Nights out in our favourite club – especially during our formative years – often help create our sense of identity and our place in the world. And become part of our collective memory.
I know all this from my long association with the Haçienda in Manchester, a nightclub that closed 23 years ago but was remembered in a one-hour BBC2 documentary.
The Haçienda changed lives. Other venues have had equally as intense effects. Whether it’s the Tunnel in Glasgow, the Que club in Birmingham or Spiders in Hull, the best club in the world is the one that changed your life.
What if life after dark was reduced to almost zero, and venues and clubs disappeared? This could become a reality. Swathes of the night-time economy are under threat: bars, restaurants, live music venues, nightclubs. Having struggled through the pandemic, businesses are being thrown into an era of economic chaos, rising inflation and the impending arrival of Jeremy Hunt’s supercharged version of austerity.
Intervention is urgent. Last week the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) revealed that there are now 1,068 nightclubs in the UK, down from 1,446 in December 2019, before the pandemic began. The rate of closures is accelerating due to the rising costs operators can’t pass on to customers already feeling the effects of the cost of living crisis.
Code in Sheffield closed last month – it wasn’t a niche establishment by any means, having traded for eight years catering to a mainstream and student crowd. Management explained a 500% electricity price increase was partly to blame for the club closure.
Like with everything else – novels, films, food – there’s good and bad, and there are lowest-common-denominator clubs, but also other spaces home to genuinely interesting, artistic, original activity. Plus there’s always the very basic role of nightclubs in our lives – to act as joyous escape routes from the grim everyday world. Here are the Easybeats in their song Friday On My Mind from 1967: I know of nothing else that bugs me / More than working for the rich man / Hey, I’ll change that scene one day / Today I might be mad / Tomorrow I’ll be glad / Cos I’ll have Friday on my mind.
Ground down all week, working class cities have always had nurtured brilliant dancefloors – including Coventry (the Locarno and the Eclipse) and Stoke-on-Trent (the Golden Torch, the Place, Shelleys).
I doubt whether our political masters who spent their formative years at Eton ever had the hunger or the imagination to live for the weekend with such fervour. A visit from their parents with the gift of a fistful of tenners for the boarding-school tuck shop maybe? Not for them the thrill of dancefloor delirium or even the uncertain glories of the night bus home. At their best, dancefloors are an expression of our connections with each other – a breeding ground for creative talents. Every artist has to start somewhere.
Bicep are a duo who have developed a sound and built an audience in years playing underground club nights (I first heard them play in 2009). In 2017 they released an instrumental, minimalist breakbeat-driven track with a beautiful melody. Glue is one of the most extraordinary records of the last 10 years. Bicep, in the last week or so, have been on tour playing to thousands and thousands of people in Paris, Antwerp, Cologne and Frankfurt.
What goes on in a nightclub can shape music history. In London, this includes the Scene, an amphetamine-filled mod hangout in Ham Yard, Soho, in the first years of the 1960s; the Metalheadz night at the Blue Note in Hoxton piloted by Goldie; and Plastic People, which closed its doors in 2015.
In addition to all this creative potential wrapped up in life after dark, the value of this activity can also be measured by the economic contribution made to our country’s finances. The total night-time economy contributes £112bn annually (5.1% of GDP), accounting for 1.94 million jobs.
The NTIA is calling on the government to reinstate a freeze on alcohol duty, extend business rates relief and reduce VAT. Vital to all this is to persuade the authorities to understand that night-time venues are key to the cultural and economic life of our country. The next months will be a challenge for so much of our civic culture. The resulting squeeze on council budgets will be threatening theatres, libraries, galleries, parks. In the last few days the Light House independent cinema complex in Wolverhampton has closed, and campaigners are mobilising to save the threatened Bury Art Museum.
Trashing night-time venues will cost thousands of jobs and deprive new generations of a stage, uplifting and entertaining music, and future possibilities – leaving only nostalgia, and the souls of our towns and cities destroyed.