Memories of the decade when music made a statement…

You know you’re getting old when you look around the pub table at the lads you grew up with and they’re all either bald, receding or have grey hair.
Back in the late Eighties, we always started our Christmas pub crawls at the Old Brown Jug in Newcastle and this year 10 of us made the annual reunion.
The only thing that hasn’t changed since those halcyon days is our pub of choice – complete with its wooden floors and proper ales.
This year yours truly was driving and so remembers everything and didn’t embarrass himself.
Now, maybe it’s my rose-tinted spectacles again but I remember Newcastle being busier back when I was young, free and single.
I remember the music being so much better. I also remember girls wearing skirts that didn’t resemble arm bands.
It seems I’m not the only one, either.
DJ Mark Porter has been entertaining crowds for more than a quarter of a century and, like me, he laments the good old days.
The 42-year-old, from Kidsgrove, learned his craft at the ‘Kids’ Night’ at The Place nightclub in Hanley – putting on records for the resident DJ when he nipped to the loo.
From such inauspicious beginnings Mark went on to DJ at The Place, as well as Maxim’s in Newcastle and at The Highlight (formerly Jollees) in Longton.
When asked the straight question: Which decade do you prefer for music, he is unequivocal.
“The Eighties, definitely,” said Mark. “So many of the tracks from back then are still popular. So many of the bands and artists from back then are either still going or have reformed.
“Yes, there was some proper cheese like Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face and Black Lace’s Agadoo and some of the fashions were – in retrospect – horrendous.
“For example, I remember seeing people wearing sweatbands round their heads and leg warmers.
“But the Eighties was a decade of great guitar bands and proper pop groups like Duran Duran, the Human League, Spandau Ballet and Heaven 17.
“Remember the likes of Joy Division/New Order. Look at what Queen and U2 achieved. Just think of the line up at the Live Aid concert.
“I like to think as the Eighties as the modern Sixties – a decade where musicians were making a real statement – along with the people who listened to them.
“Nowadays I look around and, to be honest, I despair at the manufactured acts which the music industry moguls inflict on us. These days, the sad truth is anybody can be a pop star.”
Mark, who currently DJs at the Bel Air nightclub at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, genuinely misses the Eighties and he’s not afraid to admit it.
He said: “I think it’s a case of you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.
“At the time I don’t think we realised just how good the music scene was and what a great time it was to be growing up.
“It’s certainly different these days. Back then going out on a Friday or Saturday night was a big deal. People got dressed up for it – none of this jeans and trainers business.
“Back then nightclubs were destination venues. People went out on the town and then rocked up at the nightclub at around 11am and stayed their until 2am. That was what everyone did.
“Nowadays I occasionally feel a similar buzz to all those nights back in the day but it’s pretty rare and depends very much on the crowd that’s in.”
After 25 years as a DJ, Mark also has an interesting theory on Potteries pop superstar Robbie Williams.
He said: “I can’t help but think that Robbie was heavily influenced by growing up in the Eighties and going to nightclubs like The Place.
“Like the rest of us he would have listened to the new romantics, the synth pop and the kind of sounds which emerged towards the end of the decade and I see lots of those influences coming through in the music that he has written and performed.”

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Here’s to the Old Brown Jug

I don’t get out much. Working daft hours and two small children makes for a dull social life. But last night I rolled back the years and enjoyed a couple of pints with a mate in Newcastle’s Old Brown Jug. This is the pub where, in my late teens, I met up with friends every week before inevitably ending up at Ritzy nightclub. The Jug hasn’t changed much. Same old wood floor. It is a proper pub that not only has the power to transport me back to my youth but also appeals to an ageing dad just looking for decent ale and a proper conversation. I’ll drink to that…

I don’t get out much, these days. Working long hours, small children… you know the score.

In fact, the last ‘local’ I had was the Duke of Wellington in Norton which closed down and was converted into a house about, ooh… 10 years ago.

But on Saturday I rolled back the years and returned to my old stomping ground for a night out with ‘the lads’.

It knew I was in for a good time because, as I drove to my parents’ house to cadge a lift, I flicked on the radio to listen to some music – something a dedicated news and sport listener like me would never normally do.

And the first song I heard?

The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy…

‘Guess who just got back today,
Those wild-eyed boys who have been away,
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say…’

Genius. Game on, I thought.

There was a time when every Christmas I would lead a group of my school and college mates on a pub crawl around Newcastle.

We chose ’Castle, of course, because bitter experience had taught us that Hanley was rougher and we were much more likely to get into a scuffle there with boozed-up boneheads.

In an age when weekends away in Dublin are the norm, I suppose our Christmas dos would now seem fairly tame.

But, to us, it was the highlight of the year.

In those days Ritzy was the nightclub of choice – a place where we could shoe-gaze the night away to The Smiths, The Stone Roses, James and The Levellers et al.

But long before we hit the dancefloor our evenings would begin with a rendezvous at The Old Brown Jug.

And so it was to that fine establishment that 10 of us returned on Saturday.

Three of the original gang couldn’t make it (shame on you), but I was still pleased with the turnout – given the fact that getting some of the boys out for the night is like pulling teeth these days.

I was delighted to see that the wooden-floored Jug hadn’t changed much – except that the clientele looked a lot older than I remembered.

Then I glanced around at my chums. What a motley crew. Grey hair, no hair, spectacles and more than enough nominated drivers.

Then there was yours truly weighing two stone more than I had the last time I propped up that bar and sporting my ridiculous panto beard.

Suddenly I felt very old.

Happily, the time flew because despite the receding hair lines and sensible clothing these boys are still my heroes. After all, they wrote the soundtrack to my youth.

So I just sat back, relaxed and let the conversations wash over me.

Five bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale later and, against my better judgment, we wandered up into the town centre.

Unless I’m mistaken very little has changed since I last enjoyed a festive pub crawl round ’Castle.

It’s still more civilised than the city centre – even if some of the girls should, by rights, be dead from hypothermia given the amount of bare flesh on display on a cold December evening.

In my head, of course, I’m still twenty-odd and I take some convincing that I’m the same age as everyone else reliving their youth in ’80s bar Reflex.

But even the strains of Deacon Blue’s unforgettable Real Gone Kid weren’t enough to convince us to stick around for more than one pint.

And so it was that we made our way back to the Jug and it’s welcoming real fire for the dying embers of the evening.

Although I disgraced myself and proved yet again that I simply cannot take my ale, everyone stayed until the bitter end and we all agreed to stop being such a bunch of wet blankets and meet up again next year.

I’m delighted, because I’m nothing if not a sentimental old sod and I get an enormous buzz out of reuniting my old friends.

As the saying goes… there comes a point in your life when you realise who really matters, who never did, and who always will.

Cheers, boys.