The First Jukebox in Barry
I started drinking quite late for a boy in my home town of Barry, South Wales. It was in the Seventies, when, I assume, my hormones kicked in. Bars, or pubs in Britain, in those days, were very different places than they are now. For a start there wasn’t a single jukebox in town.
Anyway, up until then, I had been more interested in my coin and stamp collection than pubs. However, eventually, friends – the dreaded peer pressure – persuaded me to go to bars and look for ‘women’, although what we normally did was renew friendships with girls that we had been separated from at eleven, due to the segregation of boys and girls in our educational system.
In general, pubs were quieter then, far smokier, and not somewhere to go for something to eat. Most working-class pubs sold crisps, perhaps a pickled onion and a scotch egg, if you were lucky. There were designated smoking rooms, but nobody went in there to smoke. They were usually very quiet, and so, suited to illegal gambling (cards), or club darts matches. The main bars often had blue clouds of smoke floating five or six feet from the ground.
There was no music. In England, I did witness people playing the piano, but in Wales, people sang mostly hymns, rugby songs and arias. My favourite singing bar was the Park Hotel, or the Ship Hotel before they renovated it and tossed the singers out.
Many’s the happy Thursday (traditional payday), or Friday and Saturday evenings that I went there looking for a sing-song, even if there wasn’t a rugby match on TV. Otherwise, people talked while drinking and played dominoes or cards (especially: Crib and Don) for small stakes.
I clearly remember the evening that the first jukebox arrived in the Park Hotel. There were plenty of customers in there, although it was still daylight outside, but it was strangely quiet… as if a local had died.
I was standing at the bar alone, supping my first pint of S.A. when an older man stood near me, ordered a pint, took a long swig, and started to sing. I put my pint down and joined in… so did several others. It was a classic situation…
And then we all clearly heard a few bars of a top-ten record. The man stopped and I looked around. Who would have the effrontery to play a radio when someone was singing, I thought. Then I spotted it. I had assumed that it was a new bandit, and looked at the barman.
He looked very embarrassed and shrugged. “It does that…” he said. “It’s the first jukebox in Barry. The landlord is hoping it’ll make his fortune”.
“But nobody is playing it!” said the man nearby.
“No… if no-one uses it for twenty minutes, it plays a few seconds of a tune at random”.
“But, if no-one is using it, then it’s because nobody wants to hear it…” my new friend mused.
“Sorry”, said the barman with a glum expression, “that’s how it’s been set up”.
I later realised that that first jukebox in Barry really was a bandit. Singing in the Park died out within a week, and we were robbed of part of our culture. Unfortunately, it has never come back, and people wouldn’t know the words to the great old hymns and arias any longer, even if there was a power cut.
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