I walked past the old building yesterday. It’s been boarded up for years now, the boards thick with layer upon layer of bygone Circus and Fairground flyers; stuck on by people who don’t see the point in removing the one below. The grimy steps are usually home to the local friendly guy who has marked this as his daytime territory. He doesn’t beg, nor terrorise – what he gives is a smile and an “Awright” as you pass by. I’m sure he has a home, but I wonder why he sits there? Perhaps the fresh air and company are good for his soul.
The building was built in 1931 and housed the largest cinema in town. As a seaside town, it was buzzing in the summertime with the folks from the big smoke (Glasgow). People flooded the seaside towns to go “doon the watter” and most of the locals took in lodgers for a fortnight every year. My dad recalls making money during the Glasgow Fair by collecting the passengers bags from the train station and delivering them on his newspaper delivery bike. No doubt most of his money went on a night out to the pictures (cinema). It is this cinema where my parents had their first date at the tender age of 17. Back then it was common for people to go to the pictures most nights, so it was always busy. I loved this place when I was wee, with its huge screen and upstairs balconies it seemed there was no place grander. Tourism had died off with people now preferring to holiday in Spain, but locals still liked a night out at the pictures. I remember the intermissions and getting a Lyons Maid Ice-cream tub from the tray. One time I was there with my granny and brother and we had to leave early because I was terrified of the film. It was The Empire Strikes Back and my brother still hasn’t forgiven me. The curtains closed for the final time on the old cinema in 1985 when I was 10 years old, with the one across the road following suit shortly afterwards. People were staying at home and playing their new video recorders.
Four years later there was a buzz about the town again. A big fancy new nightclub was moving in to the building and it was going to rival clubs in Glasgow. I was fourteen at the time but luckily they had an under 18’s night. This came at the right time for us – we were interested in dressing up, experimenting with make-up, music, dancing and boys. This ticked all the boxes. That first night most of the girls in my class were going and excitement was sky high. We tried to look older, with our heels and Culottes and perms with fringes sprayed high at the front. I remember trembling when going in. What if the door steward said I was too young? I got in, but a 13-year-old friend wasn’t so lucky. Nobody wanted to miss this and although the girl cried, none of us left with her (poor soul). It was more than we had expected inside with three floors, three bars and a diner. We danced to ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ and ended the night with ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ I left with a new date arranged with a boy from a local school. If this what it was like to be a grown up, I wanted more!
At 15 my mother allowed me to go to the Over 18’s night with a friend as long as my older brother supervised and I didn’t drink alcohol. What was she thinking?! I may have looked a little older but I reckon 17 at a push. Waiting in the queue to get in probably rates in my top five most nerve wracking life experiences – but alas, the door steward smiled and directed us inside! It was Christmas eve and I drank Long Vodkas all night, kissed a much older boy (man?) on the dancefloor and didn’t see my brother once. I remember the second last song was James ‘Sit Down’ and I think of that night every time I hear it. The lights went up to ‘Walking on Sunshine’ as it would every time I was there in the future.
Friday was the night for the locals, where chart music of the day was played and I would arrive with seven friends and lose every one as soon as we were through the door. It didn’t matter – in fact it added to the excitement. Everyone was local and we had new friends to meet. At 18 I was working full time but decided I needed a part time job. Full of confidence (and K Cider), I asked the manager for a job as a glass collector. He took me into his office and interviewed me, insisting I would “look good behind the bar.” I declined the offer of Bar Maid, but collected glasses for a few months. How strange to be offered a job after several K Ciders. Easiest. Interview. Ever.
Saturdays was ‘Ravers Night’ and the buses would arrive from all over Scotland and for a few hours our little towns population doubled (slight exaggeration). Most of my friends didn’t go to ravers night. Friday was the night for alcohol; Saturday was the night for drugs. Ecstasy, LSD and (less frequently) Cocaine were the drugs of choice. I did go a few times. I tried the LSD and Ecstasy and danced to the likes of TTF’s ‘Real Love’ and Rhythm Quests ‘Closer to all your Dreams’ but drug taking and raving weren’t my scene. I preferred indie music and boyfriends who played guitar and frequented the pubs where you could get a seat. Collecting glasses on a Saturday was a joy though because everyone drank from bottles of water and were full of love – obviously because they were high on drugs! Fridays were a different story where aggression and leeriness often accompanied the drunken haze.
My parents courted there; I feasted on ice-cream whilst watching the latest block buster; danced; sang; laughed and kissed boys there. I’ve broken hearts; cried on a friends shoulder over too many boys; held friends hair when they were throwing up down the toilet and discussed the meaning of life with friends and strangers alike. I did many things I’m not proud of – drinking in excess and experimenting with drugs. Eighteen years after my first visit to the building, I danced to ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and walked out of those old doors without realising it would be the final time. I moved to the city and met my husband a year later. The old building closed it’s doors in December 2011, after 54 years as a cinema and 22 years as a nightclub. It has been derelict ever since.
As we walked past yesterday my son said “that’s where you used to go dancing, isn’t it?” and I replied “yes son” remembering so much more.