The decade that taste remembered
In different murky venues in London, they are tottering along on platform soles and in leatherette car-coats to dance their way back to the Seventies. This isn't a safe form of sado-masochism, this is Starsky and Hutch night, and it outcools cool. Photograph by Andrew Buurman
Saturday 24 August 1996
This is Starsky and Hutch. It's a new kind of nightclub. Actually, it's a very old kind of nightclub, but it's new to a lot of the people there. After years in which the club scene consisted of people taking E, going into the centre of their own head and nodding like a trauma victim for six, eight hours at a time, Starsky and Hutch is a breath of fresh air. It currently appears at four venues: Wednesdays and Thursdays at Ronnie Scott's in Soho, Fridays in the Arches, an old mushroom farm beneath the railway in Southwark, and Saturdays at Bagley's, behind King's Cross station. People dress up to come here; they chat each other up; they crowd round the bar; they talk to their mates; they know all the lyrics. And most of all, they give it welly with their hips.
That the Seventies are big business is hardly news: even EastEnders has caught up by allowing two of the cast's goofier characters to run Seventies nights. The Seventies - at least, the six years before everyone turned nihilistic - were a decade of almost unrestrained goofiness: industrial make-up, tank tops, Donny Osmond, Lurex, stupid shoes. My main memory of the Seventies is the lads at the village bus-stop in bottle-green baggies, stripe-knit sleeveless jerseys, feather haircuts and brown platforms. For some reason, they never wore socks. Their heels were always mired with blood. Platform soles, you see, don't bend: and what doesn't move with the foot rubs it. Sticking- plaster shares boomed in the Seventies.
Seventies nights have hitherto concentrated on the camp aspects of the decade. This is where Starsky and Hutch is different. It acknowledges the era's other abiding obsession: cool. How anyone in a brown leatherette car-coat could ever have seen themselves as cool is one of nature's great anomalies, but somehow they did and somehow, they were. This was the era of Blaxploitation, of cool vibes and hot funk, of The French Connection and Shaft. It was an era when you could sing lyrics like "Baby take me/ high upon a hillside/ up to where the stallion meets the sun" and nobody would laugh; a feat Robbie Williams could only pull off by going for that archly raised eyebrow. It was also the era of great soul cops.
Soul cops are back with a bang. Vauxhall Almeira's advertising campaign features Professionals lookalikes driving the mean streets and talking in that wry monotone we loved. Bravo, the cable channel, has been running repeats of Starsky and Hutch since January. Now even the clothing companies are getting in on the act: Lee Originals are launching a 1970s denim range, and Farah are going one step further with replicas of that long-line, shawl-collared belted cardigan synonymous with Paul Michael Glaser. There was a time when all I wanted in the world was one of those. By the time my income caught up with my urges, the desire had faded.
All this is good news for Andy Georgiou, DJ and partner in the club. Andy, 34 in a couple of weeks, looks startingly like Glaser, though his sartorial style runs more towards that of Huggy Bear, the pimp-informer played by Antonio Fargas and unsung star of the series. Hatted like Gilbert O'Sullivan and wrapped in white-rimmed shades, he cradles a bottle of mineral water and surveys his domain. For a London nightclub it is startlingly friendly: people barely out of school rub shoulders genially with people who obviously experienced the disco thing fully the first time round. Andy is obviously a very astute businessman, but even he's surprised by his success over the last couple of years.
"I was pretty shocked when it took off, because the age range is so diverse. Our oldest member is 53 and our youngest is just over 18. I don't know if you noticed Simon Hayes? He's our local MP. He wants a membership. He's here with a local priest. The local licensing authority people are here as well. They're here on official business, but they're actually enjoying themselves for once."
By this time, a group of about 10 mates has crammed on to a bit of bench made for four to our right. They're laughing and joking, and the girls are wolf-whistling at a bashful-looking Adonis with a medallion. "You're making him shy," I say to the girl whose thigh is rubbing mine. "It's good for him," she says, "and anyway, you've got to give them some encouragement, haven't you? Oi! Gorgeous! Hello!" He smiles sheepishly and scuttles off to the safety of a trio of 6ft-tall sirens in negligees and Three Degrees wigs. It's like a very large college disco. Around 800 people are crammed into four arches, but you have the feeling that you probably know at least half of them.
Andy, the child of Greek Cypriot parents ("I'm another George Michael job, only from south London"), has had a circuitous route into club proprietorship, though some form of public exhibitionism was always on the cards. "I was London's youngest musical entertainer at two. In 1963 I was playing the guitar and singing, entertaining customers in shops with the Beatles classics. I made the Evening Standard. But that was where the musical career ended."
At 14, he was DJ-ing in his spare time, at parties first of all, then in clubs. Then he trained as an architect and set up in practice, designed a handful of nightclubs, including a private members' club, the Granaries, in Croydon. "It's still there. Doing very well." Like many young professionals, he fell victim to the recession. It's a common theme of the Nineties, this: the country is bursting with thirtysomethings who treated the economic disaster as a chance to fulfil their secret dreams. "I sat fallow for about a year. Then I decided, well, there's got to be more to life than sitting around waiting for a job. So I put the DJ-ing back on the cards".
The business is a bit of a family affair: brother Kristos is a fellow DJ and designs the club's hyper-cool flyers, cousin Peter is a partner. A record - a version, what else, of the Starsky and Hutch theme - comes out in a month, and they've got plans to launch a radio station, Happy Radio, in May. And in October, hand in glove with Bravo, they take the Starsky and Hutch roadshow to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and finally back to London. Going with them will be that car, the Ford Torino that launched a million speed stripes. They first got hold of it for the launch of the re-runs, and parked it in the Arches beneath a huge TV screen. "People were chuffed. The car, believe it or not, is probably more famous than anybody else. It was a huge sex symbol. Everybody wanted one."
And what's more, other original stars have started drifting in for a spot in the limelight as well. Andy and Kristos met Fargas on the Big Breakfast, where they had been drafted in, media-style, as "Starsky superfans". They palled up to the extent that the man even persuaded David Soul to pitch up one night. "Imagine it: car park, queue of people, a stretch limo pulls up and out pop David Soul and Huggy Bear. People reacted with complete gobsmacked amazement. They didn't believe their eyes. They thought they were lookalikes, but it didn't take two seconds to work out that they weren't."
Soul, he says, is a shy sort of bloke, Fargas the opposite. "That, for me, was the bubble that didn't burst. Sometimes you meet these people and think God, what a wanker, but he was charming and funny - exactly like Huggy Bear is but with none of the affiliated drug-and-pimp sort of image. The man drinks Kaliber Low Alcohol. He smokes cigars, but he doesn't do anything else that's naughty. I was really very amazed. He was 48-years-old and he looks 38 if that. He's hardly changed. He came into the country on the Sunday, I met him on the Monday, we went out Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night and I saw him off the night he went home." Cool.
For details of the tour, and of the Starsky and Hutch Fan Club, call 0171-208 7203.
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