Out of Time by Paul Davis follows a group of old friends immersed in the resurging Dublin mod scene in the 2010s.
Now that the kids have grown up and free time has been reclaimed, this band of 40-somethings have returned to the fashion, vinyl records and clubs that once blasted out soul, ska and rhythm and blues during the mod-revival scene of the 1980s.
From the outset, we’re introduced to a number of characters who seem to have changed little in the last few decades.
Matt, the doleful Jag owner who still grieves for a girlfriend he lost in a Vespa accident almost 30 years ago. Club owner Sean and his badgering partner, Maria. Robbo, the small-time drug peddler, and fashionable Cyn, with her five-point bob, “Prince of Wales dress with Peter Pan collars and black, vintage trench coat”.
Bucking this trend, and central to all the action, is Jools. In her late forties, she recently split from her womanising husband and is rediscovering herself as she rediscovers the scene.
We follow a typical night out for the mods, as Jools Darts her way to the city centre, to the rum-and-Cokes and the banter and the discussion on music, an obsession for some members of the group, to the point that they have little time for those who lack the ability to distinguish motown from northern soul, and even less time for those who happen to buy their suits from Dunnes Stores or wear hand-me-down jeans.
There’s even a run-in with a skinhead, reminiscent of the gangs that would target mods in the eighties or even the early sixties, when tribes of well-dressed men clashed with groups of rockers throughout the UK.
Author Paul Davis has been a DJ and promoter of mod and northern soul events for over three decades. It’s clear that he lives and breathes the scene and works hard to show us a view from the opposite side of the DJ box, most likely gained from watching the punters on so many late-night shifts, “coats draped over their arms so everyone could see what they were wearing”.
He isn’t shy in sharing his knowledge of the music either, referencing uncountable bands and songs, from the Decca singles of The Style Council or Small Faces, to Nolan Porter’s “Keep on Keeping On” or the Just Brothers’ “Carlena”.
Just like the setting in a period drama, when it comes to mod, if the look isn’t perfect, the illusion is ruined. Collars need to be sharp and suits need to be tailored. It’s all about recapturing a time – the style, the sound and the feeling.
And perhaps it’s this idea of revisiting a moment in the past that inspired the turn of direction in the plot. Jools is involved in a traffic accident and in similar fashion to Tom Hanks in Big, she returns to the body of her younger self, but in the year 1985 when the mod-revival scene was kicking and screaming across the venues in Dublin.
There are some nice touches in the book. Meeting her father again, who had passed before 2015, is one. There are also some references to bygone characters of Dublin like the Diceman or the crucifix-laden lady who preached to the shoppers and those loitering close to Henry Street.
And of course there is plenty of detail about nights out in Dublin, familiar to so many coming-of-age stories: the pubs, the music, friends and casual drugs, the dodging of the “Boneheads” or whatever bowsy happened to be offended by whatever particular scene you may have been involved in.
While trying to help his father, Robbo gets mixed up with a local gangster, Freddie Collins, a man with a penchant for nailing his enemies to trees. A small favour turns into a big debt and Robbo ends up owing Freddie a large amount of money. The group band together to get their friend out of a jam, made worse by hanger-on “Dosser”, who will go to any lengths to infiltrate the mod scene.
All the while Jools is working toward preventing a future tragedy, conscious that every action will have a ripple effect in the time continuum – Great Scott, Marty!
The number of references to Back to the Future in the book hint that the author noticed the similarities too. But there is a sense that he’s having a bit of fun with the plot and that he is happy to use any medium or tool at his disposal to share his passion for everything mod.
Like dogtooth dresses, white-stripe boating blazers or block-heeled shoes, this book is sure to appeal to those who have lived, loved and revived the Dublin mod scene.