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BREXIT Episode Ten - The Gliderdrome

Episode Ten - The Gliderdrome

The Gliderdrome is an unprepossessing building. As you approach what looks like and old industrial site just off a busy main road, the only thing you see that hints at its history is a small blue plaque on the wall, announcing that some of the world’s biggest music stars once played here. Apart from that, you would not give it a second look. Over the years, stars from Jimi Hendrix to Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and Elton John played to 5,000 screaming Bostonians. They famously turned down The Beatles.

In my week in Boston, The Gliderdrome became a totem for me - it harks back to something, and it projects a different future. When I first wandered in, I was hit by a smell so redolent of the past, I could have been going to see T-Rex on Saturday 3rd July 1971. I wanted to bottle that smell, take it back to Paris with me - it smelt of happier times for this market town.

The venue has two halls, the Starlight Room, and Bingo hall. Back in the 1980’s, Bingo would attract a thousand people. Now they are lucky to get fifty. It’s been destroyed by online gambling, and the decline of a town. And no big stars come here now - it’s a forgotten community except for the journalists who turn up to talk about Brexit.

And yet, the Malkinson family who built this place back in the 1930’s, continue on undeterred. It is now managed by third generation Malkinson’s, Chris, Andrew and Debbie, and Steve Greenough, a former Mod who played here with his band back in the 1960’s.

Steve Greenough

As I talked with Steve, he spoke of his terror as the revolving stage turned to face the audience, 5,000 people here to see the main act. He couldn’t believe that he, a local boy, was playing on the same stage that Otis Redding had. He reenacted that moment, played an invisible guitar and his face expressed that same terror, some fifty years later. He was still living it, couldn’t let go, like so many I have met.

Chris regaled me with history and memorabilia. He showed me a collection of family posters. I could have listened to him for hours, as he sat on his Lambretta scooter. He is a remainer, doesn’t want to leave. He has no issues with the migrant population which 75% voted against. They have even held an Eastern European music night - 1,000 turned up to listen to a famous Lithuanian group who flew over for the concert - hosted by the Gliderdrome, but organised by a migrant committee. He said it was brilliant. He would do it again.

Chris Malkinson

He said ‘I think those people who voted to come out, didn’t really understand the politics of it all, didn’t appreciate the consequences’.

Chris said:

"I think those people who voted to come out, didn’t really understand the politics of it all, didn’t appreciate the consequences"

Chris went on to say ‘The town has changed completely since I was a teenager, but for me that’s a good thing.’ But all he really wanted to talk about was the history of the Gliderdrome, and how they are desperate to keep it going in these changing times.

As I stared at all those names who had played here, I tried to imagine what it must feel like to have been born here 70 years ago, to watch The Who play, and to witness the face of your home change in just fifteen years. The Gliderdrome was like a funeral and birth at the same time - it is now being reborn from its own history. I think those who voted to leave are also hoping that our history can still be our future.

And yet in Chris, you felt that in all his glorying in that nostalgia, he and his siblings were looking forward, and still looking east to Europe. He respected the past, but that’s all it was to him - just the past.

I started this road trip in Bradford by saying that to understand Brexit, you had to understand the history and the context of the UK over a longer period of time than just the last few political years. And I ended it at the Gliderdrome, in Boston - a place that seemed to have the whole Brexit story wrapped up in a smell that hinted at ghosts, and yet showed so much of that British spirit - to keep on fighting against all odds.

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© Martin Middlebrook | All Rights Reserved

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