Aw – look what I’ve found on t’interweb – Whitley Bay in the 70s
Well ok, I know its probably not that brilliant for anyone who never knew Whitley Bay in the 70’s but for me a major chunk of my youth was spent living in Whitley Bay in the 70s, I was moved up to our Newcastle office for two weeks in the summer of 77 and stayed for eight years, quickly settling in to some extremely scruffy contractors digs in Whitley Bay – type “Whitley Bay” into the search box, top right to read about those dumps.
So having written about the awful standard of accomodation that I had to put up with on my £4 a night allowance (until a few years later I moved to The Queens at an outrageous £7 a night), I feel it incumbent to write about the nightlife in Whitley Bay for a bunch of building contractors living in awful digs away from home through the week.
The main aim for a whole bunch of blokes living together in contractors digs after a days work is to drink beer and get drunk for there was nothing worth watching at all in the residents TV lounge, Tyne Tees TV seemingly not having the budget of some other more mainstream television company’s and having to make do with cheaply made local documentaries presented by the likes of Eric Robson and Mike Neville, no, there was nothing more for it – lets away out lads and get drunk. Again.
Straight to Matties Bar we dashed.
The best thing I can think of to say about Matties Bar is that it was local, right over the street in fact, not ten yards away, and when you came out of Matties Bar you knew that you didn’t have to bother trying to focus your beer sodden head, just line yourself up square on to the door jambs and walk striaght ahead of you, count ten paces and you should be back at your digs, if not then you’ve pointed yourself int hewrong direction at Matties doorway, go back and start again, some nights I could manage to find the digs after as little as four goes.
Mattie, if indeed there was a Mattie, had spared his life savings when designing his bar.
It was actually just a spare room at the back of The Esplanade Hotel, when I first moved to Whitley Bay thats all it was, an empty spare, unused room at the back of a hotel – then Mattie (if indeed there was a Mattie) rented it off the hotelier, or maybe he just broke in and didn’t tell the hotelier, didn’t bother to sweep it clean or put curtains at the blackened and filthy windows or anything, scrounged two beer barrels and two scaffold planks to make a bar with, then went to the off licence to buy some bottles of Newcastle Brown – his only stock.
The only nod to any semblence of a real bar-room was a pool table, a brand new pool table with new cues as well, christ knows what tale he spun to the pool table hire company but he managed to con his way into a new one, and it bcame the only attraction to drinking in Matties Bar, that and the fact that it was the cheapest bottle of Newcastle Brown in Whitley Bay, that helped too.
The Rex Hotel on the seafront was the largest and most prominent establishment in Whitley Bay and had once had a proud reputation as a hotel with impeccable standards, its ballroom with its specially sprung floor has attracted the elite and well-heeled from miles around during its exclusive dinner dances and many a long and loving Geordie relationship had started by “meeting on the staircase at the Rex”.
By the time I arrived on the Whitley Bay nightscene in the late 70s the tuxedos and taffeta ball gowns were a thing of anciemt history for Tuesday night was “Grab a Granny” night, a cheap disco in the ballroom where the desperate women of the district lined up for one last throw of the dice and attempt to grab themselves a contractor or sales rep who was passing through and had no pride.
Not that I attended any of the Grab-a-Granny nights, oh no siree, not me, I was a young lad of a mere 20 years when I first arrived on the Whitley Bay nightscene and the thought of being grabbed by a granny in The Rex of a Tuesday night, drained of all my money and body fluids and awakening in a filthy terraced house in North Shields with children and grandkids , all of whom were older than you, standing around the bed staring, filled me with horror – I knew several of the lads in the digs who attended every week though, the stories they told could put you off your food for days.
If a night of pool and a stomach full of Newcastle Brown in Matties Bar didn’t fulfill your entertainment requirements you could weave your way up the empty pavements to The Burgundy Cobbler, a nightclub which presumably had seen better days, I hope it had seen better days anyway for its days in the late 70s were, shall we say, threadbare.
You can always tell when a nightclub is shit because there will be no electric lighting of any description inside and the DJ will be playing the music so loud that you can’t even hear yourself say to yourself, “Its shit in here. lets go home”.
Another prime indicator of the shitness of any nightclub is the male toilets.
Now I am still naive and innocent enough to believe that womens toilets are all immaculate spaces of pink walls and mirrors, kept spotlessly clean by elderly matron retainers, pink an fluffy she will be and pink and fluffy she will tend to her Ladies Powder Room – I believe this because the occasions that I have been inside the Ladies toilets are few and far between.
Gents toilets on the other hand are often no better than a muddy hole in a grey and dismal swamp, there are no such things as toilet attendants in Gents toilets, no-one ever goes in there to clean, not even once a month, there is no purpose in a Gents toilet other than to evacuate fluid from one of several orifices in your body or face, and then leave, and as a footnote it matters not where those fluids are evacuated to, there is usually a trough in the floor and sometimes an actual toilet in a cubicle to evacuate them into, but it is not compulsory, the floor will do just as well.
The Gents toilet in The Cobbler would struggle to qualify as a muddy hole in a grey and dismal swamp, indeed if it was awarded the status of “muddy hole in a grey and dismal swamp” then the owners of The Cobbler would consider this their finest achievement.
If their were any urinals inside the Gents at The Cobbler then no-one bothered to use them, the floor was permenantly awash with body waste of some description, to add to the effluence you hitched up your trousers and tip-toed across the room in the dark to find a wall to excrete up against, washing your hands afterwards was something that gay men did, and in any case there was no facility to do so.
Bad as it sounds the Gents in The Cobbler was not the worst Gents toilet I afforded my business to in those days, that prestigious award must go to La Dolce Vita, a nightclub in the centre of Newcastle that had been THE place to be seen in the 1960s, a nightclub inhabited by the rich and famous and reputably owned by gangsters far more fierce than The Kray Twins who were (and still are) rumoured to have paid a visit to Newcastle one night in serach of this reknown nightlife, only to turn on their heels and rush back to London as Newcastle was deemed to be “too rough” – by The Krays.
By the time the late 1970s came around La Dolce Vita’s limelight was well and truly faded, in fact it had extinguished a long time ago. Another nightclub that was pitch black and too loud when you walked in, your feet stuck to the carpet on the floor if you stood around for too long and finding a seat that you’d want to sit on rather than throw on a bonfire was an impossibility.
The Gents toilet was a thing to admire though in a “I don’t believe that things have got so bad” sort of way.
They used to have individual urinals in La Dolce Vita, once upon a time they used to have them – during all of the times that I frequented the place they had no urinals left anymore, I know that they had once had them because you could see the outline on the wall where they had been, and there were pipes sticking out of the wall to flush away the watery effluence, so I surmised that at some point int he past they had had urinals – they never had them while I was there though, you simply pointed your member at an open pipe in the wall and aimed for it, with varying degrees of success, it was quite funny actually.
Washing hands was of course for gay men and you didn’t even ask in there if you valued your reputation, and your good looks, for a fight could start in that establishment for any reason whatsoever, for no reason whatsoever actually, I’ve seen blokes have a fight in La Dolce Vita simply by one asking the other if he fancied a fight in the same way that he might ask him if he wanted a drink.
Why did we inhabit these premises ?
I don’t know, I just don’t know, but I’d have nothing to write about 30 years later if I hadn’t.