Five-minute memoir: Philip Hoare recalls being catapulted into a world of punk and rebellion

'I was about to be admitted to a place out of my dreams and nightmares'

The boy in the queue for the Roxy Club asked someone for a light. He wore a black leather jacket and had blond spiky hair. His voice was a New York drawl – all the more remarkable for the fact that we were standing in a wet, dreary winter street in the blasted, semi-derelict streets of Covent Garden, a Suffragette City by one remove. He probably came from a London suburb not dissimilar to my own in Southampton, but he was the very embodiment of what I wanted to be. A sunken-cheeked London Lou Reed, wreathed in the acrid air of decadence.

I was wearing a pink mohair jumper I'd found at a jumble sale – the source of my fashion statements now for two or three years, product of another, entirely different nocturnal queue, outside a scout hut or school hall, to rummage among the sharp-elbows of smelly old women and pull out some period treasure from under the pile of cast-offs. The jumper was embellished with little rubber monsters which I'd safety-pinned to the wool. I hoped the effect was suitably surreal. My jeans were skinny – itself a statement of rebellion against the flapping Oxford bags I had so recently sported. Everything was tightened and tapered and taken in. I was ready, after all the rehearsals, after all those different costume changes I'd already undertaken in my short teenage life to date, for my debut: my first real-life nightclub.

My social life until then had been comprised of illicit visits to local pubs with my best friend Peter, dressed up in the satin cast-offs of early glam. My nearest point of contact with nightclubs was an imported American magazine called Rock Scene, which published paparazzi-style photos of Davids Bowie and Johansen spilling out of CBGBs in satin and tat. It was an ambisexual other world to which I aspired yet knew I would never attain. I'd seen a glimpse of it earlier that year, when I witnessed Bowie on his Station to Station tour in Earl's Court, a Berlin cabaret singer lit by white fluorescent lights and morphed through some future dystopia. But here in blackened 1970s London, in a city I feared and loved, a blacked-out place of strikes and disarray, I was about to be admitted to a place out of my dreams and nightmares, a place from which I might never escape, nor ever want to, either.

I paid my money at the box office-like window, fearful I might yet be rejected at this gate as unfit to enter the den beyond. The walls were painted black; a narrow corridor led to the stairs that descended to the basement below. No going back now. Indeed the physical crush of bodies – young bodies, dressed like me or much better or even worse – meant retreat was impossible. We were like eels in an eel-trap.

Downstairs was utter mayhem. A heaving mass of those same bodies, pressed even tighter together here, unholy worshippers to the electric crackle and roar that reared out of man-sized speakers. The sound itself was the place. To indiscriminating ears it was one long blur of buzz-saw racket, more feedback from a black hole than music. To me it was the sound of insurrection. The Vibrators were onstage, or were soon about to be, their lanky frontman in white plastic sunglasses, taken-in jeans and platform boots. There was barely any delineation between the tiny stage on which they were performing and the crowd which reacted as one to the noise they were making. That barrier had been breached. For me, the glamour was intensified, rather than destroyed, by that removal.

I went back, week after week. I was at college in an outer London suburb – where I might as well have been translated from one place of confinement to another, from my home to another version of home, for all that it was so lonely. Now I'd found a new home, via the slam-door train into the city, the dark walk over the river, and the forbidding warren of streets that lay beyond. It was my real education. Rather than volumes on 18th-century naval warfare, Sniffin' Glue became my preferred reading.

I saw The Jam and The Damned again and again, and in that scuffed corridor my way was once blocked by a sneering Johnny Rotten, demigod of the new order. I jumped onstage to shout into the microphone, brandishing a water pistol. My hair was cropped short, and coloured with the same red dye my mother used, bought in cheap silver foil sachets from Boots. My transformation had begun in earnest. I was used to hearing music in my box bedroom through the single speaker of a cassette recorder, and dressing up in the mirror. Now the volume had been turned up, and any sense of responsibility overturned. No going back now.

'The Sea Inside' by Philip Hoare (4th Estate) is available now, £18.99

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz