The Politics of Dancing.
The death of the late night industry and where we go from here!
Part 1 – Tricky Beginnings, how we went from this –
To this -
If you rewind the clock just a few years, lets’ say 15, the politics of late night entertainment would leave anyone joining the industry now scratching their heads and wondering just how we ever got this far!
The industry in the UK in 1995 was split into two very distinct areas, Pubs (Bars for our friends across the pond) and Nightclubs and the two very rarely crossed each other’s paths.
Pubs were the preserve of the beer drinkers, older guys who would appear from opening time and nurse a pint of the local brewery’s finest until either closing time came or a message from the wife to come home was sent with one of the children. Pastimes included darts, pool, one armed bandits (with jackpots never more than £6!) and perhaps the odd snooker table in the more upmarket of venues.
Weekly entertainment consisted of weekly quiz nights, the odd live band and, for the less illustrious of venues, a weekly ‘Gentleman’s Night’ where ladies of ill repute would disrobe for small change, the so called ‘pound in a pint pot’ night (Pound as in UK Sterling, Pint Pot being the glass of choice due to its larger size to accommodate the lose change proffered!). Music on the whole would consist of a dodgy jukebox in the corner with hit from the 70’s, 80’s and if you were lucky, a smattering of 90’s, though never anything cutting edge.
Anyone under the age of 35 wandering in before 8pm would usually get icy stares from the beer drinkers and short shrift from the landlord, ‘Sup up and sod off’ was the order of the day.
It is safe to say that licensee’s had no idea, or didn’t care, that a major portion of their market was being marginalised at best, completely ignored at worst. Licensing hours didn’t help, pubs opened from lunchtime if they served food and closed their doors at 11.30pm prompt, last orders being called around 11pm with drinking up time to wind down the punters before turfing them out onto the still vibrant streets. Sundays were even worse, opening times were even more restrictive, al licensed premises had to close between 3pm and 6pm and closing time was brought back to 10.30pm.
Consequently there was no drive on the pubs behalf to keep up to date with music or fashion, they simply got the punters in, filled them up with uninspiring drink, played them uninspiring music and then just as the night was building, closed!
There were exceptions of course, city centre pubs with managers who could see what was coming employed DJ’s for their weekend sessions, mobile jocks with their own sound and lighting equipment who, every week, would set up in a corner and for 3 to 4 hours completely deafen anyone standing within 20 feet of them! Many of the big name DJ’s who were to come started this way, humping gear into pubs and playing the tunes they had bought that week for a wage of maybe £50 or £60 a night. The difference was acute, venues with DJ’s were packed, those without became ‘starting pubs’ or ‘dating pubs’ places you either met your mates at the beginning of the night to plan or places you took a date so you could talk.
Nightclubs of this time were that, clubs that opened at night! No early sessions, no 7 day operations and nothing but music and drink. The big players of the time, First Leisure, Northern Leisure etc were behemoths of the industry, massive warehouse esque venues with one room and capacities of never less than 1500. Sound and light systems were huge and decor luxurious, these places were built for one thing only, generating income!
Again Draconian licensing laws meant that all this earning had to be done in small time frames, venues opened at 9pm and the vast majority were done and dusted by 2am, disgorging thousands of drunken clubbers onto the streets for the stretched police forces of the nation to deal with, imagine a city the size of London with all its venues emptying at 2am, total carnage on the streets.
Fortunes were made every night, incomes of £30k - £40k were not uncommon with some of the top UK venues clawing in millions in profits per year and stories of General Managers being given Porsches in recognition of sales were common place.
Stress was high but rewards were higher and the pubs inability to hold onto customers after 11pm played right into clever thinking manager’s hands. ‘Pub To Club’ became the norm, flyers given out as punters left pubs offered cheaper admission into the local clubs, some even sweetening the deal with a free drink to boot!!
Town centres at 11pm became promotional war zones, rival promotional teams jostled and fought for the best positions near the busiest pubs, wars were started and many a punch thrown in order to get that all important flyer (usually with the promotional staff members name on it to justify their wages) into the punters hand.
Between 11pm and Midnight every town and city in England became open game for P.R. Nothing was too much, no tactic too far out and the rule was simple, if your dirty with us we’ll be dirty to you!
By midnight the decisions had been made, the queues joined and the admissions paid, it was time to dim the lights, fire up the smoke machines and turn the amps to 10, it was SHOWTIME!!!!
Dancers wiggled, music pumped and the lasers made dizzying shapes on the dancefloor, all to get the crowd up for it for as long as possible, after all the more you dance the thirstier you got, the perfect circle! Keeping the music banging and the tills ringing until 2am was the goal, get it right and you’d be counting the cash until daybreak, get it wrong and you were crying into your beer, all or nothing to the sound of a drum!
This was of course just the white income, the legal stuff, the black income were even higher, Ecstasy, Cocaine, Speed (Amphetamines) practically fuelled the industry whilst heavy door firms and gangs ruled the roost..but that’s for Part 2!!