Thursday, June 18, 2009

Those were the days

The publicity surrounding 'What's On' magazine's thirtieth birthday prompts me to indulge myself and wallow in memories about the good ol' days in Dubai.

'Wallowing' because I was there at the conception and birth of the magazine, I even wrote a story for the first edition. The founder of the magazine, and what is now the publishing empire of Motivate Publishing, Ian Fairservice is a good friend from way back then.

I'm still embarrassed about the story, it was so bad. I was horrendously busy at the office, people were constantly coming in with their problems and in the middle of it all I dashed it off in a couple of minutes...

That brings to mind a change in Dubai, working hours. We worked, officially, 8 to 1 and 4 to 7 Sunday through Wednesday, 8 to 2 on Thursday. Weekend was what was left of Thursday plus Friday. I say 'officially' because in reality we worked through much of the siesta time and never left at the official finishing time, so a sixty hour or more week was quite normal.

In fact I met Ian before he moved here. I was, as wasn't unusual, sitting in the Banjo Bar at the Excelsior Hotel one evening. Ian was here for his interview as Assistant General Manager and we got chatting as he wanted to know about living and working in Dubai.

A few weeks later I was sitting in the Banjo Bar, again, when Ian came in and told me he'd accepted the job and had just moved to Dubai.

The Excelsior was my 'local' because it was near my apartment, and there really wasn't a lot of choice back then. I lived on the top floor of a brand new building in Deira - Al Ghurair Centre was subsequently built not far from it. In 1977 it looked like this...



The Excelsior was one of not many hotels back then and like most buildings in Dubai was surrounded by sand.



The original hotel brochure had a somewhat misleading photograph on the cover. We'd had some rain and the big puddle which appeared outside the hotel gave the photographer an idea, the sort of shot he'd seen waterfront hotels overseas use...



The old Excelsior eventually became Sheraton Deira. If you know it now you'll realise just how much the city has changed.

Ian and I became firm friends and a little later we bought a mobile disco. That's another hint at Dubai back then. There was a disco at the Inter.Continental hotel on the Creek, I seem to remember another at, I think, the Riviera hotel, there was a mobile disco sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes and us. That was it.



We really started it as a bit of fun but there was a big demand and we did pretty well out of it, getting Dh750 for each gig. We had the latest disco records (yes, vinyl discs folks) sent from the UK by friends, shared the deejaying, the setting up and dismantling, lugged the heavy equipment around in the heat and humidity.

Power cuts weren't unusual in those days which meant lifts weren't operating and on more than one occasion, in the early hours of the morning, we had to stagger up the stairs to my sixth floor apartment several times with speakers, lights, boxes of records, the disco console. We consoled ourselves by telling each other the fee made it worthwhile.

We did one-offs in private houses and various places like Dubai Country Club and the Indian Club and we had regular gigs at places like the RAK Hotel and Al Ain Hilton.

Ian had an old Range Rover which we used to transport the gear on roads which were a bit different from those we drive on today. Here's the disco on the Dubai-Ras Al Khaimah Road...



And here's the Dubai-Al Ain road...




I was managing an advertising agency and when Ian decided to leave the hotel and start 'What's On' we had many a long chat about the viability, how it could be succesful, the kind of content, whether to have a cover price. I didn't even dream that it would still be going strong thirty years later, much less that it would have morphed into a publishing empire and all credit to Ian for what he's achieved.

Putting it in context you have to realise that back then there was no English media and Dubai was a very different place. He was going into, to use a cliche, uncharted waters.

Population was maybe 250,000 to 300,000. Emiratis made up a much larger percentage of the population than they do now but there was still a large and varied expat population. Entertainment was very limited, there were very few hotels, no tourist industry. Was there enough happening to provide content for a 'What's On' magazine? Were there enough advertisers to support it? Were there enough people who'd read it?

Actually there was one English-language thing to read, called Recorder. It had changed from its earlier name of Reuters because it was actually nothing to do with Reuters, it was a local invention. It was simply copies of Reuters wire stories on A4 paper stapled together. To advertise to the English-speaking audience we printed our own A4 leaflets, one or both sides, and they were stapled, for a fee of course, into Recorder.

Photographers were thin on the ground as was all the infrastructure the ad industry needed, models for example. We had to use friends and colleages - this photo from the Excelsior brochure is an example. Amateur it looks and amateur indeed it is. Those are real waiters serving Ian and a staff member pretending to be guests.



The usual thing to do was to clip photographs from overseas magazines and use them as artwork. Copyright wasn't something to bother with. Those were the days? Maybe not after all.

Most of my photographs from the old days are back in Australia but I have a few with me and I came across this one of Ian, which I'm sure he won't mind me going public with, and it gives another glimpse of a very different Dubai.

This is Jumeirah beach, what's now Jumeirah Beach Park next to the Dubai Marine Resort.



Ian in the lounger, lead guitarist and singer from the band then playing at the Excelsior's Eve Super Club (which we assumed should have been Supper Club), big George Haddad the security man and a couple of hotel guests.


Actually, yes those were the good ol' days.

17 comments:

Jassim said...

I am very delighted to read such article, despit being 29 only, I agree old days were too diffrent and good. I remember alot of what you mentioned there, but some facts are new to me in this post.

I like the photos and think that many other people would have similer memories like you including me, but at a younger age ofcourse.

Siwash said...

I loved this post and the pictures in an excellent historical narrative that many do not know about. Added to that, was an extensive article in today's national about Ian. The hotel surrounded by sand reminds me of Qatar in 2006 and some pictures look similar to those of Aramco brats in Saudi. Please have similar posts Seabee.

rosh said...

It's true, Sheraton Deira was the Excelsior. Few people know that. What a lovely post and beautiful pictures Seabee. Indeed, those were the good 'ol days. Feels like an era gone by.

khalid ( Abu Dhabi) said...

it was an excellent post about old Dubai , you should publish or write a biography about old Dubai and your time in Dubai with old pictures ,Time has changed everthing in Dubai .People like Ian and you have lot of credit what Dubai is now .New people who have moved to Dubai in last five six years will never know what Dubai was until you people write and documnet things>

Peripatetic Engineer said...

I remember camels coming right up to the McDermott Guest House. Dodging more of them on the drive to Sharjah. (We went there because they had real pubs, not just bars inside hotels) Having to circle the Clock Tower Round About several times in order to find enough space to exit the thing.

And you are correct about the work hours. We used to come back to the Guest House for lunch and then catch a siesta before going back to the yard - which was on the Creek.

Andy said...

Very interesting. I remember how different it all looked 10 years ago but, this is really something else. Always amazing to see how Dubai has grown.

Great blog.

ZeTallGerman said...

Aaaah, I remember the "good old days" were even here when I arrived in 1998 (of course, a lot later, but there was still no property boom, tallest this, biggest that, etc.). I loved everything about those few innocent years before everything went crazy and everyone wanted a piece of Dubai. The only thing I don't miss is the split-shift hours... I HATED coming back to the office after a 3-hour siesta!

Godrom said...

I remember The Dune Beat Disco very well.I sold the disco to Ian.Best regards from Gordon Hawthorne still in Spain.

Seabee said...

Gordon! Great to hear from you after all these years!

I remember well when you arrived in Dubai and we bought the disco from you, complete with records. And of course you on the radio, including one very personal show when you played more than a few dedications to us when we got married. And you deejaying at the Inter.Con disco and then creating Peaches disco over in Sharjah.

And of course I remember you going to Spain and starting Hawthornes Club.

Somewhere in my album I have a photo of you and Pamela getting into Frank & Stanley's helicopter in Jebel Ali - some sort of carnival was going on there.

Happy days!

Send me an e-mail, I'd love to catch up.

Anonymous said...

The good old days.The Intercon Disco,the Cruise liner on the Creek,Wilkies Wine Bar,The old Red Lion,Studio 7 Disco,Chalkie White,Friday BBQ on the beach without Hotels,The Whats On World Cup Tour (1966 team)Raft Races.Good old days.Any one else remember them??

godrom said...

Our beautifull Golf villa in Southern Spain is now for sale so we can return to Dubai,(Remember Sal Davis singing "Back in Dubai".

Seabee said...

Anon@5.30 yes I remember them well. Brian Wilkie's still here, so is my old local the Red Lion, Gordon Hawthorne (commenting here as Godrom) was DJ at the Inter.Con disco for a while. I was a regular at Studio7...and Cafe Royal

Hit my 'Old Dubai' label and you'll find a photo in an earlier post of the converted cruise liner on the Creek.

I've found some of my old BBQ on the beach photos, at Chicago Beach, so I'll post them some time in the future.

Gordon, my e-mail address is on my Profile - let me know when you plan to come back...

Anonymous said...

Sent you an email last week did it arrive?

Seabee said...

Anon@4.57I've just got back from two weeks in the UK and there are plenty of e-mails for me - but I don't see one from Anonymous.

Godrom said...

Godrom and Pam will be "Back in Dubai" on the 12th March and would love to see old friends.

Anonymous said...

Gordon and Pam (in Spain )hope to be Back in Dubai in October.Best regards to all.

Anonymous said...

Gordon and Pam (in Spain )hope to be Back in Dubai in October.Best regards to all.