wobbling off my 150 super on a scooter cruise in Hastings, being thrown over the bonnet of a Ford Escort in Great Yarmouth as our scooter hit it side on at 50 and trying to stand up like nothing had happened, (Yeah right) being done for 6 different offences on a scooter at 16, picking up a new suit from Charlies tailors, busting it out for the first time and watched in horror as a car drove through a massive ice/rain puddle covering me in a personal tsunami, didn’t even get to the end of our road! still wore it with pride to the Bizz in London. And my personal favourite, getting my first legal scooter, a Vespa PK 50 and riding it to a family holiday from Bracknell to Looe in Cornwall, 14 hours there, 16 back!, my dad had a motorbike and pitying me offered to lend me his balaclava for the return journey as I had an open face, it rained for 16 hours, when I eventually got home I took it off to reveal a bright blue Smurf like face, the dye had stained my skin, couldn’t go out for nearly a month…….Yep, funny.
Looking back.. How did the fantastic website ‘Suit Yourself’ come about?
This is where the toe-curling may start, in the early 90’s, like so many others we had been In the scene for over a decade, the last 10 years or so had been an amazing roller coaster of fun and excitement, I had been helping promote various Mod events in London and on the south coast and ended up living in Wellingborough for a brief time before moving to Maidstone where myself and one of my oldest friends Rob Bailey ended up working together, Rob had continued to promote in London while I took a break away from it while living in Wellingborough, we started promoting together again and set up the Legendary Mousetrap All-nighters, yes THE Mousetrap that Rob has successfully run for nearly 30 years, I had been Djing and promoting for many years at this point but due to things happening in my personal life I felt a natural end was coming with my time in the scene. It has to be said at this point that my love of being able to play records to a crowd never left and I continued to do so for another 20 years albeit to a very different beat. Fast forward 20 years and whilst other early Mods had left the scene to settle down and pay mortgages etc I had jet-setted off to different parts of the world playing in front of sell-out crowds of 1000’s and making a name for myself. I had also taken to promoting in a BIG way and have 100’s of flyers of events that I had organised, one of these was a successful night I ran for nearly 5 years in Maidstone called ‘Suit Yourself’, the name came directly from my time spent in the Mod scene and the flyer designs were all sixties images, it was the same with other nights I ran, Barbarella and Cool Britannia, the Mod thing never really left my side even when I was promoting Suit Yourself in the hedonistic island of Ibiza.
It got to a point in my early forties that DJ’s on the dare I say it ‘dance scene’ was becoming more and more technologically aware and started using CDJ’s and MP3’s and turntables were being taken out of clubs, at which point I hung up my headphones and left…..Interestingly I took my son to the science museum recently and behind a case lay a set of Technics decks and a mixer with the words ‘Made famous by club DJ’s of the 90’s’, yep my history in a museum! Now I was starting to feel old.
A couple of years later I found myself in Brighton on the off chance with my wife Beck on an August bank holiday, all of a sudden I was back in my heyday in the mid-eighties, I had walked straight into a New Untouchables rally and if you interviewed many others of my age that re-found the scene they will tell you, it’s the most incredible feeling, like visiting family that never changed, always welcoming, like you had never left…
At the time I had an extremely stressful job which took up a lot of my spare time as well and I needed something to combat the stress, I had 30 plus years experience in the music business behind me and was pondering on designing a website for my new rekindled passion of the Mod scene with the idea of relaunching Suit Yourself as a brand once again completing a 20 year circle. The idea was born and we needed some content, I had reached out to a few old friends for interviews and the Glory boys scooter club for a club feature, I was all set and ready to go….
Now, this is where things get interesting, I had never really been into football but Beck, my wife is an avid fan of a south-west London club and she used to take me to experience the ‘BIG’ matches, it was after one of these matches that something intervened and set the course for where we are today. On the tube after the game Beck was chatting with one of her friends when I heard my name mentioned between the crowd of supporters, looking up Alan Saunders came into view “Hello Cris mate, long time no see”, Alan was one of my old pals from the Hidden Traces days whom I hadn’t seen for 30 years! he was one of the original Glory Boys from Aldershot and within 3 or 4 stops we had both caught up, me telling him about the Suit Yourself idea and him telling me he lived in Brighton with a selection of Lambrettas in the garage, Alan has never left the Mod scene, Mod through and through, I asked him if he fancied doing an interview for the site and he agreed.
The day was set, we were off to Brighton to do a piece on the city, Alan and later meet the Glory Boys for a photo shoot, after touring the City it was off to Alan’s place. Now let me tell you a little bit about Mr Saunders, he has had a very successful career and was able to retire early, after kicking about Europe in a camper van for a few months his brain was getting bored until that chance meeting on the tube. Once we were together again, even though we had a look at his lovely scooter collection no interview was done as we're just talking about the limitless possibilities we could do together as partners in crime, within three hours of us departing Alan had text me lots of ideas and I had bagged myself a partner. With his skills in social media and being able to join dots and bring people together and my 30 years experience in the music business coupled with both our loves of the scene, we launched Suit Yourself Modernist Culture and www.suityourselfmodernists.com, the plan to become an online magazine for the Modernist scene.
Suit Yourself was launched Easter 2017 at Le Beat Bespoke in London and we’ve not looked back since, to date we have interviewed lots of amazing people for the site, hosted loads of cool events in London, Brighton and Bristol and launched our umbrella company Suit Yourself Music Culture. We promote artists The Black Delta Movement, Liverpool’s Little Triggers and DJ’s Keb Darge, Alan and myself through our agency. We have some amazing news coming over the next few months but will keep a bit tight-lipped at the moment on that. We also help promote all other promoters events and music and book releases through the site.
Looking back.. There’s an earthquake, you have to rescue 3 records. Which ones?
That’s a difficult question, over the years I’ve owned 1000’s of records but have managed to whittle them down to about 1000, trouble is every record now takes me back to a certain time in my life so couldn’t pick three, I think I would have to leave them all behind as each one means so much and the bloody earthquake would get me before I decided.
Looking back.. Could you give us your top 10 to dance to
I’m going to put a bit of a spin on it here and rather than list 10 big Mod records, I’m going to list 10 extremely cool Mod orientated tunes that I consider great music for the modern Modernist, they range from original, through funk, soul, Ska, modern Jazz and chillout spanning the last few decades, these tracks I would have on a playlist at home or happily DJ with……….
1 – The Bahama Soul club featuring Pat Appleton – Bossa Bop – Valique’s mix
2 – Hipster Image – Make her mine
3 – James Brown and the Famous Flames – There was a time – Kenny Dope mix
4 – Nicole Conte – Bossa Per Due
5 – Soopasoul – Brand New
6 – Bo street Runners – Baby never say goodbye
7 – Marcia Griffiths – Feel like Jumping
8 – Wade Flemons - Jeanette
9 – Rita and the Tiaras – Gone with the wind
10 – Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground
Looking back.. What words of encouragement would you give to youngsters coming into the scene?
Easy, the scene is AMAZING!, pick and choose the elements that are right for you and run with it, enjoy every second and don’t listen to people who think they know best, true Modernists forge new ideas and excitement, you are the new Modernists, you are the new trendsetters, the future’s not ours it’s yours, go wild and have fun.
Looking back.. Favourite DJ’s past and present.
I have always loved DJ’s that test boundaries as it’s the way I like to DJ, I’ve never been into the ‘only playing records pre 64’ vibe, don’t see the point. It’s a very blinkered attitude, you can probably tell by my top 10 that I don’t conform to standards and I like DJ’s that think the same, so without further ado, here is my list of fabulous Disc jockeys….
Paul ‘Smiler’ Anderson – Paul is a firm favourite as his collection and tastes are broad beyond the Mod boundaries. Every record that I have heard Paul play I’ve loved and is an early influence of mine.
Rob Bailey – Rob is up right up there, he is constantly evolving whether it be Mod sets or Psyche, Garage sets, I love the way he blends musical scenes and creates a unique sixties brand in the New Untouchables.
Lee and Dave Grimshaw – Both these guys have their fingers in different musical pies playing at festivals as well as cool Mod venues. Their Spinout Revue shows pushes envelopes which I love.
Lee Miller – well, Lee is Lee, originator, mover, shaker, a true DJ’s DJ who is happy to share his knowledge, always on point musically and a real crate digger.
Alan Saunders – Al’s taste in soul music is incredible and his passion for music outside the Mod bubble gives him the edge. His shows on Brighton FM and DJ sets are edgy mixing old with current, originals and Acid Jazz and album tracks from new artists.
Alan Handscombe – What this man doesn’t know about music is anyone’s guess, he plays the best of all genres within the scene and has his own page on our site, a true pioneer within the scene and a lover of quality music of all genres, a definite groundbreaker.
I have a few outside the scene but are not relevant here.
Looking back.. What were, are your favourite style of clothing and do you buy tailored or vintage?
In my early days I used to love a tailored suit, macs, loafers, umbrellas, you know, the look. But today I’m far more relaxed, you will only see me in a tie at a wedding or funeral, I like a good simple shirt, Jacket and trouser combo, Italian tops with well-cut trousers and brogues or loafers, vintage when I can but no longer worried about tailoring so much as it’s so expensive.
Looking back.. You are now settled in Bristol….how is the scene there.
Bristol is a fantastic city, I live just outside in the country now as city life can be a bit hectic, it’s a very diverse musical city with fantastic bars and famous nightclubs and venues, the scene in Bristol is very, very strong with more and more events happening almost on a weekly basis, to give you an idea over the next few weeks The Spitfires, Stone foundation, James Taylor Quartet and loads of other cool bands are appearing, there are cool club nights happening too, at one point we were putting on regular nights but opted for the once a year option as there is so much going on.
Looking back.. The Bristol mod weekend next year looks to be a great one with some fantastic DJ’s lined up. Is it stressful organising an event like this?
Now, this is a great question, I have been lucky enough over the years to be involved with or promoted some huge festivals and club nights both here and in Europe, last count nearly 1000 and in one way or another they are all stressful, whether you’re worried about attendance, money, venue owners, DJ’s and bands turning up and playing to the crowd or not as the case maybe, professional jealousy, people that think they know better or even rain! It’s all the same and the Bristol weekender is no different, programming things in properly, promoting the event and making sure everyone who comes is safe and having a great time, it can all be challenging but with the right team of people it can become the most amazing, rewarding experience ever! If anyone tells you they are doing it for the money, they are doing it wrong. We have incredible bands and stupendously good DJ’s, and after a bit of a mess around with venues (see told you it was challenging) a beautiful new venue in the heart of the City. We are looking forward to an incredible weekend in an amazing city, tickets have been flying out for weeks now which is amazing and we are truly thankful to those that put their trust in us to give them a great show and top weekend. We hope you can join us for the first BIG weekender of 2019.