The Infinite Jukebox: Van McCoy and The Soul City Slicker’s ‘The Hustle’


Sometimes we have the radio on at work, broadcast over the TV screens. When we do, it’s usually crap being played, contemporary stuff, Heart Radio mostly. There was a spell, recently, where somebody had got the radio tuned to Heart Dance, day in, day out. I gritted my teeth for long periods but eventually started pleading for the channel to be changed to something bearable.
In doing this, I was very aware that I was being my parents.
But enough is enough and after five hours non-stop of this, I didn’t think I was being unfair in asking for a couple of hours of music I might like, or at least be able to tolerate. One time, they tuned in to Gold Radio, partway through the Small Faces’ ‘Lazy Sunday’. That, I thought, will do for me.
However, that’s not why I’m writing today. One of the managers has brought a radio in and is playing it from his desk. The first song I heard got me out of my seat and walking across to complain: he wasn’t playing it loudly enough, I was straining to hear it, and that’s not what you want to be doing if ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations is in the air.
There’s been nothing as good as that since but a few moments ago, as I write, something was playing that I couldn’t recognise. But although it wasn’t that specific track, there were ooh-oohs and swoops that triggered old and warm memories, because it made me think of ‘The Hustle’, of Van McCoy and the Soul City Slickers, and the summer of 1975, the one that was hot and dry but not as consistently so as the Drought Summer of the following year that overwhelmed 1975 in our memories.
And the summer of 1975 and Van McCoy – ‘Do the Hustle!’ – led inevitably to Friday nights and Saturdays nights, every weekend throughout the summer and the next year too, me and Alan, and Glyn and, more often than not his girlfriend Ruth, queuing down the steps into Placemate Disco at 10.00pm, because it was dead before then and at 10.30pm the entrance fee doubled.
And into Placemate 1, the main floor, the mainstream room, where the records were the straightforward disco stuff of that era, and all the classics would be played and the floor would get fuller and fuller until it was heaving. Van McCoy – ‘Do the Hustle!’ – Hamilton Bohannon’s ‘Disco Stomp’, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, The Trammps’ ‘Disco Inferno’.
We didn’t dance, well, Glyn and Ruth might occasionally but not Alan and I. There was a mini-balcony around the floor, little stairs, three steps down, and we would position ourselves by the top of the same stairs every time, where the girls heading to dance would have to squeeze past us, sometimes, many times, literally. It wasn’t that we were crowding them, but that Placemate was so popular at weekend nights, space was limited and we couldn’t have moved back if we wanted to, not by more than an inch, maybe two, but we didn’t want to move. This was the point. We weren’t going to ask any girls to dance, we would just stand there and look at them and drink until 2.00am when Placemate closed, after the slow romantic stuff, and then we’d go home.
I did ask a girl to dance once, when I was on my own at a place far from Placemate but that lasted the length of one record (‘Ms Grace’ by The Tymes, I remember these details) and our last disco night was a Monday in Altrincham, when we signed in as members at the same time as two girls, who then did their best to attract our attention. It worked on me, but not on my companion, who was staring at a tall, long-haired blonde wearing a rugby shirt that obviously belonged to the six foot plus bloke with her. He was driving so I couldn’t act independently, the evening was blown on the spot as far as I was concerned, the girls gave up on us and found two other blokes to dance with and I have never been to a disco since.
Friday night and Saturday night at Placemate. There’s an odd coda to all this. About a decade ago, writing a time travel novel, I planned to have my pair take a trip back in time to the legendary Manchester dance club, the Twisted Wheel. How many times had I heard about that place? And where the hell had it been? I never knew. But when I investigated, gore blimey, it was Placemate! Placemate had taken the club over! And I’d been there so often and never for one moment realised.
To look at me now, and also then, you’d never have figured me for a disco kid of any kind. And it’s true, I never really liked the music unless I was hearing it with a bass thump in Placemate, though ‘The Hustle’ was always a glorious exception to that, a bright, jaunty melody and all those ooh-oohs were just a pleasure to listen to, into and out of an underground club in the centre of Manchester all those many years ago.
I should remember those nights more often.

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