Two peas in a pod. That’s pretty much how I’d describe the relationship between the somewhat competing underground music scenes in the 80s. While there is no denying there was friction, for the most part, the 60s mod and garage followers’ overlapping interests enabled them to find some common ground. A perfect example of this is the group Mod Fun.
Birthed in NJ, and nurtured by the NJ mod scene, the group often crossed the river and played in Manhattan. Eventually they expanded their fanbase to include decidedly non-modernist garage punk fans on both sides of the river.
So when Mick “London” Hale recently posted news about an upcoming big Mod Fun announcement, I was intrigued. Enough to fire off a quick message. A short while later, I received a reply from Mick:
“We are reissuing BOTH 80s albums (remastered in full) digitally on all platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Napster, etc.) for the first time! In fact, the Midnight record has never had any of its original tracks released since the butchered vinyl edition in the 80s. So, this is a BIG one for us. It will also include the remastered ‘Hangin’ Round EP’ along with a bunch of demos and live tracks from that period, 25 tracks in all.
“Additionally, the remastered ‘Dorothy’s Dream’ album will be expanded to 25 tracks as well for its digital debut! Included in this release will be more live tracks and demos from back in the day.”
Say no more.
I reconnected with Mick and asked him if we could do a short Q&A concerning the release of the tracks. Mick, as much the gentleman now as he was then, wholeheartedly agreed.
SSA: Just for the people not familiar with Mod Fun, can you give me a quick summary of how you guys originally met and how the idea for a 60s inspired band came about?
MH: Well, actually I knew Bob Strete (Edit: the bass player) practically from birth since our Mums were friends and neighbors early on. We did move to different towns by the time we were teenagers but still kept in touch. I eventually ended moving back to Lodi where we had both originally met. Around 1979 or ’80—with both of us deep in our KISS(!) phase—we decided to buy some guitars. However, by the time we met Chris Collins (Edit: the drummer) we were getting into bands like The Police, the Sex Pistols and a whole bunch of British new wave and punk sounds. Naturally, we also loved the Beatles as deeply as any music-obsessed teen would. As far as our band though, the deeper dive into ’60s sounds came after about a year as “Mod Fun.” It was then after diving into Motown, Stax and other Paul Weller “influences” that we started to go down a more “retro” rabbit hole.
SSA: Being in New Jersey, it must have been very odd being a 60s fanatic. Not many know how those years were filled with endless cover bands and classic rock. Coming from Queens I can empathize. How did you find early gigs?
MH: At first we’d see all these totally new wave bands listed in the Aquarian (the NJ alternative weekly) playing at places like Bloomfield’s Dirt Club and Jetty or the Showplace in Dover. We’d naively contact them for gigs and, to our surprise (especially in the beginning) we’d get on bills with these bands in their 20s and 30s who had records out. We were just kids in our senior year of HS! At that time we were very Jam-ish but doing all the same soul covers like “Midnight Hour” and “Heatwave.” I also recall we did “Time for Action” by Secret Affair. We even had a two-piece horn section back in the very beginning!
SSA: After the band was formed did you gravitate to the NJ scene? Or was it the NY scene and bands that you heard about first?
MH: We actually straddled both scenes. We grew up in Bergen County only about 17 minutes away from the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, so we were always gigging in NJ and crossing over into Manhattan. I’d say, for every two gigs we did in NJ, there was at least one in NYC in a typical month. Back then (before “experiencing” the Dive) we played a LOT at this place on the corner of Bleeker and Broadway called R.T. Firefly, sometimes two times a month. also at CB’s, Dr. B, S.N.A.F.U., Kenny’s Castaways, some others I’m probably forgetting.
SSA: I love asking people what they felt like when they entered the Dive for the first time. Everyone has a different take.
MH: Yes, the Dive was a total trip to go at first. We must have gotten into that scene after it had only been going for a few months, too. In fact, the first time we played there was before they built up the stage into a proper, decent-sized square one. I have an early pic of us there when there were mirrors behind the “stage” that was only about 4 inches up off the floor and an awful triangular shape which made it hard to fit on. I don’t think our first gig there was a Cavestomp, but we did play with another 60s-ish band…maybe the Creeping Pumpkins and (the not 60s-ish) Bill Pop/Tapes. But after we did a weekend with the Cheepskates, we started to get booked with all the other 60s-styled bands at every gig, so we sort of grew with the venue as it turned more and more retro band friendly. I seem to recall there were even plays or other “arty” (less musical) performances going on there in the early days too. By then we had also met Ron Rimsite who is really heavily responsible for us growing into a much more U.K. Psyche/Freakbeat-inspired style. He gave me so many cassettes of great obscure trippy English and R&B influenced stuff.
SSA: Why did Mod Fun eventually stop? Life responsibilities?
MH: That’s a strange story. We split up as Mod Fun but regrouped as Paintbox and played a bunch of local shows. Then to our surprise, we were offered a two-week European tour by some guys who owned a record shop in Berlin. Their idea was to promote a “US garage” package tour in Europe. It sounded great! So, we met with these two guys in Hoboken and explained to them how we were interested, but we’d like to be billed as “Paintbox *(formerly Mod Fun).” They were all like “Yah, yah, that’s great!!” We then arrive in Europe and every single poster had the artwork for “90 Wardour Street” and has us billed as “MOD FUN.” This might have not been a big deal if it was just the three of us, but since Chris was dating the keyboard player from Paintbox, it put her in a sticky situation. We had to revamp the whole set to all Mod Fun and no Paintbox songs. It caused a division right down the middle of the band. We barely even made it through that tour. Upon our return to the States, Bob and I started Crocodile Shop with the drummer from Lord John and didn’t talk to Chris for a couple of years. Eventually, we did work through this awkward phase though. Chris even started engineering some of our recording sessions and doing live sound for Crocodile Shop at a few gigs (Maxwells, Limelight).
SSA: I’m sure the idea of reissuing your albums and other tracks has occurred to you over the years. What was different this time around?
MH: Yes, definitely! We did actually have the label Get Hip! out of Pittsburgh issue a “best of” CD in the years when Mod Fun wasn’t active at all. Since Dave Amels from Cryptovision was working with Get Hip, he had the “Dorothy’s Dream” master tapes and some other tracks we did with him back then for Mod compilations. While we did not have access to the Midnight Records material, we did the best we could. That was the “Past…Forward” CD issued in…maybe 1995? It was repressed in 2004 when we actually got Mod Fun back together for a reunion show in Asbury Park. However, to answer your question, this time I found myself with a bunch of downtime after losing a lot of my DJ gigs here in Asbury Park. I knew I wanted to do something musical during this “social isolation” period, so I started digging through old tapes. I ran them through some outboard EQ into my Mac and remastered the stuff. Not only did it keep me busy, but I was way happier with the sound than the original vinyl mastering jobs, which we had little control over.
SSA: Bill Luther did a great job with the reissue of your first single a short while back. That must have felt special since you guys knew each other for ages.
MH: Yup, Bill is great, one of our best mates and super supportive over the years. The color cover sleeve and his blurb on the back were superb. It was an honor for us to be his debut release on his label.
SSA: Were the tapes all in one spot or scattered about in different places? Any require tracking down? Did you find tapes in an unusual place?
MH: Let’s just say it took a lot of digging. I’ve moved maybe five or six times since the ’80s so some stuff was packed away super deep. Tapes were all mixed up in milkcrates, storage totes, boxes, cassette cases…you name it. It was all under one roof, but I still felt like an archeologist at times, stumbling onto great material on an unlabeled tape and all.
SSA: From my own experiences going through archival stuff, I know not everything you find is gold. Sometimes it’s amusing to try to remember why I held onto one thing and not another. Any stories of discoveries like this?
MH: Oh gosh, yes. I found strange “side projects” we did back then. Really crazy stuff.
SSA: There are happy surprises though. Can you recall any of those?
MH: Yes! A four-track demo of eight covers we did after “Dorothy’s Dream” that I literally had been searching for about a decade! It was on the B-side of a live tape. I think five of the tracks are appearing on the new reissues.
SSA: This might sound odd considering we’re all getting on in years, but any short tours planned after all this COVID mess clears up? Even just a final NYC gig would be ideal.
MH: Yes! We were actually just about to do a big reunion show in D.C. the Sunday all the COVID19 mess hit the fan. We were able to do a local Asbury Park warm-up show, but right after that, the band in D.C. canceled the gig down there. It was super disappointing too, considering all the logistical hoops we had to jump thru to get Bob back out here from Kentucky for the gig. But, looking ahead, he’s trying to move back out here so we can “get the band back together, maaaan.”
SSA: Any plans for live material coming out from the early years? The band used to put on a powerhouse live show back in the day, I recall. You gave LI’s Secret Service a run for their money.
MH: Actually, there are a whole bunch of live tracks included (from back then) on these collections, some recorded at Berkeley Square, a Radiothon we did in Trenton and some even at the Dive(!)
SSA: Thanks again, Mick, for sharing this wonderful news on our site. And for taking a moment to share some background on the release. Hope to see you guys live…soon!
MH: Thank You, Jeff!