The provincial nightclub is vital in learning how to be an adult

·3 min read
Brighton clubbers at their local - Chris Eades
Brighton clubbers at their local - Chris Eades

How to revive Britain’s struggling towns? Investment in property or infrastructure? Some urban beautification, perhaps? No. The answer has been under our feet all along, covered in sticky carpet. That is what Lisa Nandy thinks, anyway. Yesterday, the shadow secretary of state for levelling up suggested that the key to unlocking the country’s economic potential could be reopening its nightclubs.

“Every town has lost a nightclub that they feel strongly about, that was part of our history and our heritage,” Nandy, 42, told Times Radio. These are the engines of culture, she said. Without the music clubs in Wigan, where she is MP, bands like the Verve might never have got started.

Nandy does these venues a disservice. As Matt Hancock – recently spotted cavorting with university friends in an Oxford nightclub – knows, the Bad Provincial Nightclub is a cornerstone of British identity. And according to the ONS, more than 30 per cent of Britain’s registered clubs have shut since 2010, from 10,000 down to fewer than 7,000.

This is a precipitous rate of decline. Rising prices and stricter licensing laws have made it harder for clubs to operate. They have become housing, shops or offices, or other businesses that reflect a more expensive and less hedonistic era. In some cases, they have been demolished brick by brick, and exist only as a ghostly Google listing and in the collective memory of people who went there.

These clubs form a vital societal function. Stop anyone in the street in Britain and they will have a memory of a now-defunct venue from their childhood. We are not referring to legendary but vanished rock clubs or rave venues, like The Hacienda and Turnmills, which helped define the culture for a generation. I mean places named after a Roman emperor or The [X] Lounge. A colleague remembers Planet Earth, in Leeds, which had a revolving dance floor.

Part time clubber: Matt Hancock was spotted back clubbing in his university town recently - Karwai Tang
Part time clubber: Matt Hancock was spotted back clubbing in his university town recently - Karwai Tang

While the names varied, these places had much in common. They were fundamentally naff, usually pretentious, where the aspiration to provide a chic night out was at odds with reality. The decor would be ugly even before the sweat, fags and foam parties took hold. The music was unsophisticated. A surprising number burnt down in obscure circumstances. Minor celebrities like Peter Andre would make Personal Appearances.

It is curious that some of the most memorable experiences of our adolescence take place in such unpromising surroundings. In the gathering dusk of your life, you may be borne back to a long-defunct pit called something like Freddy’s or Brooklyn, where you drank three-for-a fiver alcopops and enjoyed an amorous fumble.

These clubs were training grounds for other vital adult skills: how to lie about your age, how to manage limited resources for drinks, food and transport, how to deal with people who looked a bit fighty. How to dress, or not, depending on your desired effect. They were masterclasses in rejection.

One of the theories behind their demise is that supermarkets offer even cheaper deals on booze. But there’s no jeopardy in getting wrecked at home. A night out at one of these clubs was a play in miniature. There was hubris and catharsis as well as vomit, Red Bull and, ultimately, chips covered in melted cheese.

Letting in a few underage punters has always been core to the provincial nightclub’s appeal. Unlike the flailing on the dancefloor, getting in was a delicate tango. The venues needed the business; you needed the access. Longing, preparation and disappointment, punctuated by a few moments of euphoria and terror: life in miniature.

Do you have fond memories of your local nightclub? Let us know in the comments below

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