New Romantic purists insist their scene is not about fancy dress but about dressing fancy. . . and if dance-plus-stance night-clubbing started anywhere it was in Essex at the Gold Mine, Canvey Island, where deejay Chris Hill initiated a swing revival in the mid-70s. David Johnson finds his legacy alive and well on the club’s tenth anniversary
◼ SOME SAY THE WHOLE of today’s style scene has its roots here… The Gold Mine, Canvey Island, has passed into countless legends for the trends it has set and on August 14 manager Stan Barrett pulls a champagne cork to celebrate his club’s tenth birthday.
Mind you, feet have pounded its original sprung maple dancefloor since 1949. Southend and the towns of the Essex style triangle have reared cults since the word was invented, so when in 1972 the Gold Mine began playing what rivals then called “silly music” – My Guy and all those soul sounds – the local hipsters took their cue.
It was that wild man among deejays, Chris Hill, who, as the only one south of Lancashire playing soul, put Canvey Island on the map and ushered in the new Age of the Dance. Then in 1975, for a reason no more obscure than a simple father to son legacy, came a Glenn Miller Swing revival, which triggered the then unique clubbing fad of nostalgic dressing-up.
Stan Barrett says: “Chris played Singin’ In The Rain one Saturday and of course even kids who couldn’t remember the original knew the words to it. Everyone started being Gene Kelly on the dancefloor, dressing as GIs and Betty Grable. So he played Moonlight Serenade then the Andrews Sisters’ Boogey Woogey – that’s when they all started to jive and to dress up.”
The Sun, the tabloid daily paper which has a remarkably consistent record for picking up trends first, featured the Gold Mine. “Coaches came from Newcastle, Wales, everywhere,” Barrett remembers. The rest is undisputed history for the influence of Essex stylists on emergent London nightlife scene has been visible from the 60s Mod scene to Chaguaramas and the Vortex to the Blitz and beyond.
The key to the Gold Mine’s success? Impossible selectivity at the door, which may sound over familiar today. Barrett says: “Nobody too old. And only people into style which means your own style, not Gary Numan’s. It costs you at first but look how it pays off in the end. People have never come to the Gold Mine for a good drink up, always the music and the scene.”
Right now in summer ’82, Essex is a musical ball of confusion with the electronic camp of Depeche Mode and Talk Talk holding sway. Drinking with Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris at the Gold Mine the other night was club-runner about Southend, Steven Brown, who sports a £100 PW Forte Sixties suit and reckons that psychedelia is still big there, heaven help us. He has also done time with a non-psychedelic local band of jokers called Doodle Sax: “It’s had about 35 people in it at various times but we’re not very serious.” One of them, synthesiser doodler Andy Norton, says the vibes are already about for much heavier rhythms. “Music has to turn much more macho.”
And if there are any visual indicators at the Gold Mine today, they are less fancy, more free. A regular called Andy “from Stanford No Hope” says: “Make-up is so out of date, it’s like watching old crows trying to pull. The Gold Mine is much better now that we don’t get all the arty students down.”
THE TUBE VISITS THE GOLD MINE
◼ Chris Hill interviewed during a live TV visit to the Gold Mine, Canvey Island, broadcast in 1983 on Channel 4’s weekly pop show The Tube. The club closed in 1989.
TAGS – Gold Mine, Canvey Island, anniversary, clubbing, soul music, swing revival, Blue&Soul, Glenn Miller, Chris Hill, Stan Barrett, Robert Elms, Steven Brown, Andy Norton, Lee Harris, Talk Talk