When I lived in The Queens in Whitley Bay (78-82) there were two cool places to go of an evening – this was before Whitley Bay became an ultra-cool place to be of a weekend, this was in the day when “sleaze” and “yesterdays town” were the two phrases that sprang to mind when Whitley Bay was mentioned, this was just before the Metro made it to Whitley Bay and suddenly the inner-city crowds were attracted to the town, trendy bars sprang up, some owned by famous popular music stars and the hordes took over.
No this was back in the day when the place was frequented only by contractors looking for cheap digs and traveling salesmen passing through once every four weeks looking for a cheap woman, this was back in the day when the current Mrs Jerrychicken and I were what was commonly called “courting” and a chap like me needed a cool place to impress his court-ee.
There were two cool places to go in Whitley Bay in the winter of 1980, one was tentatively called a “restaurant” right on the seafront, Alices Restaurant in fact and just like the Arlo Guthrie song it was a homage to America, these days we’d call it a burger bar but in 1980 McDonalds hadn’t been invented in the UK, a Wimpey bar was as close to genuine American burgers as you could get and Wimpey wasn’t close at all, not even by the most generous measure.
Alices Restuarant sold home made “American” ham burgers, a sit-down diner style restaurant with checked table cloths and Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post posters decorating the walls, we’d go there regularly through the week and eat exotic sauce and garnishes with our quarter pounders, it was in Alices Restaurant that I first tasted BBQ sauce and sweetcorn relish, it was like being in a foreign country – and you can stop laughing right now, remember, all that Newcastle had to offer as a garnish was pease fooking pudding, or fart fudge as one of Suzannes relatives still calls it.
The other really cool place to take your walking-out companion was the bar on the corner of The Rex Hotel. The Rex was the biggest hotel right on the seafront at Whitley Bay and had probably seen better days, I hope it had seen better days anyway because the 1970s were pretty dismal for The Rex and its reputation amongst the travelling salesmen of the UK as the best place to pick up a loose granny for the night on the weekly “grab-a-granny” nights, and when they said “granny” believe me, they really did mean octogenarian.
But in the autumn of 1980 someone at the hotel had invested some of the proceeds of the weekly granny sales into the large unused bar right in the corner of the hotel, the one with the huge picture windows on three sides that looked out across the promenade to the North Sea and beyond, sounds nice doesn’t it, we’re talking October/November here, dark rainy nights, streetlights broken, not a soul on the streets, maybe a cat wailing somewhere for effect and a raincoated figure in a fedora hat leaning on a lamp post lighting a cigarette while he stares at an upper storey window – I just added that last bit for effect
And so myself and the current Mrs Jerrychicken would adjourn to the bar in the corner of The Rex and we’d be the only ones in the place and we’d sit at its large circular bar in the middle of the room and order beers and a pizza to share, hey, I knew how to “court” a girl in those days, “share a pizza ?” it worked every time.
And some monkey in the bowels of the hotel would get a Findus frozen pizza out of the freezer and spend forever warming it up while we sipped our first beers and talked into the night – and without fail the barman would put on the Billy Joel tape “Turnstiles” and “New York State of Mind” would ring out around the cavernous but empty room – we were starring in our very own Norman Rockwell painting, four nights a week.
Neil Diamond’s album “The Jazz Singer” had been released at the same time, the soundtrack of the fim, erm, “The Jazz Singer” which was a sort of loose remake of an Al Jolson film called. erm, “The Jazz Singer”, anyway, it wasn’t very cool to tell everyone that you quite liked some of the songs from the album, especially with the likes of Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran in the charts, and so I bought it in Woolco and asked the young trendy assistant behind the counter to put it in a plain brown paper bag so that I wouldn’t be seen walking through Killingworth in broad daylight with a Neil Diamond album under my arm, people have been mocked for far less than that in Killingworth, indeed the thought of owning a long playing vinyl record in Killingworth is enough to have your house turned over and torched by an angry mob given that you must therefore own one of those wooden boxes that talks in human voices, pure witchcraft.
It was mainly a crap album saved only by “Love On The Rocks” and “Hello Again” but thats what you had to do to own the music in 1980, you heard a sing, you liked the song, you went and paid five of your English Pounds to own the song on a vinyl long playing record and if you didn’t like the ten other songs that you got for free on the album then tough luck, you’d just bought them, kids these days eh, they don’t know they’re born downloading single tracks for free with free programs off the internet that grab tracks…
…erm, I mean paying 99p for one track from iTunes.
…or something like that.
Anyway, back to the dimly lit cavernous corner room in The Rex with me and the now current Mrs Jerrychicken seated at the circular bar scoffing our Findus pizza while a bored looking barman stands just around the corner of the circular bar idly polishing a beer glass and watching the clock tick away his evening shift, and the tape he’s playing turns up Neil Diamond singing “Love on the Rocks” and it sounds so cool in this very chic and cool bar that no-one else ever goes into and so you sing along in Neil Diamond stylee but you pronounce the title “Love on the Raaacks” just like Neil does, and it impresses the now current Mrs Jerrychicken that I can sing those four short words and still get at least one of them out of tune, what can I say, its a skill I still have today, give me a short phrase to sing, four simple words, and I guarantee to you, cast iron guarantee, that at least one of them will be out of tune, what can I say, I got the painting hands and my cousin got the singing voice.
Yes its true, we’re talking December 1980 here, John Lennon had three posthumous singles in the UK chart that month having just been shot to death and the rest of the charts were littered with the New Romantics singing their electronic popular beat combo rubbish whilst dressing slightly out of kilter with the rest of the population yet winning the admiration of females all over the land, and here I sit every night in an empty bar in Whitley Bay with my courting girlfriend and a sad old barman polishing glasses whilst watching the clock – and we are listening to Barry Manilow.
Well I don’t care what you say, I liked Barry Manilow, there its out in the open, yes I was THAT Barry Manilow fan and I still have several of his long playing vinyl records in the loft to prove it, all gathering dust up there waiting for the day when a retrospective of Mr Manilow proves to the world that he was indeed a talent rather than a gawky looking ponce who danced worse than I do and in that retrospective his original vinyl recordings will be pronounced as masterpieces and in their rarity will surely be worth millions for anyone like me who has several of them in his loft, I’ll bloody show you, laughing at me all these years for knowing all of the words to “Copacabana” .
And finally by way of an apology for making you listen to Billy Joel, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow, let me rinse your brain ear worm clean now with a classic Sweep recording, you’ll be singing this all day instead now…