Eddie Piller

  • The Sharpest Word: Tootal Blog Talks Modzines With Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland

    This February sees the welcome publication of ‘Modzines’, which is - as the cover explains - a look back at “fanzine culture from the Mod revival”. Tootal blog caught up with the books authors, Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland.

    What was the inspiration for your ‘Modzines’ book?

    Steve: I’m a graphic designer, I’ve always loved subcultures and ’79 was my ‘coming of age’, if you like. The big thing at the time was the Mod revival; it was ours, as in my age group. All the older lads and big brothers had The Jam but we had the Mod revival.

    Growing up, drawing logos at school and eventually making a living as a designer, I’ve always had that interest. And when the digital and online thing came along, fanzines and that whole art form kind of got lost. So, it was a time to record it, and to put something out there.

    How did you go about assembling your list of featured titles?

    48 Thrills, Issue 2, 1976. Direction, Reaction, Creation, Issue 7, 1980.
    Jamming, Issue 8, 1979. Maximum Speed, Issue 8, 1979.

    Steve: When I first got the idea for the book I sent it to Ed straight away, because I knew he had to be involved at some level. And going back to the internet there’s people like Neil Allen, who has a Facebook group for Mod fanzines, and is an avid collector. He’s a contributor to the book and was a great help.

    Eddie: Neil bought most of my collection. My Mod fanzine Extraordinary Sensations started in 1980 and ran until about 1985, and because it was so successful other editors sent me their fanzines for review. I amassed a collection of at least a thousand but sold it about six or seven years before Steve first approached me, so we were working from memory. And basically, with Mod fanzines … it’s like a pyramid. You have Maximum Speed at the top, then you have Direction Reaction Creation, Shake and, dare I say it, Extraordinary Sensations, and so on. But we managed to find fanzines that were literally just circulating in a Derbyshire pit village amongst fifteen friends, you know?

    Fanzines were ubiquitous in the Mod scene because it was the perfect storm of accessibility, desire and the market. Accessibility, as in anyone could make a fanzine – you needed a pen and a photocopier. People weren’t writing about Mod bands in the mainstream music press, and if they were they were disparaging. So, kids in south Wales, Huddersfield, Essex, wherever, they weren’t reading about their bands. So, there was a desire to tell people about your local bands, and that created the market. There were more Mod fanzines than any other genre ever. I’d say probably two or three thousand different titles since 1978. We were only able to scratch the surface.

    Were there many titles that you couldn’t track down?

    Eddie: Some of the editors had passed away, or moved to Jamaica or just felt that they were no longer interested in it. From my perspective, we wrote about most of the fanzines we wanted to feature. There were some that I wish had spoken to us, and some I wish I’d found; Roadrunner and Patriotic didn’t feel they had time. Shake, the guy had moved to Jamaica to be a Dancehall MC in 1984 - DJ Dominic, “The Cheeky Cockney”. But, in principle, we got what we wanted to get. This book could have been ten times longer, and it would have taken ten times longer to write.

    Steve: Ironically, the one cover we wanted to feature and couldn’t get was Issue 1 of Extraordinary Sensations. No one can find it and people did scour their collections.

    Eddie: Yes, the Holy Grail for fanzine collectors. I originally sold it at The Bridge House Hotel in Canning Town, right towards the end of 'Mod Monday'. We’d gone to see the Leyton Mod band Beggar. I made twenty copies of Extraordinary Sensations and sold them all in twenty minutes for 10p each. Twenty-four hours later they were probably all in someone’s bin but that’s what fanzines were supposed to be, disposable. I never kept a copy; I never even thought I’d do a Volume Two, let alone be talking about it forty years later. I found one original typed page in my archive, but the rest of the fanzine… I’ve never seen it since that day. There might be one in existence but I doubt it.

    Generally it sounds as though the response from other editors was good?

    Steve: I think early on it went over peoples heads a little but as we got closer to finishing it, that’s when people realised it was actually happening and then they were like, “I want to be in it”. There was a lot of good will, people wanted to get involved… globally, as well.

    Eddie: Goffa Gladding from Maximum Speed was very forthcoming, gave me a lot of time and advice, just as he did in 1979 when I was a fifteen year old Mod. I looked up to these people, the fanzine editors, and when I became one myself it was like joining a private club. Other fanzine editors suddenly treated you in a different way. People like Ray Patriotic and Steve Roadrunner became some of my best friends. Mind you, no one ever called me Eddie Extraordinary Sensations – too much of a mouthful.

    From a design point of view, did you look at any of the fanzines and think, ‘There’s something a bit special there’?

    Roadrunner, Issue 5, 1981. Extraordinary Sensations, Issue 4, 1981. The Café Society, Issue 1, 1983. Beyond All Limits, Issue 5, 1985.

    Steve: There’s a thing now about getting your hands dirty, using pencils and paint and only scanning it after, and that’s what you want to do as a designer, not just staring at a screen. And that’s the beauty of doing this book; we could have done a blog but…

    Eddie: When we started this book we both assumed the world of Mod fanzines has been replaced by blogs and by websites but there are some fabulous magazines now like Heavy Soul and Icon. They don’t sell in huge quantities but obviously there’s not millions of Mods around the world.

    We do a whole section on design and how it grew from literally being a typewriter, a pair of scissors and a PritStick, up to when the first printers got involved. It was either a kid cutting it out, sticking it down and photocopying it or someone approaching it as a magazine, and you find a lot of the people in that second category became journalists. People like Chris Hunt, who wrote Shadows & Reflections fanzine and became editor of Shoot! Magazine; Steve Detra, the editor of Shake & Shout in Australia, he became a successful journalist, Tony Fletcher at Jammin’, that became a full-on magazine and he became an author…

    Steve: A lot of the fanzines were hand written, hand drawn and photo-copied, just to get it done, but the part where they really start to come alive and that I really love is when they discovered Letraset, that took it to a different level. Seeing which fonts they pick out and use, that gave me a bit of inspiration for the book as well - a lot of inspiration, in fact.

    Is there any international element to the book?

    Eddie: We had a fantastic response from all round the world. A guy in Argentina called Kevin Fingier, who is in a band called Los Aggrotones on Acid Jazz, he heard that we were doing the book and asked, “Is my fanzine in it?” I had to phone up Steve and say, ‘Have we finished the book, because I’ve just had some Mod fanzines in from Argentina, can you squeeze them in?’ This was right at the last minute.

    Steve: I was on the Modcast boat when one of the regulars, Jason, said, ‘I’m gutted my fanzine’s not in it’. He grew up in eastern Canada, where he produced the only Mod fanzine. I said, ‘Can you get it to me? There’s an off chance…’ So he got in touch with his Mum, who found the fanzine, scanned it, sent the images to me and it got in at the very last minute.

    Eddie: We also got an all girl Mod fanzine collective from Sweden, very Socialist. What were they called?

    Steve: Gloria International. Beautiful covers, one of my favourites.

    Did the fanzines have a broad agenda or was it limited to reviews of the same old bands?

    Eddie: We came across a guy from Birmingham who ran a fanzine called Hey Sah-Lo-Ney, after the Mickey Lee Lane / The Action song. He got bored doing a fanzine so he did a Mod comic book, called Lumbaba after the African politician. He drew every cell by hand but it would take two weeks to do a couple of pages. It was much easier to cut out ‘Batman’ and fill in the speech bubbles with your own writing. There’s so much of that in Mod fanzines. There’s a whole section on appropriation and copyright in the book – at the time we didn’t know it was illegal. We thought it was Roy Lichenstein style ‘Pop Art’.

    Do you think Mod fanzines left a lasting legacy?

    In The Crowd, Issue 14, 1985. The Catch!, Issue 1, 1985. The Hipster, Issue 3, 1986. Gloria International, Issue 2, 1990.

    Steve: Ironically I think there is, if only because of the internet. There’s fanzine Facebook groups, there’s collectors sharing images of their collections. The book is really the story behind it, going from those earliest titles that Eddie mentioned. We’re just telling the story of where it came from. It’s almost like finding the source of the river. Hopefully we provide some background, some interesting facts, the story of why it happened and the knock on effects… shining a light in forgotten corners, and on fanzines as an art form. It was unique; it’s interesting that none of the fanzines have resurfaced as blogs.

    Eddie: It was a very, very special thing but they all came to an end for one reason – time. The real world catches up. It’s a hobby.

    I think it summed up a time and a place, and an attitude you could do anything. Don’t forget, the reason that Modzines became so popular is Mod was an underground, working class movement, ignored by the mainstream press after 1979. By 1980 it was a dirty word, so we had to do it ourselves. Roger Allan, who wrote Can’t Explain fanzine, told us the early Punk scene was everything he could have wanted; you could make your own fanzine, make your own record, put your own gig on but gradually the powers that be, the establishment, the music papers, the record labels, they created this stereotype of the turgid, depressive, downer taking, motorcycle jacket and Mohican wearing ‘Sid Vicious’ style moron - and that wasn’t for us. Punk had lost it’s ‘do anything you wanna do’ attitude, as Eddie & The Hot Rods said. We looked at those people on the Kings Road and thought ‘Mug’. We took over the attitude and we carried on doing it, against contemporary music media dictats.

    A box set edition of ‘Modzines’, limited to 750 copies includes a 7” single ‘If I Was You’/’That’s What I Want’ by Long Tall Shorty (originally issued as a free flexidisc with the Direction Reaction Creation fanzine), a reproduction of issue one of Maximum Speed and a certificate of authenticity. It is available now from Acid Jazz for £51.99. https://bit.ly/2Djfuu0

    The paperback version is published on 7 February 2019 and available from Amazon for £11.89. https://amzn.to/2WAYiYs

  • Acid Jazz Records Supremo Eddie Piller Gets The Third Degree From Tootal Blog

    The dictionary describes a Polymath as "a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas." In the Tootal Dictionary it adds "see Eddie Piller". His résumé includes M.D. and founder of the permanently hip Acid Jazz record label, DJ, broadcaster, writer, club owner, and now organiser of the Modcast events. We caught up with Eddie over a half of stout to learn more about his remarkable career.

    How are you, Eddie?

    I’ve been very busy the last few weeks. I’ve done two Italian trips; I was DJ-ing with Madness at the weekend, which was really good fun. In Milan, three and a half thousand people, and the band were still just as good. I haven’t seen them since June 1979. I might have seen them once in between but I stopped going to see them because if you weren’t a Skinhead and you went to see Madness, especially if you were a Mod, they would beat you up. So I stopped going.

    I know Suggs quite well and he always joked about me being the only Mod at Madness gigs. I saw them four weeks in a row when they had a residency at the Dublin Castle; they took over from The Fixations. Then literally, three months later… that was it. It was worse at The Specials but, you know, Skinheads were everywhere in ’79, and they were awful. Brick Lane was the big National Front hangout around here. You used to see them every Sunday. I hated them… I was arrested nine times for fighting Skinheads. Nine times. And never convicted once. When the chief witness for the prosecution has a swastika tattooed between his eyebrows, the magistrate tends to say, “You’re not guilty”. Whereas the fact that I probably was guilty… anyway, there you go.

    In the Eighties you ran Countdown Records. Was that your first record label?

    That was my fourth label. I set up my first label in Woodford when I was 18. I released two singles, and one compilation album called The Beat Generation. Then things happened very fast. At the time I had a fanzine I was running with Terry Rawlings, called Extraordinary Sensations. This band from America sent us a demo tape; it was brilliant. I was running a bedroom label and this band was fantastic; I knew we wouldn’t be able to do it justice. So Terry said’ “Let’s take it to Stiff”, and they said, “Actually, this band’s really good”, and they gave us our own label. The band were called The Untouchables, and we had three chart hits with them and a very successful album; I’m even in the video for ‘I Spy For The FBI”. That was a remarkably successful period but then the Mod scene was finished, virtually overnight. By ’84, ’85 it was really on the decline, Countdown got on the end of it in ’86 but I’d already stepped off into the Jazz world.

    How long after that did you start Acid Jazz Records?

    Acid Jazz: The Early Years. "We thought we'd only release two or three records..."

    I started Acid Jazz in ’86, with Gilles Peterson. Stiff Records went bankrupt and consequently took Countdown with them; The Prisoners had just released a fabulous album, In From The Cold, and when Stiff went we lost everything. So, I didn’t have anything to do. I had this idea to get an instrumental Mod band together, like Booker T & The MGs. I persuaded James Taylor to record a couple of demos but he wasn’t really interested, he moved to Sweden and left me with the tape of four tracks. I sent them to John Peel, and John went mad for it. ‘Blow Up’, JTQ; that scene really started to grow. We kind of remade the Mod revival without telling Mods. It was very cool, very fashionable, and gradually what was left of the Mod scene, kind of integrated with Gilles Peterson and Paul Murphy’s Jazz scene, to create this Acid Jazz thing in about ’86.

    What was the ambition when you put out those first Galliano and Brand New Heavies releases?

    It was a laugh, a joke. We just wanted to put out records by our mates; we thought we’d only release two or three records… Galliano, A Man Called Adam, The Last Poets. And then after ten records, including The Style Council under a different name, Gilles left and went to set up Talkin’ Loud, which was brilliant because it allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to do. As soon as he left I thought, I’d better find some product, so that’s what led me to sign Terry Callier. Gilles and I never agreed on music. Ever. He was very progressive, and I was very populist. I wanted to make Soul Pop records, and he wanted to make Esoteric Jazz records. He didn’t want to sign the Heavies, and he’d gone by the time I signed Jamiroquai. That was everything he didn’t want to do. I was much more of a Soul Boy; he was a Jazzer.

    What do you listen out for when someone presents new music to the label?

    Until last year I stopped paying any attention to Acid Jazz for about ten years, because I got ill with cancer, and nearly quit. And then Dean Rudland said, “Why don’t you get back into making music again?” So, that was a year ago, so since then I’ve actually started making records again.

    I found this beautiful girl singer, who is the best thing I’ve discovered since Jamiroquai, and I don’t care if she has success; I’m sure she would like to. I just want to make great records, and that’s what I’ve always done. Some people like ‘em, other people don’t. I don’t really give a fuck.

    Are there any key moments, releases, highlights or lowlights that you can pick out?

    Keep The Boy Happy: Eddie Piller shows of the last of the Rare Mod compilations. Or is it..?

    Jamiroquai selling forty million records, I mean… what?! He was sleeping on sofas; every major record company in the country turned him down. I was taking him round saying, “Please sign this kid, he’s fucking brilliant”. And everyone was going. “He’s an idiot. Look how he dresses. He can’t dance, he can’t write songs”. So I said, “Alright, I’ll do it myself”. And look what happened; Forty. Million. Records. The biggest selling British artist of the Nineties. So that’s a highlight… signing Terry Callier, Brand New Heavies, three-minute records, just making great Soul music.

    And the lowlights?

    Losing my club, The Blue Note in Hoxton Square, that was a disaster. Hackney Council took the license away. I lost a million and a half pounds, and it ruined my life.

    There’s a Polish Acid Jazz compilation that includes the credit ‘Mother Earth featuring Eddie Piller’. What was that all about?

    I used to play alto saxophone, keyboards and percussion. But with Mother Earth, I was present with all their recordings, and I would often play percussion, or something. I don’t know what particular track that was but I just know that album, The People Tree, is the best record I ever made. It’s a brilliant record. Even now it stands up.

    Can you recall the first record you bought?

    “Young Girl Get Out Of My Life” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, from Broadway Records in Woodford - I think it was called Broadway Records. Very soon, by the age of 13 or 14, I got into Punk Rock. I spent a lot of time buying Punk Rock records. From either Downtown Records in Ilford, or Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow.

    Did music feature large in your house as a child?

    No. Funnily enough, I only found out my mother did the Small Faces Fan Club in 1978, when my Dad bought her the Small Faces. Big Hits compilation, and he went, “Ooh, your Mum used to do the fan club for that”, and I went, “What!?” That was before I was a Mod, and people say, “Oh, you must have grown up in a Mod household”. In the Sixties, people got to 21, and they had a real life. Whereas with us, we’ve carried on being children, and being Mods, but my Dad was a Mod until the age of 20 then he ran a business. My mother was a housewife from the age of 19 but a housewife with a little job of running the Small Faces Fan Club. But I didn’t know any of that ‘til I was 14, 15 years old.

    And did you quiz her at that point?

    The Style Council's 'A Solid Bond In Your Heart' video, from 1983. Enter young Eddie Piller stage left; exit Mick Talbot stage right.

    Not really. I can remember the big conversation, when I turned Mod in late ’78, early ’79, and my Dad was driving me to school when I put a cassette on, in the Granada he had. He said, “What’s this sh…”, well, he didn’t say “shit” because he didn’t swear, but he said, “What’s this rubbish?” And I said, “I’m a Mod, Dad, this is Mod”. He laughed and went, “That ain’t Mod.” I was playing The Kinks, The Jam, the Small Faces, The Who, and he said, “That’s not Mod; Tubby Hayes is Mod, Harold McNair’s Mod, Miles Davis…”. And I said, “Shut up, Grandad, what d’you know?’ And, of course he was absolutely right, but I didn’t realise he was right until at least four or five years later.

    Was Punk the moment when the record collecting bug first bit you?

    I remember exactly what happened. I was ill; I had chickenpox when I was 14. I missed out on being the lead role in the school Shakespeare play because I had chickenpox. My mother’s friend worked at EMI, she sent round a box of records and it was Queen, Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Yachts for some reason, and then right at the bottom of the box was this 45 on Harvest by The Saints, called “I’m Stranded”. So, I’d gone through all these records, and I thought, “That’s good. That’s good”. Then I heard this record, and I thought, “All that stuff can go in the bin, ‘cause this is what it’s all about”. And it was; The Saints changed my life. Within four years I’d saved up enough to follow them around on tour in Australia, at the age of 18.

    I went to Australia many times because there was such a great Mod scene there but I went first to see The Saints. But I met all the Sydney Mods; they had a great Mod scene. It was like our scene but they lived it better. Maybe it’s the weather, I don’t know.

    In 2009 you launched your Rare Mod series of records. How deep do you have to dig, and how hard is it to maintain quality?

    Digging Deep: Some highlights from the Acid Jazz Rare Mod series of releases.

    I think that’s finished now because we have literally run out decent quality. The team was Richard Searle from Corduroy, who works at Acid Jazz, with Damian Jones, a record dealer, and ‘Smiler’ Anderson, the author. They were the three curators, and basically the angle was knock on the door of someone who might have been in a band in the Sixties, track ‘em down. “Have you got any acetates in the attic? Oh, yes we have”. That was it. “Would you like some money? Can we release it on Acid Jazz?” So, I think we did about twelve EPs, two box sets, six albums plus six compilation albums, but by the end of it we’d run out. The best selling one was the Steve Marriott Moments EP, we sold about Ten Thousand copies of that. It featured the U.S. only version of “You Really Got Me”, with their own Blues track called “Money”, then some unreleased stuff as well. But we had the previously unreleased David Bowie thing, with The Riot Squad, we had some unreleased John’s Children with Marc Bolan – it was a really good series.

    Your DJ career pre-dates all of this though. How did you get into that?

    Ilford from 1980, probably to ’84; it was a working men’s club. It might have been called Bentley’s; it wasn’t on the High Road but parallel with the High Road and further back. We started there on a Monday night, we’d have 50, 60 people. Ray Patriotic and Tony Matthews were my two partners and we said let’s move it to the Regency Suite, which was a proper, purpose built club. The guy there was very dismissive, gave us Monday’s but we were having 350 people on a Monday, so he gave us Friday’s too. We could have Friday’s on condition we kept Monday’s. We were selling it out; we sold out for two or three years. And then Chris Sullivan, from The Wag Club, said, “Mate, you’ve got a good thing going, come and DJ at The Wag”. So that was my real introduction, not just playing records to my mates, Mods in Essex. Playing in the West End at The Wag Club was a very special thing.

    Do you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    I remember it very well. I used to work at the Mr Byrite shop in Ilford. After that I worked at their warehouse in Walthamstow, Blackhorse Road. And they sold tonic suits. Cheap. Everyone goes, “Mr Byrite were rubbish”. Mate, they were great gear, better than Mintz & Davis. Everyone goes, “Oh, Mintz & Davis in Romford, that’s where I got my Sta-Prest.” Rubbish! Mr. Byrite was the place to be, and it was cheap; and I got paid and I got a staff discount. And I’ve still got my staff badge in my bedside drawer.

    Which brings us to your Tootal addiction. Tell us more.

    I have a massive collection; I think I’ve got at least 70, possibly more. For some reason I haven’t been wearing them as much for the last couple of years; I’m only wearing a scarf today because I went on my scooter, and it was a bit chilly but I wore silk scarves everyday, probably for ten years. I have a Thirties brushed silk paisley, which is my favourite. Some are Viyella, or those non-silk fabrics from the early Sixties; some of those patterns, they’re incredible.

    I think it’s a tragedy what’s happened to British industry and British fashion. I think it has never recovered from the big break up of ICI, and the closing down of the mills. I know there’s a big move to re-manufacture in Manchester but I do genuinely believe a lot of the skills have been lost to this country. I’m very keen on British manufacturing; there’s not enough of it.

    And now you have The Modcast. Essentially you are a self-made Mod Media Mogul.

    Eddie Piller: Is this man the Mod Murdoch? (Answer: No, not unless Rupert rides a scooter). Photo by Dean Chalkley

    Not really. I have to thank Sarah Bolshi for the success of Modcast, she pushed me into doing it. Our podcast has been extraordinarily successful but I think we’ve done about 50, and they may have arrived at their natural end. There are people that I’d still to do; I’d do Weller, though he’s a bit shy, funnily enough. I’d do Townshend, who won’t. I’d do Daltrey, who won’t; I’ve asked him twice. I tried to get Roger to talk about Pete Meaden for about five years, and eventually I met him backstage at Paul Weller’s 50th Birthday, and I said, “Right, you can’t get away now”, and he just laughed in my face. These people don’t have to talk to people like me, they’ve already told their story – you can read it anywhere, you can see it on the documentaries. I’d be interested to read Roger’s autobiography though, he wasn’t a fan of Meaden; his only fan was Townshend.

    But whilst the podcasts might have reached their natural end, the parties have gone off the scale. We sell out the Modcast Boat Party four or five months in advance; we do three a year. We do a couple of weekenders, in Brighton, Margate or Southend; we always try and do a different place. I cannot believe this thing has become like a family, where the same people come… well, if it’s not the same people it’s the same type of people. You’ll see everybody once a year at least; it’s a fantastic experience and we love it.


    For details of forthcoming Modcast events, and to catch up with previous podcasts visit www.themodcast.co.uk

    You can find all Acid Jazz releases – including the last few copies of their Rare Mod releases – at www.acidjazz.co.uk

    Eddie Piller's Eclectic Soul Show is on Soho Radio every Thursday at 4.00pm  http://www.sohoradiolondon.com/presenters/eddie-piller/

    Need more Acid Jazz artists in your life? Check out our recent Q&A with the excellent New Street Adventure here https://goo.gl/SuC37a

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