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Do You Remember The First Time?  Scarborough’s Fair 

 

by Alan Walls

 

 

I’ve followed this theme in the last couple of issues of Swine with a right good giggle on my chops and also a gnawing urge to contribute, but was I qualified to? If I have had a holiday ‘with the lads’, it was my first visit to the Sonar Techno Festival in Barcelona, but that can’t really count, as we were all a reasonably sensible troupe, in our late 30’s and our mission was to enjoy a Techno knees-up, rather than a tarty knee trembler. So, I guess I’ve never enjoyed this apocryphal ‘holiday with the lads’, not in the sense of previous contributors, anyway. Indeed, we were so poor in the 70’s I never had the benefit of a proper ‘family’ holiday, as such.

 

I really mean that. Save for a week in a caravan in the rain swept East Neuk of Fife (look it up) in ’73; a week with tenuous ‘friends of the family’ in Aberdeen in ’74 (and a holiday in Aberdeen can be something akin to a lifetime in Albania) but, best of all, a fortnight in Dublin in ’72 (which, despite being - technically speaking – a ‘foreign holiday’ and, therefore, theoretically, ‘exotic’), was actually facilitated via some complex  jiggery pokery on behalf of Dublin based Uncle Frank, who worked for the Irish national airline, Aer Lingus, and who somehow managed to transform a free flight perk for immediate family (ie, his wife), into accommodating his sister, brother in law and two nephews. Good oul’ Uncle Frank!

 

Nope, we never really did family holidays, but I do, and will forever remember my first holiday as an adult. Forget all this Ibiza ‘Summer of Love’ gubbins, with Jose Espadrille playing ‘Tears For Fears’ on the terrace of the Café del Malarkey as the bins were being emptied, or however that tiresome cliché goes, it was a week in Scarborough, ‘85 for us:  Me, big bro Steve, sister-in-law-to-be Helen, and my then fiancée of 2 years, ‘L’. Our choice of hotspot inspired by scooter boy Steve’s tales of great nights of Northern Soul and cheap Duramine he enjoyed on a recent scooter run to that fine old Yorkshire resort, at Rudies Night Club. Oh, and the bonus of a direct bus service from our home town of Glenrothes .

 

Now, apart from being my first as an adult, this holiday is memorable for a number of reasons. I was, oh…going on 21? And had been engaged to ’L’ for a year or so, which was something like a year after I met her. Prior to meeting ‘L’, I had also developed a true and all enveloping passion for Northern Soul (and, accordingly, a penchant for amphetamines). I’ve popped in this wee bit of background info in the hope it will help you make some sense of what’s to follow.

 

We checked into our bog standard, AnyEnglishHolidayResort terraced B&B. All I can remember about the place was that it reminded me of Rigsby’s gaff in ‘Rising Damp’, only larger, much larger. The bedrooms were just huge, maybe the size of our council house and – length, depth and height – I exaggerate ye not. Our room was vast, and as dank and dingy a space as you’re likely to find. Dark hues of paint decorated the woodwork, while heavy, flocked paper, miscoloured through years of neglect, adorned the walls. The communal bog was some twenty yards down the squeaky floored, uncarpeted corridor and contained a bath so large – no Fancy Dan shower ‘ere, Ah’ll tell thee – in which Sir Steve Redgrave and his trusty cox could have rowed with ease. Indeed, our Steve swears the first time he used the bath, he encountered a WW2 U-Boat.

 

We unpacked and headed off for an alehouse, one which would undoubtedly be full of friendly, fellow  Soul Brothers and Sisters, all eager to clue us in on the plethora of soul clubs we could look forward to attending, and of the mythical second hand shops we had been assured could be found all over the North and Midlands, stacked floor to ceiling with rare vinyl, US imports and UK demos – Stateside, Tamla Motown, HMV; white promotional labels with the big red A, signifying the disc was an advance copy, and therefore, rarer than the regular release.

 

Failing to ‘just happen across’ any record shops as we meandered along, we eventually placated the girls and barrelled into one of those classic English pubs, the ‘Crown And Scrotum’, or what have you. Steve made for the bar, while I headed for the jukey. Nothing was playing at the time, but a local denim hound had just made his selection. I quickly realised I wouldn’t find the latest top Northern sounds, so I searched for any soul tunes.  As I was choosing my ‘3 for 50p’ selection (Otis, The O’Jays and Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd”!), Local Denim Hound’s choice was about to play. I returned to our table and predicted “You know what’s coming here, eh”? With depressing accuracy, ‘The Self Appointed Boss’ howled “Bawwwwn In The Yooo-Ess-Aaay”. A horrible thought dawned upon Steve and I: maybe Scarborough wasn’t the Soul Music Mecca we had imagined it to be….

 

We had to decide an MO and pronto. A quick scan of the ‘events’ boards in our digs and in the pub indicated nothing of any interest. Seized by a jolt of initiative, it occurred to me that maybe Mohammed should go to the mountain, ie if we couldn’t find any info on soul nights, we should let our interest be known. So I took to the pub’s bog and scribbled on the wall a message which, if not verbatim, pretty much read “where can Scot’s soulies hear good sounds in this town”? If we had no luck over the next few days, I’d pop back in and check out the replies. Genius!

 

Our first full day in Scarborough saw us happen upon ‘King Arthur’s Tattoo Parlour’. This emporium fascinated both the guys and gals among us, for no such facility existed back home (apart from Jaggy Jim’s in Dunfermline, who was rumoured to be infected by ‘Hep B’, as were his needles), and it offered designs and services ‘for the ladies’, and a bespoke service, should the sundry dragons, bulldogs and bog-standard Heavy Metal LP images (think motorbike racing with the devil on the highway to hell) fail to float your boat. The notion of having a tattoo had never occurred to us, it only ever seemed to be scummy bawbags who sported tattoos; scruffs with crap, DIY Indian ink efforts; daft nicknames, gang names or symbols; invariably flirting between upper and lower cases at will, and, accordingly, wobbling between straight and uneven; intense and faded. Tats were for twats, plain and simple.

 

King Arthur, however, was a professional. Examples of his previous works adorned the ‘parlour’ (and what’s that all about, by the way: tattoo parlour? Cream teas and scones? Hinge and Brackett providing musical accompaniment?) and were very impressive indeed. Scarborough and it’s locale was home to some serious old school Scooter Clubs and Hells Angels chapters (who had an unlikely tolerance of each other and the wearing of their respective colours, if I remember correctly), and King Arthur had adorned the bodies of both tribes of two-wheelers with flamboyant designs. Subconsciously, it occurred to Steve and I that our dedication to our music, our way of life, was no less worthy or substantial than that of bikers and scooter boys, and that a tattoo would be an appropriate symbol of our devotion to our faith, our passion. Once whichever one of us eventually suggested getting a tat, we had to decide on a design. It’s only in recalling this that I remember it never occurred to us to have individual designs; the brothers would bear the same design, and how quickly we conjured up our idea. It won’t surprise you to learn that we were, and remain, Best Pals!

 

We would have a saxophone on our upper left arm, with musical notes and the words “Sweet Soul Music” wafting out. The girls were down with this, they had ideas of their own, as it happened, so we trekked off down the street on a big hill for an audience with King Arthur. Once he heard our accents, the first thing he said was, “so, lads, what’s it to be? Celtic or Rangers”? So used was Arthur to having holiday makers barrelling in to demand their team’s legend that he just assumed we were more of the same. It’s strange – no, it’s downright bloody weird – to think that we naturally decided that the notes should be blue, as in Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. We loved Celtic, but it’s a measure of how all consuming our passion for Soul had gripped us. Do I now wish we’d chosen green notes? Maybe, maybe. Certainly, combined with the yellow/gold coloured sax, we could have gained two symbols for the price of one, but what’s done is done, and the blue notes were a true reflection of where our heads and hearts were at that time. So be it.

 

However, there was a problem: nowhere in his realm could King Arthur find a template of a sax. He could do geetars (naturally), pianos, violins…I’m sure he even produced template of a bassoon, at one point. Then he came up with the answer: if we could find a picture of a sax at the right size, he would copy it. “Nae bother, King!”, we boldly pronounced, “we’ll be back on Friday”, entirely unaware of the Herculean task we had set for ourselves.

 

It seemed straight forward enough: fire in to every record shop we come across – not that we needed any encouragement to do that – and find a record with a picture of a sax on the sleeve. Easy! Only thing is, not only were we encountering a dearth of record and junk shops, we were having no luck finding out if any soul nights were on (‘Rudies’ turned out to be nothing more than a big alehouse with a weekend disco, during which some token Northern tunes would be spun), and there was also the little matter of the fact that we were actually on holiday, with our girlfriends, to boot. As supportive as they were, their tolerance levels were finite, and were eventually reached and breached after two solid days of marching aimlessly around a strange town, haranguing natives, demanding to know where they kept their pictures of saxophones! A compromise had to be reached. I mean, we had been in Scarborough three days and we hadn’t even been to the beach, the girls hadn’t seen the inside of a clothes shop and we hadn’t even been near a ‘style’ bar (as they were called then. All chrome, velour and mirrors; ‘Bowie Boys’ sipping Bezique to Duran Duran. ‘Style’? Hmmm...! As much as the girls were into their Soul, they also craved they occasional dash of panache, and Northern Soul didn’t do panache. Not by a long chalk, Pilgrim! So Steve and I declared we would ease off the search’s intensity, by only going into promising looking shops if we just happened across them, all accidental, like. We would start acting like normal holiday makers, broaden our horizons a little (in Scarborough!), see the sights, and promenade around the sea front, like they do in the Cote d’Azour, you know? And that was how my next prominent – and life changing - occurrence of the holiday came to pass.

 

(I must ‘fess up here, we didn’t really ease our search. While apparently embracing our new found holiday spirit by agreeing to go here, there and everywhere the girls suggested, and even suggesting destinations ourselves, Steve and I had acquired a street map of Scarborough on the fly, and had ripped out the relevant pages from the local phone book, so when a suggestion was made to go to X Street, we’d know whether it was worth our while. Listen, as any old Soul Boy will tell you, when it came to records, the rule book went ‘oot the windae’!)

 

Over the next few days, not perpetually having my head buried in record and junk shops afforded me the opportunity to take in a holiday resort. It occurred to me that it doesn’t matter if it’s Scarborough or The Seychelles, people on holiday are out for a good time, and, for single folks, that includes casual sex. Man, what a revelation those next few days turned out to be for me! I’ve already described the somewhat low key holidays I had as a kid; our home town wasn’t quite Sodom or Gomorrah, and the Northern Soul Scene wouldn’t be the first place you would recommend a lonely heart try searching  for a partner, but this was – to me – just wild! I mean, there were packs of girls roaming around, day and night, clearly out for that proverbial ‘good time’, and groups of lads picking ‘em off at will! I just wasn’t used to this, I had no experience of beach or resort culture and there I was, not even 21 years old and engaged to a girl who had been my only sexual partner! That’s when I knew I should have been down there as a single man (single boy, really), with ‘the lads’, out on the lash and out to have that ‘good time’ with these lusty, game Northern lasses. Nothing happened – it couldn’t, not only was I faithful to my fiancé, I was chaperoned by her, and my brother, and his fiancé – but it was my exposure to this relaxed attitude, and the apparently easy act of ‘pulling’ that turned my head. It took me many years to find the cojones to eventually end my relationship with ‘L’, but the damage was done on that holiday. Things were never the same from then on.

 

Meanwhile, never mind casual sex, sax and soul remained our priority. Remembering the message I’d left in the pub bog on our first day, 5 days later we went back to check out responses. By this time, my expectation levels were severely diminished, I’d resigned myself to the reality that Scarborough wasn’t a good place to hear Soul, but the two responses certainly took my breath away. The first was a threat that, should he ever find us, the writer would “kick our fucking Scotch heads in”. The second reply was, with the benefit of hindsight, more befitting to a message left in a public toilet. I can’t recall his reply exactly, but to give the guy credit, he managed to craft a pun which was genuinely creative yet suitably menacing. I say pun because his reply included spinning the word ‘soul’ in to ‘arsehole’, and offering use of his “superb 7 incher”! Dear God, I nearly shat myself (and if you’re going to do that, a toilet’s a pretty handy place to be in. Bear that in mind) I was scared to open the cubicle door, lest he be there outside, waving his ‘7 incher’, or worse, both of them – buggered and beat up! Or, worst yet, they were one and the same, a psychotic gay with a penchant for clever punning! Lordy, what’s a po’ boy to do? Steve and the girls were already sat, enjoying their drinks, as I tip toed out the toilet, trying to make myself look as innocuous as possible. ”Well?, Steve asked. “Er, d’ye think you could get that pint down your neck dead quick, like they do on the telly”? I replied. I gave an abridged version of what I had read, and we got the fuck out of Dodge, pronto!

 

Two days left, still no sax and we promised King Arthur we’d be back on Friday morning. “We’ll need to get the finger out, Chappie” says Steve, over the mysterious stodge which we were assured was a breakfast. At some point that day, we tried a new tack. Maybe it was the sight of those dirty, gorgeous holiday chicks realigning my thought process (I was going to use the word ‘stimulate’ but, under the circumstances, it would probably be misconstrued. Fnarr! Fnarr!), but I suggested we look in this Sheet Music shop, which we must have passed a dozen times or more. And there it was, “Learn The Saxophone”, a booklet which was so small it’s title was clearly absurd. Inside, we found the pic we needed, just the right size and angle. Ya beauty! We got well and truly bevvied that night, and I even managed to switch off my ‘oggle-goggles’. Next morning and we really needed some hair of the dog, but, being England in the 80’s, you could only get a pint between the hours of 6 and 8pm, or so it seemed, and even then, you weren’t allowed to actually enjoy it. So we forced the breakfast down our necks (the breakfasts seemed to become increasingly obscure as the week progressed. Unidentifiable objects which didn’t actually resemble foodstuffs would often appear on the plate, while traditional things like scrambled eggs would come in strange hues, sometimes taupe, one time violet. It was all very odd). We then repaired to a pool hall, while we waited the 11am opening of King Arthur’s Tattoo Parlour. In the absence of pints of Strongbow and Tetley’s, we hoovered up several lines of ‘Ye Right Proper Olde Time Whiz’. That gave us the confidence to face the journey we were about to embark upon, and also play pool very badly, including several occasions where balls leapt from the table and once when my cue actually split the baize! Honestly, I don’t know how Hurricane Higgins achieved so much success while doing beak for all those years!

 

By 11am , we were at fever pitch. Me, Steve and the girls damn near knocked down King Arthur’s portcullis, and barrelled in, all giving it that mad ‘phet tongue and eyeball action. If I can get all metaphysical for a moment, if such an intake of amphetamines can be associated with a sound, it would sound something like “ANNNAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH”! If you’ve been there, you’ll know what I’m saying! In short, we were utterly speeding off our nappers. Despite Steve and I’s enthusiasm for getting a tattoo (or, more likely, our amphetamine induced inability to concentrate) our girls went first. While Helen had a tasteful bluebird tattooed, discreetly above her left breast, ‘L’ opted to have her nose pierced. Nice! This baffled me. ‘L’ was no extrovert, and, while passé nowadays, having bits of metal sticking out of one’s nose in 1985 was damned bad form and unbecoming for even the worst sort, far less an otherwise stylish Soul Girl! Poor show, and very unfortunate timing, seeing as my heart and head were already adrift.

 

With ‘L’s ‘insertion’ complete, it was our turn. “Riiight Lads, ‘oohs ferst”?, asked King Arthur. “You go”, said Steve, “I’ll keep an eye out and make sure he’s doing it right (he later confessed it had occurred to him to bugger off, should my tattoo turn out crap and/or look too painful! Cheers, mate!)

 

It was an interesting process, as it happens. Arthur placed a piece of tracing paper over our chosen picture, and traced the image. He then placed a small carbon paper on my arm, then the tracing paper over it, finishing off the process by tracing over again the image on the tracing paper. When both tracing paper and carbon were removed, a carbon image of a sax remained on my arm. Then he set about filling it all in. Did it hurt? How long did it take? I’m not too sure, so utterly out my head with speed was I that all I can recall with any certainty, was Arthur repeatedly bellowing “Will thee’ settle down, Lad? You’re all over’t shop!”, as I twitched and babbled and tried to look at every image on display and look at the master at work and talk to everyone in the parlour. All at the same time!

 

It turned out ok. Ok enough for Steve to take his seat next, with a tad more decorum than his wee brother, who still twitched and babbled and waffled away. We were pleased and still are, over 20 years later, despite me ‘picking’ at it too soon, leaving it more faded looking than Steve’s. King Arthur would have been raging, no doubt. He gave us a card with ‘aftercare’ instructions, and as he bade us farewell, he actually thanked us for affording him the opportunity to create a design which was something new to him. He was a ‘good oul’ skin’, as Behan would say, and that really made us up. He waved us off with the warning “Mind Lads, dohnt be tempted to pick it too soooon”…

 

So there we were, eventually tattooed-up on our last full day. We never did find a soul night, but did managed to hear the odd good tune in pub jukeys, but, as we poured over the ads in that week’s edition of Black Echoes, salvation leapt out at us in. Stafford ’s ‘Top Of The World’ All Nighter was our spiritual home. It wasn’t the most popular nighter on the circuit, but it was the connoisseur’s choice – while other nighter’s packed them by offering a steady diet of predictable oldies and Wigan favourites, the policy at Stafford was to maintain the original Northern ethos of promoting the newly discovered 60’s sounds, rarities, obscurities; a couple of hours of 70’s/Modern Soul and even tracks which were slower but no less danceable than your 100 mph Northern stomper. At the forefront of this school of thought was Nottingham DJ Gary Rushbrooke, and the ad for Stafford in that edition of Black Echoes unexpectedly stated it was to be Gary’s final ‘nighter, he would be retiring from DJ’ing that night.

 

Well, that threw me in a quandary! A few years before, as an impressionable school kid, I remember Paul Weller  saying he didn’t want to be regarded as a hero to anyone, just because he played in a band, albeit a band which commanded a special dedication from it’s supporters. “Being in a band”, he said, “just does not deserve hero status. Heroes are nurses, charity workers…people who make a positive impact on society, not someone who merely sings about it”, so from then on, despite my bedroom being adorned with pics of The Jam, I admired Paul. That was how I felt about Gary Rushbrooke, a soft spoken, modest, approachable man who had earned enormous respect throughout the ‘newies’ Northern scene. Gary was the first DJ whose name and sounds I became familiar with, while attending the Clifton Hall nighters in Rotherham , circa ’82. Richard Searling may have been ‘The Daddy’, but Gary was the first DJ I recognised, and I always made sure I was on the dance floor whenever he was playing. Steve and I had established our own All Nighters in Scotland , and Gary had played for us twice, going down a storm each time. On another occasion, at Tony Clayton’s Leicester nighter, I was given a spot in the Main Hall (I used to play in the downstairs, ‘alternative’ room), I was on just before Gary . Rather than just turning up on stage 5 minutes before he was due to take over, as ‘name’ DJ’s would normally do, Gary would stand beside me, his very presence subliminally telling the crowd “you might not know this guy, but he’s alright, he deserves his chance”, offering words of advice and encouragement, before slipping away into the wings, but always watching and giving an occasional thumbs up. As I cued in my last record – The Inticer’s super rarity ‘Since You Left’ – Gary nodded approvingly, “Oh yes, nice. Great choice”! Gary ’s traditional thanking of the previous DJ made me beam with pride, such was his praise. If tomorrow night at Stafford was to be this man’s finale, I would be there, no question. I was duty bound to pay my respect.

 

This decision presented a logistical quagmire. Steve and Helen were still going home, so they would take our luggage back on the coach, and we had enough ‘gear’ left to see us ok, but we were nearly skint, and had to get to Stafford from Scarborough, then Stafford to Glenrothes. I’ve wracked my brains trying to think of how we got to Stafford but just can’t say for certain. I can only assume our dwindling funds would have necessitated a series of coach journeys, maybe Scarborough to Leeds, Leeds to Brum, then Brum to Stafford, if Stafford wasn’t on the previous route. As for heading home, it was a case of fingers crossed that there would be two spare seats going in a car/s from Edinburgh . I don’t know if we had a Plan B!

 

Well, we made it. A larger crowd than normal had turned up to pay their respects to a much loved DJ who had made a real contribution to the ‘New 60’s’ movement on the Northern Soul Scene, and it was an emotional occasion. As usual, I had brought my portable tape recorder – I couldn’t plausibly claim this Argos cheapo effort to be a ‘beat box’ or, as Frank Bruno once memorably described one, a ‘Brixton Briefcase’. Lots of devotees brought tape recorders to Stafford , so they could become au fait with that week’s new sounds. In fact, it was positively encouraged by the DJ’s, who acknowledged that the taping of their sets would help spread word of the quality of their exclusive sounds.

 

It was a good night, as it always was at Stafford, and we had secured a lift as far north as Edinburgh , which would leave us only an hour or so from home. I’ve absolutely no idea who the guys were – I remember knowing one guy at the time but I’ve since forgotten who he was, the other geezer I had never met before.

 

In one of the most weirdest weeks of my life - I had come to realise I wanted to be single, far less engaged; I had gained a tattoo, had been threatened to have my head kicked in and had been propositioned – albeit in writing - with a scary offer in a public toilet; eaten the most bizarre breakfasts imaginable, finally, trekking across England to pay homage to my favourite DJ on his final appearance – it seemed perfectly natural that our car should break own someway short of the border, never mind near home. Somehow, it didn’t matter, it was just another oddity in the most oddest of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, it was fucking torture – we were in the middle of nowhere, it was pishing rain and freezing, the driver and his mate were a right couple of oddballs who, as it turned out, barely knew each other; the only music available was the tinny, muffled recordings I had made the night before and the gear was wearing off - oh, it was awful, alright. As AA van after AA van sped passed, it took 5 hours for the RAC rescue vehicle to arrive. I fell in our front door at 11.20pm on the Sunday night; knackered in mind and body, deeply confused and minus the precious tape of Gary’s last ever spot (I never did see those geezers again), but I was home. And I had my tattoo!


 

 
   
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