One of the first signs of growing up as a teenager was going into Leeds City with your friends and the place where you wanted to hang out would be either music shops or coffee bars. Saturday mornings would see us gather at the coffee bar under the Texas Grill on Vicar Lane in Leeds, run by a lady called Lulu. For some reason, the most attractive bars were subterranean and this one was particularly handy as it was almost at the Harehills bus stop. In the late sixties scooters parked outside would be an indication of how popular a place it was and at least for my friends this was THE place in the city. It was only small and there was a side room that had the pinball machines and the main room that had a few tables and some bench seating. The benches had that red vinyl covering and the whole place had the smell of coffee and smoke. Us oldies will remember when it was normal for eating places, cinemas, pubs and even aircraft to be full of people smoking. I can’t say that I miss it, even though I was a smoker in these times. The bar sold Cokes, Pepsis, milkshakes and for the trendy, ‘Frothy Coffee’. Sophisticated times, eh? There was a range of cakes, but most were Turkish and very sweet and not to my taste.
We would gather and chat, plan the weekend and generally hang out. There wasn’t a lot of money spare and I don’t think the owner ever got rich off us, but we were at least regular customers. The pinball machines were a real draw. They had everything that you wanted as a teenager. They were from the USA, were loud, flashed lights and those who could master them had real street credibility. The skill was to hit the bumpers with force, flick the flippers at the right time and give the whole machine the right force of push to achieve success without causing a tilt. I played a few times, but never was a master as you needed copious money or skill to get replays, and I had neither. It was almost as much fun to watch as it was to play and our crowd would gather around anyone playing, particularly those getting high scores.
A group of Roundhay girls used to meet there as well and they had a culture quite different from us lads. Their conversations were often one on one and used whispered voices. I was always intrigued as to what they were saying, or who they were talking about. They even had their own coded language that sounded like complete gobbledygook to me. I am not sure if it was called Pigeon Latin. It was explained to me and apparently you took the first letter of the syllable and then added a ‘urrugh’ before finishing the syllable. The word dog became ‘Durrughog’. Multi-syllabic words were more complex, as each syllable had the same treatment, but, with practice, became quite easy. What was very difficult was listening to the girls speak very quickly to each other in what sounded like nonsense, but they clearly understood and there was much laughter. This was particularly intimidating if they kept looking at you amidst the laughter. I still can speak it in a slow form, but it is a skill without a lot of applications nowadays. I wonder if the girls can remember it, or still use it?
My crowd of the band and associates were not Mods, Rockers or Teddies and we had friends and acquaintances from all groups. I guess we were a bit more Hippy. We loved progressive music and rock, had long hair, despite Roundhay School’s best efforts to keep us like proper boys/gentlemen. I remember how we would be inspected by some of the form teachers and told to get our hair cut, which somehow we forgot to do. I clearly recall tucking my hair down inside my collar to somehow escape detection during an inspection. I loved my hair in these days. The feel of it is something that I miss, having lost most of it by my mid twenties. I also grew sideburns, which were the rage these days. Again, this was something that Roundhay School teachers didn’t approve of, or at least the more traditional ones.
The tiny, ‘Number Six’ cigarettes were the most common smoke as they were so cheap and the coffee bar would be full of the stench of smoke, chatter and the bells and crashes of the pinball and the accompanying sounds of the jukebox. Jukeboxes were again part of the American attraction of the coffee bars. They were similarly lit like the pinball machines and they were mesmerising as the record would be selected after feeding in the coin. Racks of singles would turn, and a record would be grabbed by a mechanical arm. The disk used to fall onto the turntable and the heavy needle arm come down onto the record you had selected. Your choice of music would play and, hopefully, it was met with approval from those sitting around. I have seen teenagers trying to win approval fail miserably by selecting the wrong record, one that was not seen as worthy. A boy could lose the attention of a girl if they had a naff taste in music.
I can’t remember how long we went to coffee bars, maybe a year or two, before they were replaced with other venues. There was one at Harehills that we would walk to from Pete’s house. Again it was below ground and I think it was owned by Jack Charlton, the Leeds United footballer, and was called the Trophy Room. I believe he also owned a clothes shop above. It was very similar to the one at the Texas Grill, but maybe a little smaller. We would sit, talk about music, plan a new song and often walk along to Project Records. This shop was a godsend for us. They sold second hand as well as new records and soon to be, cassettes. Because prices were low, you could experiment a bit. I would look for covers that were intriguing or artists that I had never heard, but I knew had played on other albums I liked. I still have a copy of an album by Keith Tippet, a jazz pianist, who played on a couple of King Crimson’s early albums. Some great discoveries were made this way, and some dud purchases made. The other advantage of the shop was that if you were desperate for money, you could sell your albums, but you never got a lot for them.
Harehills was an interesting place in the late 1960s. It was quite a melting pot of people and cultures, but I never had any problem there and always, with one exception, felt safe. The Clock Cinema was a great place to see new films and I remember as a teenager watching the films Woodstock, Easy Rider, Blazing Saddles, Mash, Kelly’s Heroes and many, many more. Of course, going as a teenager was a very different experience from going with your parents or grandparents. I know that they even had double seats for couples. I remember my first visit with a girl and the vast, imaginary gap that separated us as I tried to work my arm around her shoulders. I can’t remember the film at all.
Recording of Last Bus at Lidgett Methodist Youth Club in 1970. Recorded on cassette and hence poor quality.
The bus was the means of transport, apart from walking, and we didn’t mind spending vast amounts of time waiting for them to arrive. Upstairs was the place to go, but they stank of tobacco and were filled with smoke, the rocking motion was more exaggerated than downstairs and you would often disembark feeling sick. Who could forget the ‘Spitting is Forbidden’ sign at the front? We often missed the last bus at the end of the evening and this would mean a long walk home, sometimes in a group, but many times on your own. Peter gave the experience a lasting tribute in the song Last Bus, that the band used to play.
Rain, fog, frost, snow, the walk home to Oakwood and then through Gipton Wood in the dead of night holds both fantastic and frightening memories. I got to know the trail through the woods, each and every root that waited to trip you in the dark, so that if necessary, I could run through it without any hesitation. Some nights I just strode through without a thought, others I was quite terrified and listened to every noise, my heart almost drowning the sounds out.
What we do when we are young!
A short music video that shows the locations of places mentioned in this tale of Leeds and Harehills, and previous ones. The song is Welcome to the Real World.