WE GET TO GRIPS WITH OUR VERY OWN ALAN SAUNDERS
So, Alan and Cris - The guys behind Suit Yourself Modernist Culture and music culture have been working hard to bring the Suit Yourself brand to the masses, elsewhere on the site we published a Looking Back interview with Cris but felt that this was only telling half of the story, so here we present our own interview with the other half of this driven duo Alan Saunders, Alan and Cris have been friends for many years but it was a chance encounter on a tube train that bought Suit Yourself to what it has become today. So without further ado, we give you Mr Alan Saunders.......
Can you tell the Suit Yourself readers a little about yourself, where you are from, how you got into Mod and your childhood?
I don't know where I am from! Though I was born in Aldershot in 1971, my Dad was in the Army so as a child we were always moving around, Cyprus then Germany, then back to the UK in Nuneaton when I was about 8 or 9, this is where it all started. It's 1980 / 81 when I became obsessed with music, no idea how that happens to a 9-year-old.! The music I was into (albeit I didn't know what the genre was then, I just loved it) was post-punk, new wave, 2-Tone and Dexy's. When I was 10 I got a record player for Christmas, and I knew what it was without even opening it, the plug lead was hanging out, I was so excited I grabbed it and ran upstairs and pissed myself, well specifically the walls and landing(!) and was soon pogoing round my bedroom to Sham 69.
I didn't know what 'Mod" was, I was too young but I had already started to don Fred Perry's and Sta Press, because I saw that in the 2-Tone thing. I had the record player and I would take it out with me around friends and get them to go get their parents records, this is how I first heard sixties music, from a K-Tel compilation, All Day and All of the Night by the kinks and Tears Of a Clown, what the f@ck was that music.!!! I need more! I had a jar of copper coins and went up the newsagent and bought a double cassette of The Kinks (and had enough coins leftover for a blueberry Slush Puppy). My dad had a red Vespa as a run-around and sold it to some kid, I then saw him with it on his driveway and the scooter had lights and mirrors and looked cool as f@ck, so I asked him what was going on, "I'm a Mod" was his reply. I was connecting dots, via music articles in smash hits, this term Mod and I was looking at pictures and was teaching myself what it was. Then I needed a haircut, the usual bowl haircut, so my mum had sent me up the barbers but I now had a little attitude on me and asked him for a French crop! I went home and my mum's jaw dropped and I then declared "I'm a Mod now and you can only buy me Italian shoes" - how the fuck I knew that! I was 11
Then mid 82 Top of the Pops, The Jam and Town Called Malice, I was rooted to the spot shouting at my mum in the kitchen, "mum, mum, look, look, what's this, look at this".... I went nuts, it all made sense all of a sudden, I could see and hear The Kinks and Tamla Motown on the TV by a cool band... I had landed, that was me done, Mod for Life.!
Can you tell us about your early experiences as part of the scene
I was never part of a scene because of the whole Army thing, late 82 I was shipped off to Hong Kong! That was cool though, you got so much freedom out there as a kid, and because we had Army accommodation and overseas allowance, plus exchange rate we had more money, so I got more pocket money and could buy more records. Following up from the TOTP's Jam experience I got Snap before we left the UK and that turned me onto The Who, then I would read about Paul Weller who was getting press and the shock split of The Jam and he was talking more about Soul and Jazz, so I was exploring that too. it's 1983 and the mainstream had moved on it's all Wham now, and the youth club played pop shit, I would take the Style Council (i LOVED cafe blue at the time) and haggle with the DJ until he would finally play something for me, that would clear the dance floor except for me dancing! Someone once suggested I write a book "The Only Mod in Hong Kong" as I didn't give in, I had no choice it was now in my blood, I was strutting around in my burgundy Sta-Pressed and Fred Perry and my parka with a Who patch on the back, yes it was tropical temperatures, I didn't care!
This time in my life was also the beginnings of my entrepreneurial spirit. You're a white English kid in Hong Kong, a British territory, you could get away with murder, and I was in an Army school they can't expel you, excellent!! You could get served literally everything, I was drinking beer and smoking, and would hang at the smokers bench, with the older kids. I remember once they had a big beach party right at the other side of Hong Kong to where we were living, but I just buggered off for the weekend and joined in, sleeping on the beach, but I was selling them fags and condoms, I had sussed I had more bottle than most, so would buy and sell stuff like this, I would get regular letters home from school, the selling condoms one was one of the best! but it was all about fuelling my obsession for more records.
That's a unique little story so how did you get onto the UK scene then.
We got back from Hong Kong when I was 14 & 1/2. After a 13-hour flight we landed at our Grandparents and I blagged some back pay money off them and got the train to London to go to Carnaby Street, I bought some clobber and James Taylor Quartet first album, I had no idea but the cover was ace and it was in the Jazz section that I wanted to explore because of The Style Council. I fell in love with London that day
We moved to Hampshire, middle of bloody nowhere, and another new school with not a single Mod, it was now all about that U2 shit, F.F.S I was on my own again! There was a couple of scooter boys though and I would hang out with them sometimes, that was ok, heard different music like the Redskins, and I'd get the bus up the road and train to London all the time, but still, I never met another Mod locally.
After school which I flunked cause I didn't give a shit, I went to college to re-sit, but f@ck that I wanted money and a scooter so I quit and went earning and saved up enough for a scooter, PX125, I was 17 now and it's 1988. The nearest town was Farnham then Aldershot and I would go there every weekend just looking for other Mods, I got waved down and some dude gave me a tape and told me to go to the West End Centre on Thursday for Desmond Decker, and the tape was AWESOME, it was banging RnB, never heard that before.! So Thursday I rode to the gig and on turning the corner to the venue they were at least 40 scooters, I f@cking wet my pants, and went in, with my parka, dogtooth trousers and jam shoes, thinking I look cool! Here I met and was invited to join The Glory Boys Scooter Club, and a week later was off to my first rally to Blackpool 1988. Ok, I'd arrived a bit late, but I had found it, I had stuck with it with no guidance or mentors at all but I was obsessed and now on The Scene
Lol, stop rambling, tell us about your early experiences as part of the scene..!!
Ha, Ha, yep sorry about that, but its a good back-story.!?! So From Blackpool 88 I did every rally in 88 and left home to be closer to it all, I moved to Farnborough, but the Glory Boys were know as from Aldershot, and I was born in Aldershot, so that was now where I was from. I did every rally in 89, I got shot of the P Range and got an SX 150, I was sorted! I very quickly switched on the whole smart thing, and looking more unique and getting cobber made at Charley's (London), and I would go down The Kings Tavern in Reading every week, and we'd hook up with the Bracknell crowd all the time, this is where I first met Cris. You’re part of a local scooter club, like we all were, and you'd get a mix of people and I was a few years younger and wanted it all the time and wanted to do the London Scene, so it ended up being a mix of a couple of us from our club and Bracknell going to other places and Do's, plus London and gigs too. How the hell we afforded it i don’t know but 89 & 90 I went to everything possible, but I did have a knack for managing my money well, I had to I was paying rent and having to feed myself too.
What were your favourite clubs, rallies and bands back then
That particular period I just loved it all; I was lapping it up, after being an isolated Mod until I was 17, I had some catching up to do! But some stand out, Drummonds, The 100 Club, the early Mousetraps’, and Sundays at The Water Rats. The rallies that stand out for me were always Hastings & Lowestoft, the venues were brilliant and it was absolute carnage! Live music too, The Prime Movers, then there was a group that a few of us would be at every gig, The Revs, the best 3 piece power-pop ever seen, and this is where you start connecting with people who you remain friends with the next 30 years.
I then started DJing, From 91 / 92, mostly locally at scooter do’s and Neil Clark from Bracknell was doing a regular club at Bracknell Football Club, and me and him were the residents, with a band a guest Dj’s. That went on a few years, we’d DJ with whatever we could get our hands on, Kent compilations, albums, there was no policy, when Blur / Oasis happened that got played too, and Acid Jazz. Rob Bailey was now doing his New Untouchables thing, and I DJ’d for him in London half a dozen times, including The Mousetrap. The whole original vinyl thing wasn’t as big an issue then, it was on the Soul Scene, and the London Mod Scene that I was on was doing the Soul Scene, we kept Northern Soul alive, so over those years that Original 45’s thing spread on to all parts of the Scene. I’m sure some DJ's always did that but for a couple of years we didn’t really care, sure you’d have original stuff too of course, probably most of it, but we didn’t really know or care. I stopped though once I started to take work more seriously and got sucked into that.
Could you tell us a couple of funny stories from back in the day.
Rhyl 89 I went solo on my scooter, 11 hours, ran out of petrol, spark plug and a heat seize. We were all in a rickety BnB on the top floor with winding narrow stairs. Anyhow, it was carnage as per usual, and I woke up naked on the floor outside the BnB room, no idea of how I got there?! Then we are getting packed and the landlady and police are banging on the door and inform us that the TV from our room had been found on the beach! I must have gone naked sleepwalking and took the TV.!
Hastings 91 or 2 was mental..! I had nicked my parents VW beetle off their drive while they were away, I didn’t have a licence but we whacked some L-plates on and 4 of us slept it in all weekend. At the Do there was a few really young Mods from Slough who we (Aldershot / Bracknell) had taken under our wings, everyone got battered and one of the young lads threw himself out the window, down a sheer drop, but he walked back in battered and bruised and bits of plants hanging off him – it was hilarious!
Could you tell us about your love of the scene and what has attracted you to it over the years.
Well, from what I have said so far you can see it is in my blood. The CCI days and early ’90s were brilliant, but it was also a time for so much other music, Acid Jazz was happening, bands like These Animal Men and Weller was on fire, so you had so much choice and could go to a Smart Mod night, or get down and dirty at a gig or at Blow Up in Camden, I liked that, I liked to explore other experiences.
After that period you calm down and are a bit older, and for me, my career started to take off and I was moving around the UK for the work, until moving to London 2000, but again was maxed out with work. But being in London was my dream, all my best pals were there from meeting them over the years, and although I was up to my tits at work the most amazing thing happened…… Capitol Soul Club.! I had tended to lean towards Soul and the friends for life I had met via the 100 club & water rats etc and it had all come together for this Club, it was stunning!
But still just so much going on, and record collecting was definitely taking off, people were older now, more ££ in the pocket and we had Mobile Phones by then, so things were easier to find out about and you were hearing new music cause people were digging up records, like Alan H and Irish Greg, just brilliant stuff. But maybe you could be a bit lazier, you now didn’t have to go down the water rats on a Sunday to see what was going on the following week, you’d just text each other!
You are still going out, just not as much, and could choose your nights out a lot more, maybe a combination of getting older and new methods of communication. I don’t remember that much about that time though, I was going out but very busy at work too, but after Capitol Soul I can't remember another unique club starting, still had 100 club, blow up and the odd night down Madame Jo Jo’s in London.
It now became, for me anyhow, more about my friends and trying to go to Do’s they were at as much to see them as the music, people are getting married and having kids etc, so this was really important to be there when everyone was out.
Comparatively, what are your thoughts on today's scene to the one of old?
It's totally different now, back when we were kids it was about the rallies and the local Do’s, now everything is so reachable and global, you can go anywhere, and can see everything, with people like us doing event listings, and there is so much on. Also, there is new music being heard because DJ’s can travel, I was very much pulled to the Soul side of the scene, but now you can hear and enjoy the likes of Bill Kealy smashing out absolute stomping RnB.
Today, I think its also about being a social thing, see old mates is as important as the music, and there are pockets of Mods from every era out and about and doing their specific thing, but also this year at the Brighton weekender there were more youngsters than ever before, that is so good to see, love that!
We know that you have a love for the whole Modernist Culture, particularly art and music, can you tell us first about your art obsession.
Obsession is just part of being a Mod, it is for me anyhow, and we all seem to “collect stuff”. I love Pop Art, particularly Peter Blake and I have plenty of that on my walls. That started by finally laying my hands on a “Stanley Road” print, I was hooked, and now I have had the pleasure of meeting Sir Peter many times, including his 80th birthday bash, I’ve not gotten into his treasure trove of hi workshop yet, but I’m working on it!
The musical version of you has taken you down a new road of radio presentation and live music event promotion, can you tell us about these.
That is all a spin-off of Suit Yourself, its given me a platform to market the brand and my skills have been noticed and opened up doors I used to be quite shy, and you’d not really see me stand out from the crowd, I think because I was so knackered from working, this is where I needed my charisma the most and I was shagged out after that. Nowadays I have taken my foot off the gas and I feel totally different, I have a bigger personality in social situations, and that has led to me getting asked to DJ again, to do a radio show, and put gigs on, including our biggest to date pending with Corduroy in March.!
Check out my radio show HERE
You have also been working with some incredible live music artists recently, can you tell us about them and your future plans.
Indeed, and as per the above point, it all started because of Suit Yourself. It took off like we didn’t imagine, so a few months in we needed a party so I wanted to book an intimate gig with one of my favourite bands, Little Barrie, and managed to do it. Then I noticed their website and socials weren’t right, so I blagged it backstage to another gig, got hold of the manager and started rambling on about it…… a few days later he called me and said ‘will you come work with us’, so I do their socials and a new website. From there, I manage Keb Darge, that's interesting (!) and he is such a legend, and it's quite surreal to be drinking at home at 3 am to look up and see Keb dancing around the dining area to Northern Soul.!
Also, I have done websites and some marketing for 2 young bands, that’s where the future is, Little Triggers from Liverpool, with Tom who was the main man in a little Mod band The 45’s at 15 years old, he just 21 now and has talent, plus The Black Delta Movement from Hull who have that sixties garage sound going on and very much inspired by a mix of Small Faces & Little Barrie.
I have also just started working with the lovely Fay Hallam, I wanted to focus on the younger bands, but then to my surprise once I met her I realised she is still kicking out new music for years and its BRILLIANT..!!! But I didn’t know, because she has been let down with her marketing which wasn’t in a good way, so I have jumped in and am sorted it, and last week a new website (www.fayhallam.co.uk), which is the best one to date, it looks great, and we have a store. In short, all the above are so absorbed by music, then somebody like me comes along dripping passion for music, but also has entrepreneurial and marketing skills........ it's all bit a bit of a whirlwind
A couple of years ago, you and another like-minded hipster Cris joined forces to Create the Suit Yourself Modernist Culture brand, can you tell us how this came about, what you guys have achieved over the last 18 months and what plans you guys have in the future.
Well, Cris has said how we met in his interview, not seen him since 91 and then literally banged into him on a tube after a football match, what are the chances, it was fate.! We had about 5 mins on the tube between stops and were speed talking. It was clear we had both gone out of our way to be a success in our areas, and when he said ‘My first club night in Ibiza was just like a mod promo, I called it Suit Yourself” – that was it I knew at that very moment that Suit Yourself was a great brand name, my head just started spinning with ideas, the next time I saw him a few weeks later I made his head explode, and we teamed up, and haven’t looked back, and on a personal level it is so good to reconnect with him.
Over the last 18 months it's been amazing, we have had so much support. The website and Facebook look great and are managed to a very high standard, like a real business which got noticed very quickly, it wasn’t cheesy. it was smart, clean and totally on the ball, down to the littlest detail – which is the epitome of what being a Modernist is all about!
We have grown fast and had several hundred thousand interactions on social and the web, its mind-blowing. Cris and I have sorted settled into our grooves, with Cris doing most the interviews and reviews, and me doing marketing, networking and socials, We do a lot more than that but that is the jist of it
We are constantly looking forward to the next edition of the website, events we are doing and next year we are taking it to the next level – watch this space.
CORDUROY BRIGHTON MARCH 2019
FAY HALLAM GROUP BRIGHTON APRIL 2019
Living in Brighton’s ‘Mod Mecca’ must be nothing short of amazing, many of us are only there once or twice a year for the big events, what’s it like to call home
To be honest, it took a while to settle, I wanted to be in London all my life, since hearing the Kinks at 11 who sang about London, I felt London is home, I still do in my heart, but yes I do love it here now. It’s a cool place to be, its full of kids with attitude too, not just the fake kids that aspire to celebrity culture and lip filler, there are still loads of independent clobber and record shops. From a personal point things also changed when my Parents moved down, they are getting older so its good to have them close by, I can get on my Lambretta a take a lovely ride along the seafront for a few miles to their village. My dad has also become obsessed with scooters via me, so much so I had to buy him a Series 2 TV 175 just to shut him up, last month we took our first ride out together to the Volks Tavern.
What advice would you have given a young Alan Saunders?
Don’t do drugs or get cobwebs tattoos on your elbows, £20 on, £2k off.!