In the spring of 1979, the Mod revival was gathering momentum.
In Brighton, Quadrophenia was being filmed, and in the East End of London, the Bridge House had been holding regular Mods Monday nights which culminated in a Mods Mayday ’79 event and live album.
In June that year, The Lambrettas made their live debut on Hastings Pier. “We weren’t even advertised to appear. They just stuck us on the bill and we went down so well,” recalled Jez Bird, the lead singer of the Brighton (Lewes, to be specific) group that was named after the iconic Italian scooter.
“This guy said: ‘I’ll be your manager’. He got us some gigs in London and within about a month we had a singles deal. It was very quick from nowhere to getting somewhere.”
The Lambrettas’ first single, Go Steady – which originally appeared on the 499 2139 compilation issued by Elton John‘s Rocket Records in 1979 – had been produced by Pete Waterman, who also suggested they cover Poison Ivy, but the eclectic all-rounder Peter Collins oversaw the group’s first album.
The Lambrettas eventually did score the biggest hit of all the mod revival bands when their ska-infused cover of Poison Ivy sold 250,000 copies and reached #7 in the charts.
The band appeared on Top of the Pops and had further hits with Da-a-a-ance, Another Day (Another Girl) (a pop at The Sun‘s practice of placing photos of topless women on page three), and their 1980 album Beat Boys in the Jet Age.
In 1982, for their 8th and final single, an ill-advised cover of Jefferson Airplane‘s Somebody to Love, they ditched the mod look for more casual clothes.
“In those days, the image was gone so quickly. It was always on to the next thing. Fashion seemed to be much more associated with movements then,” recalled Bird, who stayed in music, formed Rave On Jack with Sanders, and later led his own band.
When the mod revival bubble burst and Ambience, their proto-Britpop second album, flopped, they broke up, in April 1982. Bird remained a popular face around his hometown of Lewes in East Sussex, still performing in pubs.
Reflecting on his brief flirtation with the charts in 1980, Bird was philosophical;
“There was a vacuum at that time in the music business. You had the big bands, the punk thing had shot its bolt and there was this gap, and it was the moddy, power-poppy type bands that filled it up. ”
“We were just lucky really because we just got The Lambrettas name to get people to our gigs in Brighton,” he said.
“I’m still a mod at heart. I’ve still got the suits, the Harringtons, the DM shoes. In a way, it spoils you for real life having so much success so young, but I wouldn’t change it”
Bird regrouped the band in the 90’s, playing small venues in England and recorded several demos. Sadly, Bird succumbed to cancer and died in Lewes on 27 August 2008.
The band re-formed in 2009 and continue to perform live.
Doug Sanders used to wear a piece of clothing with a pedigree during his time in The Lambrettas – A stage suit once owned by Charlie Watts (a friend of his dads) and worn at early Rolling Stones gigs.
Vocals, guitar, keyboards