The visit by pre-megastar Beatles to play a few numbers in the McIlroy’s department store restaurant is embedded in the town’s folk memory, but nobody has told the story of how youngsters in the early 1960s enjoyed going to their own Cavern Club disco underneath the Mechanics’ Institute in the railway village. Juliet Platt met the man behind the town’s touch of Liverpool.
Tony Carter from Even Swindon has led a charmed life, starting out as a railway vehicle builder in 19 shop to his last post as research and development manager. He also worked as a barman and British Rail Mechanics’ Institute DJ.
He explained how he began spinning the discs in his leisure time. “I decided to have a go at doing discos with a couple of mates in the early 70s after we got barred from the old Piccadilly Nightclub in Covingham. My dad was a TV engineer at Carter Brothers and he made me a double record deck from a TV cabinet, with his old gramophone as an amp and some stereo speakers.”
After a successful run of gigs at The White House Hotel, The Oxford and The Princess, Tony and his co-DJs Mick Mortimer and ‘Little’ Fred Furness approached the bar manager at the Mechanics in Spring 1974.
“I can still see him – looked just like Ronnie Corbett. He let us set up the decks in the boiler house downstairs. There were pipes everywhere which our groupies covered up with blankets and sheets; you just couldn’t do that now.”
One of those groupies turned out to be Tony’s future wife Jane, who now works as the marketing manager for Drove Vets. She said, “the Mechanics was a big part of our life. It was the place we’d all meet up.”
Tony added the gigs in the Cavern boiler room didn’t last long. “We did the disco every Friday night, and when we were regularly getting 50 to 60 people a time we got promoted to the card room upstairs, which was really joining the elite.”
Tony’s disco business evolved into Stardust Disco, then Denim Deluxe which he eventually sold on. “Not bad for something we only did for a laugh.”