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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Let’s give a warm welcome back to a rare local voice

BBC Radio Stoke's Paula White.

BBC Radio Stoke’s Paula White.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine made a mistake. It was the kind of error of judgement we’re all quite capable of making.

She turned up for work a bit the worse for wear. She was rather emotional, to be fair. A little ‘below par’.

The problem was that this friend of mine just happens to be a presenter on a BBC local radio station and so her mistake was shared with thousands of people.

It also happened to be genuinely hilarious. For half an hour she slurred her way through her final week-day show before being rescued by colleagues.

She didn’t say anything derogatory. She didn’t swear. She didn’t libel a listener.

She had, however, had a drink or two and so the audio train wreck made headlines in most of the national newspapers (and the local one).

The unusual 30 minute broadcast became an internet sensation – with hundreds of thousands of people listening to it.

For a brief moment only she had the kind of listener figures BBC local radio station controllers would kill for.

I’m not sure if she trended on Twitter but the clip of her faux pas has the distinction of making it on to comedy show Have I Got News For You and even overseas news channels.

A bad day at the office doesn’t cover it.

The lady in question is, of course, Paula White who has been the voice of afternoons on BBC Radio Stoke for as long as most of us can remember.

After taking some time off and issuing a public apology for her behaviour, I am delighted that Paula will soon be back on the station.

It is absolutely the right decision. After all, let’s not forget the Beeb chose to inflict the talent vacuum that is Richard Bacon back on the British public again via the medium of radio after sacking him as a telly presenter on Blue Peter when his drug use was exposed by the tabloids.

By comparison, Paula’s misdemeanour pales into insignificance and I think it’s only fair that she be welcomed back.

OK, so she appeared on radio sounding a bit squiffy and the odd Puritanical listener took umbrage.

But Paula’s not a brain surgeon or a policewoman. Nobody died as a result of her saying ‘P-A-R-T-Y… because I said so!’.

Come on, admit it, that’s still funny.

The problem is that because Paula works in the media and has a profile she’s there to be shot at.

But when considering her fate I am sure the powers-that-be at BBC Radio Stoke must have taken into consideration a number of things.

Firstly, for the last six and a half years Paula White has done a terrific job brightening up people’s afternoons and done a great deal of good for local communities and charities.

Secondly, she is one of the precious few local voices on BBC Radio Stoke and that is important.

Listeners feel comfortable with her because she knows her Biddulph from her Bentilee and can pronounce Potteries place names.

They like the fact that she grew up in this neck of the woods, remembers the SPACE Scheme, danced the night away at The Place and calls everyone ‘duck’.

Finally, Paula’s style is chatty and irreverent. She has always worn her heart on her sleeve and that is what has endeared her to so many guests and listeners over the years – listeners who have shown their support for her through social media and have written in to BBC Radio Stoke too.

Paula probably still feels mortified at what happened – not least because she thinks she let her family, friends and colleagues down.

But the truth is that ‘squiffy-gate’ is a storm in a teacup.

It should be viewed as a half-hour aberration in a broadcasting career that has spanned thousands of hours and brought a smile to many faces.

Welcome back, duck.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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.”