IN MANY ways, being able to get into the football club discos and pigeon fanciers dinner-dances which were held at the village community hall was merely a fringe-benefit of getting served in the White Lion.
I must’ve been about 14 when me and Sally from down the road – blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful, blessed at an early age with a mesmerising, gravity-defying bosom, and utterly oblivious to my hopeless, clod-hopping adoration – summoned up all the courage we could muster, took off our school ties and went into the White Lion to buy advance tickets for some do at the community hall one dinnertime.
It was obvious that Sandra behind the bar would’ve been as happy to sell us booze as she was tickets. We had to get back to school but I promised myself I’d return to try my luck the following weekend.
Unfortunately, getting the tickets for the do didn’t really get me any further with the hypnotically unattainable Sally, although it did teach me a couple of lessons which would prove to be invaluable in later life – when it comes to illicit fun after dark, you have to brazen it out and look the part, even if you’re not. And while girls are often quite impressed if you can get them into night clubs, they’re not that impressed.
I ended up spending most of my formative under-age drinking years in the White Lion, with it’s legendarily miserable old landlord Bill, and the rather butch looking Sandra, with whom he was rumoured to enjoy frequent and passionate after-hours pool table trysts.
It wasn’t a big village. Everyone knew everyone else, but you know what big daft country lads are like once they’ve got a couple of drinks in them. Someone says the wrong thing, looks at them the wrong way or just plain looks wrong, full stop, and it kicks off.
There’s no harm in them. They’re just a bit rough and ready, that’s all.
People eventually got used to me and Garbage. We used to take Doug and Paul in there, and sit in the corner with our spiky hair, badges, tartan trousers and studded leather jackets. It was quite intimidating for them, I think. Paul still talks about going up to the bar one time, asking for “a couple of pints of lager please, mate” and Bill saying “I’m not your mate” before taking his money off him. Me and John were just glad someone was taking the heat off us.
I think the community centre would probably close around 1am, so you tended not to hang around at the White Lion too long. You wouldn’t want to miss the pie and peas supper, would you?
It was the kind of place where, depending on what was on that night, you’d be as likely to run into your grandma as you were the seriously hot girls a couple of years above you at school. Dave Double-decks would’ve been working his magic over the mic, coloured rope-lights twinkling in time to the good, the bad and the positively ugly sounds coming from the console in front of him.
A predictable, low-quality soundtrack of Hi Ho Silver Lining and anything by Status Quo was sprinkled with okay contemporary pop by the Jam, the Stranglers, the Pretenders and even some not-so-very-bad-at-all stuff – Motown, Silver Machine, Enola Gay, Tainted Love and the like. I don’t ever remember much disco, strangely enough.
The community hall was where I took my first tentative steps onto a parquet dancefloor. For some reason, reggae was the only thing I’d dance to, so I didn’t get too much practice – though there was more reggae played than you might imagine in the whiter-than-white provinces at the start of the Eighties.
Although the 2-Tone phenomena was well and truly on the wane, Caribbean dance music had been a mainstay of the pop charts for years, from Little Millie, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Decker, Althea and Donna and Bob Marley to Dennis Brown, Errol Dunkley, Black Slate and even Musical Youth and UB40.
Courtesy of an enlightened uncle, I’d been into reggae for years but I wasn’t that precious about it that I’d look down my nose at songs like Good Thing Going by Sugar Minott, which was just the latest in a long line of releases by Jamaican and British artists which somehow struck a chord with Radio One and crossed over into the mainstream.
So there I’d be, dancing like nobody was watching, all elbows and knees, head going up and down like a nodding dog, on my own. Luckily, I lacked the self-awareness to appreciate the crushing irony of this forlorn and incongruous figure at the edge of the dancefloor, skanking away to a song about having “a real good thing going, yes, that girl and me”.
You see, I’d had a “good thing going” with precisely one lucky lady so far (God bless America!) and what’s more, I wouldn’t be having any kind of ‘thing’ with the bizarrely disinterested womenfolk of this locale for some time to come.
In truth, Good Thing Going had about as much direct relevance to my life as I Shot The Sheriff but that didn’t stop me buying the 12-inch from Virgin in Sheffield. Reggae was my music, end of story.
My mum, who is actually a bit of a left-leaning liberal, used to ask me why I was so interested in music from a culture so far removed from my own. I liked the big sounds, the soulful defiance and the groove of reggae, of course, but it was precisely the fact that the music came from so far away from my natural habitat that made it so attractive to me. Probably.
I toyed with the idea of adopting the name of Jah Bunker and even growing locks. It was just the Rastafarian bit I had a problem with.
I couldn’t do much about the colour of my skin, but we’re all from Africa originally, aren’t we? I wanted to go back to Africa too – the dullest village in Ethiopia had to be better than the village where I lived. I’d clearly not thought this through. I just wanted to get as far away as possible – even if that was more in mind than body, for the moment.
Science fiction was one escape route, and reggae was another. Pot would eventually make it all a heck of a lot easier. But for the moment I was clean, if not serene.
I’ve no idea where Good Thing Going went or when or how. I never had a burning desire to buy it again – perhaps because, rather than being connected in my mind to a particular time with a particular girl, it’s actually linked to a time of absolutely no girls. Yes, I’m that shallow. And it just wasn’t a big tune for me.
You hear it occasionally, on the radio, at house parties, on pop nostalgia shows on the telly, but not that often. If anything, you hear Sid Owen’s inexplicable 2000 cover more than the original. Tragic.
Anyway, for reasons I won’t go into, I’ve been hanging around Burnley town centre more than is strictly healthy of late. I often have some time to kill so naturally I gravitate towards the charity shops around the precinct, searching for, well, anything that takes my fancy, really. You can never tell what’ll turn up until you’re there, getting your hands dirty, breathing in the old lady dust, flicking through every Russ Conway and Jim Reeves album in the world.
The trouble is, the charity shops in Burnley are shit. For records anyway (though they seem very good for clothes made with a lot of brightly coloured polyester). Don’t bother.
Don’t worry. This is not some elaborate, not-so-subtle double-bluff to protect the sanctity of some undiscovered motherlode of Sixties and Seventies vinyl gold – Burnley’s charity shops really are complete shite. It’s right up there with Scunthorpe and Darlington as far as piss-poor charity shops go.
It never fails to amaze me. You didn’t have to be into rubbish music if you were white, working class and living in the north of England in the Seventies and Eighties – but it certainly seems to have helped.
But then I go round a corner and down a hill looking for a decent sandwich – I’m still hopeful I’ll find one someday – and I stumble into an actual record shop. It’s a bit shabby inside and the guy has the radio blasting out TalkSport, which isn’t a good sign, but there’s a shit-load of secondhand vinyl as well as a fair amount of new release stuff. Paydirt!
I get a reissue of Knock On Wood and Light My Fire by Aimee Stewart and an original Good Thing Going by Sugar Minott, both on twelve and in decent nick, for just 50 new pence each. As well as the gentle lovers groove of the vocal version, it comes with a very agreeable Bad Things dub on the other side. Vintage stuff.
Reading up on the singer online – just checking I’d not inadvertently bought something valuable, you understand – I discover that Minott, a protégé of Coxone Dodd at Studio One, was one of the first people to sing new lyrics over existing rhythms (leading directly to what we now know as dancehall) before adapting his style to the lovers rock idiom which dominated British reggae at that time. This gave him his biggest hit with Good Thing Going which, it turns out, was actually a Michael Jackson cover.
In a long and illustrious career, Minott discovered Musical Youth and made music with the likes of Sly and Robbie, Prince Jammy, Tenor Saw and Tony Tuff. A few years ago, he even worked with my old friend Rootsman in Bradford.
These days, he’s still making music (his latest CD, A New Day, came out on Stop, Look & Listen Records last month) and busy with Youth Promotion, a sound which seeks to help ghetto youth get out of the poverty trap, at 1 Robert Crescent in Kingston, from where he also runs his Black Roots Recording Company. Full details on Minott’s MySpace and his own site.
I also found a charming old Top Of The Pops performance of Good Thing Going on YouTube and it never fails to raise a smile. But do you know what the really funny thing about it is?
Sugar Minott is doing exactly the same dance as me.