British instrumental pop  group including guitarists Alan Caddy and George Bellamy, drummer Clem Cattini, keyboardist Roger Lavern and bassist Heinz Burt sit playing their instruments in 1963 at producer and manager Joe Meek's house. They smile in different directions.

“Do you come here often?”

There’s no doubt well-to-do heterosexual couples in the late ’60s found themselves (and their respective supper parties) scandalized when they flipped over this old 45 from British instrumental group The Tornados.

The band, led by gay producer Joe Meek, scored a No. 1 hit in the US and UK with science fiction-inspired track “Telstar” in 1962. However by 1966, the crew had long been replaced and was past their prime. Their final single was the innocuous “Is That A Ship I Hear,” though its B-side featured quite the fruity surprise.

“Do You Come Here Often?” starts with two minutes of inoffensive instrumentation, led by a jazzy organ, until a conversation between two men begins. It doesn’t take long to understand why this throwaway track is remembered as Britain’s “first explicitly gay rock song.”

Listen below (starting around 2:20).

The dialogue sounds lifted from a discussion between two bitchy queens in the bathroom at any British gay spot from the era. There’s an air of horniness throughout the exchange, which takes place whilst cruising.

Though LGBTQ+ folks likely picked up on the context, the words were vague enough to confuse any heterosexual listener who made it that far. “Do you come here often,” one man starts. “Only when the pirate ships go off air,” the other replies.

Soon, they’re sh*t talking each other’s looks (“Well, I see pajama styled shirts are in, then.”) and making eyes with potential hookups. “Wow, these two coming now. What do you think,” one says. “Mmm… mine’s alright, but I don’t like the look of yours,” the other retorts.

Their farewell ends, of course, with a reference to Piccadilly Circus, known as the “centre of gay London” (and overall debauchery) in the ’50s and ’60s. “I’ll see you down the ‘Dilly,” the first man says. “Not if I see you first, you won’t,” his friend replies in a winking tone.

The voices in the track are presumably Tornados members Rob Huxley and Dave Watts, according to a YouTube comment from Watts. “We didn’t have a clue that it was something to do with gays,” he wrote, explaining that Meek directed the dialogue and “was giggling so much when [they] did the over dub.”

So, what was Joe Meek thinking when he slyly added this campy conversation to a major label release?

Perhaps it was an act of rebellion at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Parliament wouldn’t decriminalize “private homosexual acts between men aged over 21” until the next year.

Despite his success producing sleek and futuristic sounding records, Meek struggled with suppressing his sexuality. He feared his mother would learn he was gay, especially after his 1963 arrest for cruising (or “cottaging” as the Brits called it).

Unfortunately, we will never know for sure. Meek, who struggled with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction to amphetamines and barbiturates, reportedly shot his landlady and took his own life months after the single’s release. His fascination with the occult and paranoia around being outed likely contributed to his disturbed mental state.

Still, “Do You Come Here Often?” remains a landmark piece of LGBTQ+ music history. It appears alongside groundbreaking tracks from Sylvester and Michael Cohen on Queer Noises 1961-1978: From The Closet to the Charts and remains a prized find for queer vinyl collectors.

Most notably, The Tornados track provides a time capsule of what it was like being queer in the ’60s. When a gay man’s only calling card was stolen glances in the men’s room, it reminds us that we’ve always had campy conversations to bring us levity.

Black-and-white photo of producer Joe Meek, pictured in a recording studio in 1963. He has perfectly coiffed hair and smiles while looking up. He wears a black suit, buttoned up and a white dress shirt with a black tie.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated