Although there’d been a girls’ school existing in a parallel universe right next to the boys’ school that I attended, I’d had no contact with any of the girls from there during my first two years at secondary school. All of this changed with a vengeance from September 1967 when the schools were mixed.
One tantalizing aspect of this merger was that we started to have school socials. These were basically discos and they took place in the early evenings in what had been the girls’ school hall. Much more interestingly, the first time I ever really kissed a girl was at one of those socials in around February 1968 and it was tremendously exciting. In fact I kissed one or two others the same night – it was known in our area as ‘knecking on’. A couple of classmates and I had strayed away from the hall where the social was taking place and the atmosphere in the shadowy corridors seemed very surreal and so different from the bright noisiness that I’d been used to in school-time. We bumped into a group of three girls who one of my mates knew and next thing he was kissing one of them. To my surprise, after kissing him she approached me for a snog and each of us had a snog with each of the girls. That was it and after a bit of chat we all sidled back to the noise of the school hall. I said hello to the girls when I saw them after that but there was no more snogging between any of us, more’s the pity.
An essential aspect of any school social in those days was of course the teacher dressed up as a hippy and I remember being puzzled at first on seeing an older-looking female with a rather droopy derriere dressed in a fright wig and shades. It was all rather cringeworthy. We were also allowed to change out of our school uniforms for the socials and a lot of the girls looked very glamourous and also a lot older than most of the lads. Some of the hipper lads, who could afford stuff from local boutiques, were dressed in flowery shirts and other fashionable clothes. Needless to say I wasn’t one of them.
A good mate of mine was a dab hand at fixing and making things and he came up with his own mobile DJ kit so he started to put the records on at socials and also before the band came on at the much better-attended end of term parties. I could just about change a light bulb but I helped him carry in and set up the gear on the stage behind a curtain as well as, more importantly, selecting the records and deciding off the cuff which one would maintain the momentum of a particular mood. There was no mixing back then and we didn’t give any chat between songs so we just put the discs on and spoke with a stream of people who kept coming up to make requests. It was a lot of fun and the dancing part of the socials always went down well. Popular dance hits from that year (1967-1968) included, ‘Young Girl’ by the Union Gap’, ‘Ain’t Nothin’ but a House Party’ by the Show Stoppers, ‘Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)’ by John Fred and his Playboy Band, ‘Simon Says’ by the 1910 Fruitgum Company and ‘Bend Me, Shape Me’ by Amen Corner.
In the spring of 1969 I’d started going to a local dance-hall called the Rink on Sunday nights and got into the pleasures of Double Diamond beer and idiot dancing. While there was of course no alcohol at our school socials we managed a few bursts of dancing. We didn’t have any female partners and we lads found safety in numbers as we took to the floor and leapt about like dervishes. A mate of mine who was actually the drummer in a band told me later that if I could sing as well as dance “like that” I’d make a great front-man. Well, let’s just say that I’m glad there was no Facebook back then as I wouldn’t like to be reminded of my dancing efforts online. The freakiest thing I saw at a social was when the song ‘Come to the Sabat’ by Black Widow was played and a large group of kids formed themselves into a column and started to hop along, chanting the lyrics “Come! Come! Come to the sabat! Come to the sabat! Satan’s there!” The song was played again and again during the evening with the same result and if it had been a horror movie, the kids would’ve seized one of the teachers and performed a human sacrifice on the stage. It was mighty weird but I wouldn’t mind hopping along to it again sometime.
Apart from dancing to popular songs there were some more organised activities but the only one that sticks in my mind was ‘The Hokey-Cokey’, which as you’ll no doubt remember involved sticking various parts of your body in and then out before shaking them all about. I found those kind of dances embarrassing apart from the last sequence where you could rev it all up a bit and bash into people running from the opposite direction. I can’t remember when socials came to an end and maybe they were something that were only open to third and fourth year pupils. At any rate I do recall walking home one warm July evening in 1969 feeling elated after an evening’s leaping about but have no memory of socials after that.
The end of term parties were much bigger affairs and good local covers bands like Sweet Wine played in the school hall. Later we had our parties at another local dance-hall called the Mecca, where I recall seeing our headmaster looking on with disdain as another local band called This Year’s Girl got into their freak-out number with their home-made strobe flashing away and their heavily side-burned bass-player lying on his back while still playing. That scene perfectly captured the generation gap of 1969.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.