When I was young and stupid I used to live in a town about an hour away from central London on the train. This was pretty handy if you liked London, which we all did, because it wasn’t our small town. I would travel there fairly often, usually for a bit of a potter around Camden market, going to see a band in the evening at the Astoria or the Underworld, hopping on and off the tube, pretending to be cooler than I was.
At the time, I worked in a record shop and one of our most favourite albums to play on a Saturday morning was the Starsky and Hutch jazz funk soul compilation CD. Without even searching for it on Google, I can tell you that the first track was Can You Feel It by The Jacksons and number 3 or 4 was The Hustle by Van McCoy. The album was a spin off from a London club night of the same name which to us1 provincial types, kind of sounded like a proper nightclub. We’d been clubbing in London plenty of times before, most notably Car Wash near Leicester Square, but this felt like the real deal. Car Wash was the plastic Grecian columns in the Trafford Centre food court compared to Starsky and Hutch’s Ancient Greece.
I finally got to experience a Starsky and Hutch club night after many, many Saturdays playing the album, with my friend L. We’re older now, with sensible jobs and a whole load of children but I recently reminded L of this night out. She, mercifully, had forgotten about most it. Not any more though. I’m about to bring it all back for her.
Strangely, one of my clearest memories from that night, is of my trousers. They were maroon flares which sort of shimmered and changed colour in the light. They had beads around the bottom and were made of shiny man-made fibres. I bought them from River Island and the night we went to Starsky and Hutch was the first time I wore them in anger. They were ludicrous. We caught the train, L and I, and headed for Kings Cross. Starsky and Hutch was held in several different venues, the coolest of which was certainly Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. We didn’t go to that one though. No lovely reader, we went to the one at Bagley’s.
Bagley’s was a superclub, the kind that the Daily Mail were really rather fond of and the kind frequented by anyone who ever took illegal drugs in the 90s. It might still be there for all I know. It was known to me via some housemates of mine who spent the majority of their leisure time drinking cinzano, taking speed and playing Tekken 2. They were alright really, if you fancied an all night playstation session or needed directions to Bagley’s but I didn’t want to be like them. And I never really wanted to go to Bagley’s either but Starsky and Hutch was held in Bagley’s basement so we figured it would be ok.
When we got off the train we didn’t really know where we were going and my housemate’s directions were crap. These days I get upset if I don’t know what I’m having for dinner but as a young’un I worked on the assumption that everything would become apparent at exactly the right time. Eventually, we followed a load of people into the club and were charged many, many pounds for the privilege. I couldn’t tell you how much it cost now but it was more than we were expecting. Never mind though, the music was pretty good, more 90s house than classic 70s but I was sure The Hustle would get a spin later. We danced a bit, drank a bit and at some point, got talking to a bunch of people. At which point, we realised we were in the wrong club.
We had blindly followed a bunch of people into a nightclub without bothering to check it was the right one. L was all up for staying there, I think, and had I heeded her advice, we may well have had a fantastic night. But by not seeking out Bagley’s and dancing to The Hustle, we would be failing in our mission so off we trotted, slightly more greased than when we arrived. We had been so near and yet so far. Just around the corner we found the goal, our destiny, this mecca of maroon nylon trousers. How could we have got it so wrong though? Bagley’s was huge, a warehouse. I mean literally, a warehouse. The first club we went to was under some railway arches. We clearly hadn’t done our research.
We asked – more than once – if this was definitely Bagley’s. It was confirmed – more than once – that it was. We were both forensically searched by the female door staff, in a style paralleled only, I would imagine, by a particularly sadistic prison guard. Then in we went, relieved of another hefty entrance charge. We were in Bagley’s. There was no mistaking it. We worked our way up through the layers just out of curiosity, floor after floor of dancing, raving, chomping punters. And every single one of them Off. Their. Chops. Once we reached the top, we started to head back down again, we were looking for the basement, remember. We got as low as we could but still no disco. We asked a bouncer where we should go for Starsky and Hutch. He looked confused. It’s in the basement, we told him. “Oh” says the bouncer, “you’re in the wrong club”. Yes, we really were that inept.
We poured our hearts out to that bouncer, telling him our tale of woe and with much world weary generosity, he led us out through some fire doors, down some steps and shoved us through the fire exit of Bagley’s basement. We were in! There really was no mistaking it this time, this was extreme disco. It was less crowded than we had expected. But that was ok because, I should think, people go out later in London. The night was still young. We headed for the bar and found to our surprise, that it was shut. Curious. We tried another bar. Also shut. We asked someone why all the bars were shut. We were told that the bars were shut because the club was about to shut. Surely not, it’s barely 1am and we’d been promised dancing till our first train left in the morning. There must be something on later, no? No.
Half an hour later, we were out on our ears wondering what we were going to do for the next five hours. Oh London, how you let us down that night. As we stood in the street weighing up our options, we were approached by a man. He was smartly dressed although I can’t remember his face. Over time he’s morphed into a comedy villain in my head, with a twirly moustache. He asked us where we were heading and like fools, we told him we needed to get back to Liverpool Street. We had decided at this point to wait the night out on the floor of the ticket office. Well that’s convenient, says the sinister man, because I’m about to get a cab to tower bridge which is very close to Liverpool Street, would you like to share?
So what did we do, reader? Obviously we did the one thing ours mothers would have told us not to do and got in a cab with a comedy villain. We didn’t know the geography of London and we didn’t know the man but what’s the worst that could happen? After a while we started to get a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure what gave it away but we both knew something wasn’t quite right and we asked the driver to let us out. I think a normal person at that stage might have sensed our discomfort and wished us well but not sinister man, no. He tried to pay the cabbie to keep us in the cab and keep driving. Yes that’s right, he tried to bribe someone to abduct us. We were fortunate, I suppose, that the cab driver wasn’t at all up for that idea and let us out on some unknown street in an unknown part of London conveniently close to a 24 hour McDonalds. Which is where we eventually spent the night, or at least several hours of it, while our hangovers kicked in and we rehashed the terrible catalogue of errors we had made. Sometime after sunrise and a couple of McMuffins later, we got an unlicensed cab to take us to Liverpool Street. Another error on the face of it but in for a penny, in for a pound. This cabbie though was awesome and as he drove us back to Liverpool Street station, our shining beacon of hope and redemption, he gave us a running commentary on our route (“that’s the Bank of England where they keep the gold”). One hand holding a coffee, the other gesticulating wildly at the scenery.
There’s no punchline to this story, we caught our train, suffered our hangovers and never went back to either Bagley’s or Starsky and Hutch. I wish I could tell you that later that night we actually found the best club in London or saw the Northern Lights from Tower Bridge or bumped into Johnny Depp in a London pub while I was going to the toilet2. But no, instead we had to go home and admit to everyone that we couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery. We might have lied, I can’t remember now. I didn’t get to dance to The Hustle, nor did I get to party like it was 1979. On the up side, I wasn’t murdered and disposed of in the Thames by a man with a twirly moustache either. So I’m still chalking it up as a victory.
EDIT – I showed this post to L and she reminded me that when we were in McDonalds, I used the toilets which were in the basement. While I was down there, a random man came in and started banging on the door asking if I needed a hand. Such was the weirdness of the rest of the events, that bit barely even registered. What a peach of a night.
- I use ‘us’ a lot and it generally refers to a motley bunch of friends, colleagues and people I knew a bit from the pub. They know who they are.
- Christmas Eve 2003-ish. He told me he liked my pink hair.