Nightclubs are, mercifully, a distant memory for me. As much as I enjoyed shoe-gazing to Indie tunes in the late Eighties and early Nineties at The Ritzy in Newcastle, ‘dance music’ – and the whole popping pills mullarky – left me cold.
It didn’t help that I’m no Travolta, neither. When I was in The Regent theatre’s panto a couple of years ago, Welsh star Christian Patterson, who played the dame, wrote: ‘Martin is to dancing what King Herod was to babysitting.’
It was a harsh, but fair assessment.
My drinking days are long gone too.
In truth, I never really enjoyed booze like my peers did and was almost always the driver for my mates when we went on pub crawls around Hanley or up ’Castle.
My friends would shrink with embarrassment when I ordered a glass of red wine in a pub as part of their round of manly pints.
Four bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale or four pints of Löwenbräu (laughing juice as we used to call it) up the Duke of Wellington at Norton and I didn’t know whether it was Friday or Norway.
To be honest, I could never understand why anyone would want to drink pints of anything. It just made me need the loo. I always regretted it the day after too: Waking up with a banging headache and stinking of cigarette smoke.
We weren’t bad lads by any stretch of the imagination.
Unless you count running past Hanley nick late at night with a traffic cone on your head and being chased by a couple of coppers.
Then there was the time I drove down the A500 in the dark in my bright yellow Austin Metro, forgetting to put the lights on and barely able to see out of the windscreen because of the smoke from the marijuana spliffs being passed around by my passengers.
In truth we were far too square to get into any real trouble.
However, even in our day – 20 odd years ago now – there were always idiots looking for a fight in pubs and clubs and we got into a few scrapes.
It seems some things haven’t changed.
This week’s figures showing that Stoke-on-Trent is ranked as the 15th worst local authority area in England and Wales in terms of violent crime, shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
For starters, the city is 16th in the list of most populous built-up areas in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, so our position in the ‘league table of troublespots’ sort of makes sense.
Around 13 per cent of violent incidents in the Potteries happen in Hanley. Again, this is to be expected, I suppose – given that the city centre has a large number of pubs and clubs concentrated in a relatively small area. Apparently, most of the trouble – involving drunken youths – occurs between 9pm and 4am.
Why anyone would still be out drinking at three or four o’clock in the morning is beyond me.
It was only when I met recently with Hanley’s pub and club owners that I realised that the night-time scene has actually changed beyond all recognition in the last two decades.
Gone are the days when 10, 15 or even 20,000 people were out in the city centre on a Friday or Saturday night – moving from pub to pub and ending up at The Place or Valentino’s – then finishing up with a kebab and a taxi ride home before mum got too worried.
Nowadays, Hanley is a ghost town most nights.
Licensees are fighting for custom from the two to four thousand young people who don’t actually turn up in Hanley until after 10 o’clock – many arriving ‘preloaded’, having drunk copious amounts of alcohol before leaving the house.
They then flock to the Trinity Street area and cause police a huge headache – especially at closing time.
The real problem here, in my opinion, isn’t the fact that a minority of boneheads can’t handle their ale – it’s that Hanley is dead of an evening – with the exception of audiences who visit The Regent, the Victoria Hall or Mitchell Youth Arts Centre when there’s a show on.
This is absolutely not the case in other comparable city centres which have a far more cosmopolitan ambiance and where people of all ages feel comfortable walking round.
The night-time economy in Hanley is genuinely struggling and really needs some urgent help. It is simply not viewed by over-30s as somewhere they’d like to be of a Friday or Saturday night – unless they have a theatre ticket.
Even if they do visit the theatre, the vast majority park up, watch the show, and go home – rather than heading to a pub or going for a meal. Hanley is currently undergoing major regeneration work involving the expansion of the Potteries Shopping Centre and the creation of the Central Business District.
Meanwhile, we’ve all had a punt in the great sweepstake on whether or not the ridiculously-named City Sentral development will actually happen and finally lead to a much-needed makeover of the old bus station site. Over to you, Realis…
Parts of our city centre now look bright and modern but the problem remains that it isn’t somewhere most people over the age of 30 or anyone with children really wants to visit.
This isn’t a question of demonising young people.
I don’t believe for a second that there is a higher proportion of yobs these days than there was when I was queueing at the bars in Macy’s or the Market Tavern.
Helping the police to reduce violence is, of course, important but – to me – of equal value is assisting those businesses who rely on night-time trade for their survival.
That includes the restaurants and businesses which don’t benefit from an influx of teenagers and 20-somethings of a weekend.
While Hanley is, undoubtedly, a work in progress I think that more needs to be done to tempt families, couples and those born before 1985 to spend their evenings in the city centre.
Christmas shopping nights shouldn’t be the only time when the majority of us want to visit Hanley of an evening. There should be more continental markets and street entertainment, the superb Potteries Museum – for example – could be opened up for evening visitors and more should be done to promote some of the terrific restaurants.
Successful city centres don’t close down at 5.30pm and I would suggest we neglect Hanley’s night-time economy at our peril.
Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel