Recollections: Great Britain 1976

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“Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill

Down at Dino’s Bar ‘n’ Grill

The drink will flow and blood will spill

If the boys wanna fight you better let ‘em.”

Know the song?  Of course, the words above are taken from The Boys Are Back in Town, the 1976 top ten hit from Irish rock band Thin Lizzy written by the now sadly deceased Phil Lynott.

I loved this song when it came out and pay tribute to the fact that it still manages to conjure up the spirit of the era so succinctly. For those who don’t know it, the song, in my mind’s eye, focuses on a group of denim-clad, possibly hirsute men who have spent the year travelling around on motorcycles, endeavouring to discover the world around them whilst, no doubt, getting up to all sorts of hi-jinx along the way. Taking the liberty to join some dots of my own, they probably broke a few hearts as well. Looking back now, it’s almost as if Lynott were writing about my own future life!  

In the opening bars, the singer tells a girl he knows that he has word that ‘the boys’ will soon be returning to their locality to share their many adventures with those who were left behind. Under such examination we understand that Lynott is providing a blueprint for a life that rewards the stretching of comfort zones.

Whereas the song’s chief themes adopt a Chaucerian approach to hope, rebirth, and mankind’s synchronisation with the seasons, I have to take issue with the lyrics which I have isolated from the main body of text: violence is something that should never be tolerated and the instruction that any outbreak of vandalism or physical abuse should be tolerated ‘or else!’ is something I find at best hard to warm to, at worst extremely menacing.

My real note of concern, however, concerns the venue. Since I have never eaten at, seen or heard about any food and drink outlet called Dino’s Bar and Grill, I can only surmise that, far from this being a chain or franchise which enjoys the safety net of a central slush fund to dip into in case of emergencies, the bar and grill in question is an independent outlet run by a sole trader. One’s mind recoils in horror as we imagine the character of Dino, struggling to maintain order as the coleslaw, chicken wings and bar stools fly around the dining area, knowing full well that the man covering all costs for all breakages and subsequent loss of custom until the insurance policy pays up will be none other than himself. That’s if the policy pays out.

And what of this man’s origins?  Certainly the spelling of the name suggests a man of Mediterranean extraction and not a British citizen whose name Dean has been suffixed with the letter ‘o’ in the interests of attaching a personable nickname.  Besides, this trait is most common in the Merseyside and South Wales areas and, taking into account Lynott’s background and life, we should therefore conclude that the location he writes about is either his hometown of Dublin or, more likely, London where the immigrant population is much higher.

I, myself, have always imagined Dino as an Italian or Greek man, probably of around five foot seven inches in height and quite possibly, considering his working environment and the inevitable temptation to snack throughout the long and irregular hours that the food industry demands, rotund of stature.  

As the picture emerges, we might also add, though I’m certainly not writing this in a tablet of stone, that Dino, as a non-native speaker, may well have struggled with some of the more challenging complexities of the English language. As we know, in times of panic it is our linguistic ability which takes a back seat as the fight or flight response kicks in.  Throughout the mayhem, then, we might imagine him armed only with stock phrases such as ‘stop’, ‘please’, and ‘no’ at his disposal.

As Milan Kundera says, and I paraphrase: “When we live abroad, we walk on a high wire, without the safety net of interpersonal support from friends, relatives and the social norms that help us to maintain a sense of our true identity.”  Without his mother tongue at his disposal, this man, quite possibly a widower (no mention is made of Dino’s wife  in this or any other song) now struggles on all fronts. A grim scenario  indeed.  

But let us not be troubled by supposition: we must remember that the warning which appears in the opening quote is pre-fixed with the word if.  “If the boy’s wanna fight…”  So we address the possibility of an outbreak of violence with caution, knowing that although it lurks in the background, it is by far from a foregone conclusion.  

In this instance, then, on encountering this group of young men, it would be advisable to keep a healthy distance, whilst always taking care to ensure non-threatening eye contact if queuing at the bar in their presence. Remembering to ask a polite and friendly question about the experiences they’ve had during the past year, whilst also mentioning how good it is to see them again, might also help to generate a feeling of wellbeing. Lastly, a word to a friend, within earshot of ‘the boys’, along the lines of how one should be grateful that Dino manages to run such an excellent eatery, might also go some way to making them think twice about starting any trouble within the bar, perhaps encouraging them to take any fights they are likely to start into an adjoining car park.      

This extract was taken from my dissertation ‘Semiotics, Language, Popular Media and the Social Response’: that’s Module C122 for those who were on the course at the University of Liverpool in 1986.  In retrospect, I can see what a struggle it was to link all the themes together, particularly the social response bit in the penultimate paragraph. I’d therefore like to issue an apology to Dr B. Siddle, Head of the Department of Combined Honours SES (Social and Environmental Studies).  I now understand that my behaviour when receiving your initial criticism was totally unacceptable, and I can now see that having to resubmit the paper the following year brought a maturity to my work that had erstwhile been lacking – as did the withholding of my grant monies until I had made payment for the breakages in your office.

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Every summer during my childhood, my extended family would come to stay for two to three weeks and in the summer of 1976, the year of that Thin Lizzy hit, we visited, on several occasions, a place which very much evokes the memory of Dino’s Bar and Grill.  

The place was an American ‘burger joint’ called The Lexington, and it was situated in Cardiff city centre. Memories of the interior are vivid – oak-style beams and staircases, a large wagon wheel and the obligatory, if incongruous, Wurlitzer jukebox piping out the sounds of heavy rock, Philadelphia disco and zeitgeisty bands like, um, The Rubettes.  The Lexington served up real beef burgers, T-Bone steaks, chicken wings (in the days before we called them Buffalo wings), great plates of chips and bucket loads of lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad.  

Though I can’t remember all the details, I do recall that, because of my age, I was the only family member not allowed even a sip of the beer they served there which came in bottles and went by the name of Schlitz. The ‘beer which made Milwauke famous’ (obviously some time before the leather jacket-clad Arthur Fonzereli hit our TV screens), it was conspicuous by its absence during my formative drinking years in the mid-80s, though feel free to correct me if it was still available in the UK at this time. Research shows that the brewery closed down in the early ’90s, though Schlitz is still made on a contract basis by a Miller brewery, though I have seen it written that it is nothing like the original, which is described as being like an ‘old style beer.

One final point is that The Lexington was the first place where I ever tasted tomato relish and that when the waitress had advised a children’s portion, she’d done it out of a sense of responsibility, and not to mock the posturing of a ten year-old in a blue corduroy suit who felt it was high time he started living the life of those featured in the Thin Lizzy song critiqued above. Although I struggled ‘manfully’ with most of the contents of that groaning plate of minced-beef, bread and lettuce, it was a bit embarrassing when we all had to get off the bus five stops early, just as it was having to squat behind a tree to make room for the contents of the meal I’d just enjoyed. I had cramps for three days.

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