The 80s and 90s: two decades, two eras, two wholly different times for music. I appreciated as much on a three-night bender in Sheffield, where I attended the Snooker World Championships. Travelling from Brighton, we had a group of ten lads, all wanting to watch the action on the baize, before “getting on it” at Sheffield’s delectable range of nightclubs.
Reflex was the 80s bar and our group were deciding whether or not to pay the £5 entry fee or find somewhere cheaper and less classy, which I was assured would not be difficult. Sheffield is the kind of place where a row of blokes hand out vouchers for the town’s Spearmint Rhino without a trace of shame on their faces. Waiting outside Reflex, we could see an enormous woman wearing a white dress grinding up against the window, showing the people of Sheffield her rotund hindquarters, gyrating on the spot like she was using a piece of machinery at the gym. For reasons unknown, we didn’t interpret this as an ominous sign.
Eventually we agreed to suck up the entry fee and queued up patiently. I climbed the staircase and immediately recoiled. When the sign outside said ‘80s bar’ I didn’t think it meant the average age of the club’s clientele but looking around, all I could see was old faces, haggard and weary, raising their arms to the strains of Candy Statton and pretending to be young again. There was enough wrinkle cream in that room to smother a herd of elephants.
Suddenly our group of lads were the youngest people around, so much so we probably halved the average age of Reflex’s customers. We all looked at each other and it slowly dawned on us that we had made a terrible mistake. The dancefloor was covered in mirrors – a strange decision considering the fat girl in the white dress, still swivelling menacingly by the window, looked little better from seventeen angles.
At the raised podium a DJ tried to inject some energy into proceedings but the lacklustre response he was receiving from Reflex’s aged revellers gave the dancefloor the impression of an OAP’s martial arts class at the local leisure centre. I was told that one woman, wearing an emerald dress and an expression of utter misery that can only come from staying trapped for years in a doomed relationship, was giving me eye contact. “Yeah, she probably thinks I stole her false teeth” I quipped, as we all gulped down our drink.
When deciding which clubs to go in, sometimes it’s a good idea to check out the men as well as the women. If the men are diligently dressed up to the nines, doused in expensive aftershave and looking like they stepped straight from a photo shoot for Next, the girls are likely to be several steps up from pig ugly. If they are short, pot-bellied, skin-heads who look like they came off worse in a fight with a combine harvester, the girls are likely to be rancid.
It’s all about relativity, however. To my teenage eyes, the women were all deeply unattractive but I’m certain the bald, short fella, dancing wildly to ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ disagreed. We tried our luck in Babylon, a 90s bar, and fared little better.
As I said, the 90s were a totally different era for music. Yet as far as the eye could see, Babylon was full of the same idiots in Reflex, just ten years younger. One friend, Ashley, has a rather similar taste in music to me but on these occasions you just have to go with the flow and accept the horrendous cheesiness of the music. Clearly Ashley didn’t get this message as he pulled the filthiest face I have ever seen once ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ started.
There was one other club which sticks in the mind, no matter how much I try to forget it. The Basement, a name which crops up in most towns, was the most lowlife, degrading club I have ever been in. It was clearly a student dive but even students aren’t as messy as the floor of The Basement. I came out of there walking like a robot because my feet were sticking to the pavement. There was no furniture or railings. There was no seats, no lighting within easy reach. Outside, a kid was on the pavement spinning frantically as if breakdancing, frothing at the mouth and chucking up bits of small intestine. “Another local” Ashley chuckled.
Without doubt, the funniest incident of the weekend was at the Travelodge we were staying in. While we were all getting ripped off for breakfast, a gentleman in a wheelchair and his carer exited the lift and headed for reception. The gentleman must have forgotten something because he quickly span around and went to press for the lift again. “We can’t be sitting around all day” said his carer, unaware that ten hungover men, wolfing down breakfast like it’s going out of fashion, were now bringing up apple juice through their nose, laughing uncontrollably.