Crimes against celebrity

Crimes against celebrity

My crime against celebrity dates back to Tuesday July 4th 1978 when I was sixteen, recovering from the traumas of O levels at school in Birmingham.

To celebrate my new freedom, my elder brother invited me to accompany him to the gig of a band I’d never heard of at the local Barbarella’s nightclub. He said that the band were new and had an album coming out that he thought was pretty good.

Barbarella’s had a reputation as a somewhat exotic venue and having only ever attended concerts at the nearby Odeon, I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. Being sixteen though, I knew I needed to dress up for the occasion as it was indeed a nightclub, I’d never been to a nightclub before and I knew I needed to look older than my age.

Sadly a cheesecloth shirt and gingham skirt from C&A was the best my wardrobe could muster.

I’d also heard that nightclubs were expensive – but I had a tenner from my birthday money so I hoped I’d be OK.

Added to the equation was my brother’s taste in music – which differed dramatically from my own. Mine had very MOR leanings ie Kate Bush. ELO. The Bee Gees – which were all the rage at the time.

Being a child protégé former boarding school boy and ever so slightly nerdy, my brother’s lay in the intellectually challenging prog rock and high concept album genres.

To say that I wasn’t looking forward to what I expected to be another night of self indulgent twaddle was an understatement.  But I thought I’d humour him and, as I said, I was eager to experience the famous den of iniquity.

Barbarella’s turned out to be somewhat empty on the night in question. It was a Tuesday after all and there wasn’t much sin and vice to be seen in the small dark little room that housed just the seven of us.  The word ‘intimate’ comes to mind.  I sat on the stage sipping my orange juice whilst we waited for the band to shuffle on, grumpily pick up their instruments and begin to play.

But this was a revelation for me. Far from being the yawn making rubbish I anticipated, I knew from their very first note that this band was GOOD.  More than that, they had a guitar sound I hadn’t heard from my brother’s room before. Which meant they were DIFFERENT.

Within minutes I’d lost all my British stiff upper lip and was self consciously dancing amongst the bijou gathering, actually quite enjoying myself.  Barbarella’s was nothing like I imagined it to be – I could reach out and grab the lead singer’s leg if I’d wanted to – and this band was rocking!

To their credit, the band played their full set despite the paucity of audience. There wasn’t much audience interaction because frankly, there wasn’t much audience to interact with. But their music was solid and punchy and when they announced that this was their final number I felt compelled to do something. To recognize my admiration for both their work and tenacity.

I went to the bar and ordered drinks for the four of them. I’d never bought a drink at a bar before and being mindful of my age, I thought I carried it off quite well.  I was forthright and direct. No nonsense.  I pointed to a pump and confidently ordered ‘Four of those please. For the band!’ and proffered my solitary tenner which was taken in full.

The band finished their set, plonked down their guitars and jumped off the stage to the bar, where I proudly met them with my gift.

Along with the words that still resound in my ears even 37 years later.

“Well done, lads. If you keep it up, you might be quite good. You never know, you might even get somewhere!”

All in all,  Barbarella’s  turned out to be quite a decent nightclub hosting some very good bands. In the following months I saw Blondie, Elvis Costello and numerous other great bands there. It was unfortunately closed down due to allegations of drugs and under-age drinking, of which I fear I must have played my part.

The inaugural visit also forced me to reconsider my brother’s musical taste. I have in fact revisited many of his self indulgent twaddle albums over the years and actually bought some of them. Although my MOR tendencies have never really left me, I have to admit that in many cases, he wasn’t wrong.

Finally, I’d like to profusely apologise to Mark Knopfler for what can only be described as a pompous, precocious and unbelievably patronising critique of his inimitable talent, delivered by a spotty teenager dressed up for a hoedown.

I now know where Paul Whitehouse learnt his ‘Geordie sneer of derision’ look as this is precisely the reaction I got from Mr Knopler, along with a rather vague “Cheers” for what I think was probably a pint of cider or, worse for a Geordie, lager. Heaven knows what I’d ordered.

I dutifully crept away into the darkness and, by way of penance for my horrendous crime, have bought all Dire Straits albums since.


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