Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2021
There’s always been something about Blackpool…. a bit like the Kelvin Hall, The Kelvingrove Art Gallery or The University Café… it’s always been a ‘happy place’ of mine.
My earliest memories of the Lancashire Riviera as great as they are, are mixed with trauma, however.
My first visit was in the summer of 1963, I was 5 years old and the only reason I remember anything about my inaugural trip is because of an incident that has stayed with me ever since.
Cliff Richard was mega in 1963, even as a 5 year old I’d already seen one of his movies – Summer Holiday, dragged along to the La Scala in Sauchiehall St, to see it by my Mum.
What wasn’t there to like about Cliff – he was clean cut, he could sing, he seemed like a nice guy. Impressively, he could also reverse park a double decker bus and navigate it all the way to Athens, whilst singing and dancing, with not a single hair out of place!
We’d got tickets to see his summer show at the ABC in Blackpool during our stay in 1963.
I don’t remember too much about the performance, just a communal feeling of excitement, and a collective sense of awe that we were all in the presence of this matinee idol.
What I do remember is that at some point during the performance I needed to go to the loo and being a big boy, I was happy to do this on my own….. plus Mum was transfixed by the Bachelor Boy and Dad by the scantily clad dancers.
It was all going well until on my return I made a wrong turn and exited a fire escape door into an enclosed courtyard.
The fire door slammed shut behind me and I was locked out of the theatre with no means of getting back in OR getting out of the enclosed courtyard.
I remember shouting for my Dad in vain for what felt like hours but he was clearly oblivious to the empty seat beside him…. having too good a time.
My Mum I could forgive; it was Cliff for god sake, but my Dad was in big trouble…
Indignation quickly turned to panic, and I remember thinking I would be stuck there on my own forever before a nice lady who lived in one of the flats overlooking the courtyard intervened. Telling me from her 3rd floor balcony, not to worry and that everything would be okay.
Eventually, my Dad tore himself away from the can-can girls, and by tracking my steps, figured out my rookie error.
He thought the whole episode was hilarious, I thought it was extremely poor parenting!
Cut forward a couple of years to our next visit and the big summer show was Morecambe & Wise; I can’t profess to being a fan as a 7-year-old, but I do remember the guy with the glasses was funny.
By age 7, I was dazzled by the bright lights and the goodies on display at Blackpool, there were toys and treats everywhere.
I had also discovered the Pleasure Beach and wanted to go on all the rides, particularly the Waltzers which remained a big favourite, but once again it was a traumatic experience that holds my memories.
On the last day of the holiday, we were due to go to the Pleasure Beach for a last hurrah before heading up the road and I was so excited to be going on all the rides again.
I can’t remember what I was doing (or thinking!) exactly, but at some point before breakfast I got one of my Dad’s lead fishing weights lodged up my nose and presumably swallowed it, sniffing, instead of blowing my bugle as instructed.
This resulted in a quick exit from Blackpool and a dash back to Glasgow to visit our local doctor.
Why we couldn’t have gone to a local hospital in Blackpool (via the Pleasure Beach!) I don’t know, but I do remember a long, tense, silent journey back to Glasgow, feeling both sheepish yet sorry for myself.
I’m guessing the lead content of the fishing weight is what would have caused the panic, but the Doc said there was nothing to worry about and the lead weight would pop out in my next poop, pretty promptly.
Two trips to Blackpool, two traumas.
I can’t remember how many times we returned to Blackpool before I went back there again in 1974 with my mates.
I do recall seeing the brilliant Tommy Cooper one summer c.1968 but there was no associated trauma to remember the trip by… hence the lack of any further recall about the visit.
Fast forward to July 1974 and my pals had just came back from a Glasgow Fair spent in Blackpool regaling tales of high jinks and romance.
One of the lads even had a penpal from Preston now, she was so keen that he even had a letter and present waiting for him at home on his return…..
The present? – Three Degrees – When Will I See You Again…. ahhhh.
I had been unable to go with them in July because of a family holiday but I couldn’t wait for the next 8 weeks to fly by so that I could get to this Mecca of fun for the ‘September Weekend’ break.
We set off from Buchanan St bus station at midnight, which looking back seems strange as Blackpool is only 3 hours by car from Glasgow, but for whatever reason it took us 8 hours to get there.
The bus had been organised by Clouds Disco (later to become the Apollo) and there was a party atmosphere on the bus as most of us knew each other.
On arrival, we made the rookie mistake of hitting the pub as soon as it opened at 11am.
Day time drinking was a new concept to me, and alcohol was probably the last thing I needed, I was already as high as a kite on adrenaline and buzzing with anticipation for the weekend to come
We were hammered by early afternoon and that first day became a bit of a blur if I’m honest, culminating in some very strange headwear choices and photographs.
Most of us had turned 16 in the summer of 74 so getting into pubs and clubs wasn’t something we took for granted but there seemed to be no barriers in Blackpool as well as a wealth of choice.
Our preferred venue as it was for a lot of Glaswegians was Mama & Papa Jenks, a big sprawling pub with waitress service…. so you didn’t even have to take the risk of going to the bar to get served.
Jenks had three levels, a bar at ground level, a nightclub above it, and a gay bar in the basement.
The set-up was great but a bit of a shock to the system, particularly when you were used to sneaking into traditional working man’s pubs & saloons in Glasgow and hiding in the corner.
The nightclub at Jenks was pretty good if you wanted to spend the whole evening on-site but we found a great little Soul club nearby with a brilliant DJ that just nailed the music.
To be fair there were a lot of great soul artists/records in the charts at that time – George McCrae, Barry White, Don Covay, Johnny Bristol, The Tymes, The Commodores and The Hues Corporation, etc.
The DJ was playing all that stuff plus a load of imports and remixes we had never heard before.
Learning from our first day we paced ourselves over the rest of the trip, spending time on the Pleasure Beach and leaving the pubs till the evening.
I know Blackpool may not have the best image, but we were having a ball and when it came time to contemplate leaving, a few of the lads said they wanted to stay on… as it transpired some did through no choice of their own.
It seemed half of Glasgow was in Blackpool that weekend which contributed towards a great atmosphere, but the place wasn’t without its tensions.
Come the last night, we were in Jenks having a farewell drink and killing time before catching the bus home, and a massive fight broke out, between the Possil boys and the Calton boys…. and when I say massive, I mean chairs, tables, glasses, bottles, the lot.
The fight spilled outside onto the street like one of those bar room brawls you see in Westerns and it wasn’t long before the police weighed in.
A lad we knew, Hughie Kinnaird, was sharp enough to spot the trouble early-doors and encouraged a few of us to follow him and get out of Dodge before it escalated.
We managed to catch the bus back to Glasgow with minutes to spare but a few of our group got caught up in the rammy and ended up spending an extra couple of days in Blackpool… by necessity rather than design.
The return journey home was a bit more sombre than the party-bus we’d arrived on, but it still took 8 hours!
Another Blackpool trip another drama…
I’ve been back to Blackpool several times since 1974 for fleeting visits but mainly to watch my brother compete in dancing competitions and represent Scotland at the Tower Ballroom in the late 70s and early 80s.
The last time I was there was about 20 years ago when I was up in the North West from London for a meeting in Manchester and persuaded a colleague to stay in Blackpool during the Blackpool Illuminations.
He’d never been or wanted to go to Blackpool, so I was excited to introduce him to the delights of my favourite Northern English coastal town and to change his perception of the place, but it was a losing battle…. the place looked tired and run down and the bright lights didn’t seem so bright anymore.
I’ve not been back since then, and I’m not sure I ever will now.
I think I’d prefer to remember the old place the way it was….. bright, lively, invigorating and full of drama…..