THE DISCO THAT WAS DIFFERENT

A killer riff, the perfect punk rock ‘n’ roll riff, written by Ricky Gardiner. Iggy, narrator and punk outsider, riding around Mitteleuropa in David Bowie’s car, seeing the city’s ripped backside, the hollow sky and everything else, through the window of the car. Little touches can make such a difference in recordings- note the bell ringing at the start. I read somewhere that The Passenger is Johnny Marr’s favourite song. A song that is both impossibly exciting and as numb as it can be.

I really can’t better Swiss Adam’s description from the Iggy Pop ICA.

mp3 : Iggy Pop – The Passenger

I will always associate The Passenger with Friday and Saturday nights in the Student Union of Strathclyde University, 1982-1985. Please indulge me… and some of the details may be slightly wrong as it is now almost 35 years since I last set foot in the building (except on one occasion in 1995 when I had reason to visit with a politician whom I was working for at the time).

The building is eight levels in height. The first level had a games room, the second level had a bar and shop, immediately below a large canteen known officially as the dining room. Floors 4-7 were a mixture of bars, meeting rooms, a debating chamber, staff offices and places from where the likes of the student newspaper was produced. Level 8 was the home of a purpose built venue where bands played and discos took place….it was imaginatively called ‘Level 8’.

In my first year at uni, I never ventured much beyond the dining hall/canteen, shop and bars. I was still living at home and a lot of my social life was based around where I stayed. I began to venture out a bit more in second year and then I was never away from the place in third and fourth years, thanks to my moving out of the parental home and into a flat less than 800 yards away from the front door of the union.

Level 8 was a great venue for bands and almost as good for the disco nights, where the music was a mix of the current chart stuff, disco classics, bands who were on the student union circuits and the occasional bit of what we were increasingly referring to as indie. The gender mix was 50/50 and it was the type of place where blokes plucked up the courage to ask an already gyrating female if they could temporarily invade their space – no words needed to be exchanged, and if the female wasn’t up for it, she would simply turn her back on the bloke who would then shuffle awkwardly off to the side of the space and return to his drink. It was through such a method that I found myself of an evening when my ‘asking’ was accepted for a boogie by none other than Clare Grogan, only for me to blow it big time by talking to her during which I drunkenly asked for her hand in marriage, with my proposal turned down with the words ‘Fuck off creep’.

But Level 8 wasn’t the only place where you could enjoy a dance. As soon as the last student vacated the canteen on a Friday evening at 6pm, the tables and chairs were folded away and space was cleared for a decent sized dance floor with a raised platform brought in to host temporary DJ decks, all of which would remain in situ on the Saturday night, being put back into place by staff on a Sunday afternoon in time for Monday morning breakfasts.

Unlike up the stair on Level 8, there was no great lighting available and so the Dining Hall disco took on a cave-like appearance and feel, with the DJ making the conscious decision to play music that matched the ambience and atmosphere. It was also a venue where anything went as far as dancing, with no awkward shuffling up towards someone of the opposite sex and hoping they will take notice and/or pity on you. It wasn’t too long before I found myself being wholly attracted by its charms.

The thing is with the DJ, he knew what his audience liked and wanted. It was as if he was a finely-honed band out on a world tour with what felt like the same set-list being churned out night after night after night after night. – A Forest, Love Will Tear Us Apart, I Travel, Heroes, Enola Gay, Hanging on The Telephone, The Cutter, London Calling, Ever Fallen In Love and The Passenger were guaranteed among many others….and quite often he would play the songs more than once on the same evening with folk coming in, maybe after having watched a band upstairs, and complaining that they had missed out on a particular favourite. It was within these confines where I learned that dancing alone is no crime and carries no shame…..a trait I’ve continued to adopt ever since, often to the horror of work colleagues at Christmas nights out who just think it is weird behaviour, especially by a 50+ fat, balding bloke…..

I love dancing to The Passenger. It’s perfect for throwing all sorts of strange and awkward shapes, depending on whether you’re keeping time with the riff or reacting to Iggy’s vocal. It’s just magical.

Not too many folk will be aware of the fact that it wasn’t ever released as a stand-alone single in the UK until 1998, when it reached #22. It was only a b-side back in 1977 on the reverse side of this:-

mp3 : Iggy Pop – Success

Here’s a cover version, from 1987, by another of the bands who were given a regular spin in the Dining Hall Disco:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & the Banshees – The Passenger

Iggy is known to like this version, having said during an interview with MTV in 1990 : “She sings it well and she threw a little note in when she sings it, that I wish I had thought of, it’s kind of improved it…the horn thing is good.”

Sorry Mr Osterberg, we will need to differ on this occasion.

JC

11 thoughts on “THE DISCO THAT WAS DIFFERENT

  1. I was a a couple of years behind you as a student (84-87) and further south in Lancaster, but can certainly vouch for that sort of playlist in my first year, with the additions of This Charming Man and What Difference Does It Make. The Passenger was always a guaranteed floor-filler and gave witness to some of the wierdest dance moves, particularly from one of my mates, who I can still see arm aloft with cigarette ash being liberally dropped as he gyrated. Happy days.

  2. Quality writing, Adam. I like both versions, for different reasons (neither of which concern Clare). Serious overlap between the Strathclyde set and what was on the floor during my college years in NYC, circa 81-85.

  3. I’d just like to say that my favourite track on “Lust For Life” is “Fall in Love with Me” – Iggy’s finest 6 and a half minutes.

  4. Great to read of those memories of Strathclyde Union, JC.
    It was a fine place in its day – and perhaps it remains so.
    Thoroughly enjoyable post.

  5. Ah, the lone dancer that is never quite alone.

    I have incredibly fond memories of Level 8 and Barney Rubbles (Level 2, I think?)

    It was the venue into which I re-emerged from my self-imposed cocoon and aligned myself temporarily with the psychobilly set. I was also fortunate enough to work at the Union for a short time and have fond memories of working till 3.00am, then friends would, on occasion, amble back to mine – no mean feat as I lived in Govan. Where did we find the energy?

    When I think of Level 8 I’m immediately flooded with only good memories of friends present and friends past. Happy days, indeed.

    A perhaps untold story that relates more to the Divine article but I’ll share it here …

    Johnny Thunders, 1/5/1990 (I know the date only because this bootleg exists: https://www.tophatrecords.co.uk/products/product/20756-johnny-thunders-university-of-strathclyde-1590-bootleg-cassette-single

    The place wasn’t sold out but it was buzzing with older types keen to see their idol, and younger types, probably introduced to him via The Smiths. The gig almost never happened.

    Mr Thunders over-dosed and was all but comatose. He was being ‘walked’ around the back stage area to revive him with a good deal of shouting taking place. My role in all of this was black coffee wallah. I was as surprised as anyone when Thunders actually took to the stage.

    I’m guess this a fairly more common story in the world of Mr Thunders but it’s a night at Level 8 that made an indelible impression on me.

  6. Update: I’m now inclined to think Barney Rubbles was on Level 5. I seem to recall Reds being on Level 2? So many levels, so little recall.

  7. Barney Rubbles was after my time…as was Reds. The bar on Level 2 was known simply as the Beer Bar and it was next to the shop. There was a bar further ip the stairs, can’t remember what it was called in 81/82 but it becaame the Mandela Bar after that. You went down a flight of stairs to get into it, even thought it was quite high up in the building.

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