Sunday, 27 October 2013

July ‘78

Boogie Oogie Oogie

As part of a Record Mirror disco special, Tim Lott, who works at the paper, and I are to go to the Hammersmith Palais on a Friday night, try and pull two girls, take them to a flash members-only club in the West End and record their reaction.

It’s quite an evening.

We’re standing at the bar down the Palais admiring each other's creases, when I see her.

You know that feeling you get when you see someone in a dancehall? Someone who stands out from the rest of the girls as they twirl in the gloom. Like it's Christmas, y'know, and you're about to unwrap the flashiest package.

I say to Tim, who’s looking pretty sharp in his off-white linen suit, ’Ere, Tim, what d'you reckon of her, then?’

I point. He looks. He sips his lager. I wait. ‘She's …’ he sips his drink again, ‘… not bad.’ Tim's seal of approval is all I need.

'Fancy her mate?’

‘Her mate?’ He sips. ‘Yeah, all right.’

Now, walking up to a girl to ask for a dance is one of the most frightening things known to man, like going over the trenches into no man’s land. But somehow with this one I think my chances are good. And I guess I've always had that extra spark of originality in chatting up technique. My opening line was guaranteed to destroy.

‘Heaven must be missing an angel.’

She glances around, looks me up and down and turns back to face her friend. ‘Push off,’ she says through the back of her head.

‘Do you wanna dance?''


‘Look, stop beating about the bush. Can I dance with you?’


‘Please? I ain’t too proud to beg.’ I touch her hand.

‘Don't manhandle me. Stay there and we'll dance.’

It was ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’. My favourite. I danced.

‘What's your name?’


‘Where do you live, Mary?’


‘How long have you been coming down here?''

‘What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?’

I discovered a long time ago that people like nothing more than to be asked about their lives and there is no better chat-up technique.

‘I’m interested. Is that so bad. I mean, I really…?’

‘About five years.’


I’ve been coming here for five years.’


‘It's just what you make of it. People take you for what you are down here. You don't have to try and be anyone else in a place

like the Palais. It's simply up to you whether or not you want to enjoy yourself.’

She’s blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful. Her smile is Colgate fresh and full of promise.

‘If you ever see a bloke you fancy, Mary, would you ask him to dance?’

‘I've never asked a guy to dance and I don't intend doing so. It's a man's duty to ask for a dance.’

I ask her if she wants to come with me up west to the Embassy Club − home of stars and stargazers and members only. I tell her it’s for a feature in Record Mirror but she doesn’t believe a word.

‘No, thanks. I'm very happy here, thank you. I know that if I went to a place like that I might enjoy it and get a taste for the high life.’

‘But, Mary, it's really difficult to get in for the likes of . . .’

That stops her in her tracks.

‘What do you mean by that?’ she snaps. ‘I'm not good enough for it, eh? Well, I wouldn't go with you if you were the last man here. Go away and find somebody else.’

Her friend, Sue, clocks what’s happening and leaves Tim midway through a particularly tricky oogie.

We walk dejectedly back to the bar. On my third pint I look around at the other girls but none of them holds a candle to Mary. I think it’s when the big band start playing, 'If I can't have you I don't want nobody baby' that I decide to act. It’s now or never.

She’s sitting alone at one of those intimate circular chatting-up tables, handbag at her side like an obedient dog.

‘Look, Mary, I'm sorry about earlier. Why don't you come down the Embassy and we can compare it to the Palais? Just for a laugh. Drinks are on me.’

I kneel by the chair. She flashes one of her smiles and something breaks. It’s the comb in my back pocket.

‘I wouldn’t expect anything else. Oh, all right.’ So Tim and I leave with the girls and head for town.

The cavernous dancehall with its big band sound, rococo interior, dicky-bow bouncers and two-tone-six-pint-too-pissed-to-care customers is a dodo waiting to happen. It belongs to a bygone age of air raids, seamed stockings, American GIs and Joe Loss. The only reason they continue is because the alternative − the disco – is too pricey and too fast for the dancehall diehards of 1978, older but none the wiser.

You can get to dance with a girl with relative ease in the vastness of a dancehall without fear of recrimination if you fail. Discos are still too tight to mention for many, predominantly working-class, punters, but as music gets sleeker and more sensual it will demand a more appropriate environment and the Palais, the Locarno and the Lyceum will crash and burn.

The Embassy is too pricey and too fast and too full of sleek, sensual people. It's not open to the public and a fairly hefty membership fee combined with a long waiting list makes it Fort Knox cool. The drinks are nearly four times the Palais price and there’s not a pint in sight. The canned music is loud, incessant and accompanied by a Charlie

Atlas go-go dancer. There's a light show, including lasers, flash enough to make any rock band cry into their coke (and consequently ruin it) and the barmen walk around in football shorts and nothing else.

‘Well, Mary, what do you think?

‘I don't like it. The people are too old.''

‘But there's a lot who are younger than us.’

‘I mean old in mentality.’

We get some drinks and sit down. Mary looks a little overawed by the whole thing. Clearly she’s not enjoying herself.

‘I can't relax because I get the impression the people here demand that you be like them. It all seems so false. People down the Palais are just being themselves but these people come across like they're trying hard to be somebody else.

‘I don't think it's a matter of money. Maybe everyone here is just chasing a rich reputation. I mean, there's no way I would’ve got in on my own tonight and I don't think that's fair.’

She sips her scotch on the rocks like it’s cat’s piss.

‘But I do like…’

To be beside the seaside?

‘…the style of some of the people. The guys are really nice-looking but a lot are very effeminate. Going with someone like that would turn me off men for life.’

Inferiority complex?

‘It's not! People have told me that before and it's definitely not true. There's not a straight person here except me and my friend. The rest look like a bunch of dropouts to me.’

She takes another sip. The conversation turns to music. She says she doesn’t listen to any and would never dream of buying a music paper. The only time she hears new songs is when she goes to the Palais.

But she can’t forget my earlier remark.

‘Look, the people here have their own little world, I have mine. I think they try a bit harder than me to be something but that's up to them. It doesn't worry me. I'd never come here again. It's just not my scene.’

At that moment Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook come and sit with us. Mary and Sue jump up when a camera flash explodes.

‘If you dare print any pictures of us with those animals I'll sue,’ shrieks Mary.

‘You fuckin’ ol’ cow,’ says Steve. ‘Who the fuck do you think you are − Elizabeth Taylor or sumfin’? You fuckin’ tarts make me sick, you're so fuckin’ snobby.''

Mary is shocked. ‘I don't expect men to swear in my company. It's not right.’

‘Why don't you go and fuck yourself, then?’ replies Steve, master of the witty retort.

‘I want to go,’ says Mary. I’d promised her a lift, and fortunately a record-company PR girl has agreed to drive her home.

Steve follows us outside and the two continue to argue.

Mary and her friend sit in the back of the car with Steve, who decides to tag along. I’ve a strong suspicion he rather likes the look of the PR.

‘What do you do?’ Steve asks Mary as we take the long lonely road to Northolt.

‘I'm about to start work in an airport.’

‘That's right, a fuckin’ air hostess − every little working class girl's dream, to be a fuckin’ air hostess.’

‘I'm going to be a secretary.’

‘Fuckin’ secretaries are just as fuckin’ bad.’

It continues like that for much of the journey with Mary giving as good as she gets and by the time we arrive at her house, she’s started to find the curly-haired ex-Pistol rather intriguing..

‘Goodnight, Steve,’ she says, as she gets out of the car.

‘Fuck off,’ says Steve. And with that my little Mary walks off into that warm Northolt night.

On the ride back to town Steve agrees to an interview and invites me round to his flat in Marylebone a few days later.

Next – Steve Jones takes a bath while I watch (honest)

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment


About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
I'm your Flexifriend blogger for all your Flexipop! needs.....