The Golden Disc 1958 – The Coffee Bar

‘What will it be madam?’ asks Harry ‘Ballad or Rock?’ Aunt Sarah replies ‘Rock-maninoff’.

In the fifties the English café became a continental coffee bar with espresso replacing tea. In The Golden Disc Harry and Joan (Lee Patterson and Mary Steele) convert Aunt Sara’s decrepid café into a coffee bar (to include a record shop and a recording studio) eventually promoting a young singer (Terry Dene) to No.1 in the music charts and cashing in on the start of the rock and roll era. Unconsciously, it is a snapshot of the late fifties in Britain. It throws in a cornucopia of music styles, the producers obviously try to phase all. There is folk, instrumentals, skiffle, jazz, ballads and rock’n’roll. As a piece of musical history it is excellent in capturing the feeling of changing times.

The fact that prime-time television or cinema could induce hysteria and phenomenally increase sales of rock’n’roll music was not unknown. That said, the whole concept of these early pop steel bite pro musicals were specifically created for financial gain in a failing movie business with audiences that had dropped off since the late forties.

The opening song Dynamo by Sonny Stewart’s Skiffle Kings stretches from ambient diegetic to performance mode (through a dissolving montage of nightclub neons from one coffee bar into another) as the music abruptly changes from a studio recording to live performance. This brave musical edit did not fool everyone. ‘You may be annoyed by the way it sometimes fades the music before the artists have quite finished’ says Nina Hibben in the Daily Worker, (15/3/58)

Campbell Dixon’s adult view of the time sees ‘a strange world of frenzied exhibitionism and phoney, carefully cultivated hysteria. He knows it exists… as the young playwrights assure us its significant, and I’m sure it is, thought just what its significant of, except family neglect and poor teaching, I’ve really no idea. All that concerns me here is that I find it quite numbingly dull.

The modification of the coffee bar during a musical number is almost a religious transformation. The Gaggia coffee machine is brought into the newly refurbished coffee bar ceremoniously carried on a wooden plinth like a pharaoh’s mummy. It is placed in the position of font on a bar serving as the altar. The jukebox pervades as the church organ and the Espresso coffee serves ritualistically as a relaxed form of communion. These simple characteristics are indicative of the new trend: the blood of rock’n’roll in religious undertones. The owner cannot believe the amount of coffee drunk as the coffee bar starts to be successful.

The attractions of the coffee bar; that peculiar amalgam of pine, caffeine, bamboo and bullfight posters, were legion. The coffee bar offered teenagers a warm, welcoming meeting place. Not a parent in sight. They were places you could hang about for an evening, spend a shilling on a coffee, go in at nine and come out at eleven, and nobody bothers you.

Terry Williams (as Dene was born) worked as a record-packer, who had a desire to sing at office parties (his Presley imitations were well received) and was discovered by producer Jack Good of 6.5 Special. As Terry Dene, he almost had respectable hits, but his cover of Marty Robbins’ White Sport Coat was a bigger hit for another British group, and his second single was overshadowed by a Sal Mineo version. Nevertheless he was an overnight sensation with his Elvis impersonation.

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