Soho - Peter Brooker recalls the all-niter and a method to stay awake - July 2008
The word “gear” for the mods out on a Saturday night in the West End , didn’t refer to clothes and fashion, but was the word commonly used for amphetamines or doobs, blues, dexies, bombers, ‘earts or even plain old pills.
I suppose I was a bit naive on my first ventures to the clubs to dance and listen to the music. I spent a lot of Saturday nights in the old Ronnie Scotts club, stretching out the length of time it took to consume my lagers ( twice the price that they charged in the pub) so that I could watch and hear some of the jazz greats. I knew about the clubs that were in that area , especially the ones that stayed open all night , but had never been to them.
It was in a coffee bar one night before going to Ronnie Scotts, that I got talking to a couple of girls, Pam and June, who were on their way to the Flamingo club a little later.
I saw them both at a local dance hall the following Thursday night and they told me what a great time they had at the Flamingo, great music and atmosphere and that they were going “up West” again this Saturday. I talked to my mate, Paul, and we decided we would try the Flamingo ( really it was called the Allnighter ) that Saturday night as Tubby Hayes was playing there as well as Georgie Fame and the Blue flames.
We arrived there for the 12-6 session and the atmosphere and music was hard to beat, but a little after 3:00 am , I found myself sitting in the seats near the stage and feeling really tired. I dropped of to sleep and missed the second sets from the bands, while all around me mods of both sexes danced the night away and talked non-stop.
I returned home on Sunday morning, still tired and went to bed thinking that if I was to return to those clubs I would stay in bed most of Saturday so that I would be able to stay awake all night.
The following Thursday I again met the two girls and related what had happened. They laughed and said they had been to the Scene club in Ham Yard that night because they didn’t like jazz that much.
“You’ve got to take some doobs if you go to the allnighters” Pam told me. I looked blankly at her. “Here” she said leading me to a quiet corner. “Take these before you go next time” she said and discretely handed me 5 triangular shaped mauve coloured tablets from a packet in her hand bag.
I was quite shocked at the time. To me drugs were that hashish stuff the beatniks used to smoke, or that heroin which was instantly addictive and ruined peoples lives, I’d seen it happen in the pictures, so it must be true. “Don't worry” she said , we take them every weekend, they won’t hurt you.”
The following Saturday my friend and I once again made our way to Wardour street and entered the Allnighter . I had not told him about the pills that were wrapped in a piece of paper in my pocket. At about one am I slipped one in my mouth and let it dissolve. It was bitter tasting like sucking on an aspirin, and after half an hour I felt no effect from taking it, and made my way to the washroom were I swallowed the remaining four with some water.
Sometime later in the club, I found myself feeling very hyper and wanting to move to the music that was pounding out, and I danced with several of the girls who were on the dance floor. I was also wanting to smoke more heavily than I usually did, and felt the need to chew on gum to keep mouth moist.
I was talking a lot to Paul who by then was eying me somewhat suspiciously. After the Blue Flames first set, John Mayall came on, and even after the pills, I didn’t really want to sit and listen to his wailing , so I suggested a walk round to the Scene. We walked to Piccadilly, up Windmill Street and turned into Ham Yard which was packed with mods including a bunch who were sat on their scooters.
The two girls were there talking with a couple of lads so I didn’t bother going over, but Pam spotted me and waved for us to come and join them. We walked over and when they got a close look at me they started laughing.
“ Your blocked aren’t you” June said, and here was me who didn’t think it was obvious.
I had to explain to John what was going on and, as he was always game for most things, he asked if he could try some too. June asked one of the boys if he had some and he swiftly produced a brown packet which turned out to contain 10 pills. “ Five bob” he said ( it had cost us ten shillings to get in the Flamingo). “ How many should I take?” John asked. “ I usually take the ten” said Pam “ but maybe you should take five now and five later.” John borrowed a swig of her coke and swallowed five. After talking and hanging around for 30 minutes we decided to wander back to the all-nighter and on the way Johns pills started to kick in and soon he was talking away ten to the dozen and snapping his gum furiously. Back at the club we danced and chatted up the girls, and took a trip to the bathroom to finish off the rest of the packet between us.
When the club closed at six am we made our way home via public transport, still feeling the effect to some extent and agreed to meet for a drink later that night. I dozed on Sunday, unable to sleep properly and ate nothing except for some fruit. That night at the pub we both felt pretty lousy ( my very first comedown ) and snapped at each other and at people around us who gave us a wide berth, they could see we were in rotten moods.
On Monday I felt a little worse for wear, but not too bad, and felt no physical craving to take the drugs again. But I did start to think about what I great time I had that Saturday and I knew that the allnight clubs would be my destination the next weekend.