Stephen Pennell ©
When I left school I got a job as a trainee cost/estimate clerk at a shop-fitting firm. There was a lot of errand running involved and I felt like Jimmy out of Quadrophenia, a feeling that was only enhanced as I commuted home to Marston Green every day on the 5.15 from Birmingham New Street. The money wasn’t great - my made-to-measure ice-blue shadow-stripe mohair suit was two months’ wages - but the job had good prospects, with four days in the Constitution Hill office, weekly day-release on Fridays at college, and another class on Monday evenings. Somewhat disastrously for my fledgling career, Monday night was also Mod night at the Top Rank in Dale End and there was only ever going to be one winner. Now here I am, labouring in a grimy depot all week and half the weekend on overtime, but I wouldn’t trade my memories of Monday nights at the Top Rank for all the double-time in the world.
It wasn’t a given we’d get in - my mate Paddy and I were underage and must have looked it. One week, having been stopped at the entrance by the bouncers, we gave the head doorman our home landline phone numbers (remember them?) and begged him to call our families to confirm we were older than we looked. Surprisingly, he agreed to humour us. He rang Paddy’s house first and got his sister, who was all flustered and confused and gave Paddy a date of birth that made him one year old. I couldn’t help but laugh when the bouncer gave him the bad news, but then it was my turn, and thanks to Our Mom, I didn’t fare any better. She came over all George Washington and said “he’s only 16 but he won’t cause any trouble.” Cheers Mom. Off to Pollyannas it is then, where as members we could always get in, but where I was a nervous wreck as an infamous local gangster’s missus would keep fluttering her eyelashes and winking at me.
Week after week we’d stand up on the empty bus all the way to town (if you know, you know), to try our luck at the Top Rank, and our joy was unbridled if we got in. It held hundreds yet was always rammed, and the dance floor was a dance class, where we would try to learn the moves of Tony Furlong and Jock, the greatest dancers, or admire the shimmering silver suit of Ivan from Quinton, who looked like the face of the world when he wore it. Lee the DJ would always introduce Louis Louis by The Kingsmen as the greatest record of all time, and he’s still not far wrong. All the lads would re-enact the house party scene from Quadrophenia and almost smash up the gaff when My Generation was played, and we ACTUALLY WOULD smash up the gaff when it kicked off with the Rude Boys. Dodgy geezers would sell Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Dexedrine) from a toilet cubicle at a pound a pill, and on a really good night we’d snog pretty girls with beautiful bobs or boy’s haircuts and (usually unsuccessfully) try to circumnavigate their stylish knitwear tops and ski-pants or A-line skirts. And if a girl didn’t fancy you she could go to the toilet downstairs by the dance floor and come out upstairs on the balcony and leave you sitting there like a lemon - Michelle from Woolworths, where are you now? Then there was the weekly race to the DJ booth to get the Spencer Davis Group’s Keep On Running dedicated to “all the Birmingham supporters”, while Paddy attempted to beat me to it and get it addressed to Villa fans.
Afterwards we would head for The Rendezvous, an all-night cafe in Gas Street Basin, where we would wile away the hours and continue to chat up the girls until it was time to go to work.
“Morning Stephen. How was college last night? Did you learn much?”
Quite a bit, gaffer. Quite a bit.