Books & Music Adventures in Wonderland by Sheryl Garratt
The first beer I ever drank was at the age of twenty at Jazz Festival in Leeds city centre. I didn’t like it and I didn’t drink another for two months. Nothing about beer and that which surrounded it ever really appealed to me. Still doesn’t really. Which is why reading Garratt’s book has opened a portal to reality not my own – each page dripping with moments of ‘look what you missed’. I don’t think I missed that much actually but I’ll get to that later.

Rather like a science book tracing human beings from the earliest microbe, Garratt begins her odyssey in 1947 with the origins of the discotheque, and the original dance bars of the 1960s. It’s a good place to begin and unlike lesser works actually places the eventual explosion in the 1980s into some kind of historical context. The mid-section of the book, 1988-1990 deals with that explosion and how small group of people with the idea of bringing the feeling of the Ibiza clubs to Britain ended up revolutionising an industry and driving it underground. The final section deals with the aftermath and how it’s still going strong albeit in a highly controlled, corporate environment.

The reason I set out my stall from the outset is because although it's a book written very much for people who where there at the time, I was still able to read it from a dispassionate point of view. It scared the wits out of me. I missed this? But then, as someone who prides himself on his individuality, I find it incredible that so many people would essentially throw away that which made them special in a fight for some kind of collective high. At various points in the book we find words like ‘mass’ describing a crowd of people. Yes, they all love each other, but at what price?

The book also finds some difficulty in trying to reconcile the fact that much of this industry and in fact the original ideal had a basis in recreational drugs. The general feeling seems to be that E was never the problem, it was the people selling it. What isn’t ever explained is why some would choose to mix with such obviously dangerous men in order to get their drug high. Was it really worth that much? I’m being na├»ve no doubt, but didn’t they ever realise that the initial buzz had evaporated and that they could probably get as high on the atmosphere as the tablet? And what’s missing from their lives that only a tablet can fix? Surely facing up to our own issues head on makes us stronger?

Having read the book I do feel more knowledgeable about my own generation. Whereas I’d often ignorantly look down sometimes on people who would choose this way of life I now at least understand it, and in some ways envy the freedom they had. Or have. But then I read stories like this from today’s Liverpool Echo and despite what Garratt might say in the closing moments of her book, things haven’t changed that much. Money is still spoiling it for everyone.

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