THE INFLUENTIAL FACTOR
AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM LENTZ
Well, the book that everyone is after has finally hit the shelves, sussed Modernists from all over the globe have been looking forward to adding Graham Lentz' reprised version of The Influential Factor to the clued-up coffee table best reads.
We manage to tie Graham down between his writing, promoting and music career for this exclusive interview. In it he talks with us about the book, his life, his work with the New Untouchables and March of the Mods and his musical career with French Boutik and others, after you've read it hit the link below to purchase the book, it's an incredible insight to today's modernist culture and the history behind it. A MUST purchase.......
Hi Graham, can you tell us a little about yourself, where you are from and how long you have been involved in the Mod scene.
Hi Cris, thanks for inviting me along, I was born and grew up in south London until age 14. My family moved out to East Grinstead in Sussex in 1976. I’ve always considered myself a mod, even when I was not part of the scene, but in terms of really being involved, that started properly around 2011when I joined the New Untouchables team. Up to that point, I was a punter.
Can you tell us a bit about your early influences, what got you into the scene, the clubs and rallies you used to visit and a favourite early memory.
Seeing and hearing The Jam in 1977 was the start of it. I became a mod because of that band and their following.
I picked up on the mod revival era fairly early. It was my Dad who introduced me to a whole new influence which has stuck with me ever since. He gave me his Gerry Mulligan Eps, Miles Davies, MJQ, Dave Brubeck and some Modern Jazz comps to listen to. I’ve still got those records. Seeing how those guys dressed and what they were playing just made perfect sense to me; like an epiphany. It redefined my idea of what mod was which put me out of step with my contemporaries because they were into the post-punk, pop, rock stuff like The Who, and the Revival bands. I liked that stuff as well, but it didn’t fit with my idea of mod. I dumped my parka and Jam shoes and went total suits and ties by 1980.
Getting anywhere was a nightmare back in those days. East Grinstead was and still is a one-horse town. I still hate the place. Hardly any bus service, one train service to London and that was it. The few times I did go to things, it was either a local mod-themed disco which was shite or going mob-handed to Brighton or Crawley to see The Jam. There used to be a massive pub at the top of Annerly Hill in Crystal Palace that I went to a couple of times, but it didn’t take long before I got fed up. It seemed like every time you went out, there was always some bunch of dickheads waiting to kick your head in just for being a mod. I just hated the violence. Again, that was nothing to do with being a mod in my opinion. I think I was just out of step with the attitudes of that era. In my mind I was still a mod, but not part of the scene.
I can honestly say, the only real memories I treasure from those days was my friendship with another lad named John Philips, buying my Lambretta LI150 for £50 and buying the Merton Parkas ‘You Need Wheels’ and shouting “Shit! That’s Mick and Danny!” I was at school with the Talbot brothers in London before we moved. Danny was in my year and in my music class.
What sort of music do you like, where do you like to go, favourite clubs and rally destinations?
Musically, I am quite diverse. I have and will continue to champion new music that has the influence of mod, soul or the 60s. There really is some quite astounding talent out there that has a mod following.
Also, I go through phases. I’ve done the Garage phase, the Northern Soul phase, the Revival phase etc. At this moment in time, my passion is rooted in the latin-flavoured jazz styles of Young Holt Trio, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Joe Tatton and Latin Boogaloo, Joe Bataan, Pete Terrace, Willie Colon and those guys. If you want to see me get on the dance floor, Boogaloo will do it!
That said, 50s and 60s R&B is another passion.
Getting out to clubs and events is really difficult these days. I’m either gigging, recording or working as part of an organizing team. There is so much to choose from now, it’s great. I have a list of clubs and events I want to get to though. Fast Way Of Living, Dreamsville weekender, MG Blues in Manchester, Loose Caboose, Out Of Time and the Suit Yourself weekender in Bristol of course! There are so many others and I am determined to get to as many as I can.
I’d have to say The Hideaway Club in Manchester and Jon Drake’s Heavenly Blocked in Weston-Super-Mare were just magical in the late 90s and early 2000s. More recently though, I did manage to get to Afterglow, Backtrack and the Bangor Weekender in Northern Ireland. You could not wish to meet a more welcoming and friendly bunch. Both Belfast and Dublin have really good scenes going on. They have done for years to be fair, but I would highly recommend it to anyone. Likewise the French scene, not just in Paris but elsewhere too. Wonderful people!
I guess my favourite times are the big weekenders put on by New Untouchables with Le Beat Bespoke, Margate, Brighton and Crossfire. I’ve yet to go to Euro YeYe, but those others seem to draw so many people from across the globe and the mod/60s spectrum. The vibe is always great as is the live music and DJs.
What is your favourite part of the scene? the clothes? music? events? Socialising?
In this era of modernism, what’s not to like? I am pretty open-minded. People will have their preferences and that’s ok. I like to celebrate it all and enjoy it all. No other scene can provide the variety of choice that our scene does.
Maybe it is because I enjoy all aspects of it, I can feel at home at an R&B club one night and a Graham Day and The Forefathers gig the next.
What do you think of today's scene? has it changed over the years and in what way?
Personally, the scene has never been as good, as varied or as welcoming as it is now. No one is interested in violence anymore, but that has been the case for some years. There are different interpretations of what mod is and I doubt that argument will ever come to an end, but that is what makes it so fascinating and great to be a part of. There are many people who can be in the same room with different opinions on things but still enjoy the night out. Go to a Crossfire or a March Of The Mods event and that’s what happens. If anything, the fact that we can ignore our differences of opinion and still have a great time is the best improvement of all and we are starting to see a new young generation coming through. It all bodes well for the future.
You are very instrumental as part of the New Untouchables, can you tell us how this came about and what you do?
Rob Bailey was looking for someone to write reviews for his NUTsMag online publication. I wanted something constructive to do, so he gave me that role back in 2012. It opened up a whole new world for me, listening to new bands, new music, new publications etc. Because of that, I have made hundreds of new friends all over the world. Eventually, I got divorced in 2013 and really needed something to help me get through that tough time and take my mind off things. Rob and I had an idea to start a club night at Blues Kitchen, Camden where we could showcase new talent, so the Nutsmag Reviews night got underway. I’m really proud of that because we put on bands that no one would touch back then. The Franklys, The Spitfires, French Boutik, Sha La Las, Gemma and The Travellers, Les Grys Grys and Lois to name a few. They are all progressing in their careers and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see them succeed. It’s like a vindication of the potential we saw five or six years ago.
Since that time, I developed my role. I hosted the Nutscast Sessions podcast and became something of a compere too which has been great fun. I also do a bit of ‘meet and greet’ at the door and generally help out with whatever needs doing to make the event run smoothly.
Are you involved in any other promotions albeit events or music?
In 2014 I got involved with March Of The Mods (MOTM) in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. It is strange that for the first time in my life, I find myself in the right place at the right time and things just happen. That’s how my compering started, with MOTM. I did 12 hours straight at the Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden in 2014. 10 bands, 4 DJs a packed house the whole time and the last band went on ten minutes later than scheduled!
The organiser was so happy with the way it went, they booked me to do it all again two weeks later in Reading. The following year I did five different events and so it continued.
The ultimate accolade off the back of all that was being asked to compere the special party organized by Teenage Cancer Trust, as collectively, MOTM organisers had raised over £500,000 for the charity. That party was at 100 Club and is a highlight of my compering career.
I know how much hard work goes into organizing and promoting events. I also know my strengths and weaknesses. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who puts on events or club nights and I try to support as much as I can. That’s where I feel I can help the most. Promoting is not something I would want to do though.
You are also a lover of music and a great Bongo player, do you play any other instruments? Which bands do you play with and can you tell us about some of the exciting gigs that you have played?
Thank you for the compliment. I’ve become a session musician thanks to the Sha La Las and French Boutik. I had been rehearsing with Sha La Las for a short time, then Darron Robinson decided to go for a different sound, just to try out new songs. He wanted bongos on those tracks and I was on hand to fill that role. Then the Boutiks played a song called ‘Hitch A Ride’ which I thought was wonderful and I asked if I could do a slightly different version with percussion and the original vocals. They agreed, so I recorded at Rocket Studios in Croydon with my producer, Gavin Kinch. The Boutik’s loved it but decided to do a mix that encompassed some of their original mix and my percussion. That track was on their debut LP ‘Front Pop’. It was Gavin who asked me to play on a track called ‘She’s On Fire’ by a rock group called Junkyard Choir. It was a lovely ballad and just right for percussion. Mark Woods and Tommy from the band loved my work so much, they had me play on virtually every track of their album ‘Trouble In Mind’ which came out in January this year.
The next album I’m playing on is the new one due out soon by The Aim. Jamie Tongue had seen me play live and asked me to do some work with them. I’ve ended up on almost every track with them too! I’ve also played live with Bobby Tarlton aka Dr Bird and Gavin Kinch and I have our own studio band called Duke and The Boogaloo Band. We had an opportunity to do a cover of ‘But I’m Different Now’ for the Specialized charity. My great friend George Grant in New York did the vocals. We’ve done a cover of ‘Liquidator’ this year.
So I mainly play congas, bongos and percussion. I also play rhythm guitar, saxophone and I’m still working on keyboards, drums and bass guitar. I do love a challenge!
All these bands hold special moments for me already. My debut with French Boutik at the Half Moon, Putney supporting Senior Service. Twice playing the 100 Club with them and playing in Paris with both Boutik and Sha La Las. Last December at the Hope and Anchor was immense. Dr Bird, Boutik and Sha La Las all on the same bill and I played with all three. That was the last time I saw my dear friend Jeff Foster before he passed away.
This year has been unbelievable though. I played the Croydon Love Festival with Junkyard Choir, Music Mania Festival with Sha La Las and IndyTracks Festival with French Boutik.
You are a cool writer too, can you tell us how this came about and what it was like to release the original Influential Factor book. When it was released, how you pulled it all together, was itself published, what was the idea behind it and was it as successful as you had hoped?
I graduated as a mature student in 1995 with a journalism degree, I failed to find a job as a journalist (long story), but thought I’ll be damned if I was going to let my training and knowledge go to waste, so I decided to start writing a book. They say ‘write about what you know’, so naturally, I knew enough and was interested in mod, but I thought there was a story to be told too. After all, there had been precious little literature about mod up to that point.
By 2002 when the original version came out, there was no social media, I had virtually no budget for marketing or pr, but with support from Scootering Magazine, New Untouchables, modculture.com and a few others, I managed to sell the entire 2,000 print run in just over 18 months. I broke even, which was my aim, so on that basis, it was a success. I never expected it to take on a life of its own and become something of a collector’s item.
I self-published simply because I believed in the book, but several rejection letters from Plexus, Omnibus and other established publishers forced me down the self-publishing route. It was expensive and hard work, but I really enjoyed it.
Now, many years later you have just released an updated version, can you tell us why and did you find it a marked difference from the earlier book both in personally writing it and dealing with people a second time around?
Over the last decade and since the advent of social media and sites like eBay and Amazon, it became apparent that the first edition had assumed a status as a ‘collectable’ item. Second-hand prices were just mind-blowing to me. It seemed like everywhere I went and everyone I met was asking about when I was going to republish the book and make it more affordable.
Although I was proud of the first edition, I knew there were gaps that I felt needed filling. Mostly it was because I couldn’t find or get hold of the people I wanted to speak to in the late 90s. With social media and being more prominent on the scene, those people have been located and those gaps are filled. The new second edition is the book I knew it should have been all along. I also knew I had to update it, so a whole new chapter has been written documenting the years 2000 to 2018. Putting that chapter together was no different to when I wrote the original. I had my starting point, did the research to give myself a timeline to work to, then went after the interviews to give it context. And just like the original, different characters were talking about shared experiences and the links that form between people of all backgrounds, but their love and appreciation of modernist culture is the tie that binds.
Can you tell us about some of the interesting people that you have featured in both releases and a couple of candid moments whilst writing both books?
I’d have to say the people in the early chapters are among my favourites for different reasons. The interviews I did with John Simons were a ‘godsend’. Here is a man who basically reaffirmed my outlook of modernism because he had lived it from day one, so-to-speak. His knowledge and life are inspirational.
Finding Jeff Kruger, owner of The Flamingo Club was another highlight. We became great friends until he passed away in 2014. He had an extraordinary life. The first time I went to see him at his office, he showed me the photos and awards hanging up around the place and there was a photo of him in the Flamingo dressing room with Billie Holliday. It was inscribed and signed by her. It said ‘Dear Jeff, stay as sweet as you are. Love Billie’. It gave me goosebumps just letting that moment sink in. The man in that photo was standing right next to me!
To be fair though, every single person I interviewed for the book has a special memory for one reason or another.
I think my favourite story is how I came into contact with Eddie Piller for the first time. Bear with me, this is a corker!
My great friends Paul Welsby and Mike Warburton were DJ-ing at a little basement club in London. I was married at the time, so my (then) wife came along too. It was a great night. My misses used to chat to anyone and at one point she came over to me and said, “You need to meet this guy I’ve been talking to.”
So she takes me to this dishevelled looking character leaning at the bar. He was a black guy, a bit unkempt, but harmless enough. He introduced himself as ‘ErrolFlynn’! He told me my misses had explained about the book and he knew someone who would be very interested in talking to me. So I gave him my number and thought no more of it.
About two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, the phone rings at home. The wife answered, said ‘yes’ a couple of times and then says to me, “It’s for you”. I take the phone from her and say hello, to which this slightly gravelly East End accent says abruptly, “Are you Graham Lentz who’s writing a book about mod history?” “Yes,” I said, “Well, I’m Eddie Piller and why the fuck ain’t I in it?!”
We don’t see each other much, but I still regard Eddie as a great friend and have the utmost respect for what he has achieved.
Have you written anything else that our readers will be interested in?
Apart from a few hundred reviews on the NutsMag site, this book has been a labour of love from day one. Now it is finally finished, I might be able to get to other writing projects that have been on the backburner.
How difficult is it to self publish and what advise would you give to someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
It isn’t easy, but nothing in life is really. You have to have a lot of belief in yourself and your work. It can be a daunting prospect, but it is do-able, with the right amount of determination. These days, all the info you need is online, from the print run quotes to the legal stuff you have to do. There are so many other ways of funding a project other than bank loans or credit cards, so it can be easier to overcome that hurdle. I would say be realistic with your expectations at every stage. Not everyone will see your book as a best seller, even if you think it should be.
Do you have any plans to do more writing in the future?
Yes, I have three or four projects in mind. There are a couple which are music based, but not related to the mod scene. I’ve made my contribution to the ‘mod library’.
Where can our readers buy ‘The Influential Factor’?
lastly, what is it about the scene you love that has kept you so involved over the years and what advice would you give a young Mod coming into it?
I know it might sound a bit corny, but it really has been a way of life. I dressed differently to most people in the mainstream in 1977, I still dress differently to most people in the mainstream 41 years later. My sense of style, (informed by modernism) has dictated that. It has given me an identity I’ve always been happy with, but it has given so much more. From music and culture to an unbelievable amount of really great friends, there is nothing quite like it.
My advice to a young mod? Learn all you can, not just from my book, but others as well. Us older generations are happy to see you around and we don’t bite, so come and say hello and talk to us too.
You might want to define mod on your own terms, but that’s ok. Each generation has done it and so should you. Most importantly though, enjoy it.