bikermiker

give me the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance every time - Douglas Adams

Esmeralda

Set the Tardis for way back when. April 23rd 1972 to be precise.

I'm walking up Derwent Drive, off Whaddon Way, West Bletchley on this sunny Sunday afternoon. A mid afternoon that looks warmer than it actually is, which kind of justifies the full length army greatcoat I'm wearing, along with the skin tight loon pants and the tasselled moccasin boots. I'm doing my 16 year old best to look “cool.”

My destination, Bletchley Youth Centre, appears before me at the end of the road where the modern housing estate ends and the fields begin. I've been a regular at the youth centre for about a year now. This youth club is not like other youth clubs, its different in so many ways. Sure like other youth clubs kids come here to hang out, drink coffee and cola, play football and all the usual activities, but what is going to occur this coming evening will explain some of the reasons why this place is different, why I just can't stay away from it.

As I approach the building it appears typically 1960's functional, brick and glass, flat roofed, almost utilitarian, until I focus in on the glass panels that surround the entrance. Gloriously hand painted with a giant face and a background stuffed with detail and text from The Lord Of The Rings, “One ring to find them, and in the darkness bind them.” Painted by some other regulars, as is the interior, giving this place such a free-wheeling vibe.

Passing through the main entrance there in front of me is the the large open tread spiral staircase which I bound up two steps at a time, to emerge into the coffee bar area on the first floor, the place where most of my weekday evenings are spent these days. Babs has just arrived, and is in the corner taking her coat off. Babs, another regular is a little older than me, stunningly beautiful, and quite unattainable to my mind, but always friendly and a joy to see. Barrie, the youth leader is in his office preparing for the evening ahead. I strip off the greatcoat, sling it over the back of one of the benches, saying “hi” to Babs, and waving “hi” to Barrie who glances up from his desk to look out of the office window, and smiles in reply.

Although not “officially” open for another hour yet, the usual suspects soon start arriving. We know Barrie's habits, and if he's here, we consider it open. Within ten minutes five more have arrived. By the time Bab's has made a pot of coffee and I've switched on the juke box, which incidentally contains probably the best selection of records in the known universe, we all start to chat and joke and settle into our “home from home.”

'Hello Chris man, how goes?'
'Just about recovered from last night, Mick!'
'Yeah, Hawkwind are always fun, and a nice vibe at Friars'
'And the journey back in the van was mad. Don't know how I survived the smell!'
'I wonder what Status Quo will be like tonight?'
'Not really heard too much since Pictures Of Matchstick Men'
'I think they've heavied up a bit since then.'
'Talking of tonight its about time we set up.'

I go and get the keys from the office, and Chris and me head down the spiral staircase and into the back room where we keep the Unicorn Sounds equipment. In this room each Friday evening whilst the main hall is packed with the suited and booted dancing to soul and reggae disco, we the hairier, scruffier ones are grooving to LOUD rock music. Unicorn Sounds is Chris, Paul and me, we have pooled our resources and come up twin decks, a 100 watt valve amplifier, two 4 x 12” speaker cabinets, a microphone and a pretty awesome collection of LP's. In this 18' x 10' back room variously known as “The Lab” or “The Cage” each Friday we play the latest progressive rock at ear damage volume whilst some dance wildly, whilst others just watch and nod their heads. As well as Friday night in The Lab we provide the recorded music whilst the bands set up and change over, in the main hall on the Sunday evenings when this place is transformed into Esmeralda's.

Chris and me carry the equipment out into the main hall and start setting up at the back. The hall is not large, just big enough for five aside football, or about 250 or so people standing with a stage at the front. As we are plugging in the equipment, Dave Hone and chick arrive. Dave is your archetypal hippie, tall, thin, dark straight hair centre parted falling nearly to his waist, small dark round glasses, his chick, petite and shy. Together they are Solar Prism Lights, and are responsible for turning this rather drab sports hall into the psychedelic vision that is Esmeralda's. They do this with a collection of slide projectors, on which are mounted various rotating oil and water filters, creating an ever changing multi coloured, bubbling vista onto the walls and ceiling of the blacked out hall. Whilst I start sorting out a dodgy speaker lead I notice the bands have arrived and are setting up.

Its 7:30pm, Babs and Barrie are on the door selling tickets, 40p for members, 50p for guests. A queue of jeans and Afghan coat wearing beautiful people are paying and having the back of their hand marked with pen that writes an invisible ink that only shows up under and ultra-violet hand held lamp. The hall begins to fill as I play Spunk Rock by Man, as Karen does her wild free form fluid dancing. Solar Prism Dave and chick are busy with ever dancing lights, the atmosphere builds.

About 8 and the support act Snake Eye come on and play their set which is straight ahead rock guitar trio, lots of indulgent lead breaks and entirely forgettable. The audience in the main have sat down on the floor or headed upstairs to the coffee bar. I play some more rock tunes, whilst the equipment is swapped over on stage, some Zeppelin, Neil Young, and a request from friend Ian for some Genesis who wowed this room just a few weeks back. The hall fills up in anticipation of the headline band.

Status Quo come on to muted applause, say a quick “hello Esmeralda's” and launch into the 3 chord head down boogie with two part guitars. The audience, having been numbed by Snake Eye and then chilled by the intermission music, are slow to respond. A few still sit on the floor but most now standing, are falling into the compulsive head nodding.

After the second number Francis Rossi bellows into the microphone “C'mon you lazy buggers get up and dance!”

They immediately launch into the next thumping tune to which the audience immediately respond. Within a minute the whole place is bouncing up and down, they are won over to the cause! For the next hour the packed room bounces, until the end of the second encore, when the overhead lighting is switched on. The signal to leave. Lots of very sweaty smiling faces heading home with ears that will probably be still ringing the next morning.

Within minutes the hall is virtually empty, just a few hanging on and the roadies packing away equipment. Within ten minutes Unicorn Sounds equipment is stashed away in the Lab ready for next Friday, and I head up to the coffee bar to chill out and chat with the others still hanging on. We all agree its been yet another great Sunday evening at Esmeralda's.

Barrie comes up the stairs with a beaming smile at us dozen or so kids still hanging on in the corner of the coffee bar.
“So what do think about Status Quo, then?”
“Brilliant, great, bloody loud!” Came a chorus of replies.
“Glad you enjoyed it. Don't you think its about time you lot went home?
“Yeah, yeah, Ok Barrie. See you soon. Bye!”

I head off down Derwent Drive saying “Bye” to friends that are heading off in different directions.

I step out with a purposeful stride to march the 6 miles home to Wavendon. Its nearly midnight and I have to be up for work at 6:30am but am I worried? Not a bit. I'm smiling as my head hums, da, dum, da dum,da dum da daa of the three chord head down boogie and my feet stride on a pace. I fall into bed sometime after one O'clock and stagger up at 6:30 and off to work with my ears still ringing from the night before.

Set the Tardis back to now.

I look back on that night and many others like it, and think 'did I realise just how special and how lucky we were?'

If you look at the list of acts that played Sunday nights at Bletchley Youth Centre, Esmeralda's, it is almost a who's who of the happening and up and coming bands of the time. This is quite remarkable, but what I remember most of all from those few short years of my youth were the great friends I made then and the wonderful times we had.

I also remember asking the youth leader Barrie, the organising genius that made this happen, “why is it called Esmeralda's, Barrie.”

“Esmeralda was the daughter of Quasimodo, something beautiful may be born from something ugly”

Says it all, to me.