The nightlife shutdown


The nightlife shutdown

Soundtrack of an Election - 1980

Observer senior writer

Friday, April 03, 2020

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This is the first in a series of stories commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1980 General Election in Jamaica.

There was no shortage of nightlife venues in Jamaica at the start of 1980. The party goer did not let political tension between the governing People's National Party (PNP) and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), rain on their parade.

A hot spot for the in-crowd was the Turntable Club on Red Hills Road, known as the hip strip since the 1970s because it was home to similar venues such as Tit For Tat, El Rancho, Stables, Top Hat, and B&M Lounge.

Errol “Monte” Blake was one of four brothers (Trevor, Winston, and Tyrone) who operated the Turntable Club. Though politicians and their supporters had transformed Jamaica into a war zone, he believed the country was still a nice place to live at the dawn of the 1980s.

“Jamaica was really jumping. People had money to was a joy,” he recalled in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer's Splash. “Red Hills Road was the spot; you could go from bar to bar and enjoy yourself.”

Entertainment was not restricted to Red Hills Road. Other popular hangouts in Kingston were the Sombrero on Molynes Road or Epiphany in New Kingston; in Montego Bay, patrons flocked Disco Inferno or The Cave at Seawind Hotel.

But as the rhetoric between the PNP and JLP got heated, people became reluctant to go out at night. Two bloody incidents in April helped trigger this fear.

The first took place at a dance on Gold Street in central Kingston where five people were killed. The second occurred at the Hannah Town Police Station in west Kingston which was attacked by thugs, resulting in the deaths of two men, one of them a police officer.

“The crime started to affect business after a while. People were afraid to leave home,” said Blake.

Originally from St Thomas, the Blake brothers operated the Merritone sound system their father started there in 1945. Turntable opened to much fanfare in 1973 with Beverley Manley, wife of Prime Minister Michael Manley and senior PNP member Dudley Thompson, officially declaring the club open.

The venue thrived throughout the 1970s, cutting across class and political lines.

“All kinda people came to Turntable...[JLP Don] Claudie [Massop], [PNP enforcer] Feathermop, middle-class, higglers, students. You name them, they were there,” Blake said.

But not even its diverse guest list made the Turntable immune from conspiracy theories of the time. The STAR tabloid reported that the club was a meeting place for a clandestine plot between Albert Robinson, an alleged spy, and well-connected politicians.

“Somebody called us one day and sey, 'buy di The Star! buy di Star!',” Blake reflected. “They said he [Robinson] was planning a coup and he was doing it from the Turntable. We never heard of him.”

Manley came to power in 1972 and won re-election four years later. On October 5, 1980 he declared a general election for October 30, at Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay which the JLP won resoundingly, taking 51 of the 60 parliamentary seats.

Over 700 homicides were recorded in Jamaica in 1980. Even with a change in Government, it would be some time before nightlife picked up again.

The Turntable Club soldiered on at Red Hills Road for another 20 years before violence in that area forced the Blakes to close its doors. Tyrone died in 2012; Winston passed away in 2016.

Monte Blake heads Merritone sound system's 70th anniversary celebrations this year with a series of events in Jamaica and North America.

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