Lady BSM and I had a very late night last week when we stumbled across a TV programme entitled ‘Disco in the 70s’ and all the memories of my disco heydays came flooding back.
Those of you who know me well are probably aware that as a youngster I would have been classified as a punk. Or ‘punk rocker’, as my dad referred to me. He added an adjective to this, which I’m sure you can guess.
The great thing about punk was that older people didn’t get it. My brother-in-law hated it so much, when he came home to find me playing ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ on his stereo hi-fi whist pogoing round his living room, he dragged the needle across the record before hurling the offending vinyl at the wall.
Thinking back, he may have accidentally invented an early form of hip- hop/ scratch music. However, at the time, it made me realise that this music was definitely for me.
Only The News of the World, Bill Grundy and my brother-in-law thought it was the end of civilisation. We thought it was fun, exciting and far better than listening to ABBA, Brotherhood of Man or Queen.
But this only tells you part of the story. Yes, I loved punk, but I was still listening to other stuff, just like any other youth at the time. I had my records by The Stranglers, The Clash, The Pistols and The Damned. But they sat alongside albums by Pink Floyd, Rush, Van der Graaf Generator and Wings.
As the punk ‘revolution’ started to fade into ‘new wave’ during 1977, something pivotal in our youthful lives happened.
It was Ozzy who drew our attention to it, telling us animatedly about a new film called ‘Saturday Night Fever’.
We actually queued up to see it at The Classic in High Barnet. Ozzy had already seen it twice and had rather alarmingly taken to wearing a white cheesecloth shirt with an accompanying cravat. The shirt was open to reveal a large gold medallion. This was complemented with high waisted black trousers, flared from the knee, and black dress shoes. Very alarming. More alarming is the fact that Ozzy spent a lot of time in Elstree with the posh kids who went to Haberdashers Aske’s School. This group included a rather loud girl called Vanessa, Graham Hill’s son Damon and a very posh boy called Cowell.
Looking back, maybe it was Ozzy’s sartorial influence on the young Simon that makes him dress the way he does today.
I think it was also the real beginnings of that rather modern habit of ‘male grooming’. At the time, grooming for men meant a bath once a week and a splash of Old Spice on a Saturday night before going to the pub.
It didn’t take long before I also had a rather tidy collection of disco records, because, although I was first and foremost a punk, disco music couldn’t be ignored. For 17 year old boys, there was a good reason for this.
Girls were more likely to take notice of songs that told them they were more than a woman or a sexy lady. They welcomed boogie nights and boogie wonderland and felt love, whereas a punk invitation to ‘stick my fingers right up your nose’ seemed surprisingly less seductive.
This meant that any social gathering involving disco music meant you had a pretty good chance of getting to dance with a girl. And not just the ‘step, point, step point, roll your hands, night fever pose’ dancing, but, if you were lucky, a full on, Lionel Richie, Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady smoochy slow dance towards the end of the evening, after she’s had one or two Babychams and you’ve had a couple of Skol lagers*.
The most memorable bi-annual disco for my group of friends was the Borehamwood Athletic Club Dance, held at various venues, but mainly at the Ballroom Dancing School just off the main shopping area known as ‘The Village’. Here, boys would gather dressed as best they could to impersonate John Travolta.
And failing dismally, because we weren’t the greatest dancer. We weren’t Halston, Gucci or even Fiorucci. Most of our clothes were hand me downs from older family members. We could manage the big collars; by this time, punk was introducing us to drainpipe trousers, but discos demanded full on flared trousers with high buttoned waistbands. My mum always called flares ‘bell bottomed trousers’, likening them to something a sailor would wear.
If I remember correctly, I had one of my punk hating brother-in-law’s old shirts with tiny prints of Charlie Chaplin on it, with rounded collars that nearly touched each shoulder. This was accompanied by a pair of M&S flares and some slip on black shoes with tassels.
The courting ritual would start with girls on one side of the room and boys on the other, eyeing each other up. Ozzy would usually make the first move, being the only one who a) took disco dancing lessons and b) smoked cigarettes, which all girls at the time seemed to like.
Slowly, boys and girls would pair up. Because this was an athletic club disco, the female middle distance runners had the best choice of boys, whilst the shot putters and discus throwers were more open to negotiation, but by the time the slow dances came around, everybody would be happy and have somebody to cling on to whilst The Bees Gees asked how deep your love was.
Being boys of a certain age, you had to find a way of dancing intimately with a fragrant young lady without your body giving away its baser intentions, if you get my meaning. This meant that one had to adopt a particular position, with faces close together, a tight embrace above the waist but a definite separation at the hip to avoid causing offence. Or bruising.
This resulted in a scene reminiscent of girls trying to drag a rather reluctant chimpanzee with a desperate look on its face around a sprung wooden floor.
Finally, the lights would come up and those fortunate enough to impress their beaus got the chance to walk them to the bus stop or even home, with the hope of at least a snog.
I can imagine the mums talking about this the following day.
“Ooo Renee, I saw your Kevin at the bus stop last night after the athletic club disco.”
“How did you know my Kevin had been to the disco?”
“He was wearing bell bottomed trousers, stank of Brut 33 and had an erection.”
These were the days when you took your disco singles to parties. My favourite 12” single at the time was played over and over: ‘In The Navy’ by The Village People. I was a big fan of The Village People. Who would have guessed?
Then Gloria Gaynor sang ‘I Will Survive’, which only later became the anthem for those groups of women who dance determinedly around their handbags with defiant expressions on their faces, tears streaming down their cheeks and shaking their fists at any unsuspecting male ‘bastards’ who may be in their eye line.
Then there were the lyrics. Odyssey told you that you were useless at pulling because you’re a native New Yorker. Patrick Hernandez told us we were born to be alive. I think he must have had medical training.
Then there were the bands. Chic, organised by the weird and wonderful Nile Rodgers; Barry White, Donna Summer, The Jacksons, Heatwave.
Yes, Heatwave. Watch their video performance of ‘Boogie Nights’.
The man on the drums looks like a car salesman and his name is Ernest. The man on the keyboards is called Rodney and wrote all the songs, despite looking like the group’s accountant. In fact he wrote lots of songs, including Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.
The lead singer is wearing his nan’s hat.
What’s more, the front men demonstrate to our children exactly why their parents dance the way they do at birthday parties and wedding receptions. On the positive side, this Top of The Pops version is introduced by the sainted Noel Edmonds and features a picture of Gerald, my old fag from school, who used the stage name Leo Sayer.
Disco can be meaningless, naff and daft. But at least you can have a good time AND get the girl.
Even if you’re wearing bell bottoms…
* Skol was a form of coloured water sold in the 1970s.