SUIT YOURSELF INTERVIEWS

GILL AND STUART EVANS-CATLING

There are times when we have to pinch ourselves on the arm whilst producing articles for the website, we get to meet some incredible people on our Suit Yourself journey and it's an honour for us when these people agree to share their history and lives with us. Gill and Stuart Evans-Catling are two of those very special people, both steeped in Modernist history and both with amazing stories to tell. Gill, one of the original Modernists or Continentalists as she once termed herself has lived her life echoing the true ethos of Modernist culture. From the late 50's Beatnik and trad Jazz scene, through the 60's Mod scene, onto the revival period and right up to present day Gill has had her hand in the fashion and design industry and has recently won the prestigious Fashion designer of the year award for Birmingham.

Stuart cut his teeth in the back streets of Ipswich, his own journey begins pre Quadrophenia days through the halcyon times of the 80's and onward into the modern Mod scene where Stuart proudly runs his own design label catering for gentleman.

 

Cris Davies spent the day at their home/studio in Sutton Coldfield where this exclusive interview took place surrounded by both of these inspiring people's work. we are very proud to bring you this interview with two of the scenes most loved people - Click on the images below to step into a world of the original Modernists before kicking back to let Gill and Stuart transport you back in time to where it all began......

Gill's story....

I was born in Birmingham 1944, My mother was a Designer Dress Maker and my Father was a Toolmaker. In 1949/50 my Mother was busy making and Recreating French Couture looks for her clients, My Grandfather had given me a Singer sewing machine from his shop, and my Mother used to give me the scraps of Fabrics she was making the garments from, and even at 5 years old I could cut out by freehand and make copies of what she was making. As a child any story books I was given as a present I would draw and design dresses that were in my head around the spaces on every page. My mother saw my Artistic talent and this in later Years inspired her to tell me that I would go to Art School.. At infants and Junior school I was never interested in the normal subject known as the 3 R’s … I was only interested in Art drawing & Painting .. I was once given only red paint to paint a picture.. I questioned this with the Teacher and told her I needed the other colours to finish my painting.. she just told me to just get on with it. When I was 8 I found another vocation in dancing ( another form of Art) My Parents sent me to Shirley Thompson Stage School.. I continued dancing until 16 and was regularly in shows at various Theatres including the Birmingham Hippodrome.. My Mother was involved in making the costumes for every dancer in the shows.

In 1957 when I was 13 my Mothers aspirations came true when I gained a scholarship to Moseley School of Art in Birmingham. I had to do 3 days of Exams in painting .. painting a picture Still life painting Architectural drawing to Scale and also take the standard 11 plus… I passed and was part of only 32 girls in Birmingham and the surrounding area to be accepted to this prestigious Art School. It was a 3 year course and at that time school leaving age was 15 but at Art School we stayed until we were 16 … other pupils who attended the Art School although different years when I was there  were Christine Perfect ( Fleetwood Mac ) and Roy Wood ( The Move) and the members of  Rocking Berries Brian Chuck Botfield, Bob Bates, Dave Dean and Tony Withers of the Senator’s … The Performing Arts was also encouraged unlike General Subjects… don’t get me wrong you had to be clever because learning was more about Art than Spelling…English Literature consisted of the Teacher reading  Dickens and we would paint an illustration for each page in the book.. Geography was drawing Maps .. History was drawing costumes.My Favourite Subject was Dress Design and Dress Making .. I remember on my first day being introduced to Miss Pearson a very Stylish Lady who always said you should never where black before 30 years old .. She was always immaculately turned out wearing black dresses and a string of Pearls as years later to be recreated in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Audrey Hepburn, Our first lesson was a shadow embroidery design the next lesson we were designing and making clothes. I owe everything I can do today due to my Art School Education.

In 1959 I started to become influenced by French and Italian Design and Modern Art. A lot of my influences came From Films like Roman Holiday and Musicals which my Parents took me to see several times a week. I had also taken a keen interest in music but not just Rock n Roll .. it was Jazz that I loved to hear … I was 15 and I was going to Jazz cellar clubs ( Gervis’s cellar club,) and Jazz Café’s ( The Stage Door) owned by the Campbell family ( UB40 ). It was more the Beatnik scene and films like Beat Girl were encouraging Teenagers to look and act differently to the Rock n Roll look.

I was Designing my own clothes and wearing Dark colours made with  fabrics such as Corduroy and Cambray this I had called my Continentalists/ Beat Girl look … My Mother wasn’t impressed as our Neighbours would often stop her in the street and ask if I was all  right in the head because I looked so different from there own children and I was not like everybody else. On one occasion I was asked to go to the greengrocers I had seen the orange string sacks the loose Carrots had came in looked interesting and an idea had started to take shape in making a dress so  I asked him to save them for me.. my Mother on her visit to them had been presented with several string bags by the greengrocer and had told her that they were for her Gillian.. This did not go down very well at Tea time … when I think back on this incident it was almost the start of Punk Rock.

At Gervis’s Jazz Cellar Club there was a variety of Age Groups all listening and dancing to Jazz..I was once bought Vodka Tomato Juice by a 50 year old man… I quickly hid the drink  under one of the benches they had for seating and rushed onto the dance floor with my friend Diane. This was the early sixties and we were young naive teenage girls.. It was at the Stage door in 1961 that I met my first Husband Del .. he came through the door wearing black corduroy trousers roll neck jumper and a Navy blue Donkey Jacket and Chelsea boots…but what caught my eye was the Guitar slung across his back … like Adam Faith In Beat Girl .. we got to know each other and was part of the group I was going around with.. it wasn’t until over a year later we started to become an item ..On one occasion a group of us got an invite to a party unfortunately when we got there it was on another day.. we started to walk back to Birmingham city centre it was freezing cold and some decided to break in to the train station waiting room …one of the guys had a guitar and some of the guys started a fire and we all sat around singing and Dancing until it was light to get back home it was all very Beatnik and Cool.

In 1962 both Myself and Del went to Brighton separately and at different times… I went first with my friend Diane from Art School … after a few days we met up with some guys who looked and liked  the same music as we did .. We used to go to a Pub called the Basket Maker Arms … the Guys lived on a barge in Shoreham and often said that they were Musicians and one day they would be famous they also kept asking us to you back to the barge for more Drinks but we didn’t… 6 months later and back in Birmingham my father was reading a paper and I spotted the two guys I was playing darts with .. I said I know them it’s Keith and Charlie they said they were going to be famous… my father was never impressed by the Rolling Stones…I cut the article out and had it on my bedroom wall… my Mother one night ripped it of the wall and threw  it out … As for Del he went down to Brighton for a Weekend and stayed 3 weeks when he returned to Birmingham he got the sack from the Co-op he was working for as a delivery boy .. life was always so fun and Exciting.

Before I started going out with Del I was seeing a guy Called Tony he was a sharp dresser and fabulous Dancer .. he used to make me practice before we went dancing at the Westend Ball Room  … he had a scooter A Vespa  but I never went on it as he was a learner, Eventually Del asked me Out and I  had arranged to see another Guy at Earlswood  Jazz Festival so I decided to meet both of them there … it wasn’t my best idea I have ever had but it turned out ok as I stayed with Del as he had impressed me with a drawing of a house he had designed.

Del and  I both loved the French Italian look and we were creating and drawing Fashion items for us both…I would draw styles of suits and Del would add leather buttons or collars and he would get them made up at Hepworth in Birmingham.. Myself I would be making outfits to wear that weekend and Change then the following weekend … I was also making Clothes for Boutiques and Del and I would drive around boutique to boutique selling them and getting repeat orders .. I had always been in full time employment since I had left Art School first with Emile Littlers the Theatrical Costumiers   then I was a window Dresser then a sales Assistant at Neatawear  working with Billie Davis and eventually moving to Rackhams Dept Store in 1964.

So Life was exciting We had been regulars in the Birmingham Mod scene for several Years and unbeknown to us the word Mods was never used by us until 63 .. we always called ourselves Continentalists… The Westend Ballroom the Whisky ago go and several other clubs and pubs were our regular nights … now looking back some nights seem very unusual like always going to see Spencer Davis at the Golden Eagle every Monday night.. I was so lucky to see bands like Long John Baldry and the Steam packet at the Westend Ballroom and The Moody Blues …

I Knew a guy called Brian Hines I had often seen him in a band called Denny and the diplomats he  worked at Rackhams on the record counter .. me and my Friend would go to see him at lunch time and get him to spin the latest soul Tunes .. he used to tell us he was in a band and often invited us to come and see them at first I didn’t realise it was Denny Lane from the Moody blues as  I always knew him as Brian and he was with Denny and the Diplomats…So Back to the Ballroom more and more people were turning up wearing the same look as we were wearing … The Westend had it’s unofficial segregation on the dance floor .. The bikers,Rock n Roll look stood  by the stage … The Mids ( not Mods or Rockers ) as we called them in the Centre and us the Mods /Stylist at the back near the cloakroom so we could always pop in and check our appearance. we were small in Numbers but even then we all had places to stand and pose … as the Ballroom was unlicensed ( no Alcohol ) we would either have a Tea /Coffee or Kia Ora Orange with the plastic oranges floating in the Dispenser.. The Westend used to have bands like Long John Baldry and the Steam packet including Rod Stewart .. The Hollies and various other bands from Liverpool Manchester and London… Black American Soul artists  also played in and around the Birmingham area I was lucky enough to see so many Great Artists Ray Charles, Ben E King , Desmond Dekker Edwin Star, The Temptations and loads  more at various Clubs.. Two Mod Guys who where friends of ours decided to open there own club … The Whiskey… it was great originally a dance studio above Chetwyn’s Menswear store in central Birmingham… this lasted form 64 to 66 and I only recently found out it was the first club in Birmingham to be raided for Drugs and it closed due to the license not being renewed.

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My Two favourite Birmingham bands were the Moody Blues and Spencer Davis we followed these two bands around the City as there look and style was just like ours … The other band that I  loved was the Beatles.. The Merseybeat sound was something different and their look was clean cut and always stylish, unfortunately I never got to see them, We had tickets once to see the at a club, but for some reason Del decided he didn’t want to go, Looking back I should have made him

By 67 the scene was changing I was was still working full time and also still designing making and supplying Boutiques the fashions had changed it was Hot pants Mini skirts Maxi dresses and anything Crochet … I was always ahead of the time just as I was in the early 60s and this was a big contributing factor to my success… So in 1967 Del and I were Married.. Del had started in the Motor Trade and within 4 years he had opened his first of five Classic and High performance Car showrooms .. I had become a mother by 1973 and was now changing the way I worked looking after my daughter at I decided to change one of the room in our home to a design studio and run Clothes parties from it .. this was a successful idea and people would come in groups and look at what I had made and would order to be made or buy off the peg .. I was running a shop ( in my home ) while at home being a mother … life couldn’t have been any better I was always an entrepreneur with two children immaculately dressed in Garments made by myself.

Mod had given way to glam then punk … as an Original Mod I believed it had mutated into the Biba look and Style this was what I was wearing myself … Del and myself had often discussed if the Mod scene would ever comeback.. then one day in 79 our babysitter turned up to  look after our Girls ( she was a friends 14 year old daughter) She turned up wearing a little Mod outfit, she asked me what I thought about her outfit, I said it was the same look, I had used to design and wear in the 1960s and that I was an Original Mod I showed all my Pictures that had sat in a box for many years , I had always longed for the look to comeback and here it was .. all be it a different in sound more Punk than Blues & Jazz.

I carried on being successful in business wedding shops Prom shops always one step ahead recreating the 60's sophisticated Mod look I had love for so many Years … having a computer in my business and a web page the next change I found was through Facebook.. I joined it in 2009 and the Idea of ModTogs started to take shape … Del has come up with the idea of Togs as that was what we used to call our clothes and obviously the word Mod had to be in it .. so ModTogs was born!

In 2012 I saw on Facebook a guy call Thierry Steuve running a blog called Jack that cat was Clean .. I decided to write an article about Del and Myself about our early Mod Teenager years .. Thierry loved it ..it was pure gold he said .. first hand experiences and the pictures to prove it from that Article I received a Message from Lloyd Johnson and was asked if I would like to be part of the original Modernist 59-66 FB page ..in 2013 I was invited to do an interview on We are the Mods radio station Warren Peace Penny Lane and at that time Graham Lentz … again this went very well I became good friends with all three, from that interview I was asked by others to contribute to their books again I thank  Paul Anderson Tony Beesley Graham Lentz Ian Snowball Mark Baxter Jason Brummell and Sam knee .. I thank all these guys for being part of there Books and letting me tell my Life Story.

Then in 2014 I was asked to be part of a BBC documentary Mods, Rockers & Bank Holiday Mayhem, the Original plan was for Myself and Del to be interviewed as a Mod Couple but sadly before this could happen Del passed away … Life had changed again for me and I decided to do the Documentary in his Memory …I also decided all be it very late to go to Brighton that year and I’m glad i did because my life changed again when meeting Stuart.

Stuart's story......

I was born in February 1965 My father was in the RAF and was Stationed in Hong Kong on Helicopters Air Sea Rescue, we lived there for 2 and a half years first on Hong Kong island and then  Kowloon New Territories I was nearly  6 when we eventually we moved back to the UK in 1970. I grew up with my sisters but also had Two Brothers who had stayed in the Uk and I was the youngest,  , My brothers loved motorbikes and were both Rockers in the 60's.

My music influences at home was from my  two sisters who loved reggae and soul, they were always playing it in the house, along with The Small Faces, James Brown, Tammi Terell, Marvin Gaye and Desmond Decker. I didn’t realise it until I was 13 when I stopped buying aeroplane magazines and started buying MM and NME that I was being taught about great music. I used to love the Clash and Ian Drury but as much as I loved the music I didn’t like the clothes, In 1978 I bought my usual Record Paper and  their was all this talk about a new movie made by the Who – Quadrophenia, I was 13 at this time and it had me hooked.

I got into the whole scene through the movie but before it even came out. I was already into sub-culture music and bands like the Jam were around playing great stuff. Other bands started popping up as well as the Two-Tone artists. There was media but not a lot of it, I used to go into record shops and say things like “I’ve heard this great track by Madness” the guys would play me the Prince Buster version, it was all a learning curve.

When I was in my third year at school a mate of mine, Sean had a Vespa 50 special and a Lambretta LI 125, we all wanted to be Mods and Sean lived across the road from me. Sean went on a family Holiday to America and said to me that he had left the key to the Lambretta under a stone if I wanted to take it out for a spin while he was away, I was 15 and felt like I had stepped straight out the set of Quadrophenia riding around our estate. A friend later in life admitted to me it was because he saw me riding around on scooters was why he became a Mod ..We are still friends to this day. At the time me and my mate Darren used to go to all the charity shops and buy 60’s suits, we used to go to this pub called the Coach and horses in Ipswich, it was really rough. We used to go there on a Tuesday and Saturday, they used to serve us Alcohol  even though we were underage, we met so many people there.

My first rally was great Yarmouth, we had to catch trains. I told my parents that I was staying round my sisters. We slept in one of those huts that you have picnics in on the seafront. When we got there we were the only Mods there other than a couple of girls from Norwich, on the bank holiday Monday a load of skinheads turned up looking for trouble thankfully a few more Mods had turned up by then as well, it was so funny you had us on one side of the road and the Skinheads on the other all shouting at each other like a real life Quadrophenia with Skinheads rather than rockers. Nothing really happened and it was a good job the rockers didn’t turn up as I found out later in life that there was a nasty Biker Gang ( The Outcasts) from Great Yarmouth and they were big ugly guys and some of them had done time for murder….

My first suit I had made was from Burtons, it was a brown pinstripe and I thought I looked really cool, there were lots of shops around at the time selling everything for Mods, you could walk in and get fully kitted out. The 80’s scene was nothing like the 60’s scene in Ipswich. The American air bases used to bring over soul acts to perform, people like Geno Washington who used to sing around the pubs in Ipswich. 20 years later we didn’t have the same thing, instead of clubs we would end up in rooms in pubs, the best one was called the Albion Mills, a small basement venue with a spiral staircase. There was a tiny little DJ box where a guy would play records, we would park our scooters outside and head to a smoke-filled room. The owner used to play a trumpet and would love playing along to Secret Affair….

We also used to go to this pub in Chelmsford and met this guy called Tony, he was a vicar with a massive Northern Soul collection, his music was amazing, later we used to put on nights together in a place called Murrayside youth club and a pub called The Suffolk Punch. We also used to go to a club in Lowestoft called Long beach, not far from where Dreamsville is held. They used to do Mod events there on a Saturday night. In  the 80’s I used to go to a lot of scooter rallies, I loved the music but was targeted for being a Mod, I had lights and mirrors on my Vespa 150 Super  and all the guys were riding cut downs and choppers, we used to get picked on all the time. The rallies were frightening places to be then.

I then came out of the scene and moved into the soul scene when that became to cheesy and Scruffy I moved back to nice suits and Jazz .. I eventually settled down and married my first wife. A few years later and after dealing with a divorce in my 40’s I wanted something for me again. It was easy for me to fall back into the scene That I had loved … I still knew guys who had Scooters I borrowed a Vespa and went to a scooter rally and loved every minute of it, it had all changed from the dark old days. Before I knew it I was buying suits again with all the right shirts and accessories. Regretting giving away all my old stuff.. TwoTone suits ,basket weave shoes amongst other things

Now, I get up in the morning and I love being me, I love the Mod look and love feeling as I did when I was younger, the music is great, the people on the scene are great and there is lots to do socially. living with Gill (We are are married) means we get to spend lots of time talking about fashion and bouncing ideas off each other.

So how did Stuart and Gill meet?

We met in 2014 in Brighton at the New Untouchables rally, we were both on our own, I went on my own and had a great night at Komedia and happened to be sitting down on the Sunday outside Volks. Gill was  talking to this guy and woman, the couple came from Jersey and I just happened to be with the night before at Komedia I looked up and thought There’s the lady I had seen on TV. I Said to her “Youre the lady I saw on TV, you looked fabulous then and you do now”……

Later Gill was sat texting her girls and I was with a friend of mine  walking past, I couldn’t remember Gills  name but had to find out, I was saying to my mate “You know her, the one off the TV” hoping he would remember her name “Nope, never saw the show” was the reply so I had to pluck up the courage to sit with her and talk with her. We had a great time and she showed me a small photo album of pictures of her from the 60’s, “Look me up on Gill Evans ModTogs on Facebook” she said – I did, a few messages later and we got together, we’ve been married 5 years now…..being together everyday meant that I could start my own label. Gill taught me to make Ties & Sew, so  named my company after designs by Gill Evans, it’s how 63DGE started, now I make limited ties and pocket squares along with other Mod inspired Accessories. I  love seeing people wearing them around & around. What does 63DGE mean, well I always say it means ‘Don’t Get Envious or 6 EDGE. I like to keep people Guessing

The award – Birmingham fashion designer of the year 2019,

Gill takes up the story.

Well I’ve been doing this since 1960 and never really thought I would get anything like an award, then one day I got an email from a company called Corporate LiveWire telling me I had been nominated, I thought ‘this might have been a hoax so never replied to it, they sent me another two and the last one said ‘we’ve been trying to contact you, if you don’t contact us back we will presume you’re not interested in being put forward as a nominee for the award’ I showed Stuart who Googled the company only to realise they were a worldwide Corporate Company who produce a magazine of over 570,000 all over the world for the commercial industry. It goes as far as America Europe Japan and South Africa, they used to Present awards just to Big companies like BMW Mercedes Benz etc but now they feature smaller companies in the magazine…and Award them for their success.

Anyway we realised that there was a phone number on the E-mail and it was a Birmingham number so we rang it up and spoke to a man who said they had been researching and found my story fascinating, he asked if we could put together some info on me and the business and send it in, Stuart spent two days putting it together and we sent it in and they rang back and asked us to put a portfolio together for the judges to read, we had a week to do that. When I sent it in the man rang back and said the judges were fascinated by my story and that I may or may not hear from them…..

I had forgotten all about it, one day as were heading to Brighton for the Mod rally we stopped in Poundland to buy some sweets and drinks for our journey down to Brighton and my phone rang, it was a Birmingham number and me thinking it was a client answered it. It was the man from the awards’ he said, ‘Have you ever won anything?’ I said ‘No’ and he replied, ‘well you have now, you’ve won fashion designer of the year for Birmingham!!’ we couldn’t believe it. Stuart was so proud he started announcing it to everyone in Poundland…….

When we went to pick up the award we asked how I was nominated, I was told someone had nominated me and it could have been one of my clients but to this day we don’t know who it was, whoever it was I’m thankful, all I have to do now is change my stationary…

 

Gill Evans – Fashion designer of the year – Birmingham

 

GILL'S MODTOGS FACEBOOK PAGE CAN BE FOUND HERE

 

STUART'S 63DGE FACEBOOK PAGE CAN BE FOUND HERE

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EST 2016