‘A nightclub around virtually every corner…’

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From The Balcony to Zanies, Island nightclubs were THE place to be in the swinging ‘60s, ’70s, ‘80s and beyond, and memories are still fresh in the minds of many who packed into them night after night. Nightclub entertainment was usually a cross between records on turntables and live acts, and many top groups of the day came here to perform
– the likes of The Real Thing, Paper Lace and Bad Manners. But one Island group also caused sensation, as former nightclub DJ Neil Doble recalls.
Neil from Shanklin said: “There was an Island group called Kite comprising Andy Skelton, Doug Watson and Tim Marshall who appeared on TV’s popular talent show ‘New Faces’ in 1977 and won on successive weeks.”
New Faces was the original ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ with Joe Pasquale, Michael Barrymore and Lennie Henry among its winners. Kite were the 1977 top group of the series, and their live performance on the Gala Final was watched by an estimated 15million viewers.
Neil said: “They came back and played at Keats nightclub and I’ve never seen the place so crammed. People were out through the doors and on the grass outside. It was a brilliant atmosphere.
“I remember DJ-ing in 1978 at what was then the Eastcliff Club in Shanklin, which later became Cobwebs. It was definitely 1978 because Saturday Night Fever was all the rage!”
Mike Ledger, father of Island singer Simon, used to be the DJ at the Beachcomber Bar, but also had a shop in Shanklin High Street called The Music Workshop. He would have all the latest records, and American imports, so a lot of the DJs would go there Friday or Saturday, and buy all the latest releases,to play that night. Neil added: “I worked at Barney’s Road House on Military Road when it first opened, then at the Coconut Grove in Ventnor for a summer season. We had a noise regulation there, and if a light came on inside the club for more than five seconds it showed we were playing the music too loud because it was in a residential area.
“Suddenly all the electricity would be cut off and any record you happened to be playing slowed down and stopped. Occasionally, when you really got caught up in the atmosphere, you didn’t realise the light had been on for five seconds, so it became quite embarrassing, with the crowd cheering because I had made a mistake.”
Dave Cannon was also an Island nightclub DJ, and still appears at several hotels and clubs here with his Solent City Sounds sets. Dave was a regular at La Babalu in Ryde, the Bird Cage on Sandown seafront, the Ryde Queen and Medway Queen, the Manor House in Lake, Keats, Barney’s and Colonel Bogey’s.
He said: “The Ryde Queen was always my favourite, because not only did I DJ there, I did the maintenance on the old paddle boat as well. I would be painting it during the day, and playing records in it at night – and I loved every minute! When I stood in for another DJ at the Medway Queen, I asked him why there was a beer crate on the floor where I sat. He told me it was to put my feet on when the tide came in. I thought it was a wind up, but it wasn’t!”
He continued: “In those days you went to a pub until about 10.30pm to 11.0pm, and then to a nightclub until one or two o’clock in the morning. The first nightclub I worked in was La Babalu, which was on exactly the spot where McDonald’s now stands in Ryde. The atmosphere was great in La Babalu, and there was rarely any trouble. It was probably because the beer wasn’t so strong in those days, so people didn’t get drunk so quickly. But even so, you could still get drunk on £1!

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“It always surprised me that Barney’s was virtually in the middle of nowhere, so you had to travel some way to get there, but there was always a queue to get it on a Saturday night. Those were the days of the early Rolling Stones with ‘Brown Sugar’ and a lot of Tamla Motown music; nothing too complicated.
“When the glam-rock came round you couldn’t wait until Saturday night to play them, because you knew it would get everyone up on the dance floor.”
Simon Rolfe was a doorman at the Court Jester, Sandown the night famous boxer Frank Bruno was in town and wanted to be admitted. Simon said: “Frank and his entourage came along but he was wearing Jeans. I told him he couldn’t come in until he went back to his hotel and changed. He said sorry, and he would be back in a while. Sure enough he came back suited and booted and was let in.
“We had loads of personalities down at the Court Jester. Page 3 girl Linda Lusardi was there one night to make a celebrity appearance. A mate was on the door with me, and Linda was his favourite. So I asked her if she would go over and give him a kiss on the cheek. She did…and he talked about it for years!
“I later went to manage Keats and we had Bad Manners up there when they were on tour. When they arrived, the bass player wasn’t with them, so I had to go and pick him up from a ferry. By the time I got back to Keats, not only were Bad Manners there, but about another nine bands who had followed them. They all played, and instead of closing at 1.0am, we went on until about four in the morning.”
Dave Cannon reflected: “Nightclubs were new in the 60 and 70s, and with only one radio station playing pop music, you had to listen to juke boxes or go into nightclubs to hear the latest records.
“In the late ‘80s and ‘90s a few new clubs were still opening on the Island, but overall they began to die out when pubs were able to apply for a 24-hour licence. You could stay in the pub all night rather than travel to a nightclub, and the drinks were usually cheaper in the pub. Then the pubs started getting in live bands and discos, and that spelled virtually the end for our nightclubs.”

So how many of these do you remember? Here’s a list of all the Island nightclubs we could recall:

Balcony, Barney’s, Beachcomber, Beehive, Birdcage, Blitz, Booker T’s, Brook House, 2Bs and Images, Carousel, Clarendon, Cobwebs, Coconut Grove, Colonel Bogey’s, Court Jester, East Cliff, Gatsby, Holliers, Julises, Keats, La Babalu, Manor House, Medway Queen, Patsy’s, Ruperts, Ryde Queen, Sam’s, Silks, Solent Court, Temptations, Zanies.

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