John Hellier

on Saturday, 09 February 2013.

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John Hellier

 

Most would of have heard of the Small Faces, however John Hellier keeps the flame burning for the band year after year. His superb Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette fanzine, (bought via the link at the bottom of the page) SF conventions as well as plenty of hard graft has punters turning out in the droves.. We for one know that if it was not for a certain Mr Hellier and his conventions a few people may of not been introduced to the Small Faces at all, shocking!!

Currently John's bio consists of;

PUBLICATIONS: Original 60s mod around town, John was born in Romford, Essex and spent his formative years playing drums in various bands in and around East London but it was with his writing that he found his niche not only as editor of the worldwide respected Small Faces (and related) magazine Darlings Of Wapping Wharf Launderette, which goes out worldwide to 5000 readers, but also as a free-lance writer with major music monthlies such as Mojo, Uncut, Loaded and Record Collector. John's works also appear on numerous CDs/DVDs for all the major record companies. The first Small Faces book was back in 1996 and was a collaboration with Terry Rawlings and Keith Badman called “Quite Naturally” but his biggest triumph in this field is the Steve Marriott biography “All Too Beautiful” co-written with Paolo Hewitt and published in 2004 by Helter Skelter books. A labour of love, 77 interviews and three years graft but something John is very proud of. A third edition of this highly acclaimed book will be available later this year.  A third book co-written with friend Paul Weller entitled “Here Come The Nice” was published in late 2005 and spent many months in the Music book best sellers. Two more books in the pipeline are a Ronnie Lane biography (still in research stage) and a biography about original Who manager Pete Meadon.

PROMOTIONS: On the Promotions side John's biggest venture to date was the very successful, sell-out Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London in April 2004.  He promoted and compered the show in front of 5500 fans. The show, entitled “One For The Road” featured many of Rock and Rolls premier league and included amongst others Pete Townshend, Ronnie Wood, Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene.  Other promotions include a sell-out show in 2001 at the London Astoria in memory of Steve Marriott, ex Small Face, who had died in a house fire some ten years earlier (to the day). This concert once again featured Rock’s finest including Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Peter Frampton, Small Faces Kenney and Mac,  Midge Ure and many, many more.  Add to this annual Small Faces Conventions now held at the 02 Academy in London in which fans travel from literally the world over and annual Christmas Mod Balls in London featuring high profile bands.

TELEVISION: Many television credits include the recent Soul Britannia series for BBC4 (as well as an appearance alongside the likes of Paul Weller, Elton John, Tom Jones and the like John was also responsible for much of the research), BBC1s Inside Out, BBC1 Rock Under Review, Sky Ones Vinyl Frontier, Rock Routes (ITV), The Other Side, PP Arnold special (BBC2), Rocks Routes (BBC4). Radio credits too numerous to mention. Currently working on a Youth Culture documentary with Melvyn Bragg for Sky Arts TV.

RECORD COMPANY: Wapping Wharf Records was set up by John and ex-NMC record boss Carlton Sandercock in 2004 in conjunction with the late Steve Marriott’s estate as a tribute label to the great man himself and since then many CDs and DVDs have been issued worldwide including the best selling Rainy Changes album. 

 

It can be safely said that the boy from Romford done well... So with all that in the bag and a few more things in pipe line, we can all watch this space....

 

Many thanks to John for allowing us to run our blog on him and for the information provided below....

 

Questions from the PHK interview....

 

PHK - When did you first get involved in the Mod scene?

JH - Around 1963. I was 14 and still at school. Most school mates of mine, both male and female, were starting to dig both the Beatles and Stones. Their first albums were full of great songs but they were, in the main, covers of obscure American records. I’d go out of my way to seek out the originals and when I did I was amazed at the quality of the unknown versions. While everybody in the school seemed to be digging the fab fours versions of Twist And Shout and Money I’d be playing the Isley Brothers and Barrett Strong versions! My first musical heroes were Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. By the time I’d picked up on them they already had very strong back catalogues.

What was it about Mod that most attracted you? Clothes, music, attitude etc.?

All of those things and in that order. 

Was it known as Mod then? If not, how was it referred to?

 By the time I got into it we were Mods, previously the movement was referred to as Modernists.  Back in ’63 I never consciously said to myself “I wanna be a Mod”. It was something that I just drifted into without much thought. We had a few really fab clothes shops in Romford, my local town, such as Brent and Collins (who were later bought out by Take Six) and they would stock pretty much everything that Carnaby Street catered for anyway. The mainstream Mods and Rockers rivalry thing started with the tabloids and the fighting on the beaches stories of ’64. Myself and my local mates were very proud to be called Mods but we would disassociate ourselves with the street level guys on scooters that were just out for a punch up. We saw ourselves as a bit above that……...pure snobbery LOL.  . 

What part did Modern Jazz play in the germination of the Mod scene?

I think it played a large part in the very early days of the movement which was from 1958 onwards, particularly in London. I came into it five years later so had missed that boat really. By then it was American Soul/R&B music that ruled but always with a sprinkling of Blues.

What were the earliest clothes that you had that you considered to be Mod?

In ‘63/’64 I was wearing white levis, desert boots (only tan ones), hooped crew necks, tailor made tonic mohair trousers from Leslie Andrews in Romford, you’d go in there every week and pay half a crown (12 and a half pence) off of the bill, and for a very short period even a French beret! 

Which clubs or dance halls did you first frequent within the scene?

 My first clubs/dance halls were local, places such as the Wykeham Hall in Romford market place, the Willow Rooms also in Romford (Steve Marriott’s Moments would play there), Ilford Palais and the Nimbus in nearby Hornchurch. My London exploits started around late ’64/early ’65 and it was mainly the Marquee and Scene Club both in Soho. There was another fab Mod venue called the Lotus Rooms in the East End that was a favourite of mine. 

 What type of music/records did you listen to in the beginning?

 As per question one. Bo Diddley was my main man but all the original versions of England’s top tunes people like The Coasters, Arthur Alexander, Booker T, Ray Charles, early Motown acts such as the Contours and Junior Walker. The list goes on and on and these are still, half a century on, the people I like to listen to nowadays.

 How/when did Mod evolve/change during the years you were involved?

  Well up until the Who we never listened or liked anything that was wasn’t American. From late ’64 we realised how good a lot of the home grown talent was. Artistes such as Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, Chris Farlowe, Rod the Mod, Chris Farlowe were not only great live acts, they were making great records as well, albeit mostly cover versions.

 Who were the Faces within your everyday Mod world?

 In my every day world it would have to be local unknown bands (or groups as they were called back then) such as Scrooge and the Misers and the Chasers. I’d look up to and admire them although most people outside of the London borough of Havering would probably not even have heard of them.

 Did you have a scooter? When did they become popular with Mods?

 I was never a scooter boy always preferred four wheels and as soon as I passed my driving test I bought a Mini. For me and many others the four wheeled equivalent! Scooters were there right from the late 50s beginnings. I’ve seen a marvellous photo of scooters lined up outside the Two I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street in 1959. Musically, artists such as Marty Wilde and Adam Faith were playing that venue back then so perhaps, only perhaps, they were the first British Mod icons!

 What other terms or sub-styles were there within Mod?

 Terms, as in sayings/descriptions were ones that have stood the test of time for example “faces or tickets” always referred to those that led the way and every area had at least one of those.  Sub-styles musically were many… obviously Modern Jazz, the fast growing contingent of Caribbean Mods were digging early forms of reggae and had their own Mod Central at the Roaring Twenties club in Carnaby Street and by the mid 60s young guys were skipping the original influences and learning from new British bands such as the Action, Birds and of course, the Small Faces.

 Were you involved in any of the seaside events so loved by the media?

 No, definitely no!  There were two kinds of Mod. One was very street level and was one was a definite step up from that. The guys that I mixed with would not contemplate messing their clothes up or indeed the hair by even kicking a tin can in the street let alone fighting on the beaches of wherever. We were Peacocks! We wouldn’t even sit down in an empty railway carriage for fear of messing with the crease of the trouser!

 Did you go to the Scene Club/Flamingo/Marquee/Tiles?

 Yeah, three of those. I never actually went to the Flamingo. Don’t know why, it never used to open until nearly mid night. I wish I had and nearly fifty years on I regret that. All the others were very cool, the Marquee being my favourite. Did you know they didn’t have a back stage toilet in there so punters would quite often find themselves peeing next door to somebody famous!!

 If so, how many Mods were in attendance normally?

 At those particular venues not many, a few hundred at any one time. The biggest Mod venue from around late ’66 was the Uppercut Club in Forest Gate, East London which would take up to a couple of thousand people.

 Who did what, and on which days, at the Scene Club?

 Really can’t remember the timetable. I remember Guy Stevens the DJ and he would play lots of fairly obscure American records, two that stick in my mind being Pills by Bo Diddley (quite apt) and Happy Being Fat by Dee Irwin. I remember live bands, the Animals in particular, and I remember a big Radio Caroline connection as the club and radio station were both owned by the same guy.

Can you recall what clothes/shoes came in/went out, and when?

 The clothes scene changed rapidly. Early on winkle pickers, then chisel toes which were a pointed toe with the end abruptly cut off. After that toes became very rounded off. I remember patent shoes being very popular, they were highly glossy shoes previously worn by dancers also lots of basket weave (still THE ultimate Mod shoe) and two tone brogues and slip ons. Clothes wise… early on it was all about being suited and booted, tonic mohair being preferable but by ’66 it was largely smart casual with Fred Perry (type) shirts being very popular. It wasn’t all about names though as it is nowadays. You’d be pretty happy to buy a Fred Perry type shirt from your local High Street it wasn’t necessary to have the label. As Steve Marriott famously told Nicky Horne in an ’85 interview when asked “How did success change you?” He replied “Well, I stopped going to Woolworths and went to British Home Stores instead!”

 Did you have your suits made bespoke?

 I had my trousers made bespoke and would wear contrasting jackets with them. I did have suits but they’d be off the peg.

 If so, how many did you have, what styles/fabric, and how were they personalised?

 Suits were, for me, always tonic mohair. Loved that material, still do. Personalised only with the likes of the essential silk hankie overflowing from the top pocket. That was just me, many others would personalise much more so.

 What part did Mod girls play within the Mod scene?

 Not much as far as I remember. Within my circle it was mainly a male thing.

Can you describe their styles.

The girls were mainly modelled on the likes of Twiggy or Cathy McGowan who were THE female icons of the day, a bit later on they all wanted to be Julie Driscoll who had that very short almost cropped fringe (a male Steve Ellis! LOL). 

Did you ever attend the filming of Ready, Steady, Go!?

No, I never. I’ve just interviewed Pauline Corcoran, Small Faces fan club secretary, and she told me her Mum was the make-up artist at RSG. Some nice stories. 

What was your normal weekly schedule of clubs/gigs/shopping?

From leaving school in ’64 to early ’66 it was work in a betting shop (would you believe) and all of my wages went on clothes, records and gigs. About an even 33 per cent on each…I saved the odd 1 per cent that was over!  I went to at least 2 or 3 gigs every week but a lot of those were local events not always up West. By 1966 I was playing in semi pro bands myself as a pretty average drummer and that took up a lot of my time. 

What percentage of your wages would you normally spend on clothes?

As answered with previous question about a third of my wages. Many of my more expensive purchases would be on the book! Pay a deposit and then pay for the item weekly. 

The Small Faces were quite clearly your favourite band – what was it about them that meant so much to you?

The Small Faces had me hooked on the image. They were a great sounding group but it was so much more than that. I’d buy all of the girlie mags of the day just for the pictures and then be off “up west” to buy clothes that I’d seen them wearing. The image was perfection and I still get a great thrill nowadays if I see a picture of them I haven’t seen before (as does Mr Weller). Seeing “new” pics becomes more and more rare as the years roll by (obviously).

How many times did you see them play and what were they like “live”?

I saw them around eight or nine times but never heard them around eight or nine times! Club gigs would be tremendous, very much East Ham meets Memphis but the Pop package tours would be a different thing altogether. They’d be in a cinema or theatre and they’d do about 20 minutes worth of their hit singles. It was Beatlemania, really was…didn’t hear a word! A great experience all the same. 

Do you think the new Mods created by the media coverage have left the wrong impression on history, when looked back at by people today, of what the Mod scene was all about and what a Mod actually was?

Yes, definitely. It doesn’t matter how much you read up on it you needed to have been there to get the full picture. Some young guys (not all) think it just takes a target t-shirt and parka! Some think it just takes a three buttoned suit and knitted tie…it was evolving and changing all the time. What was “in” one week would most definitely be “out” the next. It’s easy for the kids nowadays, anything 60s seems to be accepted. Retro is fashionable and “Mod” gear is available on the High 

Street but if you want the REAL thing it still takes a bit of searching out. But clothes is just part of it, attitude and suss make up the rest. Steve Marriott in his dungarees was still a Mod! I knew the guy in his later years and he was most definitely a Mod, not necessarily in his attire but everything else! 

What did Mod mean to you at the time – was it just a fashion that coincided with your youth, or did it have more meaning and resonance to you?

Everything and it still does.  It was a fashion that coincided with my youth but it’s ended up being a lifelong obsession. I’m still as enthusiastic about everything 60s Mod as I was back in the day. 

When did you stop being a Mod, and why?

Well this is an odd question to answer because to the outside world Mod had finished by 1967 and  did not re-appear until 1979. As I said previously Mod was always evolving and from ’67 it evolved into Psychedelia. We were now digging the sounds of San Francisco instead of Memphis. We grew beards, funny moustaches and wore military uniforms but myself and my crowd still thought of it as Mod. The media wrongly thought Mod segued into Skinhead. It never, we grew the barnet and although we never became fully fledged Hippies we leaned that way! Not just my crowd but Marriott, Meaden, Andrew Loog-Oldham, Jeff Dexter etc. etc. I can’t speak for those guys but to me it was just a new form of Mod as strange as that will seem to the target t-shirt brigade! Between us we had a few good tashes I must say! For me it’s now gone full circle and 60s attire is the order of the day…again!!

Did you move on to another fashion trend (and if so, what attracted you to it), or did career and/or family commitments become a more major part of your life (leaving you less time, money and opportunities for clothes, clubs, music and dancing)?

I guess I’ve already answered this in question 28. I must say though that Mod Revival in the early 80s just went straight over my head. My very pompous, arrogant attitude was that we were the real thing and they were just kids playing, what did they know? That was wrong of me and for that I apologise to all of my current day mates in their late 40s/early 50s, of which you are one, Paul.

How did you get involved with the DWWL fanzine and end up as sole editor?

My love for the Small Faces never wavered. They are the soundtrack of my adult life really. In the early 90s a guy from Liverpool sent me issue one of his new Small Faces fanzine and asked if I would contribute a story for them. This I did, happily reviewing a 1968 gig that I had been to. I did a similar story for issue three but was then told that the fanzine was folding as the guy couldn’t afford to keep it going anymore. He was only doing 100 copies and it was very primitive. This was before computers were the norm and it was just a copy/paste job. Anyway, I decided to take it over, I took a graphic designer friend on board and together we took it to another level, making it glossy and definitely more up market. We were still doing 100 copies at start of issue 5, we’re now doing 5000 copies distributed world wide. Wapping Wharf in 2011 also incorporates a Steve Marriott specialist record label in conjunction with Steve’s estate and a Promotions company that, as well as annual Small Faces Conventions, has staged sold out Memorial concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and London Astoria. A fact, which I’m very proud of.

Did you get to know Steve Marriott well?

Yeah, pretty well. I first met him in 1983 and became fairly pally with him. His low key gigs would be the highlight of my week. He still put on a great show right to the end. I interviewed him in 1984 and co wrote his biography All Too Beautiful in 2004.

You’ve been keeping the flame of the Small Faces alive via DWWL and the Small Faces Convention for may years now – how much material do you have in the archives and how long do you think you can keep the fanzine going for?

As Wapping Wharf as a company has grown the magazine has actually become a smaller part of the organisation. I only produce two a year now instead of four but finding good material has actually become easier. The more the readership grows the more feed back I get so that combined with my own 50 years worth of personal material means that there is no shortage of good things to write about. 

What is it about the Small Faces that keeps them sounding as fresh and relevant today as they did back in 1965?

Well in nearly half a century I’ve never seen a bad picture of them…the pics are timeless. They are from an age when looking good meant something. Most bands in 2011 look as though their stage clothes were the same ones that they went to be bed in the previous night. The music is also timeless, just listen to the likes of Tin Soldier or those instrumental b sides and they could well have been recorded last Tuesday! To young Mods the world over they are iconic figures. They started life as the East End of London’s version of Booker T and the MGs, that’s all they ever wanted to be… now, nearly 50 years later, they have a cult following from Tottenham to Timbuktu to Tokyo and my mail box proves it!! NICE!!!!

Thank-you JH..........

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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