Being ill, I missed the final days of term. It meant missing the disco ball that one of my colleagues, a chemistry teacher, had been setting up on Monday. It was a device with great evocative power.
The days of rooms illuminated by light reflected from the multi-faceted rotating globes belong to another lifetime, not that they were too common even then.
Discos marked friends’ birthdays or the end of term at Sixth Form College, they were not the stuff of ordinary Saturday nights. By the autumn of 1979, they were past; no self-respecting undergraduate in London that term was going to admit liking disco music, even if the rhythms still spoke of friends and smiles and the innocent daftness of teenage years.
Discos were occasions to make absurd attempts at looking ‘cool’, or whatever was the 1970s expression. Big collared shirts, flared trousers, platform shoes. Our fashions probably trailed by years what was being worn in London, but we thought we looked good. (Switching to wearing straight legged black jeans and cowboy boots in 1978, I thought I was cutting edge).
The cost of an evening cannot have been great, for money was hardly plentiful. Drinks were perhaps twenty or thirty pence (a vodka and lime juice, at 30p was considered ann expensive drink). The admission cannot have cost more than a pound, they might have cost nothing if it was someone’s birthday party because pubs would provide a venue and a DJ for the chance of a hundred or more customers. (Perhaps even £1 is an overestimate, full price tickets for the three day Glastonbury Festival in 1979 were only £5, and, being locals, we were able to buy them in Glastonbury itself for £3 each).
The music played at the discos was eclectic, but as ‘eclectic’ was not a word in our vocabulary, we would probably have said the DJ played loads of different stuff. Chart music would have been mixed with soul and rock and sometimes there were requests for records that would prompt a collective groan from those on the floor (I think the source of the moans would have been the palying of what are generously called ‘novelty’ hits). Boys only danced if there was a girl with whom to dance. The idea of dancing around the handbags, as girls often did, was something to be watched from a safe distance.
For a brief moment, though, the discos were a moment of escape, a place transformed by dozens of rays of light that rendered the most mundane of halls into a ballroom of romance.