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Rediscovering Newcastle’s Mod Culture
People
October 2021
Reading time 10 Minutes

We’re revving our engines and riding back to the 60s to discover Newcastle’s forgotten mod culture

Google the subculture ‘mod’ and you’ll be transported to the 1960s ‘swinging London’ – the time of gogo boots, thick eyeliner, and some pretty suave suits and scooters (not to mention some of our favourite music). But it seems Newcastle’s huge influence has been wiped from this part of history. Now Jools and Paul Donnelly are determined to put our city back on the mod map.
Club a'gogo

Jools and Paul are passionate about promoting the mod culture and musical heritage of 60s Newcastle. The original Club a’Gogo, upstairs from the now-demolished Handyside Arcade on Newcastle’s Percy Street, played a huge role in this era and many iconic bands and stars performed there. The Animals, the legendary rhythm and blues and rock band formed in Newcastle, even wrote a song about the club calling it ‘one of the coolest spots in town’. And when we add The Who, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix to the list of performers, you’ll see why the club was so important. The intimacy of this small venue meant that club-goers were able to meet their idols close up, have a drink and even chat with them.

Due to the popularity of Club a’Gogo in Newcastle, the owner and Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Mike Jeffery, opened an outpost on North Parade, Whitley Bay in 1963. Club a’Gogo sadly closed its doors in 1968, and Handyside Arcade was demolished in the late 1980s to make way for Eldon Garden shopping centre. 

Both Jools and Paul are part of Newcastle’s current mod scene, which they say is ‘very much alive and kicking’, but they describe it as ‘an underground scene’ as many aren’t aware of it. ‘We travel to mod clubs around the country, as well as to the Brighton Mod Weekender,’ Jools says. ‘But we realised that there’s nothing really like that in the North East.’ That’s why they decided to set up their own 60s mod club. ‘This was just before the pandemic struck,’ Jools continues. ‘We needed a name for our club so we did a bit of research and found Club a’Gogo. We knew about it from 60s Newcastle but it was only when we researched it further that we realised how amazing it really was. You name it, every huge artist had played there. But it seemed it had been forgotten, so we wanted to promote it.’

That’s why they’re writing a book on the history of Newcastle mods and Club a’Gogo, which they hope to publish towards the end of this year. They also lobbied Newcastle City Council for a heritage plaque at the site of the Club a’Gogo, and were successful in their bid.

‘We’ve been on a bit of a mission during lockdown to get the name of the club back out there,’ Jools explains. ‘We’re absolutely ecstatic to have been able to get a heritage plaque for Club a’Gogo. This all goes towards getting that part of 60s culture (which has been eradicated from history) back out there again. There’s a huge interest in the mod scene and people know about The Cavern Club in Liverpool because of The Beatles, but Club a’Gogo was actually bigger than that. More famous bands performed there. American Blues acts didn’t play at The Cavern, they came to Newcastle. It was known as a ‘mod Mecca’; it was a really cool destination. The venue was featured in lots of magazines in the 60s, largely thanks to The Animals, among many others. David Bowie, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart also played there in the early days of their careers – that’s not commonly known, so we’re really working hard to let people know more about this era in the North East.’

As well as their upcoming book, Jools and Paul have their own magazine called Downbeat, named after a jazz club in Newcastle, and their research has been featured in plenty of other niche modzines too. ‘We’re trying to revive all of these old names to make sure they’re remembered – and it seems to be working so far,’ Jools adds. But arguably, the best way to bring the culture back to Newcastle is to allow locals and visitors to experience it for themselves. That’s why they run popular 60s mod nights at Newcastle’s Prohibition Bar.

‘All the work we’ve been doing through lockdown is to get the name of Club a’Gogo back on people’s lips,’ Jools tells us. ‘People are talking about the club all over the country now. We want people to come to Newcastle, see the plaque, explore our history – and we’ve got an exhibition of 60s memorabilia in the pipeline that coincides with the book. Let’s get people into the North East to celebrate it all.’

Find out more about our mod heritage, the book, the exhibition, the magazine and events at clubagogo.co.uk.

Newcastle Scooters

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

Personally, what do you love most about the era? 

‘Everything! We love the music, obviously, but we love the style too. We always get dressed up when we go out and we regularly get asked if we’re going to a wedding – that’s just how we dress! We love the culture too.’

Favourite song by a North East artist?

‘Send You Back To Walker. We try and play a lot of The Animals in Prohibition and this song is about when they went to London and he brought his girlfriend from Newcastle. She really showed him up, so he sent her back to Walker!’

Favourite place to go to gigs in Newcastle now?

‘The O2 Academy or Newcastle City Hall because they’re small and still have plenty of history. We really don’t like big stadiums and venues. There’s a better atmosphere. We’ve got our first gig post-pandemic booked in December; we’re going to see The Libertines.’

What do you love most about the North East?

‘The people. We’re very proud to be from the North East.’

Current favourite track?

Jools: ‘Love Her Madly by The Doors. This is a lesser-known Doors track which I absolutely love and it always gets me jumping up onto the dance floor! I first heard this at a club I used to go to in Sunderland in the 80s. They played a great mix of mod, indie and new wave music and it had a really good crowd.’

Paul: ‘Shake Your Hips by Slim Harpo. This will always be one of our Club a’Gogo floor fillers and I’m there too!’

Lyrics that inspire you?

Jools: ‘It’s My Life by The Animals. I love the sentiment behind these lyrics and the way they are sung with such passion and grit by Eric Burdon. I try to apply these words to my life… “It’s a hard world to get a break in. All the good things have been taken. But girl, there are ways to make certain things pay. Though I’m dressed in these rags, I’ll wear sable some day. It’s my life and I’ll do what I want. It’s my mind and I’ll think what I want”.’

Paul: ‘Beat Surrender by The Jam. “My doubt is cast aside. Watch phonies run to hide. The dignified don’t even enter the game…” I have always been a huge fan of The Jam and Weller’s solo work is excellent too. I’m a lyrics man and I have a fantastic memory for words to songs. I love the stories and the intelligence of Weller’s lyrics.’

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