My parents had an extremely large and cumbersome radio in our morning room, the front dial of which kept me fascinated for hours at a time. Through it, I imagined the exotic attractions of the names on the dial — Oran, Fes, Isfahan, Ulan Bator, Managua, Caracas — all pretty familiar now, but then unknown. But many other stations that were on the dial were totally unobtainable, although at the time I had no idea why. I soon learned, though, that after it got dark, I could just about receive stations from the east coast of America.
On stations like WABC and WOR, you could get audio relays of the seminal ABC TV programme Bandstand, later called American Bandstand. I found it went out at about 5pm our time, although I can’t remember which day, but it must have been a weekday, as in the dark evenings, I would race home from school to listen. And so I listened in the darkness, not only to Chuck Berry and Little Richard, but discoveries like The Coasters, Fabian and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Dick Clark on American Bandstand
A 1950s valve radio front dial
With this initiation, I positively leapt at the suggestion that my friend could get us membership of his sister’s new club, The Oasis.
We used to go into Manchester most Friday evenings, allowed because there was no school the next day, and make a bee line for the Oasis, where Pauline would let us in without the usual Friday night five shillings entrance fee (25p). Once though the swing doors, we were in a different world, a world of darkness and music. Just like our morning room in the winter evenings. But this was nothing like the radio room at home. Nor did it resemble the club scene of later years. I don’t remember hearing or seeing anything of drugs, and the only ‘booze’ available was Coca-Cola. In fact, I remember hearing that the Oasis was the biggest outlet for Coca-Cola outside London.
It was there that I first came across local groups like Freddie and the Dreamers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas (as a young boy in Stockport, I lived next door to Mike Maxfield of the Dakotas), Herman and the Hermits, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes (sic), Gerry and the Pacemakers and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (originally the Jets). The list of acts at the Oasis — The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Gene Vincent, The Hollies, Bill Haley, Little Richard, The Who, Bo Diddley, the deliciously named Sugar Pie DeSanto — is almost endless.
Little Richard at the Oasis, Manchester.
And, although I remember little of it, I would have been at the Oasis for the first appearance of The Beatles outside Merseyside, on Friday, February 2nd, 1962, before the release of their first record, Love Me Do. As an aside, I was also there on Friday, November 22nd, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated.
It’s almost commonplace for senior citizens in their dotage to muse that ‘those were the days’ or ’they don’t make them like that anymore’, but nights at the Oasis really were, as Eddie Cochran sang, ‘somethin’ else’.