A salute to The Duke and other lost Potteries locals

I was 17 when I first walked into the Duke of Wellington pub. Little did I know that the innocuous little boozer in Norton was to become my ‘local’ for the next decade – even though I lived in Sneyd Green.

There was nothing fancy about ‘The Duke’, as we referred to it. Yes, it was an old pub dating back to the 1840s but the interior was nothing to shout about.

It had one proper toilet for us blokes (which had seen better days) and a bunch of urinals.

The Duke was a good size though – boasting a lounge and a bar, a pool table, jukebox and a couple of fruit machines.

The clientele was genuinely mixed and on Friday and Saturday nights it would be rammed.

My friends and I came to know it as our second home – supping Lowenbrau at 89p per pint as the Eighties drew to a close and the indie music scene really kicked in.

My mates Rob, Richie and I were part of The Duke’s away pool team back then and I’m pleased to say I’ve still got my cue.

I have hazy, fond memories of New Year’s Eve parties, Christmas Eve celebrations and many a lock-in with the curtains closed.

It was a pub where young and old co-existed quite happily. A place where you could still have a conversation and hear yourself think – even if yours truly had stuck the Stone Roses or the Wonderstuff on again.

Sadly, unlike my pool cue, The Duke hasn’t survived. The last time I ventured into the place it was 1999 and quiet as the grave. It closed not long after.

Like so many pubs across the Potteries it fell victim to changing lifestyles and poor management and, although the building remains, it is now a private as opposed to a public house.

As historian and spokesman for the Potteries Pub Preservation Group, Mervyn Edwards explained, it is a familiar tale. He agreed that we have probably lost around a fifth of public houses in North Staffordshire over the last quarter of a century.

Mervyn said: “I thing that may even be a conservative estimate. We’ve seen many, many pubs close and many be demolished over the last 30 years or so.

“The reasons are multifarious but a key one is the loss of jobs in traditional industries. Take Longton, for example. Right up to the end of the 1980s and even later pubs were a key part of the infrastructure of the town.

“They existed to serve employers like the potbanks and even at lunchtimes you would see pottery workers from places like John Tams going to the pie shops and then in to their favourite haunts for a pint.

“When you lose industry like the Potteries has then it is impossible for many pubs to remain profitable. At the same time, people’s habits have changed. They can buy cheap alcohol from supermarkets, rent or buy videos and DVDs or use the internet and play computer games.

“People simply have far more options and have perhaps fallen out of love with simple pleasures like conversing with friends in a pub.

“Then there was the smoking ban of 2007 which really was a hammer-blow for pubs. I was one of the people who thought there might be people who would start going in to pubs as a result of them being smoke-free but it seems that just didn’t happen.

“Add to all of these things the high taxation on alcoholic beverages and the fact that a night out at the pub is actually quite expensive and you can understand why so many have closed or are struggling.”

Off the top of his head Mervyn lists a number of good pubs which we’ve lost in the last 25 years.

Most recent is The Cavalier at Bradwell – built as a one of a number of estate pubs in 1963.

Also mentioned in despatches are the once flagship Joules pub the King’s Arms, in Meir, the Oxford Arms in Maybank and pubs like The Great Eastern, The Staff of Life and the Ancient Briton in and around the Mother Town of Burslem.

I asked Mervyn what the biggest difference we would notice if we went back 30 years to a 1980s pub.

He said: “We would be acutely aware of the lack of what I call ‘creature comforts’. These days pubs have all sorts of gadgets and gizmos – from wall-to-wall satellite television and free Wifi to game consoles like the Wii to keep people amused.

“Thirty years ago you would have had the odd telly and perhaps a jukebox or a fruit machine but they weren’t intrusive. I think it’s very sad how things have changed, really.”

He added: “I think that the bigger pubs will survive. What really needs to improve, however, is the level of customer service. Very often it is poor. There are exceptions – such as The Holy Inadequate at Etruria and The Bluebell at Kidsgrove – but generally speaking many pubs could improve”.

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

Advertisements

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…

Heaven knows what my top 10 says about me…

They reckon you can tell a lot about someone by the music they listen to. That being the case, heaven knows what my vinyl says about me.

This week’s eagerly anticipated reunion of The Stone Roses had me fondly trawling through my record collection looking for their debut album.

The Stone Roses, released in 1989, is widely regarded as a seminal album and is my personal favourite of all time.

Many bands who enjoyed their halcyon days are now back together but, for many people my age – if you’ll pardon the pun – This Is The One (we’ve waited for).

Thus the Stone Roses are number one in my top 10 of Eighties bands – listed here in no particular order.

In truth, I could have gone for any of a number of other indie outfits whose tunes were heard at my beloved Ritzy nightclub in Newcastle from 1988 onwards.

Indeed, I feel duty bound to give honourable mentions (in no particular order) to: The Happy Mondays: The Charlatans: Carter USM; Ned’s Atomic Dustbin; Northside; The Wedding Present: Thousand Yard Stare: The Farm: The Mock Turtles; The La’s and James.

But in at number 2 are Oldham’s finest – The Inspiral Carpets. Formed in 1983, they also got back together earlier this year and are working on new material and planning a tour.

Infamous for their squiggly-eyed cow T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Cool as ****’, the band’s hit This Is How It Feels has to be their best track.

If ever a tune summed up how so many people must be feeling in the current economic climate, this has to be it. As relevant today as it was 21 years ago.

Third in my list is a Black Country band formed in 1986 which went on to record numerous catchy tunes.

I had the pleasure of watching The Wonder Stuff perform in the open air in Nottingham and again at Keele University a couple of years ago.

It’s 20 years since what was arguably the band’s finest moment – the album Never Loved Elvis – but I’m happy to say they are still touring with the irrepressible Miles Hunt as their frontman.

My musical tastes are nothing if not eclectic and so I’m going to veer from UK garage, baggy and indie music to perennially unfashionable rock.

Mentions in despatches here for Sheffield boys Def Leppard and U.S. giants Whitesnake, Aerosmith, Poison and Mötley Crüe.

However, fourth in my list is something of a no-brainer.

They are an American rock band, formed in 1983, who take up roughly a quarter of my entire vinyl collection.

I first saw the mighty Bon Jovi perform in front of 65,000 people at the Milton Keynes Bowl on August 19, 1989.

After witnessing that sea of leather, denim and ripped T-shirts and soaking up the smell of hot dogs, burgers, warm beer and sweat nothing would ever be the same for me again.

I have now seen the New Joisey syndicate 35 times and was fortunate enough to have tea backstage with guitarist Richie Sambora when they played the Britannia Stadium in 2000. Wanted Dead Or Alive is my favourite track and my Jovi collection includes autographs and limited picture discs from all over the world.

They are still touring and selling out stadiums across the globe. Enough said.

In at number five are another U.S. rock band which I adored – partly because of their tenuous connection to the Potteries.

Founded in the Sunshine State in 1985, Guns ’N Roses took the world by storm with their major label debut album Appetite For Destruction.

So vital that even non-rock fans loved them, the ‘Most dangerous band in the world’ fell apart after years of heavy drinking and drug-taking.

Being one of the fortunate few who witnessed Stoke-on-Trent’s prodigal son Slash wring the life out of his Gibson Les Paul guitar at Hanley’s Victoria Hall earlier this year reminded me just why I loved this band so much.

G ’N R are still touring but are a poor reflection of their former selves – despite what Axl Rose would have us believe.

At number six is an American icon and proper working class hero who I had the pleasure of watching in the most English of surroundings.

Bruce Springsteen had been performing for 20 years before he really made an impression on the UK consciousness with his 1984 album Born In The USA.

I saw The Boss and the E Street Band perform at Old Trafford Cricket Ground a couple of years and can honestly say that he remains the consummate showman.

Straddling that ground between rock and pop and with another astonishingly-charismatic frontman are my seventh choice – Queen.

My favourite UK band of the Eighties, their performance at Live Aid in 1985 cemented their place as one of the best live acts in the world.

In terms of Eighties pop, I have to give honourable mentions to a number of bands which feature in my record collection including: The Pet Shop Boys; Erasure: Spandau Ballet and The Human League.

But at number eight I offer up an Australian band which gained worldwide popularity thanks to their 1987 album Kick.

In July 1993 INXS were up ’Anley and played to a sell-out audience at the Vicki Hall. Sadly, yours truly was working that night.

The tragic death of lead singer Michael Hutchence robbed the band of their heart but with tracks like Never Tear Us Apart and Need You Tonight their legacy is assured.

From the sublime to the ridiculous now, novelty band Adam And The Ants have sneaked in at number nine thanks to two memorable songs and their madcap videos.

Stand And Deliver is a great tune but Prince Charming has to be my favourite. Go on – tell me you don’t do the arms-crossed-in-front-of-your-face routine every time you hear it.

Last, but by no means least, I am not embarrassed to say that Princess Diana’s favourite band are also in my list of Eighties music icons.

Duran Duran earned their spot with some cracking tunes including The Reflex and The Wild Boys which, alongside Aha’s Take On Me remains one of my favourite videos.

I never saw them live but I’m certainly not ruling it out…

College memories make the summer of ’89 ever golden

For Bryan Adams, it was the summer of ’69. For me it was the summer of ’89.

He got his first real six string, had a band and they tried real hard.

I got the PMT bus from Sneyd Green to Fenton five days a week, started playing pool for a pub team and first kissed a girl.

Granted, Bryan’s youth was a little more rock ‘n roll than mine. But I wouldn’t swap my golden memories of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College – even for a number one ballad.

When I read yesterday that college staff were clearing out the class rooms and lecture theatres ahead of the move to a new £33 million campus in Stoke, those memories came flooding back.

I knew the big day was imminent, but seeing it in print still left me feeling rather sad.

In 1989 I was 17 and the world was my oyster. The Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets and Depeche Mode were topping the Indie music charts and I had a part-time job in a fireplace showroom in Tunstall which provided my first disposable income.

You probably won’t remember but in 1989 the UK experienced an exceptional 12 months meteorologically.

It was a long, hot, dry summer which (to quote Bryan) “seemed to last forever.”

It was the summer which saw yours truly sunbathing at lunchtimes on the college’s football pitches while listening to cassettes on his cheapo version of a Walkman.

I’m sure someone somewhere can say just how many students have walked up those concrete steps at Fenton and passed through the doors since 1970.

The figure will doubtless be in the hundreds of thousands – the vast majority of whom were from North Staffordshire – and I am proud to say that I’m one of them.

For me, Sixth Form College – like university to many others – equalled freedom on many levels.

I was out of the high school bubble of friends – some of whom I’d known since playgroup. A few came with me but many more didn’t. It was time to meet new people.

I had to organise myself to catch buses every morning. There was no uniform and I sorted my own lunches.

I chose to study A-levels in European History, British Government and Politics and English Literature and, at times, it was bloody hard work.

I recall the Sixth Form library being a wonder to me. Split over two floors and boasting study cubicles and a number of PCs, it seemed vast and alluring.

I enjoyed lectures enormously because we were able to debate topics rather than simply being talked at.

“How would you describe Hamlet’s love for his mother?” That one went on a while, I can tell you.

What was more, the staff treated you like young adults which represented a big change from the school environment.

That meant it was up to you to motivate yourself to attend lectures or fall behind on the coursework. (At this point I’d like to apologise to my politics lecturer Mr Smith for bobbing off lessons with Richard Murphy so that we could play pool at Shipley’s Amusements).

Actually, nobody minded the work because college social life opened up a world of opportunities – especially to a wide-eyed teenager like me whose previous idea of a wild night was spending more than 20 pence at the outdoor.

The Sixth Form had its own radio station run by geeks who piped music into my favourite place – the common room.

Apart from being home to Pat’s Pantry (beef burgers: 35 pence each), it was the place where my mate Mark and I learned to play Blackjack while our pal Brian canoodled incessantly with his latest rock chick girlfriend.

It was there where tickets for discos (I’m afraid that was still the word, back then) at Chico’s by Hanley bus station exchanged hands for a quid.

I never went – preferring instead the dubious pleasures of indie night at Ritzy in Newcastle on Thursdays where I shoe-gazed for England.

Thanks to Fenton’s Sixth Form College I met my first and second girlfriends – one of whom dragged me to my first live rock concert in Milton Keynes.

I also developed a love of Shakespeare and I made one very good friend for life.

Such is the fondness with which I hold the college that I returned a couple of years ago to visit my old English teacher Nigel Mansfield to see how the place had changed and to thank him for inspiring me.

One thing is for sure – when they start to demolish the Sixth Form the ghost of a skinny 17-year-old with floppy curtain hair and a rucksack slung over one shoulder won’t be walking the grounds alone.

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.