Scottish Memory Lane - Dancing and Dance Halls
While it might be thought that dancing should be included in "entertainment", in the larger cities, especially in Glasgow, dancing and dance halls were such an important part of the local culture they surely deserve a separate page to themselves?
I'm hoping that readers will send in their own stories and memories of their own childhood in Scotland. All contributions should be sent to Scottie@RampantScotland.com.
Recently added stories have placed beside their title.
Cragburn Pavilion Gourock Dance Hall
I've been surprised that there has not been anyone writing up "Cragburn Pavilion" in Gourock (pictured here). Many of the top '50's bands played there and Henry Morrison's Swingstars won one more than one national award. Had there been dancing 8 nights in the week our group would have been there every night... A classy band who produced name stars -- Joe Wiley the pianist went on to take over the entertainment in The Bermuda Princess Hotel.
Jimmy White another great musician, found his way to Toronto and as a sideline he and his wife had a great Scottish bakery in Scarborough, Ontario.
Cragburn Pavilion was built was built in 1935-6 in brick and stucco with prominent art deco fluting along its front North-facing elevation. It consisted of a large auditorium with stage, ancillary rooms and a restaurant/bar area. It was built to try and attract a greater share of Scotland's growing holiday trade. Many local bands played regularly for dancers from 1936 to 1966 including Charlie Harkin's Kit Kat Orchestra and Henri Morrison and his Swingstars. Both bands were contenders in the All British Dance Band Championships.
Many of Britain's top bands visited Cragburn, including Joe Loss, Oscar Rabin, Lew Stone, and many more. Cragburn also hosted a summer show each year with top artists from Scotland including Tommy Morgan, Alec Finlay, Larry Marshall, and The One O-Clock Gang (pictured here) of TV fame.
In the 1960s, the big band scene started to go into decline, and although the pavilion continued to be used as a facility for variety shows, pantomimes and functions by the local authority who owned it, it was becoming clear that greater financial benefit could be had by selling off the land for development. Cragburn pavilion was closed in the 1990s, and a block of flats has been built on the original site.
Ed Bignell (Now in Canada these past 59 years)
Experiences of Edinburgh Dance Halls at Age 16
All my girlfriends back in Edinburgh enjoyed going dancing. The ballrooms and dancehalls were where the young folks met. My girlfriends and I also went to the Palais de Danse called "the Palais". There was a big band and then the stage swung around and there was a quartet. Graphic of the Palais in more recent times is © Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons
You always wondered if you would meet the love of your life when you went dancing. My mother met my father at the New Cavendish in Edinburgh. He saw her home and then had to get himself back six miles to Dalkeith. Then, six miles seemed like sixteen when walking. He got a three wheeled car later, once they got "serious". No liquor was allowed in the Palais and I don't think anywhere else either. We went dancing sometimes two or three times a week if we could afford it. It was all ballroom dancing and then jive. We were about 16 and we were sitting on the balcony before going down one night when we saw this absolutely handsome guy walking along the balcony at the Palais. Wow! We found out later it was Tom Connery who later became the famous Sean Connery. He danced with one of our friends, Nancy. When she came back up on the balcony we asked what he was like and she said he was a bore!! Aye, right Nancy.
One night we were at the Excelsior. It was off the High St. almost under the South Bridge.in the old city of Edinburgh. It was a tough area and it sounded exciting to us. We hadn't been there before. We had to stand in line, the door would open and a tough woman would appear in an evening gown and allow some folks in.
It was our first time there and we had boy friends with us. A fight started at the end of the line and the woman in the evening dress dragged me in by the coat collar and slammed the door shut on everybody else saying "I'll let everybody else in when things have quietened down." She looked like she was ready for anything and I swear she had "pit boots" on.
There were great dancers there. Anybody my age who was in their teens in the 1950s went dancing. It was exercise and we could meet great folks. We also went to the Locarno in Glasgow. We also went to the shops on Argyle St. - especially Lewis's and then would go dancing. It seemed the grass was greener when one went to a dancehall away from Edinburgh. The graphic shows Argyle Street today and the former Lewis's Department store (now owned by Debenhams).
We started when we were 16. It was great fun. Then rock and roll arrived and was around for several years, then it was Disco. I had left for America before that. We were amazed there were no dancehalls where we arrived. We wondered where boys and girls met for fun. It was different here. We were working and dancing at 16 in Scotland. None of us wanted to go on to higher education. We felt we knew it all!!!!! Then I learned about the education system here - they are all in school until they are 18, then girls I met when I first arrived had married their high school boyfriends and had babies. My friends and I had good jobs and had vacations in London, France (4 times) and Germany. When I tell American women about my dancing days they are shocked I'd let a strange boy take me home and they said their mothers would never allow that. I told them it didn't matter what time I got home - but my mother was on the alert.
I am glad to say I have friends here who went dancing a lot as well so we can reminisce about our days.I consider myself lucky having these friends nearby considering we are 6,000 miles from home. We have those dancing day memories.
Helen Ella Veldre from Edinburgh, lived over 55 years in USA.
Met My Future Husband at the F&F Ballroom, Partick
I met my future husband at the F & F Palais de Danse at 201 Dumbarton Road, Partick, in 1940. The site was originally occupied by the Star Palace cinema, which opened in 1910 and closed in 1925. It was acquired by entertainment entrepreneurs Fyfe & Fyfe who converted it into a roller skating rink-cum-dance hall. It was the F & F Palais de Danse on three nights a week, with another three nights reserved for roller skating. Dancing continued at the F & F until the 1960s, when the building was converted into a bingo hall.
Before going to the F&F, my friends and I would go to the Locarno Ballroom every Saturday aftermoon, and to the Langside Halls on a Wednesday or Thursday evening. The Locarno always had the big bands playing, then the stage would swivel around, and a 4 piece band would play. Those were the "good old days" (The graphic of the Locarno advert is © "Stephencdickson" via Wikimedia Commons)
Eleanor Lewis (neé Campbell)
Jim Johnston (JJ) Dance Band
The items about Dancing and Dance Halls prompted Andrew Herriot to write in with a photo of himself with the Jim Johnston (JJ) Dance Band circa 1958. Andrew is at the piano on the right. Jim Johnstone had started Andrew off when he spotted him playing in his school rock band, Ross High, Tranent. He and Bobby Colgan the drummer arrived during their rock show in a local youth club. They said and it is iconic: "Do you want to play in a real band?" The rest is history. Jackson the Tailor here I come for my first evening suit!!
JJ became quite famous with his many TV appearances. He was born in Tranent in 1937. Jim started accordion lessons aged nine and at age 13 he made his first first broadcast, on BBC Radio's Children's Hour, and two years later he formed his first band, a duo with his close friend Bobby Colgan on drums. He set up his own band in 1963 but later joined the famous Jimmy Shand. Jimmy Johnston passed away in 2008, aged 71.
Andrew Herriot meantime pursued an academic career but still pounds the keyboards in South Africa.
Sean Connery at Edinburgh Palais de Dance
My whole teenage life was going dancing with my friends, Nancy and Mollie - both of whom have passed on. The Palais was our place of choice, but we were in all the others in Edinburgh, including one in a kind of quesionable neighbourhood (never told my mother), but there were great dancers there. We were all waiting one night until the woman who owned the place opened the door and I saw her for the first time. She yelled we were all to be quiet. She had on an evening address. This was the 1950's so that was a wee bit different. A fight broke out in the back of the line (drunks). She yanked me by the arm and dragged me in leaving Nancy and Mollie outside and closed what looked like an ancient castle door. At that moment I noticed she had "pit" boots on. I wonder if she used them for something else than having something on her feet. ( The Palais began life in 1909 as The Grand Skating Rink – the longest roller skating rink in Edinburgh. Its large hall was also used for dancing on Tuesday and Friday evenings – then in 1911 the Grand Rink was converted and reopened as The Coliseum picture house. In 1920 it became the Palais de Danse and flourished during the halcyon days of ballroom dancing and was visited by the Duke of Windsor and the Duke of Kent among other swanky patrons. It was still in use until 1967 when it succumbed to the Bingo craze that swept the nation. The picture here is of the Palais in later years - various "development" ideas have come and gone in the meantime. The graphic is © Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons )
We were sitting on the Palais balcony, one night, watching the dancers before we went down and suddenly a young man came strolling along. Well, I bet we sat there with our mouths open. He was so very handsome and we'd never see him before. Edinburgh had a population of about 500,000, but we always seemed to know who was at the Palais. All eyes were on him as he went downstairs. Well, long story short it was Sean Connery (sometimes known as "Big Tam" in those days). Now, we were about 16 at the time. We couldn't think why we hadn't seen him before and then later we read he'd been away in the Royal Navy and had just returned to his former home a few minutes away along the same street. - he worked there as a bouncer for a spell dealing with the notoriously violent local Valdor gang. (Graphic of a young Sean Connery via Wikimedia Commons ).
Helen Ella Veldre from Edinburgh, lived over 55 years in USA.
Dancing in Port Seton
When I was a young teen in Port Seton, about 15 km. down the eastern Firth of Forth from Edinburgh, we danced above the 'Pond'. The Pond was the Olympic-sized swimming pool which was fed from the Firth of Forth (and unheated!). In a structure that stood above the stands at the pool was the dancehall. There we danced to 'Jimmy Shand'-type music on a Saturday night. It was marvelous fun, and girls could go there by themselves without fear. You had to behave yourself because there was always a grown-up watching who would tell your parents if you didn’t. Did I mention that Port Seton was a very small town?
As a student nurse, I danced at the Palais de Danse in Edinburgh (Known as 'the Pally'). When we had an afternoon off on a Wednesday, a group of us would take the tram to the Palais from the Royal Infirmary. It was two hours of bliss!
Wilma Heberling now in Texas, USA
Dancing in Dundee
My older brother and sister used to go dancing down in Broughty Ferry...possibly The Palais? (A reader updated this by saying it was the "Chalet". There was a dance hall in South Tay Street in Dundee known as "The Palais" - Editor) In the early sixties I used to go to the J.M. in Dundee. I remember the music stopping on Nov. 22 1963..we were all stamping our feet..only to be told that JFK had been shot...Other memories were rushing out to catch last bus home..or a few of us putting a shilling each to get a taxi home as far as the money would take us... (Graphic here is of Fort Street Brought Ferry © James Allan via Wikimedia Commons ).
Jean Carr, now in USA
Dancing in Glasgow University
The "Are ye for up?" article brought back many memories of my time at Glasgow University in the late fifties and early 60s. Impecunious as we were, we still seemed to manage the occasional formal Ball (black tie essential) for things like Black Friday and the MacLay (Hall of Residence) Ball. However, my happiest memories are of traditional jazz band dances - mostly at the Union on Saturday nights where the "cattle market" (girls on one side, boys on the other) took place with some variant of "are ye for up?" or "you fer a shuftie?" used to initiate contact. There were many bands, but those I remember best were Dutch Swing College, Clyde Valley Stompers (pictured here) and The Esquire Jazz Band. Amazingly, fifty years later, I still attend performances of the leader of the Esquire Jazz Band (Norrie MacFarlane) who has lived in Victoria, BC for many years and leads a band here called Dixieland Express, still playing many of the tunes I remember so well from my youth. There are recordings of Clyde Valley Stompers (and other jazz bands of that era) on YouTube
Robin McNeil, now in Canada.
Are Ye Fur Up?
Dancing became an extremely popular leisure pursuit in Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in Glasgow, which was (and still is) Scotland's largest city. It was strictly ballroom dancing but by the 1920s there were eleven major ballrooms in Glasgow and about 20 smaller venues, which was more than anywhere else in Britain.
Some of the finest ballrooms in the world were said to be in Glasgow. In the large ballrooms such as the Locarno (later renamed Tiffany's and later still became a cinema), Plaza, Dennistoun Palais, La Scala, Majestic, Green's Playhouse, Barrowland (See graphic on the right) and Dixon's Halls in Cathcart, dress was still fairly formal and the dance steps were strictly regulated - which certainly would help avoid stepping on a partner's toes!
On Christmas Eve in 1934, one of the most famous ballrooms in the city - Barrowland - opened and stayed open even during the Second World War. The neon sign was taken down during the war years as "Lord Haw Haw" mentioned in his propaganda broadcasts from Nazi Germany that German planes had been using it to navigate by! In 1948, the dance floor at Barrowland was enlarged to be able to accommodate 2,000 dancers - and frequently had that number, with queues all round the building waiting to get in.
You can see the dancers in a Glasgow ballroom in a video clip from Pathé News at Scottish Amateur Ballroom Championships from St Andrews Halls in 1956 as competitors dance the Waltz, Tango and Quickstep.
Of course, a major feature of the dance halls was the opportunity for meeting a future marriage partner. While many established couples would go to the dance halls, between dances the single boys stood on one side of the ballroom and the girls on the other! There was then a mad dash when the announcement was made "Take your partners for the next dance". It was up to the boys to invite a girl to join him for the next dance with the classic "Are ye dancin'?" or "Are ye fur up?". This gave the girl a brief opportunity to decline if she was indeed having a rest - or just didn't "fancy" the boy who was asking. Bear in mind that the dance music was not as loud as at today's equivalent events and so the dancers could actually carry on a conversation and get to know one another.
Although there were Christmas dances at school, they tended to go in for a limited range of "Scottish Country Dancing" with the Dashing White Sergeant and other such pieces for groups of dancers - perhaps the teachers thought that was more appropriate than individual boys and girls holding on to one another? We are talking 1950s after all, and from age 12 to 15 boys and girls certainly in my school were taught in separate classes for most subjects. So in common with many of our peers, in our late teens my pal Douglas and I went for ballroom dancing lessons. We went to the Albert Ballroom (see graphic on the left), which had opened in Bath Street in 1905 and became the first in Scotland to open six nights a week. The lessons were held in the basement, below the main public ballroom. We were taught the formal steps for waltz, quick step, foxtrot, and later a bit of Latin American - Tango, Cha-Cha and rumba. It was while learning the Cha -Cha that I recall swinging my foot behind me - and hit the ankle of a lady dancer who was too close behind me! Judging by her performance on one leg it had been quite painful!
Once we were thought to be competent enough at the basic dance steps (or in my case, knew enough not to venture on the dance floor for the Cha-Cha) we were allowed upstairs to the main dance hall itself when it was quiet and without having to pay the usual entrance fee. Of course, many of the dancers there were far more advanced than we were. On one occasion the girl I was dancing with must have got fed up with my stilted footwork and suddenly took the lead - and we headed off down the dance floor at a breathless speed in what she said afterwards was the "Palais Glide"! Not something we had been taught downstairs...
Scottie from Glasgow Scotland
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