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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The public deserve a say on reintroducing the death penalty

There were a raft of liberal reforms sweeping through Parliament when Labour MP Sydney Silverman finally got his way in November 1965 and won backing for his private member’s bill to suspend the death penalty.

Since that time capital punishment has not been dispensed in the UK – regardless of the fact that this country, and the wider world, has changed beyond all recognition.

In 2012 the world is unquestionably a far darker, more dangerous and depraved place than it was 47 years ago.

In Britain, the numbers and rates of serious crimes such as murder have risen dramatically and so it remains one of the great mysteries of our democracy as to why old Sydney’s handiwork remains on the statute books.

Despite consistent majority public support over five decades for the reintroduction of the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes, those we have elected to serve us have not so much put the issue on the back-burner, they’ve thrown the idea out altogether.

It is just not on their radar.

There is simply no appetite for the debate among politicians afraid of being tarred with the brush of right-wing, tabloid newspapers.

What’s more, the abdication of powers to the European Union means that such a move is now more improbable than ever.

How strange then that in the wake of recent tragic events in Manchester and mid-Wales people are once again talking about the need for a death penalty.

Sentinel readers are writing in to the newspaper, stating the case for and against capital punishment.

It happens every time there is a brutal killing and every time a child is murdered.

Every time one of our police officers are killed in the line of duty this debate resurfaces. And so it should.

I listened intently to the broadcasts of the memorial services for PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone and the church service for missing five-year-old April Jones.

They were genuinely heart-breaking and the only solace I could find in any of it was a glimmer of hope that the perpetrators of the associated crimes would feel the full force of the law.
But what happens when the majority of us feel that the punishments available to our courts are quite simply insufficient?

By rights, what the decision-makers should do is properly re-open the debate about the death penalty both as a deterrent and as a solution to some of society’s ills.

Some – such as human rights organisations – will, of course, argue that capital punishment should never be reintroduced.

They will point to well-documented cases where convictions for very serious offences have been over-turned, sometimes many years down the line, and say that we would therefore run the risk of executing innocent people.

Others will argue that the death penalty is no deterrent to some people who are, for whatever reason, hell-bent on killing or committing some sort of atrocity.

I accept these arguments but the simple fact remains that the current system doesn’t work.

We have a situation where, in most cases, sentences of life in prison don’t actually mean ‘life’ at all.

We have a prison system which has spectacularly failed to reduce re-offending rates to any great extent in spite of successive governments pouring millions of pounds into rehabilitation programmes.

We have a situation where prisons in the UK are more akin to youth hostels – complete with TVs, internet access, video games and gymnasiums for the enjoyment of killers, rapists and traitors.

Thus the idea of prison itself being a deterrent or ‘much worse than to be executed’, as one eminent QC puts it, is surely out of the window.

Perhaps just a few of these low-lifes could have been dissuaded from their crimes by the knowledge that they could face capital punishment if caught.

Either way I don’t see why we should be paying to keep them. Why should the families of PCs Bone and Hughes or April Jones pay taxes to feed, clothe and entertain whoever was responsible for taking their loves ones away from them?

What use are such criminals? Forget Europe. What rights do we think such individuals should be entitled to when it is proven beyond doubt that they have committed heinous crimes and, in many cases, admitted to committing them?

As far as I’m concerned such animals waived any rights the moment their twisted consciousness sent them to destroy the lives of others.

They show no thought for other people or the consequences of their actions.

They show no mercy and, in my book, deserve none.

It is all well and good for liberal organisations to preach about forgiveness, understanding and rehabilitation. But some people are so evil, so remorseless, so beyond redemption and so dangerous that I would suggest that, for them, the death penalty is appropriate.

I am talking about people who will never, ever be released from prison and who will never contribute to society in any meaningful way.

Instead they will remain a drain on the public purse and a constant reminder to their victims, or their victims’ families, of their terrible crimes.

Personally I’d rather see them disposed of with minimum fuss and expense. They can be fed to tigers as far as I’m concerned.

If the do-gooders and the law-makers and politicians of this country spent half as much time concerning themselves with the victims of crime as they do fretting over the rights of the perpetrators I dare say we’d all feel a lot safer.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Mark of a man who devoted his life to the force

Recent tragic events up in Manchester have served to remind us just what a vital and often dangerous job our policemen and women do, day-in, day-out.

Now squeezed by Government cuts like never before, the thin blue line is getting ever thinner – taking police levels in Staffordshire back to the days when a young bobby called Mark Judson first hit the beat.

The year was 1969 and Mark, from Stafford, had graduated from the police cadets to becoming a full-fledged PC.

Aged 19, he was posted to the outlying Wombourne station on the very fringes of the Staffordshire’s force’s jurisdiction.

Living in digs, the two and a half years he spent there were a relatively gentle introduction to the force.

Mark, now aged 61, recalls: “It was around the time when police officers started to have personal radios.

“Back then we had to carry around a transmitter and receiver. In fact, some people were using the old Army packs and carrying them on their backs as they walked the streets.

“It was a fairly laid-back job in many respects and simple acts like handing out a fine involved us carry around sheets of carbon paper to make copies.”

From the sedate pace of life as a beat bobby in Wombourne, Mark joined the traffic unit in 1972 – driving Jaguars and Ford Zephyrs along the stretch of motorway cutting through our county.

Mark said: “Back then, of course, there was nowhere the near the volume of traffic on the roads that there is now.

“At night time, for example, the M6 was relatively quiet – except for the odd lorry driver or people travelling from the West Midlands to nightspots like the Heavy Steam Machine in Hanley.”

In 1976 Mark was promoted and moved to Leek – due, in part, to the fact that the then Chief Constable Arthur Preece was able to persuade him, as a single man, to move out to the Moorlands.

At the rank of Sergeant Mark then moved to the old police HQ in Bath Street, Stafford, in 1978 – around the time that the first ‘command and control’ computers were being introduced to forces across the UK.

He also worked at Cannock, Codsall, back in the traffic unit and as an Inspector in the force control room from 1989 onwards where a cub reporter called Tideswell would regular pester him for updates.

After working as an Inspector back with the traffic unit, Mark became the Chairman of the Staffordshire Police Federation in 1998 – representing thousands of officers across the force.

It was a role he enjoyed until January, 2011 when he retired after 42 years ‘with a few tears’.

However, Mark is still involved through his new position as Chairman of the Staffordshire branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO). He assumes his role at an interesting and challenging time for the police service – amid cutbacks, an ongoing row over pensioners and the recurring debate over whether or not officers should be armed.

Mark said: “I will certainly be interested to see what the new police and crime commissioner is able to achieve when he or she is elected because it strikes me that neither candidate has any great experience of the challenges facing the police service.

“Policing has changed dramatically in recent years and a lot of that is due to technology – both what the police service uses and effect of things like the internet and mobile phones.

“The workload has also increased. It’s not that it wasn’t there during the Seventies and Eighties but these days it is far easier for people to report crimes.

“There was a time when you had to walk into a police station or find a phone box. Now, most people have mobile phones and that makes everything more immediate.”

But how has the job changed?

Mark said: “I don’t think police officers are able to use their initiative like they were in the past – which was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the job.

“Nowadays, and some will argue this is far more effective, officers are directed to take action having been given packets of intelligence.”

Does Mark think that the horrific deaths of the two female police officers in Manchester a couple of weeks ago has reminded the public of the vital work police officers do and the risks they take?

He said: “I think it has to an extent but the fact is it won’t stop the politicians forcing senior officers to make cutbacks in frontline policing.

“When I started my career we had around 1,700 police officers in Staffordshire.

“Over four decades since that time the workload has increased but our staffing levels are actually being diminished back to around that figure.

“Senior officers will disagree with this and point to the numbers of civilian staff and PCSOs.

“They will also argue, understandably, that armed officers and dog patrols are frontline.

“What has changed is that the force has fragmented in that there are so many specialist roles. We used to have general purpose police dogs.

“Now we have dogs trained to sniff out explosives or drugs, for example.”

Does Mark think being a police officer is more dangerous now than it was when he first donned a uniform?

He said: “I think it probably is and this is partly to due a lack of respect that many people have for the police and all forms of authority due to societal problems like family breakdowns, poor education and high levels of unemployment.”

As I leave Mark to enjoy his retirement with his cocker spaniel Poppy, I asked him to sum up his career.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a police officer. In truth I probably put too much of myself into my job. It was my life.

“I’d like to think I did some good and made a difference but I guess that’s for others to judge.”

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

How The Stone Roses transported me back to that glorious summer of 1989

It was one for my personal ‘bucket-list’. An ambition realised seemingly against all the odds. As the light faded over Manchester four stars came out to shine.

Like many others, I never thought I’d see the day: The Stone Roses were back on stage together again and it was simply glorious.

It didn’t matter that summer showers had reduced much of Heaton Park to a Glastonbury-esque mudbath.

It didn’t matter that a fair proportion of the 70,000-strong crowd were wasted on drink or drugs. Or perhaps both.

It didn’t matter that 30 feet to the left of us a man was randomly urinating as he danced about – a JD Sports carrier bag full of alcohol slung over his shoulder as he twirled around.

Not pleasant, granted, but it didn’t bother us overly.

When the first strains of I Wanna Be Adored swept across the expectant hordes there was an audible gasp.

The disparate elements of an Eighties musical phenomenon had been reunited and the resulting chemistry was irresistible.

When the Stone Roses’s seminal first album was released in April 1989 it seemed to perfectly capture that moment in time.

They had produced arguably the perfect debut album. There’s not a single duff track which is why it sounds as good today as it did when Eastern Europe was in revolution and Maggie’s Poll Tax was being inflicted on Scotland.

The Stone Roses were in the vanguard of a renaissance for British guitar bands.

Without the Roses there would arguably have been no Brit pop. There would certainly have been no Oasis.

That’s why everyone from the Gallagher brothers to artist Damien Hirst and even Hollywood icons like Brad Pitt have lined up to pay homage to four northern lads who gave music a good kick in the you-know-whats just when it needed it.

In 1989 yours truly was 17 and a student at Sixth Form College, Fenton.

I had a Saturday job at the Brittain Adams fireplace and bathroom showroom in Tunstall which paid me a tenner.

That was enough to pay for student night at Ritzy’s in Newcastle where indie kids like me could jig about to everything from the Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets to The Wonder Stuff and Carter USM.

But the Stone Roses towered above all other bands of that era. They were simply a class apart.

Their music. Their look. Their attitude. It was all brilliantly distinctive.

The Roses’s debut album was the most played cassette tape in my mate Rob’s blue Ford Orion. He was the only one of us who had a car, you see.

Long before Manchester United’s multi-million pound heroes were running out on to the Hallowed turf at Old Trafford with This Is The One ringing in their ears, it was the euphoric warm-up track for our pool team at the now-defunct Duke of Wellington pub at Norton.

On Sunday night in Manchester it was, for me, the high-point of a two-hour gig which transported me back to my days of long(ish) hair, baggy jeans and no responsibilities.

The classics flowed, along with the beer, as Fools Gold, Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, Made Of Stone and I Am The Resurrection brought the memories flooding back.

Square and safe as we were, my mates and I never did drugs and so seeing the ‘popper’ sellers on the streets and spaced-out people falling over in the mud was something of a shock. I guess we just forgot how strange and brave things were as the Eighties came to a close.

Will Ian, John, Mani and Reni manage to stick together to complete this tour?

Will we ever see a third album and will it be any good?

Who knows.

But for a brief moment at least the Mancunian band’s brilliance has been reignited for a new generation – as well as old gits like me and my mate Rob for whom the memory of last Sunday will forever be special.

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

This Is The One I’ve waited for…

Music has that incredible ability to burn itself into your soul. To remind you of a place, a time – even a state of mind.

We associate certain tracks or certain bands with memories which keep us forever young.

It was 1989 when I first heard the Stone Roses. I’d like to say I was with them from the start but I wasn’t.

I caught the wave like most people during that unfeasibly hot summer when anything seemed possible to a 17-year-old at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College.

For the next five years or so The Roses provided much of the soundtrack to my youth.

I couldn’t articulate it but, of all the indie bands I liked back then – from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter USM to the Inspiral Carpets and the Happy Mondays, The Roses reigned supreme.

They had tapped into something within that generation and what is remarkable is that their seminal first album is as brilliant now as it was back then.

No, Ian Brown’s vocals weren’t the strongest but strangely that has never mattered to me and I guess many other people.

What matters is the barn-storming tunes, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude from a band which thinks it can save the world.

And who would bet against them?

Long before Manchester United’s stars ran out to This Is The One at Old Trafford our pool team at the Duke of Wellington pub in Norton used to put it on the jukebox as our warm-up song.

When the Stone Roses reformed last year I was over the moon. When I go to see them at Heaton Park, Manchester, on Sunday it will be me realising an ambition I thought would go unfulfilled.

I’m not bothered about the support bands. The Roses don’t need support bands.

When Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, She Bangs The Drums, Made Of Stone, I Am The Resurrection and the rest weave their magic over 80,000 people I will be back in the early 1990s having the time of my life.

This concert is for the lads of the pool team at the Duke which no longer exists. This gig is for absent friends. This Is The One I’ve waited for…