It was the highlight of our week, a Saturday night that promised rock 'n roll, a bit of drunkenness, hopefully a hook-up (or even a few hook-ups), and a minor level of debauchery. But in that quintessentially Irish way, it all started at mass! Half seven in the Church of the Holy Child in Whitehall, to be precise.
It's possible we were getting in some pre-clearance for the sins we'd commit later (as God knows we were never gonna make it to mass in the morning), or even to say a prayer to keep us safe during Metal Hour (more of this later), but in truth it was as good a meeting place as any... what with the off-licence just around the corner!
Once the priest had sent us on our way with the sign of the cross, we'd all give our money to the oldest looking in the bunch – Seanie's 6'2 stature was enough to earn our vote - and send him off to the Londis on Collins Avenue, us waiting anxiously at the 103 bus-stop up the road, the fate of our whole night resting on the sympathetic nature of a shop assistant and whether it extends to allowing this 15-year-old boy - who looks at best 16-and-a-half - walk out with the goods to enable him and his friends to properly enjoy the excess that was to follow.
And in fairness, he never failed. Two carrier bags straining with the weight of enough cans to satisfy the excited group, and the nervous anticipation dissipating as the journey on the 103 to Raheny commenced.
Next stop – St. Anne's Park!
If you were born between 1953 and 1983, and grew-up anywhere on the northside of Dublin, there's a good chance you made it to The Grove - the legendary teenage disco (I'm straining to find another word for 'disco'), that operated out of St. Paul's secondary school for boys in Raheny, and before that Belgrove Football Club. In the early 1990s, this is how my friends and I spent our Saturday nights, finishing off a few drinks in St. Anne's Park before making our way into St. Paul’s, meeting friends, making new friends, forming relationships, and best of all, listening to the great alternative music that Cecil Nolan was introducing us to.
The word legend is bandied about far too frequently these days, but if anyone deserves the title, it's Cecil. Manning the decks on the opening night in 1967, he (rather amazingly, when you think about it) carried the torch right through to the final night in 1997 – some 30 years later - and exited stage left with the elongated vocal of Kurt Cobain ringing in the ears of the departing crowd as Smells Like Teen Spirit drew to a close. Of course, by this time, we had long-since departed this Saturday night routine, moved on to the (much less fun) adult pursuit of the pub, whilst allowing the generations behind us to absorb everything that Cecil and The Grove had to offer. But it didn't make it any less sad. After 30 years, it truly was the end of an era.
Cecil allowed us the privilege of hearing his vast collection of vinyl every week, a labour of love that allowed this group of high-energy teenagers to mosh, dance, mingle, hang out, and opening their ears to great music, both old and new. I always tried to make it in early to catch the Side A or B of whichever album was Cecil's choice on a particular night – I distinctly recall hearing Disintegration by The Cure, Document by R.E.M, U2's October and The Gift by The Jam amongst others. This usually occurred just after Metal Hour, which was when a group of lads (usually) stood in the middle of the floor, body motionless, but head banging ferociously to an hour of heavy-metal that Cecil would treat them to.
I gave this a miss.
And of course, there was the obligatory slow set; arguably the sole reason those cans were consumed on the way, the confidence-inducing nectar that enabled one to ask the inevitable question, ticking off the refusals as the songs drew to a close one-by-one, the desperation increasing until you remembered that Stairway to Heaven hasn't been played yet, so you still have at least seven minutes!
On a good night, this lead to The Compound – the school-yard, basically – although in truth, chances were that a considerable amount of the evening would be spent here anyway, taking a break from the dance floor and using the opportunity to hang out and meet new people. Toward the end, most of my time was spent on the stage, sitting beside Cecil as he churned out the classics, as I lorded it over all the newbie’s below!
To mark the 50th anniversary of the first night of The Grove in 1967, Cecil will once again be manning the decks and treating us to his extensive record collection at St. Paul's in Raheny, aided by his long-time collaborator, Grove aficionado and keeper of the flame Andy Colbert. For those of you that are fond of a bit of nostalgia, it's a chance to dust off the flares and the tie-dye shirts, or the black jumper and eye-shadow, or the drain-pipes and skinny ties, or the boot-runners and Metallica t-shirt - or even your Reni fisherman's hat. Depends on your era really, but it will cater to all.
Friday August 25th and Saturday August 26th are the dates - drop by the school and show Cecil the appreciation and love that he deserves, re-visit your misspent youth, catch up with old mates and maybe even see if you can pick anyone up during the slow set.
Remember, until you've heard Stairway to Heaven, you still have time!
As it's occurring in the same venue that it occupied for all those years, a secondary school, there will be no alcohol served on the premises... just like old times! Although apparently they're serving mixers - can't think why!
Photos: Aoife Lynch