The centre of Coventry night life in the 1970s was the Locarno night club. It was opened in August 1960 as part of the city’s very brutalist regeneration. The Locarno was managed by the Mecca Leisure Group which was best known for its ballrooms and working with the BBC to give us Come Dancing – which morphed into today’s TV smash hit Strictly Come Dancing. At some point in the mid-1970s, Mecca renamed the Locarno as Tiffany’s with an adjacent bar area called Bali Hai. In 1986, the venue was transformed into the Coventry Central Library.
So, why bother blog about a long dead night club in Coventry? Well, the Coventry Locarno was immortalised by local 2Tone band The Specials in the 1980s. In the song Friday night, Saturday morning – vocalist Terry Hall describes a night out at the Locarno:
Out of bed at eight am
Out my head by half past ten
Out with mates and dates and friends
That’s what I do at weekends
I can’t talk and I can’t walk
But I know where I’m going to go
I’m going watch my money go
At the Locarno, no
When my feet go through the door
I know what my right arm is for
Buy a drink and pull a chair
Up to the edge of the dance floor
Bouncers bouncing through the night
Trying to stop or start a fight
I sit and watch the flashing lights
Moving legs in footless tights
In Neville Staple’s autobiography – Original Rude Boy – he relives many nights out at the Locarno in Coventry. One of the DJs was Pete Waterman, who would go on to be a very successful pop mogul in the 1980s. A decade earlier, he would spin the turntables at the Locarno playing the chart hits but also popularising reggae. Every week, Nev and the Boys would take to the dance floor at Pete’s insistence over the microphone. That was Neville Staple, his mates Trevor Evans and Rex Griffiths and another friend, Michelle Harris. Their funky moves were sufficiently impressive to find themselves invited by Mecca to participate in national dancing championship in London. They didn’t win the national prize but it helped convince Neville of his own latent star talent.
Initially, the young Neville went to the Locarno’s alcohol-free Saturday morning bops for younger teens. As he got older, he was able to graduate to the evening events which were way more raucous. And in the upper reaches of the club – the darkened balcony area – young men and women got down to some serious heavy petting. As teens are wont to do. Part of the attraction of the Locarno was that by and large, it didn’t operate the kind of de facto colour bar that over venues did. Sad to say but in the 1970s, some clubs and bars had all kinds of insidious ways of excluding black youth at the door.
Given its size and centrality to youth life, it’s not surprising that the Locarno played host to gigs by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. In 1972, Chuck Berry headlined – a rock’n’ roll genius who influenced Elvis Presley. Only on this occasion, he live recorded that rather puerile but massively successful ditty: My Ding A-Ling. It shot to number one in the UK and US charts despite a campaign against its highly suggestive lyrics by anti-porn campaigner and self-appointed guardian of public morals: Mary Whitehouse.
Then when punk came along, bands like The Stranglers trod the boards there. But by that time, the venue had changed its name.
FIND OUT MORE: Young, black and British in 1970s Coventry
From the Locarno to Tiffany’s
The Locarno became Tiffany’s in the mid-1970s and it’s in the second half of the decade that Coventry black boxer Errol Christie began to go clubbing there. Or at least, he attempted to go clubbing there. Because despite his TV appearances in the ring, Errol would often struggle to get past the bouncers and into the club. He would make his way up the staircase in the glass tower that led up to the Tiffany’s front door. But at the top, he’d be informed by some leering guy on the door that he wasn’t dressed correctly. Now Errol was very proud of his appearance so that didn’t wash.
On one occasion, the exasperated boxer – turned away once again – planted his fist into the offending bouncer’s face. Conducting, as Errol once put it to me, some impromptu dental work. The bouncers fled indoors then once they’d composed themselves, stormed out to take on the deadly pugilist. It didn’t end well for one of them and Errol was dragged off by his mates. Some fights you just couldn’t win.