The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Sixties Book by Alex Gross

"I called up my painter friend Richard Humphrey, who had become something of a recluse after Antoinette left him, as I knew he was sure to be in contact with the center of the youth scene, and asked him if he would mind showing me around. He was happy to do so, and we took off that very night on a tour of London's rock clubs. Richard took me to three or four different places in or near Soho, two of them rather small, and carefully explained to me the subtle differences in their clientele, taste in music, and class orientation.

The Beatles had by then to some extent betrayed the young by allowing themselves to be received at Buckingham Palace, and the Stones had become the most popular group because of their seeming contempt for authority. Richard reeled off names and inside stories at a prodigious rate, and I absorbed the information as best I could. But what most impressed me?bowled me over would be a more accurate word?was what I saw at the Marquee Club, the first place we went to.

I knew that rock was popular but I was not prepared for this. First of all, it was almost a physical endurance test to wedge one's way through the crowds in the hallways and into the center of the club. The noise level was at first unendurable, but suddenly I found myself liking it. It was almost tangible, like a special new kind of atmosphere that someone had just invented. All I could do was smile at Richard, and he would smile back. Occasionally we would shout brief one-word comments in each other's ear, though even these went unheard.

The musicians on the stand were unbelievably thin and looked so young I thought they must be just out of high school. They stood there almost motionlessly, their complexions deathly pale, their eyes totally removed from the scene, as the music poured out and the crowd went mad around them. There was no raised stage, and hence almost no separation between audience and performers. Once, listlessly, the lead guitarist lifted an unused music stand and threw it to the spectators as though it were a feather. The audience grabbed the stand like religious devotees being offered a victim for sacrifice. They quickly ripped it apart, and their roar added to the already tangible sound. Later, outside, Richard told me that these skinny young men were a relatively new group called The Who, though he disparaged their chances for attaining any real success, as there were just so many groups, and very few of them survived more than a few months.

But what most impressed me was what these young people were doing on the dance floor, for I had never seen anything like it in public before, and yet I was intimately and totally familiar with it. I had read about the various so-called new dance steps?the hulley-gulley, the monkey, etc.?and imagined that what I would be seeing would be just some new variant on the dance steps that had made my own teenage years so miserable. But what I saw instead, performed publicly by hundreds of excited Londoners, was my own secret form of dance, which I had long indulged in privately to classical music or whatever was available, somewhat shamefully for fear that my elders or peers might catch me at it. There were no rules?it was just a sheer frenzy of self-expression or self-forgetfulness (depending on whether you viewed it from a western or eastern perspective), and one did it until one dropped from pleasure or fatigue.

And yet here was my dance being performed in public as the latest rage of the era. I realized of course that there must have been any number of others like myself dancing this dance privately and sheepishly all through the preceding decades, and yet it still seemed to me that it was personally mine in some private proprietary way. I somehow felt that my own intimacy had been violated, and it was a few days before I could bring myself to explain to Ilene what it was I had seen that night. And even then it was several months before we were to begin to do this sort of dancing ourselves. In case anyone thinks I was wildly behind the times in London, let me add that when I began to move among London's intellectuals and theatre people almost a year later, I found that they were even less informed about the emerging pop culture than I had been before that evening. In fact, I soon gained an ill-deserved reputation among them as an authority on that world, and I helped break down some of the barriers separating the two realms.

As we left the Marquee, Richard explained to me that most of the people who frequented it were, in his opinion, mindless jackasses who hadn't a thought in their heads and went there to dance to forget their own vacuity. He went on to inveigh against much of the rock scene as being infantile in character, even in its so-called revolutionary character, as there were no real ideas or solutions being offered, only safe, stupid escapism.

This seemed to me a rather severe judgment for Richard, still in his mid-twenties, and I asked him why, if he truly felt this way, he continued to go to these clubs so regularly and had bothered to learn so much about the music. He evaded my question briefly by saying he went mainly in search of girls, but then he sheepishly admitted that it was the only bloody half-way interesting thing going on in London. This seemed to me as revealing and accurate an explanation as any, not just for Richard but for myriads of his fellow rock-lovers. My mind was still reverberating with the sounds from the Marquee as I caught the last tube home from Leicester Square."

The Sixties Book by Alex Gross, 2000.