Reunion revives memories of The Place to be for clubbers

A flyer for The Place reunion. Organiser Carol is pictured top left on a picture taken in 1991.

A flyer for The Place reunion. Organiser Carol is pictured top left on a picture taken in 1991.

My first experience of a nightclub was the leavers’ party for the class of 1988 at Holden Lane High School.

We could have chosen any of a number of venues – Maxim’s or Ritzy in Newcastle or perhaps even Chico’s by the bus station up Hanley.

But it was another city centre nightspot on which the under-dressed girls and spotty oiks from my school descended.

I remember shuffling around on the dancefloor to tracks by Erasure and casting furtive glances over at the girl I’d never had the bottle to ask out.

Like generations before us we were making memories at The Place – a legendary Potteries nightspot where our parents had once danced, got drunk and perhaps even fallen in love.

Enjoying the same leavers’ do with me that night was a 16-year-old called Carol who was to go on to develop a real affinity with a venue like no other in North Staffordshire.

Now a 41-year-old mum of one, Carol Cawley Holness has organised a huge reunion in the name of The Place which takes place tonight at a city centre nightspot just a stone’s throw from the Bryan Street venue which had been a magnet for clubbers since the Sixties.

Carol, who lives at Norton Heights, explained what prompted her to organise tonight’s event which is also raising hundreds of pounds for the Douglas Macmillan Hospice.

She said: “I love R&B and soul music and I travel all over the country for nights out which cater for fans. I go to other towns and cities like Preston and Manchester and Birmingham and one day someone said to me: ‘Why isn’t there a night like this in Stoke-on-Trent – it used to have a great club scene? That got me thinking.

“I didn’t really have any idea whether or not it would be popular. I thought perhaps that most people would travel from outside the area – but I was wrong.”

Working with her friend Helen Howell, Carol arranged The Place reunion at Jumping Jack’s which is part of the Liquid nightclub.

She said: “We sold out three weeks ago and I think we honestly could have sold another 500 tickets. It’s been so successful that we’re now organising another event for December 14 and I’m looking at arranging three nights a year.

“We’ve got people coming from Blackburn, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Huddersfield and Surrey – among other places – but what has really surprised me is that of the 850 tickets sold more than 500 have gone to people living locally.

“I think it has caught the imagination of my generation who are perhaps fed up that there isn’t a decent venue aimed at thirty-somethings who have had children but still like a good night out and want to enjoy the music they grew up with.”

Carol, who has a 19-year-old son, has more reasons than most to look back fondly on The Place.

She worked there for seven years – between 1989 and 1996 – and that’s where she met the man she went on to marry.

Carol said: “I think what I loved about The Place was the music and the people. It was my scene. If you wanted, say, house music – you’d go to Valley’s (Valentino’s nightclub) but for soul and R&B it was The Place.

“I think the Eighties and Nineties was a great era for soul and R&B. I absolutely loved the music and we were lucky to have someone like Trevor M – who was THE DJ at The Place – who had a real passion for it.

“The first thing I did when I started organising the reunion was to contact Trevor – who is very particular about the kind of gigs he does – and he was really supportive and came onboard straight away.”

She added: “I think I will be quite nervous when people start to turn up tonight. I just want to make sure people have a good night and then once the doors close I can relax and start to enjoy it myself.”

For details of future The Place reunions contact Carol on: 07854 141147.

Pick up a copy of the Weekly Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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Dirty loos and Robbie at his best; my V Festival memories

It sounds like a wonderful idea. You and your friends drive to a large open space to be entertained for a whole weekend by some of the biggest names in music.

For some, who should know better, it’s a way of harking back to their youth. For others, it’s a chance to experiment with illegal substances and swot up on their biology in a tent.

I didn’t know it at the time but my first open air music festival was also destined to be my last.

The date was August 22, 1998, and the venue was Temple Newsham, Leeds.

I was 26 years old, had no children, and umpteen rock concerts under my belt.

The line up that weekend included Green Day, The Verve, Iggy Pop, Feeder, James, Ian Brown, The Charlatans, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Chumbawamba, Lightning Seeds and our very own Robbie Williams.

It didn’t start well for us. Actually getting to the venue would have tested the patience of a saint.

Following a four-hour drive we were finally shoe-horned into a parking space after queuing for a further three hours.

Still, we had arrived at last, and leaving the camping gear in the car we set off to find the main stage and grab a decent spot to watch the various acts. That was when we discovered that traversing festival venues isn’t much fun. Indeed, it’s a fairly hazardous exercise.

Clinging on to my site map and my other half for grim death, I attempted to weave through the multitudes – taking care not to step in discarded chips, half-eaten burgers or someone else’s vomit.

It was a disorientating and pretty unpleasant experience during which I discovered that common courtesy had gone away for the weekend.

It also left me wondering how on earth I would find my way back to my Citroen Saxo in the dark.

Having secured a spot a few hundred yards from the stage we watched a succession of artists deliver what can only be described as lukewarm performances. At least it wasn’t raining.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I realised then that festivals bring together people who have many and varied musical tastes.

Hard core fans of one particular band or artist are hugely outnumbered by the great seething mass of people blowing whistles, throwing inflatables and getting merrily drunk or stoned.

It has all the atmosphere of a trip to the supermarket on a Sunday morning.

The one saving grace came as a genuine surprise to me.

R Williams esquire strolled on stage late in the afternoon – sparking real excitement in the crowd for the first time.

The food and merchandise stalls went dead for the only time during the whole weekend as everyone became entranced by the boy from Tunstall.

“You must be Leeds,” he said. The crowd went wild.

“And if you’re not, you must be Port Vale.”

“Yeah!” screamed yours truly, resplendent in his Vale away shirt.

A tumbleweed moment ensued.

Several dozen people turned to stare at me as though I’d just stepped off a spaceship.
My fiancé kicked me.

I went red.

Robbie, at the time was a troubled figure, still relatively early on in his solo career and rarely out of the tabloids.

I wasn’t a fan but he went on to deliver what can only be described as a virtuoso performance.

On his set list that day were Let Me Entertain You, Life Thru A Lens, No Regrets, Strong, Old Before I Die and Millenium – none of which had yet been played to death on the radio.

At his swaggering best, Robbie teased the crowd like only a great showman can and, for a brief time, all the festival-goers were united.

By the time the final chorus of Angels had faded away and the Robster had vacated the stage tens of thousands of people were on a genuine, natural high.

That, for me, was as good as it got.

Looking back, I like to think of V98 as the time I went to see Robbie because the rest of the weekend was eminently forgettable.

The toilets, when you could get into one, were positively disgusting.

My fiancé’s sister and her husband took one look at the campsite in the semi-darkness and, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, opted for the long drive home to their own comfortable beds.

Yours truly pitched his tent in the middle of the field and was kept awake all night by some herbert wearing a sombrero and plucking a guitar for the benefit of his spaced-out chums.

As I trudged back to my car on the Sunday I vowed ‘never again’.

I’d like to wish all those who have tickets for the V Festival at Weston Park near Stafford on August 21 and 22 a great weekend.

I can’t think of anywhere I’d less like to be.