NOTHING BUT A HOUSE PARTY

"SHEBEEN come and shebeen go, so right now – you’d better take what you can get," Weasel, the dread deejay of Mossiah Sound toasts ominously into the mike.

It is not a glamorous room; the ground floor of a small terrace house. Weasel has made an effort to smarten it up; there are posters of reggae artists, Earth, Wind & Fire, Gladys Knight and, stuck incongruously over a speaker, a big poster for The Great Rock & Roll Swindle; holes peel back from the walls, showing the bare skeleton of wood. But it is 4:00 am, and we couldn’t really be in greater luxury; it's a club that costs one pound entrance, playing great music; where a woman can dance on her own without being hassled or be sociable, as she chooses; and it's open all night from midnight, seven days a week.

For many people, life is the shebeen. It’s where the people of the neighbourhood with nothing much to do in the morning save their sanity or blow their cover. Sometimes the police come in. Sometimes they’ll take somebody away. Sometimes they say: We’re not here to cause any trouble, there’s just one geezer ordered a minicab and hasn’t paid. Sometimes they’ll ask a woman to dance, and have a drink – when they’re off duty, of course!

Occasionally frustrations will bubble over; there’s one particular firetrap down the Harrow Road – through the Pool Hall and down some wobbly stairs and into the club they call the Graveyard. The Black Hole of Harrow. A man went wild with a gun there the other week, alarming all the businessmen and women. When the police pull into that joint, it’s over the back wall and into Harrow Road cemetery – and people have had some strange experiences there in the early hours.

 

 

Maybe you wouldn’t like to live next door to a shebeen, but it’s good to have one over the road. By now it’s a great British institution, like the pub, evolving from the early house party days, all that Irish and Jamaican joi de vivre spilling on after licensing hours end. One hears tales of luxurious shebeens of the early ‘60s patronised by politicians, aristocrats and mediacrats of all kinds. Those were the days of Peter Rachman, Christine Keeler, Stephen Ward, Aloysius "Lucky" Gordon, Mandy Rice-Davies.

That classical sexual/economic relationship of white women supporting black men is still In evidence, but low profile. There is little racial tension. Punks come in the shebeens, bohos of every kind, earnest young white boys with thin ties and dark overcoats, hippies. There’s natty dreads and youth in baseball caps, bomber jackets, kickers, khaki and dungarees. A greying man wrestles with the billowing body of a flushed faced short skirted blonde. A corduroy dread with a weatherman hat cuts a complicated caper freezing on an off-beat dancing a dub to the record. Out there in the hall, a man’s asleep on the stair

All the musicians of the neighbourhood pass through the shebeen, and everyone’s a musician anyway, grabbing on the mike just to tell you what it's like to be fighting down in Babylon every day, when times is getting harder and harder. The shebeen is a safety valve. Sometimes a sanctuary.

 


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