Going to a go-go

As far as I can recall, and after so many years my memory of events is somewhat hazy, but as far as I can recall the concert was in a licensed club somewhere in Edinburgh.

It was purely by chance we were in the same place at the same time: the band were touring and I was an apprentice telephone engineer on a Post Office training course on the outskirts of the city.

As I said, the gig was in a licensed club somewhere in the city centre. I must have been about 16 at the time, and I looked much younger, so I knew I might have a problem getting in. One of my fellow apprentices, whose name I cannot remember, had just turned 19 and he said I could borrow his ID. He had long hair and a beard, wore leathers, denims and boots, and listened to Black Sabbath. I had short hair, was clean shaven, wore Fred Perry, chinos and loafers, and listened to The Jam. We looked nothing like each other, so thank goodness back in those days IDs had no photos. All I had to do was remember his birthday and how old I was pretending to be and hope the bouncer, who quite clearly would not be fooled, would just let me in to hear the band.

And the bouncer was not fooled by my attempted deception, but he let me in anyway. I thought I would try my luck and ordered a pint of lager. The barwoman gave me a withering look, then poured my drink and handed it to me with the words: “that’s your lot, and think yourself lucky”. I grabbed the glass and scuttled off to somewhere I would be inconspicuous and nursed my drink as I waited for the band to come on.

I had seen photographs of them in the NME and Smash Hits, and had watched them on Top of the Pops belting out their cheery anthem, Time for Action. I had bought the single, then the album, and had tried to persuade girls at the Moat Disco to let their hearts dance with me. I didn’t know what a go-go was, but they had convinced me it was a place I wanted to go.

To my 16-year-old eyes, the singer, Ian Page, was tall, slim and had a self-assurance that bordered on arrogance. He wore sharp suits, his hair was perfect. He was the embodiment of everything I liked about the mod revival culture. While Weller and The Jam were the angry, political face of 1970s mod, Page and Secret Affair were its arrogant face. The Jam proselytised and tried to convince us we could be better; Secret Affair conversed and told us we were better. No need to try and be like David Watts, because we were the Glory Boys tired of punk and disco. Time for a new dance.

Page stood at the front, wearing a blue tonic, three-button suit, white shirt with stud collar and a one inch black tie. His shoes shone and not one piece of his short, black hair, was out of place. The rest of the band were equally immaculate. I was impressed, as it showed they cared about their appearance, and that they respected their audience, most of whom were also dressed in suits and ties – including me.

I can’t really remember much about the gig beyond these impressions. I am certain, however, that they will have played all the singles from their album: Let your Heart Dance, Going to a Go-Go, Time for Action, Glory Boys, and covers of northern soul and beat tracks from the 1960s. I am sure I must have enjoyed it, because more than 30 years later I got the chance to see them again.

I had been warned that Page was no longer the slim and immaculately coiffed man he had been. To be honest, I would have been incredibly surprised if he was. Secret Affair and Ian Page never reached the heights of The Jam or Paul Weller. While Weller was able to reinvent himself after the mod revival faded away, Page and Secret Affair just disappeared – a band of their time whose music would eventually be forgotten, only to resurface infrequently in nostalgia programmes on obscure channels on Sky watched only by a handful of insomniacs. I had also been told by someone who had seen them earlier in the year that they were out of tune and out of time, despite having had more than 30 years to get their act together.

Along with about 200 other middle aged people, those clinging on to the mod virtues with which they had been imbued during their teenage years, I entered the venue. It was much the same as the one I had seen them in all those years before: dark, warm and noisy. The warm-up DJ was playing a mixture of Northern Soul, freakbeat and 1960s mod standards from The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces and Booker T. This town is not such a big place, and while there is a fairly large mod community, which coalesces around the scooter club and the Northern Soul nights, most people are of a similar age, and they mostly know each other, and have done so since their school days. This gave the concert much more of a party feel – everywhere you turned was someone you recognised. It enhanced the atmosphere – which was important for me, because I had brought the car and had to stay sober.

The support act, Target 5, were excellent. They played covers of all the mod standards, ranging from The Jam to The Who and everything in between. They engaged with the audience, many of whom they knew personally and got everyone going. After a set lasting more than an hour, the audience were reluctant to let them go, and determined to get tickets to see them play the same venue later in the year.

The hall was now full of mainly middle aged men and women. Half-hearted “we are the mods” chants died in the air as a crowd gathered around the small bar and people retired to the rear hall, where there were seats, tables and fans keeping the air cool, and waited for the main event.

A rather portly middle-aged man with greying hair and wearing a three-button suit over a black Fred Perry polo shirt made his way onto the stage, followed by three grey-haired men carrying guitars and drumsticks. The crowd kept their distance as Secret Affair plugged themselves in and warmed their instruments up. Page shouted out his welcome, the band started up and my ears filled with the almost deafening sound of distortion. Page could barely be heard above the noise. I felt every drumbeat push the air around my head. I was being pummelled and had to move. It seemed to me they had set their levels for a much larger venue, so we moved into the back room where we were at last able to hear the music without the distortion.

Like most bands, Secret Affair were touring to promote new material. Apart from the diehard glory boys and girls who had kept up with the band over the intervening 30 years, most people were there to hear the old ones. The first 40 or so minutes passed in a haze of competently performed yet unfamiliar tunes. I was getting restless, so headed to the bar for yet another soft drink for me and G&T for Linda. As I made my way back to the back room with the drinks a familiar beat started playing, followed by familiar words. I was transported back, and like everyone else there joined in at the top of my voice: “Standing in the shadows, where the in-crowd meet/We’re all dressed up for the evening…”; “Well there’s a brand new place I’ve found/Where people go from miles around”; “Well they can hold you down and push you around/And try to tell you how you should feel”. Then came an extended version of My World, with the crowd encouraged to join in: “But this is my world today/My world you’re living in every day/And this is my world today/And I couldn’t have it any other way/In my world.” Everyone joined in. The 30 years fell away from me and I was that under-age teenager, quietly nursing that pint in that club in Edinburgh again.

They had done it. They were tight, they were in tune. They were masters of the stage. They were Secret Affair.