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(Credit: Dean Chalkey)

Music

Far Out Meets: Eddie Piller on mods, music and the brilliance of Bob Hoskins

“The Sex Pistols were a situationist art project, formed by Malcolm McLaren,” says Eddie Piller. “He wanted spectacle, which is probably why he got a bass player who was so disaffected and dysfunctional. Glen Matlock was probably the best musician in the band, so they got rid of him because McLaren wanted spectacle. It only makes sense when you see them as an art project.”

Piller should know because he’s been around long enough to see the trends and to recognise what makes a strong band. He’s a DJ, a musician, a raconteur, and the founder of Acid Jazz Records. He has also written books, one of which was released during the pandemic. “I told them not to release it during the pandemic,” he chuckles ruefully. “I felt like I wasted two years.” 

He says he knows mods who come over from Galway and Mayo to come over for the events he puts on and says he considers Ireland to be a very spiritual place. His definition of mod music is wide, and The Hollies get a tick in his book. “My favourite 10cc song is ‘Bus Stop’, which is a song Graham Gouldman wrote for The Hollies,” Piller says. “Fantastic song, really beautiful. I saved Kevin Godley’s life in Belfast. He was the short guy on drums with 10cc, and he was being attacked in The Europa, near Queens University.”

Piller says he grew up in a musical family and says his father was a mod in the “original” sense of the word. But the young Piller was drawn to the newer movement, particularly in their style of clothes and their taste for great music. Piller mentions his involvement in a number of documentaries he made about Quadrophenia, although his favourite film is The Long Good Friday which has Bob Hoskins’ greatest performance. “The best moment featuring Bob Hoskins is that the end when he’s being taken by the Irish guy, and he knows that’s it for him. Hoskins gives a brilliant performance at that moment.” 

Piller started off on radio, at a time when it was hard for black artists to get on the air. Indeed, he considered this to be an issue and felt that it was his place to get as many artists as he could onto the air. He’s calling to discuss his latest compilation, a work that showcases the diversity of mod culture.

“Demon Music Group has been great in their support,” Piller adds. “And it’s certainly the best thing I’ve done. It’s the ultimate Mod collection. But there is some stuff missing, unfortunately. There’s no Stones track, and I couldn’t get ‘Mystic Eyes’ by Them”.

I’m curious to hear whether or not he thinks The Beatles were “mods.” He responds quickly: “The Beatles weren’t a mod band,” Piller says. “They were Merseybeat. I think it was McCartney who said he wasn’t a mod or a rocker, but a ‘mocker’. But The Rolling Stones were definitely a mod band, especially Charlie.”

You can’t get more mod than Small Faces, a trendy, uber-hip band that dressed as neatly as they played. Piller knows drummer Kenney Jones personally and says that Jones had planned an animated feature for their masterpiece Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. “The Small Faces were a cursed band,” Piller sighs. “They earned nothing, and they’re all dead, except for Kenny. I got to know Steve Marriott, and things got so bad for him that he had to do support for me. He couldn’t get gigs. Lots of people said they admired Steve after he died, but there wasn’t a lot of interest in him while he was alive, which is a shame. I got to see Mac’s last gig.”

Following Marriott’s departure, the remaining members formed Faces with the much taller Rod Stewart on vocals, and Ronnie Wood on guitar. They could never compete with Small Faces as a studio outfit, but they played tighter gigs that were filled with merriment, mirth and booze. “I know Ronnie Wood, and I’ve met Rod,” Piller says. “I know Ronnie’s son Jesse and he had a brother named Art. I was actually responsible for getting The Faces back together. I was the curator for a gig, and I wanted The Faces to headline. I asked Ronnie if it was possible for The Faces to get back together. ‘Could we do it without Rod?’ he asked. I said, ‘Sure’. Mick Hucknall was happy to do it.”

Most interestingly, he got to know all three individual members from The Jam, the thriving rock and that based themselves on the mod movements a decade earlier. Piller has seen how guitarist Paul Weller has come to change over the years. “I’ve known Paul a few years now,” Piller says. “It was around the time of Mod Cons that I met him, and he gave up half his day to answer my questions. He was extraordinarily generous, and such a nice man. But what I’ve noticed with Paul is that it’s only been in the last five years that he’s slowed down to look back at his life. He was always moving forward before that, and I got to interview him recently where he spoke more candidly than he did before.”

Piller has a podcast tidily known as ‘Modcast’, which has listeners all over the globe. He says people listen to him from Australia, and he’s doing what he can to carry the banner for the movement that meant so much to him. To my surprise, Small Faces weren’t the greatest act he has seen live. “The Action were one of the best bands of the 1980s,” he replies. “And The Jam at their peak were just fantastic.”

What comes across most assuredly from the phone call is the excitement he feels about the compilation, Eddie Piller Presents: British Mod Sounds Of the 1960s. Among the songs on the track comes the sound of P.P. Arnold, showing just how important women were in the movement. It takes the voice of millions to make a movement. We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods. 

Eddie Piller Presents: British Mod Sounds Of the 1960s is out now.