Book: Dancehalls, Glitterballs and DJs
Chapter: When Did it All Begin?
The ‘discotheque’ didn’t arrive in Britain until the early 1960s, but nights out to the accompaniment of music for dancing have a much longer history. This chapter covers the period from the mid-eighteenth century until the arrival of the gramophone in the 1890s and begins with two popular venues that are the recognisable precursors of the disco: the Assembly Room and the Pleasure Garden. Both of these thrived in the eighteenth century, as the recently-formed Great Britain welcomed in the Georgian era, and offered entertainments to the middle- and upper-classes of society: the Assembly Rooms offered a formalised, well-chaperoned, environment while the Pleasure Gardens promised a more risqué night of fun. This chapter also explores the entertainments offered to members of the working class: the rural workers whose nights out in the back rooms of pubs offered song and dance by and for the local communities, and the customers of the less desirable ‘penny gaffes’ in the poorest areas of the industrial towns. The music was live, but in many other ways elements of these early musical entertainments are readily recognisable in the rise of the discotheque.