The unprepossessing entrance to the Newcastle Mayfair was on Newgate Street. Appropriately enough, it was right next to the Newgate Leather Centre.
Down down, deeper and down you went, into what felt like the bowels of Newcastle, finally emerging into a huge space that was rightly called a ballroom. Some of the time it was home to Don Smith and his Orchestra playing light jazz and dance band tunes. It had tables where meals were served while people did the waltz or jitterbug.
But other nights, when a heavy band was in town, they got rid of the furniture and The Mayfair became a sweaty, dark, drink-soaked palace of hard rock, with a long bar on each level, which appeared to be four deep at all times. The place held about 1,500 on a good night and it was hotter than hell. It wouldn’t be legal today, I’m sure, but it was still civilised enough to have a cloakroom where you handed in your denim and leather jacket and were given a ticket with a number, which you always lost or which fell apart because it had got soaked with your own sweat.
The Mayfair had fantastic pedigree as a rock club and was the first ever UK date a new band called Led Zeppelin played on 4th October 1968. I was too young for that, but I started going to The Mayfair when I was at college in Newcastle back in 1979. These were the days of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal wars and every single band playing this exciting new style of rock must have played The Mayfair. Imagine the amount of dandruff the cleaners must have had to hoover at the end of the night!
The Mayfair’s stage was quite small, and the venue was much wider than it was deep. It also had a balcony running around the perimeter, the far side of which was an infamously dark little corner suitable for engaging in intimacy with a rock chick, should you be so lucky as to attract one with your snake hips, your snakebite and your your badly conditioned hair.
Now a balcony in a rock club in Newcastle that’s full of hairy drinking men who are is never a good idea. For some, a balcony is an open invitation to defy gravity and prove you can fly. For others, it’s an irresistible temptation to pour drink on the heads of the unsuspecting punters below in a sadly misguided attempt at humour.
One night in the early ‘80s I was in The Mayfair to see Greg Lake’s short-lived new band with Gary Moore playing guitar. At the end of the night Moore was always allowed to play his big solo hit 'Parisienne Walkways', during which he would hold a sustained note for what seemed like about five minutes. Nerdy men with an obsession with measuring everything would actually time Gary’s noodling. If they were lucky enough to get the longest solo on the tour, then it would be honoured as a kind of rock n roll fertility symbol.
So Moore was holding this note, and in the far, dark corner, driven into a frenzy by this sonic solo assault, the bloke I was stood next to on the balcony decided to make a leap for freedom over the railing down to the floor some 10 or 12 feet below. But halfway through his gymnastics, this intrepid adventurer somehow lost faith in his ability to either fly, or survive the drop. Desperately he gripped onto the railing, leaving him dangling in mid-air, much to the amusement of the gathered hairy Geordies, as he began swearing furiously at the amused throng. Nobody could rescue the guy because we were all too busy laughing, so he was left to hang there lie the last turkey in the shop for a few seconds before beefy security folk finally hoisted him back to safety.
The Mayfair is long gone now, but somewhere under Newgate Street, the ghosts of a thousand bands play on forever... and a man still dangles in mid-air shouting obscenities.
Thanks to Facebook group ‘I Used To Go To Newcastle Mayfair’ for the inspiration, and to Katy Murray for the pic.
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