Going Underground

There’s this film by Martin Scorsese called ‘After Hours‘ in which a yuppie office drone Paul Hackett (played by Griffin Dunne) gets drawn into the nocturnal activities of New York‘s creative community. While the city sleeps he has all manner of adventures.

On the Island, other than the loud farting and intermittent pops of hatchback and motorbike exhausts echoing round darkened roads, the urban night time seemingly belongs to cats and foxes, going about their business. So when I was invited to go dancing in Sandown one Friday night in January, my eyebrows slightly raised. Once the hub of the Island’s night time economy, the town’s clubs are now what regeneration experts call ‘ripe for redevelopment’; that popular euphemism for all-but-derelict. My eyebrows raised even higher when I discovered that the venue for the evening’s fun was Sandown railway station.

Entering the erstwhile ticket hall I discovered that it had been transformed into a tiny homage to Wigan Casino; a ballroom famous last century for its Northern Soul all-nighters. That legendary club attracted dancers from all over the UK, who showed off their athletic dance moves to the sounds of rare imported soul music. And here, in Sandown, youngsters – some as young as twelve – demonstrated their prowess on the floor of the the station’s Gaslight Cafe, which we sprinkled with sugar to make more slippery.

There is, of course, a place for structured activities for young people; Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Baden-Powell-style uniformed groups and sports clubs. What Ali at the Gaslight Cafe provides is a space where children, their parents and other adults like my friends and I can dance and chat, admire each other’s outfits and enjoy some vintage tunes. It’s free to get in and the premises is not licensed, unlike other music venues, which means it’s accessible to young people.

The dancers not only had all the authentic moves, but also the clothes – wide trousers and racing-back vests for the chaps, mod-style dresses for the girls. I got chatting to a handsome skinhead who I thought would make a great model for the Wight Catwalk. I showed him pictures of locals who have already featured, including Ryde punk musician Sid Ryan.

“Ah,”, he exclaimed, “That’s Sid!”. Surprised, I said, “You must know his band, Grade 2? My stepson Jack is the guitarist.” The chap turned away from the pictures of Sid on my phone, looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve been in your house.”

I did a double-take! This skinhead was a childhood friend of my stepson’s, who I’d last seen when he was a schoolboy. “Lewis??” I asked. “Aye!” he answered, laughing. Once again, the Isle of Wight doing what it does best!

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 9 February 2018.

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