George (disco) Cheyne: Glasgow, April 2021
You can just imagine the dulcet Geordie tones of the voiceover: “Day one in the Big Brother campus…and the classmates meet each other for the first time.
“Tension fills the air as they sit in the student union sizing each other up.
“Their first task is to nominate a social convenor for the group without using the Diary Room – it must be done by a public show of hands…”
That’s kind of what happened in the spring of 1978 on our opening day of an eight-week block-release journalism course at Edinburgh’s Napier College.
We were all sitting around after our induction on the Monday and I was trying to organise our first night out. Well, you can take the boy out of Glasgow…
Of the 16 in the class, only two were from the capital city and so – the reasoning went – one of them should act as social convenor.
Made sense to me. Straight shootout between Stevie and Alistair and, when you consider Alistair was sitting there in a shirt and tie and a briefcase on his lap, it became a one-horse race.
Stevie was duly elected social convenor by a show of hands and was set his first task of arranging a night out on the Thursday.
Fast forward 48 hours and we’re all together again – except Stevie – sitting in the union listening to the tunes coming out the Wurlitzer jukebox.
Yeah, it was that long ago. The favourite selections at that time were Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, Boney M’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Bee Gees’ Night Fever.
Right on cue, Stevie came over to join us with a smile plastered across his coupon singing as he went:
Night fever, night fever
We know how to do it
Gimme that night fever, night fever
We know how to show it
Thankfully he spared us the flailing arm routine always associated with that tune and took his seat with all the confidence of Tony Manero hitting the under-lit dance floor in Saturday Night Fever.
All eyes were on Stevie and we let him milk the moment. In the background you could hear:
Here I am
Praying for this moment to last
Livin’ on the music so fine
Borne on the wind
Makin’ it mine
There was no stopping him now and this time we weren’t spared the flailing arm routine as he grinned: “We’ll be giving it a bit of this tomorrow night then.”
I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction, but someone else asked: How’s that, Stevie?”
“I’ve only got us all on the guest list for the new nightclub that’s opened up in Princes Street,” he replied. “Free champagne, the lot.”
Stevie..social convenor..campus legend.
So the next night there were 14 of us – one of the girls had a pre-arranged family thing and Alistair had presumably found something more interesting in his briefcase – stood outside the club.
I’m pretty sure the place was called Fire Island, which I’m reliably informed is a Waterstones now.
We went down to the front of the queue, flashed our press passes and were escorted into the club by the head bouncer.
This was all new to me. Up till then I had only been escorted out of a nightclub by bouncers.
Our group, with Stevie out in front, were led to a little roped-off area close to the bar where there were a couple of bottles of champagne on the tables….
The head bouncer told us a waitress would be over to take a drinks order which was to be on the house.
Free entry, free bubbly, a free round of drinks and a VIP area to ourselves. If Carlsberg did nights out for young journalists…
Everybody was buzzing and there could only be one toast to make when the drinks arrived: “To Stevie, social convenor extraordinaire.”
He feigned a bit of humility but we all knew, deep down, he was loving his new-found iconic status within the group.
Then, booming out the speakers, came the intro to Night Fever:
Listen to the ground
There is movement all around
There is something goin’ down
And I can feel it
Everybody piled on the dance floor, only too happy to do the flailing arm routine as we all got lost in the moment.
Once we’d returned from the dance floor our friendly head bouncer came over to tell us the owner would be along to meet us in 10 minutes or so.
More free drinks? VIP passes for life? Could this night get any better? Well, no, as it turned out – it was about to go downhill.
The owner arrived, made some small talk and then asked which one of us was Stevie. All eyes whirred round to his empty seat and one of the girls said he’d gone to the toilet, adding rather unnecessarily: “Mind you, that was about 10 minutes ago.”
A frown appeared on the owner’s face before he said: “Maybe one of you guys can help – when’s the photographer coming?”
I did a quick calculation in my head. One missing Stevie and one missing photographer makes two and one pissed-off owner and one mean-looking bouncer makes another two. Put two and two together and you get…trouble!
I explained, as nonchalantly as I could, that the photographer must have been called to another job and would be along soon.
“He’d better be,” said the owner as he turned away.
Operation Great Escape was hatched immediately and we agreed to leave in three groups to avoid as much suspicion as possible.
I was in the last group along with two girls – who thought their presence might stop the bouncers giving us a kicking – and two other guys.
A full minute’s worth of nerve-shredding speed-walking later and we were out the other side.
We saw the others standing 50 yards along from the club, did a quick head count and discovered we had 14.
Eh? Yep, Stevie had bolted from the club at the first mention of the owner – but he couldn’t bring himself to abandon us completely.
Sheepishly, he admitted he’d told the owner there would be spreads in the Evening News, Scotsman, Daily Mail and Daily Record on the angle that his club was Scotland’s answer to Studio 54 in New York. No wonder we got the red carpet treatment.
You won’t be surprised to learn Stevie was stripped of his social convenor duties – and that we never went near that club again.