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MECCA MEMORIES...

As I've probably mentioned before in this journal, I'm a member of a Facebook group devoted to ex-pupils of Wakefield's Ings Road Secondary Modern School which I attended in the late 1950s / early '60s. A recent post on that site by a fellow pupil, (also, like me, now 70 years old,) about the Mecca Locarno dancehall in Wakefield, prompted me to answer with memories of my own. I thought I'd copy my posts from that thread here out of interest. Here's the first one:


"I used to go every Monday to the Mecca with my Ings Road school pal Ian Parkin. When we first went, they were still playing rock n' roll records. I particularly remember tracks such as Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues' and Buddy Holly's 'Reminiscing.' Also tracks by Brenda Lee, Frankie Avalon, Neil Sedaka, etc. They sounded great played at loud volume through the ballroom's big Altec Lansing speakers. Ian Parkin and I would sit up on the balcony at the left hand side of the dance floor, as close to the speaker as possible. What a great sound it was. I loved the saxophone solo in 'Reminiscing' and every time I hear that record today, I'm transported as if by time machine back to those magic nights at The Mecca.


We were too shy to ask the girls for a dance at first, but enjoyed watching them jive 'round their handbags. A little later, 'The Twist' became popular and Chubby Checker tracks got played. Also Little Eva's 'Locomation' single, which I loved. Then came Mod with great records such as 'Roadrunner' by Junior Walker and the Allstars, 'Midnight Hour' by Wilson Pickett, etc. By this time I'd aligned myself as a Mod and been down to London to Carnaby Street and bought myself some dark green and yellow checked hipsters, an op-art belt, a yellow checked shirt with button down collar and a narrow op-art tie. I backcombed my hair, styled like early Steve Marriot of The Small Faces.


By this time of course, Ian and I had migrated from being passive watchers on the balcony to being eager chancers standing at the edge of the dance floor, trying to catch the eye of any dolly bird we fancied. It took a bit of nerve to walk out onto the dance floor and ask for a dance, we'd be worried about being rejected, but one time I'd spotted this girl in a black plastic mac' and short op-art patterned dress, dancing with a girlfriend. She looked a bit like Judith Durham from 'The Seekers' group, or at least she had a very similar hairstyle. I caught her eye and got a sweet smile in return and, after a little hesitation, strode out onto the dance floor and asked if she'd mind me dancing with her. She said ok and we danced most of the evening together, taking a break to sit up by the coffee bar with its aroma of hot dogs and fried onions, Coca-Cola syrup and coffee.


At the end of the evening, the main lights in the ballroom were switched on and a record titled 'At The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbal' was played to signal the end of the evening. I walked the girl I'd been dancing with back to her bus stop at the top of Westgate and we sheltered in a doorway from the rain whilst waiting for her bus home to Lupset Estate. I discovered that her name was Lynne Holliday and, just before she boarded the bus to Lupset, we arranged to meet again at the Mecca next week. A romance ensued and we became a couple, even planning to marry and putting a 'bottom drawer' together filled with various things we'd need for our future life.


The courtship lasted four years and we had a lot of fun but eventually it ended, as those teenage romances often do. But, while it lasted, it was good and I remember it fondly.


There was another hip place to hang out in the '60s and that was called 'The Place,' a small disco that some of you may remember being in Radcliffe Place, parallel with Wood Street. It was frequented by the in-crowd and played some great records, lots of Soul music, ('Land Of A 1000 Dances,' 'Do You Like Soul Music,' 'Mustang Sally', 'My Girl,' 'When A Man Loves A Woman,' etc,) and tracks by the Small Faces, Kinks, early 'Stones, and the emerging freak-beat scene that would soon cross over into fully-fledged psychedelia and the hippy, counter-culture movement. I loved it all and embraced fashion with enthusiasm and prided myself in being right at the forefront of the latest trends. Those of us who were teenagers back then were so lucky...we had the best music and fashion in the land!”


And here is another post:


"I seem to recall those Sat afternoon sessions at the Mecca too, but maybe that was a little later than 1958 when I'd only be 10 years old and too young to attend. But I did start going to the Mecca in my very early teens, to the sessions that were aimed at the youngest kids, and rock n' roll was still very much in evidence on the Mecca's playlists, as noted in my earlier post.


However, my passion for electric guitars started earlier. My very first guitar hero was Duane Eddy. I used to hear his single 'Because They're Young' played often on the radio and one day, when I was off school and in bed with the 'flu, my mum bought me a copy of the single from Boots in Wakefield to cheer me up. And cheer me up it did! I played the thing constantly, and the b-side too, (a track titled 'Rebel Walk'.)


I loved the sound of Duane's guitar and would make cardboard copies of it and mime to the record in front of my bedroom mirror, imagining I was playing in front of an adoring audience. And, of course, those dreams and imaginings miraculously became a lifelong reality, for which I'm eternally grateful.


Other music of that distant time figured in my listening too: The Ventures, The Shadows, The John Barry Seven, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, Lord Rockingham's XI, The Fireballs, The Spotnicks, Link Wray, Lonnie Mack, The Champs, Johnny and the Hurricanes and many other instrumental bands of the late '50s, early '60s.


I wasn't particularly interested in vocalists back then, I only wanted to hear those electric guitars and thought the vocalists got in the way of that! But Elvis figured because his guitarist, Scotty Moore, was terrific. I loved the sound of his guitar and his solo on 'Jailhouse Rock'. Bill Hayley was someone I liked too, because of the iconic guitar solo played by, (I think,) Franny Beecher on 'Rock Around The Clock.'

My dad bought me a second hand acoustic guitar, a Zenith, and I began to teach myself to play, met Ian Parkin at Ings Road school, (who was at a similar learning stage,) and we became chums and learned together. My dad soon bought me an electric guitar, an inexpensive Antoria, and that led to the concerts that Ian and I gave at the school's Christmas parties, our first ever public performances.


In the 1970s, I'd sometimes catch the train from Leeds to London to spend several days in Abbey Road studios, and the train would stop at Wakefield Westgate. As it pulled out of Westgate station, it would pass Ings Road school, which sat below the railway embankment, and I'd look out of the carriage window at the school as the train rolled past. (The school was still standing then.) I'd look at that old building and remember those first, rudimentary public performances, the nervousness I felt about playing in front of the other school kids and teachers, and the fantasies I had of being a guitarist, and I'd marvel at the fact that, all those years later, I was on my way to record in Abbey Road studios in London. Fate? Destiny? Good fortune? Sheer luck? Who knows...but, whatever...real Magic! Unbelievable!"



With my Musicvox 'Space Cadet' guitar.


A flyer for 'Magnetic Travels.'




© Bill Nelson 2020

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