Boy About Town: AC/DC
An excerpt from a work in progress
It was only a few weeks after the Who had played Charlton and I felt like a proper rock fan. I was also doing very well in my first year at Tenison’s which made me feel like a proper academic as well. To my delight I read in Sounds about an upcoming concert that would allow me to play to both strengths. A group called AC/DC were coming to play the Lyceum, and they were hosting a Best Dressed Schoolgirl/Schoolboy competition.
I hadn’t heard anything by AC/DC. All I knew about them was that they were a rock band from Australia, and that this competition tied in with their lead guitarist Angus Young’s stage outfit: shorts, blazer and peak cap, a little like my friend Bill’s old Dulwich Prep uniform. I knew also that because Sounds was sponsoring this “Lock Up Your Daughters” tour, tickets for the show were only 50p. As for the Lyceum, my knowledge extended to the fact that it was a mid-size venue just off the Strand, in the centre of London, that apparently it let people stand up rather than making them sit down, and that you didn’t have to be 18 to get in. Of course you didn’t: they were hosting a Best Dressed Schoolkids competition, weren’t they?
Generally speaking, I’d let my uniform slacken since the first day of school. I didn’t like the way the knotted school tie choked me when pushed up against the collar of the regulation white shirt, and so I tried to leave the top button undone as much as possible. The teachers, knowing that pretty much every kid, even the confirmed swots, felt exactly the same way, made a point of looking at our throats rather than our eyes when they addressed us, repeating the mantra, “Do up your top button,” so frequently they probably said it to their wives in bed. In addition, I couldn’t keep my shoes shiny, my trousers had a habit of getting food all over them, and the fountain pens we were required to use at school had a habit of exploding all over my hands and my white shirt. But most of these defects could be overlooked with my bright blue blazer on. It was a distinguishing factor. Allowing for some homework, it might even help me win Best Dressed Schoolboy at the Lyceum.
As usual, I needed permission from my mother to attend this show. It was midweek, always a problem, but it was in-between football seasons, which meant that I wasn’t asking to go to see Palace play at Walsall or Shrewsbury or somewhere else up north at the same time. Besides, the school year was almost over – and I had done very well throughout; my report book confirmed as much. And so, I was allowed to come home from school that Wednesday evening, wash my hair, spruce up my uniform – shining the shoes for once, and making sure I had a fresh white shirt without any fountain pen stains – and catch the bus back into London, armed with the 50p admission price and, ever since the calamity at Millwall, a 2p and 10p piece for an emergency phone call. Not that making such a call would do much good after a certain point: noting that the advert for the concert said 6:30pm, my mother said she’d drive into London to meet me on the Strand at 9:00 and take me home. I wasn’t to be late. I still had school the next day.
Entering through the Lyceum’s grand arched entrance around 7pm, into my first proper ballroom “gig,” I experienced a moment of genuine excitement, that of taking yet another step across the threshold into adulthood. At the same time, I expected to see lots of like-minded schoolboys, a gathering of precocious rock fans like myself from all the corners of London. I even figured I’d see my share of blue blazers – not necessarily from Tenison’s, but perhaps from other grammar schools where the kids were just as much into their rock music as the teachers were into their Mozart.
Instead, I found myself surrounded by schoolgirls. And not schoolgirls like the meek ones my own age from Charles Edward Brooke, down Camberwell New Road, who gathered at our bus stop at the Oval each afternoon. These were 16-year old girls, 18-year old girls, even 25-year old girls, all dressed in short pleated skirts, many wearing stockings that criss-crossed their legs in parallel black diagonals, exposing naked flesh underneath – and where the stockings gave way to garters at the top of their thighs, even more naked flesh. Some of them didn’t bother with the stockings, and wore white socks that ran half way up their shins instead. Many were wearing white undies too, and weren’t afraid to let you see them. Most of the girls wore white blouses that they left deliberately unbuttoned around the bra area, and those bras seemed to be pushing upwards and outwards, as if they’d been strapped on too tight and the contents were seeking to escape before they exploded. Though, typically, girls didn’t have to wear ties at school the way the boys did, these girls all wore ties – and unlike mine, which I’d knotted tight with the top button done up just this once, theirs were hanging loose, as if they’d only just thought to put them on at the last moment. They wore their hair in pony-tails, or braids, or pig-tails, and they wore make-up, too, lots of it, especially round the eyes and the lips, as if in doing so they might pass themselves off as 13 or 14. Instead, it just made them look … dirty.
As for the boys… almost all of them that came for the competition came in imitation of AC/DC’s Angus Young. Those that didn’t, came dressed like the girls.
I didn’t know anyone inside the Lyceum. I hadn’t known anyone when I’d been to Hammersmith Odeon, or Wembley Empire Pool, or Charlton Athletic’s Football Ground either. But at those places I didn’t need to; I was happy to fade into the background, to pretend I was just one of the “boys.” Here I stood out for being exactly that: a Boy, a First Year Grammar Schoolboy, no less, in what was not a Best Dressed anything, but rather a fancy dress contest for a naughty schoolgirl look. No matter where I stood in the vast hall, no matter what background I tried to fade into, older lads stared at me, said something to their mates, and sniggered. Then they’d go off and stare at the girls in their short skirts and white socks. I wanted to go home already, and yet I couldn’t leave because my mum was coming to meet me and I knew much better than to go standing on a street corner in Central London – especially dressed like this – for more than an hour.
A support band came and went and I didn’t even notice them. Then came the Best Dressed portion of the evening and those of us who’d come in our uniforms were invited to line up on either side of the stage. I decided I might as well go for it. To not do so would make an even bigger mockery of the evening. And maybe, just maybe, they had an award for Best Dressed First Year Grammar School Boy in a Blue Blazer, in which case, I would surely win by default.
We were called up in groups. I found myself in the opening section and was soon standing on a concert stage, for the first time in my life. At home, listening to The Who Live at Leeds, while looking at that picture of Pete Townshend on stage at Woodstock, I’d always imagined this to be the most natural feeling in the world. But here I was, and it was terrifying. I’d had no idea it would be so bright, so hot, so exposed. I could feel the sweat under my collar. Yet everyone else seemed to love it up there. The girls – and there were at least five of them for every Angus Young look-a-like – started pouting and preening, blowing kisses, kicking up their legs and showing off their white knickers. Some of them faked cat fights. Others kissed each other. The audience – perhaps a few hundred people, the Lyceum was not full – roared its all-round approval until gradually, the host, a journalist from Sounds, settled everyone down so he could introduce us.
He started with one of the buxom girls. She walked to the front of the sage, pushed out her breasts even further than they were already straining against her bra, twirled around to show off her assets and then bent down and touched her toes, which deliberately pushed up her grey pleated skirt and exposed her white knickers. The front rows went crazy. Next came one of the Angus Young imitators who, just like the AC/DC guitarist, was way too old to even pass for a Sixth Former. He introduced himself, went to the front of the stage, got straight down on his knees and started poking out his tongue while playing an invisible guitar. He, too, met with riotous applause.
Then it was my turn. Feigning interest, the journalist asked me to introduce myself and say which school I was from. I barely managed a word. I just stood there, blinking in the spotlight, scared rigid, wondering what I could possibly say or do that wouldn’t entail making a complete fool of myself. Perhaps I could pull off a “windmill” like Pete Townshend. Or drop to my knees like the grown-up schoolboy before me. But I didn’t.
No one was mean enough to boo. Not that I heard anyway. They could all see that there was nothing to be gained from picking on a 12-year old who had overstepped his ambitions, not with so many juicy schoolgirls to let themselves loose on. There was a small smattering of very polite clapping and I was set free. As I walked off the stage, the sweat now definitely pouring down my back, one of the girls rubbed my hair. There was nothing sexual about it; she was doing it in the affectionate way of a big sister consoling her little brother. I blushed. Nobody would have noticed. My face was bright red already.
As the crowd continued to vote for its favorite schoolboy and schoolgirl through whistles, cheers, catcalls and applause, I walked from the stage and, very slowly, praying that nobody was watching me, continued all the way through the crowd to the back of the hall and the exit. It was 9:00pm already. My mum was waiting outside, early as she often was, terrified she’d get a parking ticket given that she’d left the car at one of the busiest intersections in London. She asked about AC/DC, whether they’d been as good as The Who. I had to tell her that they hadn’t been on yet. I still had no idea what they sounded like. Sensing my disappointment, she asked instead about the contest, whether I’d won anything.
–No, I said, I had not.
– That’s a shame, she said. -I thought you’d have been the Best Dressed Schoolboy in the hall.
–So did I, I said, hoping that the ensuing silence would be recognized for what it was: a request to change the subject.