Are ye dancin'? 1970-1979: Disco inferno takes over in Scotland

As modern clubbing in Scotland approached its adolescence, the disc jockey was becoming arguably more important than the live beat groups from just a few years earlier.

The advent of complex electronic beats and better sound equipment in the 1970s resulted in a new word entering the lexicons of young Scots – disco.

People were still going to see groups and indeed there was now more choice than ever before, but an increasing number of those heading out to the clubs didn’t much care if said bands were present.

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‘Are ye dancin’?’: 1960-69: When Scotland's youth took control
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While some establishments had a resident band that would share duties throughout the night with the DJ, all that really mattered was a club with a decent sound system, disco lighting effects, all the hottest records and an able disc jockey to spin them.

Hairdresser Elaine Ingles was just 16 when she and her friend Charlene headed to a new place in Edinburgh called Clouds that seemed to cater for all tastes.

Elaine said: "Clouds was brilliant. I had to lie to my dad about where we were going because he didn’t approve, but we used to go there almost every Saturday night.

"On the first floor there was live bands and I’m sure I saw Slade there. The middle floor was all chart stuff and early disco and the top floor was for all the Bowie fans and you’d see guys dressed up like Ziggy Stardust and all that.

Dancers at Buster Brown's disco in Edinburgh, September 1979.Dancers at Buster Brown's disco in Edinburgh, September 1979.
Dancers at Buster Brown's disco in Edinburgh, September 1979.

"It was quite eye-opening to see people wearing all these amazing outfits. The ‘70s really opened it up for guys to wear clothes like that and of course make-up too.

"As a hairdresser, I was interested in everything like that, all aspects of what people wearing in the clubs, their haircuts, everything.

"I honestly think were liable for the hole in the ozone layer with the amount of hairspray we used to use back then.”

Up until the mid-1970s, Scotland’s pubs and clubs continued to adhere to strict alcohol licensing laws that ensured that only a handful of venues in any of the cities were able to sell drink beyond 10pm, while hardly anywhere could operate on the sabbath.

Dancing at the White Elephant discoteque at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh January 1972.Dancing at the White Elephant discoteque at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh January 1972.
Dancing at the White Elephant discoteque at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh January 1972.
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This all began to change gradually following the passing of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, which enabled publicans to apply for an 11pm licence and also paved the way for Sunday drinking.

Some clubs were able to get round the law by serving food along with alcohol. This led to places such as Tiffany’s, a franchise run by Mecca that had various venues around Scotland, offering their famous chicken-in-a-basket option.

Adrian Souter turned 18 when the new licensing laws were introduced. While he admits to having made the most of the relaxation of the rules at the time, Adrian reckons the law change had a mostly negative impact on the clubs.

People dancing at the Americana discoteque in Semple Street Edinburgh, January 1972People dancing at the Americana discoteque in Semple Street Edinburgh, January 1972
People dancing at the Americana discoteque in Semple Street Edinburgh, January 1972

"All the clubs had previously been dry, but once the licensing laws changed and as long as you had a meal by a certain time, you could carry on drinking,” the 63-year-old from Edinburgh explains.

“But then pubs started opening later too and to be honest that had a hugely detrimental effect on clubs. Once people were able to stay in the pubs till one o’clock, they tended to just stay put. It ended up that people didn’t always feel like they wanted to go to a club, because they didn’t need to.

“Compare that to before, when the pubs closed at 10pm, you had to go to a club if you were wanting to carry on the night. The clubs would soon fill up once the pubs closed.”

One great societal change in 1970s Scotland was the country’s attitude towards homosexuality.

While same-sex relationships would remain a crime until 1980 – a full 13 years after the Sexual Offences Act was updated in England and Wales – young gay men and women were experiencing a greater degree of inclusion than ever before – much of it arriving in the form of new clubs.

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One such club was Fire Island on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, which opened its doors for the first time in 1978. Adrian Souter, who was very much exploring his own sexuality at the time, likens it to the closest thing the Scottish capital ever had “to a club like New York’s Studio 54”.

He said: “I was about 20 when someone asked me if I was going to this new club opening up on Princes Street called Fire Island. It was wild. There were folk dressed as cowboys, folk in leather, the smell of poppers, drag queens ... but it was the happiest place I’d ever been.

"The people just wanted a place where they could go let their down, lose their inhibitions and the dance floor was packed.

“We were out of the closet, but now we were truly dancing on the table because this wasn’t the back of some pub in Rose Street or a small hotel in the New Town. We were in Princes Street.”

Towards the end of the decade there was a strict dress code to venture into certain establishments, as Elaine Ingles discovered, much to her surprise.

Elaine explained: “One Saturday night I headed up with my friend Charlene to this new club in Edinburgh called Buster Brown’s. I remember getting out the taxi, looking at the queue and thinking, ‘oh, my God’. There were folk in there who looked like they’d come from the front cover of Vogue. People were coming in from Glasgow, Aberdeen and all over to get in there.

“The following Saturday we got suitably togged up, went down again and it was just amazing. I had arrived home on the mother ship. I went to Buster Brown’s as many times as I could.

“Anybody who was anybody went to Buster’s, famous faces, celebs, footballers the lot. If you were seen in Buster’s as a regular, then you had made it on the scene.”

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