Mods in Leicester U.K. in the mid 1960s

This is copied from an article about Mods in Leicester in the mid 1960s printed in the Leicester Mercury in 2010. It is the only thing that comes up if you Google some of the Coffee Bars and Clubs in Leicester around at that time. The internet Information Revolution seems to start in the 1990s and knowledge about earlier times appears to be getting lost, or just isn’t there!! The article actually presents a pretty accurate picture of some of the things that happened then and the places that people went to. It complements my post about My Life in Music. The Irish was one of the main fashion shops but it was actually in Silver Arcade which was off Silver Street. It subsequently moved to the corner of Silver Street and High Street and is still there now, I believe, but it’s not the fashionable place it once was. The article also talks about the Antelope pub. I must have missed this totally because, although I remember the pub, I never went into it. I thought it was an “old man’s pub”. The main pubs we went to were the Fish and Quart on Churchgate and the Churchill on Silver Street which is now The Lamplighters. The Churchill became the trendy place to be from 1968 onwards.

Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”

The interesting thing about the rivalry of the Mods and the Rockers was that it was invented by the media. If you look at the headlines they scream out about the Wild Ones! Actually, this is a reference to the Marlon Brando film “The Wild One” which was banned in Britain and not many people had seen it. Brando was the role model for the Rockers though, with his leather gear, macho swagger and surly attitude, to say nothing of the slurred drawl. “Hey, Johnny whadaya rebelling against?” “Whadaya got?” Elvis Presley copied him too in his earliest and greatest incarnation, circa 1956. Originally, however, there was no conflict. In fact, Mods became Rockers and vice versa. It all changed in the reporting of events at Brighton in 1964 and the rest is history! I do remember an occasion at Avenue Road Youth Club which was a Rocker stronghold. I’d been told to give a message by a group of Mods to Dave Buswell, leader of the local Rockers and as mean a looking guy as you could wish to meet. He was terrifying! The Mods were on Victoria Park ready for a battle. At that point all hell broke loose as they rushed out for the affray. Personally, I decided to go home and have a night in, watching telly! It was one battle I had no desire to fight and I didn’t even really know if I was a Mod or Rocker supporter then! I kind of liked them both!

I did eventually side with the Mods because, actually, the music was a lot better and the coffee bars and clubs were much more exciting! And although the girls weren’t any better looking, they were far less ferocious!

Sensational coverage of what was essentially a non-event of bored teenagers with nowhere to go! This is what created the Mods and Rockers clash!!

Turn left at the Clock Tower, head towards High Street, pass Cheapside, veer off by the amusement arcade and you’re there – right in the heart of Leicester’s pill-popping, sharp-dressing, scooter-revving, hedonistic counterculture”, writes Mark Charlton.

Or at least you would be if this was still the swinging 60s. If London had Carnaby Street at the heart of its Mod scene, Leicester had Silver Street. With their tailor-made suits, parkas and scooters, the Mods had a huge impact on the streets of mid-60s Leicester. They’d ride into town on their Vespas and Lambrettas to hit the coffee bars and hear the latest jukebox sounds from bands such as The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces.

Rows and rows of scooters would be parked up in city centre streets, particularly outside bars such as Cadena, in Belvoir Street, and Kenco Coffee House, in Granby Street. But Silver Street was the real magnet for the Mods. That’s where Irish Clothing store was. That’s where Il Rondo was. That’s where you went to be seen. That’s where their real-life version of Quadrophenia played out.

John Barratt, 60, who grew up in Humberstone, was one of Leicester’s original Mods.

“Silver Street was our Carnaby Street,” he remembers. “I don’t know why but it was just a big happening for us there. I guess it had a lot to do with Irish Clothing and the Il Rondo, and there was also a pub called the Antelope. I think it just drew us to the area as there were places we could meet.”

The site of the Il Rondo on Silver Street. Now a restaurant. The original entrance was where the white doors are now.

Leicester was buzzing with these hip, rebellious kids who wanted to make their mark on the world by dressing smartly and listening to the hottest new sounds. It was their way of getting noticed and making a point to their elders. John says: “In the 50s and early 60s, young people were almost penned in, everything was dictated to them. When Mod came along, it was our way of saying ‘we are human beings’. We were trying to put over our feelings that we weren’t going to put up with being told what to do.”

The Mod scene, with its slick fashion and fascination with black American soul music, had spread north from London, fed by newspapers reporting on violent clashes between Mods and Rockers in Brighton and Margate in 1964, and by broadcasts on Radio Caroline. Young people in Leicester were quick to pick up on the idea.

John says: “The first Mods were in Leicester by 1964. It was sweeping the country at that time. I was still at school and started getting into the music and the fashions. I knew I wanted to be a Mod. When I turned 16 I bought my scooter. At that time, I had a good job in engineering. I needed it. Being a Mod was expensive. You had to keep up with all the latest fashions, for a start. Then you had to run your scooter, keeping it taxed and on the road before buying all the accessories to make it look as good as possible. Then there was the music. You had to keep up with all the new music coming out, plus the wild life that went with it and on top of all that you had to try to keep a girl on your arm. I earned good money in engineering, but I didn’t save a penny.”

A Mod Lambretta scooter not yet customised! This is a picture I took recently at a Mod exhibition in Northampton.

Another young Mod was Chris Busby, from the West End of Leicester. He recalls choosing to be a Mod when he was still at school.

Chris Busby in the 1960s

“I was 14 in 1964 and we thought ‘should we be Mods or rockers?’. I looked at the rockers, they were greasers and horrible. I looked at the Mods, they were so clean looking and smart with their scooters. I wanted to be like that.”

Chris remembers Leicester was a great place to be at that time.

“There was so much going on,” he says. “The music was fantastic, there were some great places to go and lots of house parties.”

Chris was part of a Leicester Mod band called CERT X. Other notable Mod acts from the city’s scene were The Cissy and Legay.

John saw them perform at several gigs in the 60s. He says: “CERT X was a really good local band, really good. The highlight of the band’s career was supporting Cream at Nottingham University.

The music scene was vibrant at that time. Chris remembers: “A place called the Night Owl opened, in Newarke Street, in 1966, which put on all-nighters. I think (soul singer) Geno Washington recorded an album there. Bands like Amen Corner also appeared there. There were a lot of people taking drugs like blues and dexys, and I think that is why it got shut down quite quickly. The Green Bowler, in Churchgate, was popular too.”

Leicester in the mid 60s was already something of a cultural melting pot. Lots of young black kids were mixing with white lads at nightclubs and gigs.

Chris says: “It was a good time. We were friends with a lot of the black lads, there was never any trouble between us – we all respected one another. The only time we ever had aggro was with the rockers.”

The Mods’ cats-v-dogs relationship with the rockers is well documented. Seaside skirmishes at Brighton and Margate and made national news but there was plenty of trouble in Leicester, too.

John says: “The rockers used to hang out down at the Roman Cafe, in Humberstone Road. It was part of the life of a Mod to have problems with the rockers, or Hell’s Angels. They were so different from us. We would roll up at the Roman Cafe on our scooters just so we could have a scrap. They would come looking for us, too.”


Chris remembers one incident: “We were at the Casino Ballroom at the top of London Road. A popular boxer, Alex Barrow, was there, a black guy, with two of his friends. Two rockers walked in, and one of the lads with Alex said ‘you hit my mate’ and knocked one of them flying. Within 30 minutes, hundreds of rockers were flying down London Road on their motorbikes heading for the club.”

There was an unwritten hierarchy within the Mods. If you were particularly cool, you were a ‘face’. If you could not keep up with the pace of the scene, you were seen as a ‘ticket’.

Chris says: “The older lads, who were about two or three years older, were working and could afford better clothing. We looked up to them, they were the faces to us. There wasn’t a rank as such, but we were subconsciously aware the differences were there. We knew the older ones to nod at, there was never any problem between us.”

John says: “There was a lad called Tony Weston. He was king of the Mods to us. He was the organiser, our leader, always coming up with ideas and things todo. We all looked up to him because of the way he dressed and his scooter.” John had a Vespa 125cc GL scooter. “Registration 461 BBC,” he says.

“I’ll never forget it. It had all the gear – spotlamps, a big aerial at the back, a slimline windscreen and so many mirrors it was a wonder it moved, it was so weighed down. I had so many spotlamps that if I turned on the lights without the engine running it would flatten the battery.” But keeping your scooter up to scratch was a big part of it. It cost a bloody fortune. The main place for buying scooters at that time was a place called Readers,in Aylestone. We all went there. Scooters were appealing at the time because you could do hundreds of miles on a tank of petrol. A group of us went to Yarmouth. It took us the best part of six hours to get there. It was a steady run and we only used a tank-and-a-half of petrol there and back.”

Chris had a Lambretta li 150 with green and white stripped side panels and fur on the seats. “It cost me £30 in 1966 and wasn’t anything special compared to some of the scooters around but it was special to me,” he says. “It would be worth about £2,000 if I still had it.”

Another Lambretta. Poster of a Vespa in the background!

Chris also did his fair share of going to Mod events at coastal resorts, even taking a job in Skegness. But there was plenty going on in Leicester. Wednesday at Il Rondo, in Silver Street, was Mod night, on Sunday, Mod music was played at The Palais de Danse, in Humberstone Gate, and the Casino Ballroom, in London Road, held regular live events. Music was the lifeblood of the scene. All-night dances, or parties were often fuelled by the use of amphetamine-based drugs. Some were known as blues, or purple hearts.

John says: “People were taking them because, if you didn’t there was no way you would last the amount of time you were awake for.”

“The main thing was the music,” says Chris. “It was so new and fresh.”

John says: “There were certain songs that were important to us, for example the Sir Douglas Quintet’s She’s About a Mover and Louie Louie, by the Kingsmen.”

The fashion and hair styles still have a huge influence today. Chris has been a barber for 36 years and now has a shop, in Northampton Street. But when he needed a Mod cut back in the 60s, there was only one place to go.

The Who in the mid 60s. My Generation, one of the best records of all time!!

“Everybody went to Ron’s, in Church Gate. It is still there. At the time, there was a look that was something close to how Paul Weller wears his hair now. Another was how Roger Daltry (singer in The Who) wore his, with a parting, although some people just wanted a close-cut, clean look. Mods felt the way they looked set them apart from the rest. Attention to detail was vital. Clothes would be made-to-measure and tight fitting. Shirts and suits would be sent to the tailor for more buttons to be added or taken away, depending on the mood. We’d have bigger vents put in or more buttons put on our shirts, just to make them different. We were always trying to stay one step ahead,” says Chris.

Ron’s Hair Stylists on Churchgate, still going today!!

Having such smart clothes proved a problem motoring around town on a scooter. A US Army fishtail parka was ideal for keeping clean on the move.

John says: “I had a parka and a mohair suit – well, several. We were always buying clothes, trying to have something new and to stay ahead of everyone else.”

Mod parka. A photo I took at the same exhibition in Northampton.

Chris says: “I never really got into the suit thing. Lots of people did though. On a Saturday, there was Jackson’s the Tailors, in Gallowtree Gate, and Burton’s, in Church Gate, which would have queues outside all day from the moment they opened, with people collecting clothes they had ordered, or being measured up for something. Jackson’s was seen as a cut above the others because the staff would offer advice to the customers. Personally, I preferred wearing Levi Jeans, desert boots and a Ben Sherman shirt rather than a suit. I wanted to feel comfortable. Also jumpers with targets on, or shirts similar to those Roger Daltry was wearing at the time. I bought an overcoat from Irish for £22. That was four weeks wages to me. I have still got it.”

By 1967, the Mod scene was changing. Some were moving away from the slick looks and sounds and moving into psychedelic music.

“They were what we called the ‘flower children’, says John. “They were getting in to what became the hippy thing. I guess bands like The Who and Small Faces had become more psychedelic, particularly the Small Faces with their album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. I moved on to other things but I have never stopped feeling that I am a Mod. Even now, I’m still a Mod. I love the Mods.”

Some stuck to their cause of being a Mod and others became interested in the skinhead scene, which was emerging in the late 60s.

Chris, a married dad of three, remembers: “I was working in Skegness in 1969 and I could still see running battles between Mods and rockers. I went on to become interested in other things, but years later I was thinking about the look and how much I enjoyed wearing the clothes, so I went back to it.

“So now I wear a Ben Sherman, Levi jeans and desert boots. I love it, and the music, of course.”

In 1979, The Who brought out the movie Quadrophenia. It told the story of the Mods, their clashes with rockers, the girls, the drugs, the parties. The film was to coincide with and widen the impact of a Mod revival, which had started in London a few months earlier.

Chris said it was very true to life.

“It’s pretty close,” he says. “Particularly a scene in Brighton as Jimmy (Phil Daniels) walks along the seafront with all the other Mods. Somebody asks him what the best thing about being a Mod is. He says something like ‘being here, amongst all this’. And it was spot on. That buzz, the buzz of being part of it at that time, that is exactly how being a Mod felt.”(Mark Charlton Leicester Mercury 2010)

The press invented the clash between Mods and Rockers and then everyone believed it! It was propaganda on the scale of Goebbels!

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69 thoughts on “Mods in Leicester U.K. in the mid 1960s

  1. This is a very interesting piece, but I’m surprised no-one mentions the Burlesque on Humberstone Rd and the Peephole on Wharf St.


  2. Quite right, Pete. Especially since the Burlesque was commemorated in a 70s hit by Family. I think it was quite a way out of town and people of my age and in the article were a bit young to get out there. I knew about it but never went. Likewise, I never went to the Chicane Club or the Latin Quarter. All the wrong side of town and not the places people I knew went to, although I know they were very popular! I didn’t even know about the Peephole unless it changed it’s name to Nautique in which case I went there and used to see and hear Family practice there! Our main stomping grounds were Green Bowler, Nite Owl and Casino!


    • The Peep Hole had a very good DJ called Tony but we all called him Gobi I don’t know where that came from because the geezer was cool but a few years older than most of us.there was Phil and Big Dick from Oadby.The last time I saw Dick he came mincing down the road with hot pants on.Steph Rayner I think he ended up with an antique shop in London.These were all good mates with Rog Chapman and Charlie Whitney who never got a bit flash even though John Lennon said they were the best band in London they were called The Family. The Burlesque was the best All Nighter in England and I went to plenty all over the country. I could keep reminiscing for hours about one thing and another at least the bits I can remember.We were the luckiest kids on the planet because nowhere else abroad had our mods and the scooter boys who were different to us culture.If we could go back in time and take some of the kids back with us they’d never return.It was the best decade ever,it was quality.


  3. I had a fully loaded lambretta GT 200 and frequented the Green Bowler, Nocturn and the Nautique. We went to Skegness. We were at the Bowler when the rockers came over and pushed all the scooters over that were parked outside.


    • Hi Greg, thanks for the comment. I’d forgotten all about the Nocturne! Can’t even remember where it was but I know I went too! I’m not sure, but I may have mixed up the Nautique and the Nocturne. Can you remind me where they were? Cheers.


      • Actually, I think the Nocturne may have been at the end of King Street just down from the Chameleon. I think the same owner turned it into Mr. Brown’s Sandwich Bar which I believe it still is now.


    • I was in the Green Bowler when the Rockers pushed mine and other scooters over.The Cafe owner Vince stood by the door to stop us getting out till they had gone.A few of us went round to their cafe (Roman?) and the pillion passengers threw bottles at them and this ended in a bit of chasing round the Town.


    • Hi Greg,You must have been around at the same time as me….I had a Lambretta 150S at the time and I came up from Reading which was drawn on the back of my Parka along with a picture of a Lambretta.(This too was fully loaded)I do remember a few people i.e Jim.Melly (both from New Parks) and Kathy from Birstall…Ian


  4. Hi. I now own the Cobra Venom “007” Scoot pictured, and am trying to find the person who had it built at Classic scooters in Nottingham (no longer trading) Where was this pic taken ?? Previous owner ? any info/ help much appreciated.


  5. The Nautic and the Nocturn were the same place; just inside Wharf St next to the Three Cranes.
    After it closed they opened up again as the Long Ship, opposite the Odeon Cinema in Rutland Street


    • Hi Bobby ,didnt realise that.went to the nautique in 66 and used to go to the Long ship,so at least i know it was after 66 now,thanks


  6. I was in the same class at beaumont leys with Dave Buswell, scary lol.
    Spent most of my time int the Roman on woodgate, even scary Bus well wasn’t welcome there. We’d taunt the the bowler crowd for fun, usually two of us would walk in when it was crowded, buy a coffee and leave, could have dropped a pin.
    Saw love affair at il rondo, actually playing their instruments, saw Geno there.
    Best leicester group were Mozzletoff Wednesday night at the casino.
    Great times.


  7. I am Tim Coupe the first owner of the cobra venom ,you will see my name in the front mud guard paint work.Very nice to see the scoot looking really good ,is it still in the same condition.


    • Hi Tim great to see your comment, I now own the scoot. I bought it off e-bay from the guy you sold it to & had it shipped to Greece where I live and work now. I tried to trace you without any luck when I first bought it back in 2014 to find history & engine speck. The scoot is still pristeen with less than 100km on the clock. Would be great to get in touch to learn more about the scoot. Regards Pete


      • Chris nice job. Remember The Churchill on Silver Street. We used to meet up before shooting off to a party.

        Tony Weston Hal C Blake

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Tony,hope your well.yes I remember it well.are you in the states now,?
        Tosser,sorry Tony Dev told me you were there?
        Tony did we meet up at Northampton market around 92/3,Jim wasn’t there that day I believe,sure we did but you know how the pills fkd some of our memory cells lol.
        Great memories of you and Hal you still have the Tele?


    • Hi Steph
      I remember you well. Had some good conversations with you at the Fuddyduddy circa 1968! I remember you being a pretty good guitarist as well. Jelly used to talk about you a lot when we met up at the Roma cafe shortly before he passed away. How are things?


    • Hi Charlie,i dont recall your name but if you were a regular there our paths must have crossed because if i wasnt playing in the band i would be in the Bowler,any old photos from back then ?


      • Hey Chris
        The old days. . .
        I bought that Telly from the lead guitarist in the Bow Street Runners for 68 Quid. He had gotten it from Eric Clapton. I swapped it for a strat.
        Great days. Never thought they would remain so fresh.
        Tosser and some of the band stay in touch. I moved to the States in 93. I did bump into Rod Stewartbut we did not talk. He was always having around town at the Burlesque and the motorway cafe.


      • Hi Tony,great to hear from you.are you on FB?amazing re the Tele history.Tony tells me if hes spokedn to you,hes in mexico at the mo.anyway if your on FB hope to see you on there.
        all the best


      • Lol no Tony,I’m talking about Skinhead Paul Smith from Skegness,originally from Sheffield and not someone to cross 🙂


      • Wow, yea he is also a great guy. We had a shop that made clothes for the Wigan and Cleethorpes Northern Soul guys. Another set of happy days. Seems fashion, and music go hand in hand.


    • Hi Charlie, I remember you. You used to live on the St Matthews Estate in Leicester didn’t you. Regards and best wishes Steve


  8. Wow, there’s a few names there I forgot. The Nocturne, The Fuddyduddy. Here’s two more I don’t see mentioned. The Latin Quarter on Belgrave Road near Abbey Park Road and Alex Barrow’s The Roaring Forties club near London Road Station. The Roaring Forties was probably inspired by the short period Family changed their name to to The Roaring Sixties, itself most likely inspired by the film Bonnie and Clyde. Alex Barrow used to play bongo with The Farinas/Family from time to time. There’s a bit more on the late ’60s in Leicester on my blog.


    • The Latin Quarter was small and we played there. We were down there to see Solomon Burke. in those days visiting Americans had to have equity musicians. A Scottish band called Clockwork Orange backed Burke. The was a definite organ sound present and we followed the leads to a back room, an old changing room and there playing away was a guy that looked like a schoolboy. He wore great and a small school tie and had short back and sides.

      I asked the lead guitarist who he was. They said the stage was so small they had to put him in the back and he didn’t get on with him. He said his name was… Reg…Reg Dwight.

      A few years later I saw him singing his first song on tv. He was called Elton John then.

      A lot of mention of places. What about bands like Fearns Brass Foundry… Duece Coup…

      Tony Weston. Hal C Blake


      • Loved Deuce Coup,great harmonies. Paul Smith died 2013. Mod exhibition is good,you would love it


      • Please,please, does anyone out there remember the name of the nightclub that was situated near the old Provincial Garage, Uppingham Road, Kitchener Road area? It was there mid to late sixties. I think the opening band was the Animals and I do know that Pink Floyd played there before they were well known.


      • We were the resident house band, along with Ten Years After. It was the 5th Dimension.

        Tony Weston. Hal C Blake.


  9. Hi, Someone on here mentioned the Peep Hole Club Wharf St Leicester.
    Yes I can remember going to it in 1963 or 64; It was a terraced house down Wharf St on the left hand side maybe 250yds from the Three Cranes. Everything
    painted black, no lights only dim light over the DJ Tony Gobi who was shit faced as usual and he had just got Al Capone by Prince Buster which he played every other record. A great time but got me loads of trouble with my parents as my elder sister spotted me coming out in the morning and told my parents. The Burlesque on Humberstone Road was also a great place while it lasted, its now a petrol station. What was the name of the Beatnick place just down Churchgate on the right or was it Bond Street? Cant remember but they wouldn’t let me in. Also I went to the Back Door Club somewhere around Albion / Chatham St in a pub but again cant place it now as it was 63, 64, 65 ish. Regards to you all John


    • Bryan,was the roaring forties where an everton supporter got killed about 67? so the House of Happiness was around the corner from the station?


    • The beatnik place you mention was probably in Bond Street, opposite the Bond St Working Mens’ Club. Forgot the name. The back door club was upstairs in the De Montfort, Wellington St. So called because the entrance was around the back and up fire exit stairs


  10. Yes I saw Geno Washington in The Peephole Club, I seem to remeber it was in an old house scheduled for demolition, My brother in law to be Scots Jim Rosen ran it. I was there with Andy Doolin. good old days. My brother Bob Sutton used to flog his striped tank tops around the Churchill and Il Rondo from the back of his Reliant Robin. Talking of Rockers what about the Castle Cafe!!


  11. Jim Roseman worked at the Peephole, seem to remember Geoge the hairdresser was doing the entrance at the Burlesque. Farinas playing at the Casino, late night picture shows at the Cameo High Street.
    Everyone just mooching about from clubs to coffee shops and back ,


  12. I enjoyed reading Kenny Wilson’s blog as I too grew up in the 1950s/1960s and lived in the Knighton area. In my teens I played rhythm guitar and sang vocals in a group called the Three Quarters the line up of which was Pete Gumley, myself Gareth Mills and Johnny Haynes. Pete played lead guitar and Johnny was on percussion. We mainly played Shadows instrumentals. Is the Pete Gumley who replied to Kenny’s blog the Pete Gumley I used to play with in the 1960s ?


  13. Anybody at the Stax Roadshow at Granby Halls. Booker t, The markets, Aurthur Connelly, Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave and Otis Reading.

    Incredible night.

    Tony (Hal C)


      • Nice to hear from you. I’m great. How’s things back home?

        Did you get to the Ike and Tina Turner Review at the Granby Halls too? Fabulous night.


      • Emigrated to the US 26 years ago. What a brilliant move. They love the Brits and my career took off. Retired now. What a life. Funny thing we were asked to open for the Stax show at the Granby Halls, I turned it down. How could we go on doing Booker T and Otis Redding covers when the real thing, my heroes were up next and in the wings.

        What a time the late sixties were in Leicester.


  14. Just seen this site! Wow! I was a big Il Rhondo fan… lived at Thurnby Lodge .. my sister and I used to walk 8 miles home after a great nite in Leicester… Hazel and Barbara Shewring… we were good friends with Jim and Terry Gannon.. but in those days, a lot of people were ! Brilliant memories xxx


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