To my amazement, last week, I agreed with a Labour MP.

So did Andrew Billen, a serious veteran investigative journalist.

On Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in response to a plea from Lisa Nandy MP to keep local nightclubs open, he wrote in The Times:

I find myself in agreement with Lisa Nandy when she says that nightclubs play an important role in the identity of a city.

During his youth, however, he didn’t care much for nightclubs:

To be honest, if I ended up in any one of them my evening had gone terribly wrong. Having a part missing from my soul, I could not see the point of places where the booze was too nasty and too pricey to drink, the music too loud to talk over, and as soon as you got anywhere with a girl, then a steel worker would ask them to dance. It would have helped, I supposed, if I had liked the music, but I don’t think I did, although with BBC Four and a glass of wine on Friday nights it now carries a ghostly appeal.

I agreed with the friend of a friend who one night surveyed what he could through the cigarette fog and declared that he would “rather be in a wood”.

Billen came of age in Sheffield. Below he answers a question which I have long pondered (emphases mine below):

Ah, it takes only a quick trawl through the website of my old paper The Star and the groovier looking Yorkshire Live, and the memories of 1980s Sheffield nightclubs come trickling back …

As a soft southerner I could not at first understand why on a freezing night South Yorkshire lads and lasses never wore a coat. It had to be carefully explained to me that if you left your anorak in the cloakroom by the time you had queued and collected it the bird or bloke you had been chatting up would have copped off with an opportunist predator whose outer layer was a T-shirt.

A “role in the identity” of Sheffield? On a February night, Sheffield nightclubs were definitional.

The Times article has more reminiscences from other journalists about their clubbing days.

In the late 1970s, I went to discos, one locally and others with university friends when we were on holiday together. This was in the US and once in Acapulco. The clubs were pretty tame, and, not surprisingly, the local one was great for meeting up with other classmates one saw less frequently.

They were great fun. I never had a bad time. If I did, it’s no longer in my memory bank.

Why are nightclubs important right now? In our post-pandemic era, it is said that young people have increasing mental health problems.

The same day that The Times article appeared, so did one in The Telegraph about mental health and combatting arthritis: ‘In self-pitying Britain, the greatest heresy is to say: Cheer up!’

Judith Woods writes:

We live in a changed world, however, where it is now considered emotionally coercive to tell anyone to lighten up, buck up or call time on the self-indulgent pity party. Instead of raising each other up with sarky humour (as is the British way), we are expected to defeat our demons solo. A striking feature of our age is the monetisation of low mood. Business is brisk for mindfulness courses, gratitude journals and wellness retreats. You can buy “You Got This” slogan t-shirts and even “optimistic” scented candles, if you think burning money would make you feel less glum.

Social media, which is built on narcissism, positively promotes the right to feel bleak, regardless of how self-defeating pessimism can be. The current mantra beloved of influencers and Love Islanders alike is “you do you”. Online, such language has the superficial ring of affirmation, but in truth it is an isolationist abdication of responsibility towards those in urgent need of a pep talk.

What really does help Eeyores isn’t the kindness of strangers in cyberspace but an injection of Tiggerishness from friends in real life. People need people, not pamphlets …

On July 3, Zoe Strimpel wrote a piece for The Telegraph on young people’s mental health issues: ‘Youth is no longer the best time of life’.

It appears that university students can no longer cope with the ups and downs of everyday life:

Young people are encouraged to view every aspect of their lives through the prism of mental health. A survey of students by the charity Humen, found that half felt that “mental health difficulties” had harmed their university experience; 57 per cent of students had sought out university mental health services.

This is astonishing. When I was a student in the early 2000s, I don’t recall anyone seeking help from the university, though presumably some did and good on them. We had ups and downs, sure, but the thought wouldn’t have occurred to us, partly because we assumed ups and downs were part of the package. Most of us, despite some challenges – I was sleepless, miserable and anxious during finals, which I therefore nearly fluffed – muddled through and had a great time.

It’s not that I think students are making up their anxieties; they’ve also had to cope with the pandemic. But I can’t help but feel that the world is conspiring to make, and then keep, them low. Rather than urging them to test their powers – we are often more resilient than we think – their environment tells them to monitor any mental ill-health zealously, promising that it is waiting, poised, to help …

But perhaps the answer does not lie in ever-more “awareness”. Perhaps it lies in encouragement, positivity and expressing confidence in young people’s estimable – but currently downtrodden – powers.

I couldn’t agree more.

Although young people who are truly suffering mental health problems would be the last to want to — or should — go to a nightclub, perhaps it’s an idea for those who are just feeling a bit down, the sort of whom one would enquire, ‘Why so glum, chum?’

Returning to The Times article, clubbing teaches us valuable life skills — and challenging rituals — as Sean O’Neill, who grew up in Northern Ireland, recalls:

… in provincial Mid Ulster at the beginning of the 1980s, entertainment options for 17-year-olds were in short supply. So every weekend we trekked 11 miles to Clubland in Cookstown. There really was nowhere else to go.

There was a ritual. We cadged a lift and headed first to the Black Horse pub for a couple of underage pints of lager and lime before joining the queue in the rain (in my mind it was always raining) for the club.

A cursory frisk from the doorman and in we went, straight to the bar where we necked rum and black or Bacardi and Coke to pluck up courage for the next phase. As boys, that involved circling the dancefloor — quite literally lap after lap — while the girls danced to the hits of the day, from Shakin’ Stevens, Ottawan, Imagination and, worst of all in my book, Duran Duran.

I was an NME reader. I might be tempted on to the floor by the Human League or Soft Cell, but generally I regarded myself as above this barbarian mating ritual

Much of the great Saturday night out was spent securing a lift home. In between trying to speak to girls and inquire if they wanted a) a dance and b) a Pernod (which according to local legend had aphrodisiac qualities), you had to spot people who had a car and were sober enough to drive it.

If we failed to find a driver, closing time had us thumbing. With the Troubles still raging, that required some preplanning. As Catholics we had to have a cover story in case the lift was offered by “the other side”. In an instant you might have to switch from being Sean O’Neill to Ashley Robinson.

Wherever you got your lift there was one more problem: the police checkpoints. It wasn’t a question of police brutality but the perils of smartarsery when stopped.

“Can I have your name please?” a policewoman asked one night of a stotious friend in the back seat.

“Why, have you not got one of your own?” came the retort.

“Right, lads, everybody out of the vehicle.”

From that account, we can see that clubbing involves learning about life and other people. It takes one’s mind off oneself, even if only for an evening once a week.

If I had children, I would have definitely encouraged them to go clubbing. I’d probably even have given them spending money to do so. Mating rituals — including the highs and lows of acceptance and rejection — are important.

On June 29, The Telegraph‘s Ed Cumming filed a report, ‘In praise of the sticky, sweaty local nightclub’.

Unfortunately, many nightclubs have closed, especially during the pandemic:

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.

… 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

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

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.

Cumming says that young people learn a lot from clubbing:

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

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.

True — all of it. On the other hand, there were also lots of laughs, another element of ‘life in miniature’.

It is sad that we are encouraging our young people to turn in on themselves and avoid the unknown:

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

Too right.

Feeling glum, chum?

Get out and enjoy a nightclub. That’s my advice to the young.

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