Chris Collins, Mick “London” Hale, and Bobby “Werner” Strete perform as MOD FUN, Friday the 13th at Asbury Park Yacht Club.
Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 12, 2020
“They say that turbulent times are good for the arts,” says guitarist and vocalist Mick London, by way of explaining a level of activity that brings his long-running rock band Mod Fun back to the local stage this Friday, March 13. “And what does it say that we’ve stayed together a lot longer this time around, than when we were first on the scene?”
One of the most attention-compelling original combos to emerge out of New Jersey in the early to mid-1980s, Mod Fun caught the cutting edge of a rock renaissance that centered around such creative hives as Hoboken, New Brunswick, and our own Shore points; fortified by such legendary outposts as The Dirt Club in Bloomfield (site of the band’s inaugural gig), City Gardens, Maxwell’s, Court Tavern, the Fast Lane and the Brighton Bar; supported by a robust indie press and the pioneers of college/ alternative radio (oh, and The Uncle Floyd Show). While most of those cultural outlets are the stuff of late-boomer nostalgia these days, the trio of London, drummer Chris Collins and bassist Bobby “Werner” Strete remains on call; ready to assemble like Avengers or some jukebox Justice League, whenever turbulent times demand the peculiar diplomacy of the band’s supercharged postpunk powerpop.
Hosted within the satisfyingly stripped-down setting of the Asbury Park Yacht Club on the famous boards, the Friday night fracas finds the Fun playing its first Asbury Park gig in a full decade, having last appeared at the “old” Asbury Lanes in 2010 as part of a “Modsbury Park” bill in support of their to-date most recent recording, the full-length album Futurepresent.
Bolstered by a widely viewed video for “Give” (a clip filmed against the backdrop of such now-vanished landmarks like the Baronet Theatre and the aborted Esperanza condo project), the album cemented the band’s bond with Asbury Park, even as charter member Strete relocated to the Cincinnati area. For the core trio whose career was inspired by the “Mod” era revivalism of Paul Weller’s `1970s band The Jam — and whose early focus on northern NJ and NYC led to and high-profile sets up and down the eastern seaboard — it was a “homecoming” rooted in a 2004 show at The Saint; a reunion that marked the 20th anniversary of the band’s hard-driving debut single, “I Am With You.”
Even as he’s kept one foot planted in the garage-land realm of guitars and amps, however, “Mick London” is better known to current city residents as DJ Mick Hale, the dance-music specialist who presides over “Tempted Tuesdays,” Tea Dances and Pink Proms throughout the calendar year. Having enlivened the normally drab foothills of the working-week hump via his long-running Tuesday night gig at Georgie’s Bar, Hale prepares to augment his weekly residency at “the gay Cheers” of north Asbury with a summer-season stint at the poolside lounge of The Asbury Hotel, as well as an anticipated return to Convention Hall’s Beach Bar and other outlets of the partystarting pulsebeat.
That “double life” of the Anglophile aficionado of classic Brit bands like The Who and The Kinks, and the expert purveyor of R&B/dancefloor favorites, is reconciled to some extent by Hale’s ongoing involvement with another well-established endeavor: the electronica group Crocodile Shop, a dormant-not-dead entity (founded in 1987, and also harnessing the talents of Strete) about which the busy music maker says, “our keyboard player (v.Markus) sent me five new tracks last year…we finished one, and I keep having the idea of reviving Croc Shop as a recording project.”
There’s another element still to the musical makeup of Mr. Mick Hale — a factor little-known to the scene at large, but hardly anything of an embarrassment to the Wanamassa resident — and that’s his 15-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, about which more momentarily.
For the veteran club DJ who began his turntabling career in earnest at such Asbury venues as Swell and Paradise, it was his affiliation with the main post office in Neptune that finally spurred him to issue his first recordings under his own name (“although ironically, they’re my only records that I don’t sing on”). Released in 2019, the Hale Haus ep featured vocals by Laraé — a local vocalist who just happens to be one of Mick’s co-workers at the P.O. — as is Theo Teddy Shivers, a comedian and voice artist with whom Hale released a remix ep covering the 1970s Bobby Caldwell song “What You Won’t Do.”
“I’d hear (Laraé) singing at work, and wanted to work with her…she gave me some loops on a jump drive, and we took it from there,” Hale says of his best-kept-secret music incubator workplace. “Along with her and Theo, another guy I work with is the bass player in a well-known Shore bar band…we could really start an all-star supergroup here!”
As for finding common ground between the aspect of his public personality that prizes such obsscure 1960s-era bands as The Creation and The Action — and the part that deals in custom remixes of signatures by the likes of Diana Ross and Britney Spears — Hale asserts that “I legitimize it by reminding myself that the original Mod scene in the UK was built on obtaining and playing the latest dance records…the DJs there would paper over the labels of the records they played, so others couldn’t see what they were… and the fact that I’m up on the current dance music is my spiritual connection to that scene, which inspired the whole ‘Northern Soul’ thing!”
It’s a foundational point of reference for an ever-evolving, constantly in motion artist whose range of experience has seen him work as a writer (for Jersey Beat and the TriCity News), a fill-in deejay at radio stations like Princeton’s WPRB, a producer, and the publisher of his own Mod fanzine, Start! For Mod Fun — the earliest expression in that nearly 40-year blast of creative energy — the immediate future finds them coming full circle to Washington, DC, where they played with fellow Mod revivalists Modest Proposal some 35 years ago. The two bands reteam on the same bill at Pearl Street Warehouse this coming Sunday, March 15, as part of a wild weekend that Hale hints could lead to a renewed surge of activity for the trio of Mod men.
Check YouTube for Fun footage that ranges from the early-on 1983 video “We’re What We’re Living For,” to more recent items like “I Can See Everything” and the aforementioned “Give,” as well as the band’s renditions of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” and Badfinger’s pop classic “Day After Day” (there’s plenty of Croc Shop to be viewed as well).
Veteran observers of the local original music scene will also not want to miss the other act on Friday’s bill, spotlighting another prolific artist whose public profile spans a similar 35-year stretch. A core component of such 1980s-90s recording/gigging bands Mischief and two different incarantions of Well of Souls, Tom Kanach has been audibly visible in recent years via such releases as the 2018 ep Once, and the epic-but-deeply-personal “rock opera” song cycle Undertow. The singer-songwriter-guitarist returns with his newest band project, this time with a special sitting-in guest: Dramarama guitarist Pete Wood (who joined LA-based John Easdale and bandmates for a Light of Day concert at House of Independents this past January). As always, there’s no cover charge to be welcomed aboard the Yacht Club, with the live sounds slated to commence at 9:30 pm.