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

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever