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Exeter Stories

Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Jane Hope - more about  El Zamba and the 60's music scene


I used to frequent the "Clock" along with many other girls in the '60's. The boys - Nick (who seemed a natural leader), Andy, Tony, Martin and Richard (twins), Geoff and Terry (twins) plus the rest of the motley crew. Bored on Sunday afternoons they would often go en mass to the El Zamba - we girls never went as I remember! Don't blame us - my long green leather coat would have really looked out of place - and the girls from the El Zamba were as "hard" if not harder than the boys. There would then be a return visit from the boys of the El Zamba. All leather jackets had to be left outside - which they did - all piled one on top of the other. We used to laugh if it rained because their jackets would be absolutely soaking wet!

Night life
When you started off in your young teens - it was the YMCA, opposite the Pack Horse, or a place just off Holloway Street (can't remember the name) but there you would see The Insects play - Ben had a voice to equal Frankie Valli's anytime of the day - and the Empty Vessels, who later became Wishbone Ash. You carried your make up in your bag, put it on in the loo and took it off again before you went home. Heaven forbid that your mother should ever see you wearing any makeup!

Later it would be St.George's Hall, after visiting the "Chev" (Chevalier Inn - editor) for a quick one. St. George’s Hall’s dance floor was massive. It had the most beautiful wooden floor but because of that, if you got there too early when the place was empty, you felt really self conscious because all you could hear were shoes clicketty clacking on the floor. 

There were tables and chairs all round the edge of the dance floor – girls one side boys on the other until things warmed up. Us girls, in groups, dancing around our bags, until someone asked you to dance and off you went. Retrieving your bag was an art in itself – with such short skirts you couldn’t bend over or you’d show your knickers – rather, you bent your knees, did a little curtsey until you got low enough to quickly pick up your bag. Gino Washington and his Ram Jam Band played there a few times and were excellent – everyone singing along.

Beauty competitions were also held at St. Georges. The mod girls who spring to mind are Sally and Wendy. Both very attractive girls. Sally wanted to be a model - she was actually featured on the front of Vogue, but I don't know if she actually took it up as a career. Wendy, had a natural charm and a fabulous sense of humour. The competitions were really always between these two - and they would vie for first spot.

Another venue was the Rougemont Hotel, opposite Central Station - you entered the disco part via the side street. Here we had the inevitable silver ball which spun all night. You’d also have the psychedelic show of different coloured blobs going up and down changing shape on the wall behind the stage. It was here that both girls and boys danced on the side of the stage beside the bands as well. This is also where boys showing what they could do on the dance floor became the “in thing” – and John Travolta hadn’t even arrived yet!

Drinking with the soldiers
Every so often you’d get the soldiers from Exeter Barracks coming in. More often or not there would be trouble.

On one occasion one of them was boasting that a man would always be able to down a pint faster than a woman. Always one to take up a challenge the contest was arranged for the following week. On the following Saturday he stupidly agreed to my “we’ll do the contest later on”. He started drinking, I didn’t. When I said I was ready, obviously more thirsty than him, I downed the pint first. The prize was to have free drinks all night, which he had to pay for. Seventeen Barley Wines later, I was throwing up in the toilet and there was a police raid downstairs. Many of my friends got done that night for underage drinking – thankfully no one came upstairs so I got away with it. Never drank Barley Wine again – and can’t stand the smell of that or Pony’s either.

If there was trouble between the soldiers and the local lads it would always be the soldiers who came off worse – and they’d be confined to barracks! The Lympstone Marines didn’t normally come in to Exeter – they usually went to Exmouth or stayed in camp for the dances held there. If the Army and Marines were in Exeter at the same time – trouble was guaranteed! The Queens Hotel (look for Queen's Vaults in the list - editor) was another haunt. Again the disco part was downstairs. The DJ sat behind a window situated on one side of the dance floor which was really small and could only hold about 20 people.

The cafe opposite the bus station in Paul Street wasn't only open on Sundays - a few bands played there - a bit too small for everyone's liking. More often that not, Sunday evenings would be spent at the Cat and Fiddle (if I remember correctly) – but it was a pub outside Exeter that had budgies/canaries in cages all down one side of the wall.

Before the Quay Club opened (when the majority of girls were fed up with the choice of Exeter male company) we headed off to Torquay on a Saturday night - the 400 club - brilliant!

Then the Quay Club opened
The bar and seating area overlooked the dance floor. Next door was Tiffanys. This was for the more sophisticated (or older group) or where you went as couples. There was a long bar and, in front of this, chairs shaped like large versions of the waltzers at the fair. I can remember seeing The Platters there - they were absolutely brilliant. When they sang My Prayer you could have heard a pin drop - they even stopped serving at the bar.

On New Year’s Eve they’d open up the doors between the two buildings so you could actually switch from the Quay Club and Tiffanys. It used to get so packed you’d think the whole of Exeter was there.

Everybody used to try and get in to St. Luke’s College when they had bands playing there on a Saturday night. People used to dance on the stage alongside the bands. The funniest thing I’d ever seen was when Status Quo played there and my cousin’s friends was dancing on the stage. At the time “wigs” were all the rage and she had a long black one. Anyway, there she is dancing away and falls forward. One of the band went to catch her, grabbed her by the hair unfortunately – she still fell forward and he’s left with the wig in his hand. St. Luke’s had a couple of bars but you couldn’t go into them all. One was strictly off limits to the girls. This was because the rugby lads would be in there and do the stunt of trying to drink a pint while stripping off.

Fashion changed like the venues in those days. Skirts became shorter and shorter. Jeans came in to fashion – you couldn’t get women’s jeans so you had to go to the men’s shop at the top of South Street to get your Levis. The boys would always shop here for their “Ben Sherman” shirts.

Mary Quant came into vogue. A bit like Henry Ford “you can have any colour you like as long as it’s black”. Mary Quant – it had to be black and white. Black mascara (put on with a trowel as my father would say) and white eyeshadow – I shudder at the thought now.

White patent boots with laces all the way up were also the trend. Those who could afford it also bought “Biba”. Oxford Bags came in and went out as quickly. With these you had to wear a skinny ribbed top. Ordinary baggy trousers came in but for these you had to wear a little knitted top – bought from the Oxfam shop for about 2/6d.

Wedges came in – goodness knows how many people broke their ankles falling over in those! They’d put Gary Glitter to shame the height of them!! When I left Exeter in the early seventies there was long hair, perms – and that was for the boys. They’d caught us up good and proper, and you fully understood why a peacock is more colourful than a peahen!!!

© 2007 Jane Hope

St George's Hall has recently been renamed the Corn Market.
The Rougemont is now named the Thistle Hotel.
The Hogs Head is now a Wetherspoons house named the Chevalier Inn.

Hogs Head The Hogs Head, formerly the Chevalier. The Chev in 1958 The 'Chev' in 1958 - it seems too respectable.....

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