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Debate: If the Seventies were the decade taste forgot, why are we so keen to remember them?

Simon O'Hagan
Saturday 24 October 1998 23:02 BST

The opening of the film 'Velvet Goldmine' last week has plunged us into yet more Seventies- mania. It was a decade of non-stop fun and glamour, argues Peter Stringfellow, and too often maligned. Simon O'Hagan begs to differ: it was bad enough that the Seventies happened once; do we really have to relive them?

LAUGH AS much as you like, says Peter Stringfellow; the Seventies were magic.

The Seventies were all good - I lived the whole decade. People say the Sixties were glamorous but they weren't, they were austere. It was only in the Seventies that life became fun and smoochy.

You can make fun of the clothes, but people tried to be glamorous. They were creative as well - we made our own fashions. It was a peacock time for men, but you couldn't get the clothes off-the-peg in a boutique - not in Leeds, anyway - so you had to go and buy women's trousers, blouses and so on. We wore our trousers so tight that we couldn't wear underpants. Your privates just hung down one leg.

The materials were very feminine - satin was spot-on for the time - and people took fashion to extremes. The girls dressed sensationally and very sexily - you don't see the short skirts now that you did then, that quick flash of the knickers that used to drive us crazy.

What was going on in English fashions and music became the seeds of glam rock. Bell-bottom jeans might have been American but flares were an English creation. Everyone took much more care over their appearance. There was no jumping on stage in jeans and trainers. The majority of people tried hard to be hip: you had to dress the part. Flares are useless with flat shoes so you had to have platforms. In the Seventies I was 6ft 1in; now I'm back to 5ft 10in. It was a very effeminate era, a lot more theatrical than it is today. I looked bloody marvellous with curls.

It was an innocent time, less cynical than today. Drugs never came into my clubs. We were all drinking big time but I didn't know what cocaine was.

It was a fantastic time for sex, too, a lot better than the Sixties. It was sandwiched between the introduction of the Pill and our discovery of Aids and that meant no condoms. People were starting to get a lot lighter in their attitudes to sex, as they moved away from the naivety of the Sixties.

I spent the first part of the decade disc-jockeying at my clubs in Leeds, then in 1976, I moved and opened the Millionaire's Club in Manchester. Nobody wanted any depth from their music - songs like "Staying Alive" and "Freak Out" were pure upbeat, fun floor fillers. We would wait with baited breath for the next Bee Gees single because it would pack out the club. As a disc-jockey, you didn't mix tracks, you talked between records, you brought the audience into the thing, gave champagne away, got girls to take their clothes off on stage. Now there's just a lot of rehashing music to old beats.

The films Saturday Night Fever and Grease started a whole disco industry - instead of scoffing, people should get on their knees to John Travolta and the Bee Gees. In the Sixties, nothing mattered but the music, which would be live, with lights low and a spotlight on the group. In the Seventies you had to be more creative.

It was a unique time. People were waiting for the weekend. They were getting rich as their houses increased in value and they were spending their money, not saving it. They were going on cheap holidays to Spain; starting to enjoy themselves. I remember bad times as well, the miners strike and the electricity going off, but all I cared about was that it meant goodnight, everybody. Anyone who missed it all, in my opinion - well it was their own fault.

DIRE CLOTHES and worse pop music - can't we just let it all lie? begs Simon O'Hagan

If you can remember the Seventies... alas, you were there. I was, and I'm still rueing the accident of history that meant my teenagehood coincided with the dark days of a decade that - unbelievably - we are now being asked to celebrate in all its tawdry, bell-bottomed, rouge-cheeked glory.

I can see that Boogie Nights, Last Days of Disco and now Velvet Goldmine might have curiosity value to the generation that was lucky enough to grow up after mine. I can see that anthropologists might be drawn to study the bizarre hips-and-shoulders courtship ritual that we all enacted while dancing to "Tiger Feet". I can see that it's possible to feel nostalgic about experiences that were actually terrible at the time. But I can't accept that the fashion and the music of the era had many redeeming qualities, still less that we are now in the midst of a "Seventies revival".

Show me someone who is freely choosing to listen to Peter Frampton, or wear a tank top, or sport a feather-cut, and I'll show you someone who either doesn't exist or is suffering from such an excess of post-modernism that the description "sad" doesn't even begin to do justice to the depth of their plight. Are people seriously suggesting that there is something cherishable in a pop scene that, with one notable exception (I'm thinking of T Rex of course), was nothing more than a blight on the lives of those teenagers who had to live through it?

Spanish lawyers have spent years waiting for the moment to pounce on General Pinochet. But nobody, so far as I know, is on the case of those other arch-villains of the early Seventies - the lead singer of the Rubettes; whoever thought of stack heels; and Terry "Seasons in the Sun" Jacks. I'd rush through an extradition treaty if it meant that lot being brought to justice.

All revivals have an element of pastiche. But the point about Seventies pop culture is that it was itself a pastiche. You had Alvin Stardust and David Essex pretending it was 1958 all over again. You had Bryan Ferry in a tuxedo. The Bee Gees of Saturday Night Fever, people forget, were a hyped-up comeback act. They'd been charting 10 years earlier and then disappeared.

Thanks to David Bowie et al, posturing was enshrined as an art form - and the worst of it is that we all fell for it. We sat there bored to death by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and made faintly queasy by the "cult" of Aladdin Sane, but were too afraid to speak out. It shamed me then, and it shames me now. So maybe we got the pop culture we deserved - until punk came along and saved us from ourselves. Either way I don't want to be reminded of it - still less told that this stuff was actually good.

By the time I went to university in 1975, the Seventies were at their nadir, and one way you could tell was the rise of student conservatism. Sixties ideals had all but disappeared. The socialist who stood for the Union presidency was faintly derided. We undergraduates were on the career ladder, no mistake. You didn't need to wait for the Winter of Discontent to see the coming of Margaret Thatcher. You could hear it every time you strolled the corridor of a hall of residence and heard someone put on Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Is that anything to be proud of?

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