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Mods Mayday 40th anniversary proves staying power of ‘my generation’

Secret Affair was one of the mod revival bands performing at the iconic 1979 Mods Mayday show, and will headline at this weekend's 40th anniversary show. (Courtesy Bridge House Records)
David Cairns, of Secret Affair, on 40th anniversary Mods Mayday show

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Sometimes revenge takes time.

Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of Mods Mayday — a 1979 concert at The Bridge House in London documented on a live album, featuring five mod revival bands.

Started in 1978, mod revival was a music style and subculture hearkening to the early 1960s and the conflicting existence of “mods and rockers,” depicted in the 1979 film Quadrophenia which is based on the 1973 album by The Who.

David Cairns, guitarist and co-founding member of Secret Affair was onstage for the first Mods Mayday in 1979 — Secret Affair will headline Sunday’s sold-out 40th anniversary show.

“Mods Mayday is something that’s gone on over the years,” Cairns told WTOP. “It’s a gathering and a meeting of like-minded people.”

Fueled with energy from the mid-1970s punk movement, mod revivalists wore suits instead of leather, kept their hair neat, rode scooters, and preferred understated cool to punk’s pogoing and rage.

In 1979 Secret Affair was one of England’s top mod revival bands, along with the genre’s most well-known and commercially successful groups, The Jam.

During the early days of punk, alternative music was featured in British music publications, including New Musical Express and Sounds.

“There was negative press back in the day about ‘mod is coming back,’ and ‘isn’t it a bit of a revival joke,'” Cairns recalled.

The sold-out 40th anniversary Mods Mayday features seven mod revival bands from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Well, NME’s gone now. It’s no longer something you can buy at your local magazine shop. But guess what — Mods Mayday sold 1,200 tickets in less than a week at a venue in north London,” said Cairns.

Secret Affair played twice in D.C. — at the Ontario Theater in August 1980, and the following year at the old 9:30 Club, as part of a 65 show cross-country (by car) tour.

Soon after, the band learned the hard way about the fickleness of the British music press.

“Back in the day, if you disappeared for three or four months outside the U.K. and then you came back, the U.K. audiences had kind of moved onto the next thing,” said Cairns. “Whether it was the new romantics, Spandau Ballet, or whatever.”

While the band’s traction slipped, Cairns didn’t blame the mod movement.

“It wasn’t the audience that disappeared on us — the mods — it was the business, the record industry, and the BBC radio network that just wanted the next big thing,” said Cairns. “And they just kind of forgot you.”

By 1982, “we couldn’t really get to the next level,” and Secret Affair broke up.

Cairns moved to the United States. For most of the 1990s he was an executive with Gibson Guitars.

“I moved to Memphis — I was a Memphian,” he said, in an accent without a trace of Tennessee twang. “It was a wonderful part of my life.”

Yet, in 2002, when presented with the opportunity to play some reunion shows, Cairns and co-founder, singer Ian Page, got the band back together.

Since then, the offers have continued, including shows in Tokyo and Moscow.

“Recently we’ve had continual offers to play the States, but we’ve got problems with the huge expense of the American work visas, which we’re kind of looking at right now,” said Cairns.

Sunday’s sold out Mods Mayday 2019 lineup also includes The Truth, The Lambrettas, Squire, The Vapors, The Circles, and The Chords UK — all mod revival staples in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“We’re in the middle of a 14-day proper ‘big boy’ tour, and we’re selling out again,” said Cairns. “It’s kind of come back full circle after 40 years, and it’s extraordinary.”

Unlike quickly-changing music styles, and the now-defunct music publications, Cairns said the mod revival has endured.

“We never went away. We’ve kind of outlived our critics, and we’re still flying the flag — the mod culture flag — to this day.”

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