Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs
The Early Life of the British Disco Scene
Bruce Lindsay [+–]
Music Journalist and Social Historian
The history of disco is a history of glamour, celebrity, fame and excess, a history that began with the emergence of legendary New York venues such as Le Club or Arthur and carried on with Studio 54 or London clubs like Annabel’s: clubs where star DJs spun the discs as Jackie Onassis danced the twist and Bianca Jagger rode a white horse. At least that’s the way in which it is all-too-often portrayed. Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs tells a different, largely forgotten, history of the British disco scene, a history of tatty but much-loved provincial discotheques, mobile DJs with home-made light shows and rusty vans, dancefloor fillers that were never played in the discos of major cities, one-hit disco wonders making public appearances on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit, and the arrival of Britain’s own disco music creators. Using primary evidence drawn from the media of the time and from the recollections of fans, music makers and disc jockeys, Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs will illuminate a crucial, fun-packed history of a cultural movement that, despite the vagaries of fashion, is still part of the entertainment scene today.
The story told in Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs is both glamorous and prosaic. This is a history that starts much earlier than previous histories of disco, with the dance scene of Georgian Britain: its formal Assembly Room balls and the debauchery of its Pleasure Gardens. It moves on to pub sessions in nineteenth century villages and the ‘obscene’ and ‘vulgar’ goings-on of the penny gaffes, then celebrates the arrival of the gramophone (and the first ‘disc jockey’) in the 1890s, the portable machine’s role in the trenches of the Great War and the arrival of the Jazz Age, before discussing the massive cultural, technological and social changes of the 1930s, 40s and 50s that led to the ascendency of recorded music in the nightspots of Britain. It then explores in depth the world of discos and disco music experienced by club-goers in the 1960s and 1970s: a world that began in the glamorous new discotheques of London, filled with the capital’s glitterati, and soon spread across Britain’s towns and cities, where discos were filled with factory workers, students, nurses, construction workers, accountants and shop assistants, dancing the night away when glamour meant a ‘no denim, no trainers’ door policy, where celebrities were non-existent, the drug of choice was Newcastle Brown Ale and horses were banned. But whether the disco was in London, Lincoln or Little Snoring the music provided for dancing provided a link between Mayfair millionaires and teenagers working for a pittance. Music for dancing is always central to the story told in Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs.
The story pauses at the end of the ‘70s, when disco was officially declared ‘dead’ by its American opposition and mainstream culture in Britain did much to turn disco from a cutting-edge movement to something of a laughing stock among trendsetters and popular music fans. The book ends by appraising disco’s place in the entertainment scene of the 2020s, where classics of the genre are as popular as ever.
Series: Popular Music History
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