Uppers On The South Downs

Not entirely sure where I got hold of this LP – I suspect it was during my Mod Revival collecting phase that I had searched for either the genre or, possibly, Purple Hearts on eBay or Discogs.

The version I have is classed as a re-release, dated 1981, although it doesn’t have quite the same track listing as its 1980 predecessor. The 1981 version, catalogued UPPA 1, moves one of the Missing Persons tracks from side B to the last track on side A, excludes one of the South Coast Ska Stars tracks completely (more on them later) and includes three Purple Hearts tracks missing from the 1980 release, giving us 14 tracks in 1981 compared to 12 tracks in 1980.

The 1980 release (UPP 1) LP cover, featuring a parka clad mod on a scooter

The Spotify version is the 1981 release, but features as a bonus track the missing South Coast Ska Stars track, making 15 tracks in total.

Having lived through, and been very much a part of the Mod Revival scene in the late 70s and early 80s, the only band I’d seen live or really heard of from this collection was Purple Hearts. They were quite popular at the time among my friends, and they recorded several fairly iconic albums such as Beat That and Head On Collision Time, featuring the Mod classic Frustration.

It’s also worth mentioning that this album was released under a different title in Canada in 1980, Oh No…I Can’t Control Myself, presumably because nobody in North America knew where the South Downs were?

So, back to South Coast Ska Stars as promised. I only mention them as it was founding member Ray Fenwick, a former member of the Spencer Davies Group, that produced and assembled this motley crew for the compilation. The featured bands all hailed from the South Coast of England, except Purple Hearts who were from Romford. The 1981 release seems to have confused things somewhat, and the album’s purpose or message, if there is one, is lost slightly. Ray Fenwick and his South Coast Ska Stars don’t help as they are certainly more reggae than Mod! The Stars released both tracks featured across the various releases as singles, and that’s pretty much all they did. So, let’s start there with the review.

South Coast Rumble starts with the classic one drop reggae beat, and it isn’t long before a sax solo kicks in before returning to standard reggae fare. At 2:28 it is over pretty quickly, and listening to it again now for this review it does sound familiar and reminds me of scooter rallies from those days, but I wouldn’t really call this Ska despite the band’s name, it is more trad reggae and would have been at home on early Island Records releases or the Sue label, perhaps. Its the better of the two, with Head On attempting a more Ska feel but missing the mark.

Ok, so back to the start with The Teenbeats, by all accounts a very respected band from the mod revival but one that passed me by back then. We had to rely on word of mouth and record swapping back then and The Teenbeats just hadn’t made it to South Wales! Starting off with the title track from the Canadian release, I Can’t Control Myself has a 60s pop feel to it and is quite a good track. What lets it down is the production – the recording isn’t great and sound is muffled. Teenage Beat has a strong resemblance to Not Fade Away by The Rolling Stones. Again, it has the mandatory mod revial ingredients and the freakbeat, 60s pop vibe. I’ll Never Win is probably the weaker of the five on show here, with Strength Of The Nation standing out as a potential mod anthem. It’s the one track that reminds me of those days the most – and I think I’d have been an advocate had I heard it back then. Not sure I could have got on board with the slightly sickly name of the band though!

It feels like The Teenbeats were the main focus for this compilation, having the privilage of the first tracks on side A, which is a shame as I think the album really comes to life with the Missing Persons track Forever Young. A real mod theme of youth and energy and fearing the passing of time, and a true foot tapper. A shame it closes off side A but at least it leaves the listener optimistic about side B!

Now, I don’t know the back story or the why, when and how Purple Hearts were included on the album, but the difference is immediate and you can hear exactly why they were popuar with my particular In Crowd. The songs just feel more crafted and capture the energy of the time. When Just To Please You blends effortlessly into The Guy That Made Her A Star you sigh with relief, and, if you didn’t know them already, resolve to immediately go and hear the rest of what Purple Hearts had to offer.

A Purple Hearts pin badge

In fact, The Guy That Made Her A Star is worth buying this album for alone, if you can find it cheap enough. All of these tracks appear on the My Life’s A Jigsaw single, also released by Safari, so I guess one could say it was Safari that made Purple Hearts a star, though they would later record their better known and more successful albums with Fiction and Razor Records.

Next comes two tracks by The Same. The first one, 1918, is an odd sounding one. I’m going to be a bit mean and say it sounds amateurish, especially following the previous three tracks. I wouldn’t neccessarily have put this in the Mod Revival bucket had I heard it out of context, but it has a certain something that would make it a good live track I fancy. The second track by The Same though, even though the title I’m A Face promises so much for anybody who knows their mod, is one to forget. It is out of place on the album and would be very out of place at a gig. The weird vocal echo fadeout leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and we rely once again on Missing Persons to close the side out on a high.

Not as strong as Forever Young, Mystery Girl nevertheless finishes well, and even if Innocent doesn’t quite live up to the other two, it ends very strongly.

A strange little album this one – not really a snaphot of the time (there were much better mod bands around) yet it captures the explosion of angry young men making music and immersing themselves in a youth movement that took the UK and the music industry by storm for longer than it probably should have done. The inclusion of reggae is just odd, but the rest are good and rare mod revival tracks that a collector, the curious or the nostalgic will love to own. I have to recommend, if you can find it, the 1981 re-release for the inclusion of Purple Hearts – then go listen to their other albums!

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