Sunday, 3 January 2016

Life After Dark by Dave Haslam - Spaghetti Gazette book review


A History of British Nightclubs and Music Venues

Dave Haslam

Life After Dark is a superb new book which explores in meticulous and fascinating detail the history of nightclubs in Britain and their role as music venues.

Haslam is a respected broadcaster, journalist and writer, but also a DJ who has DJ’d at venues all over the world, most notably over 450 times at the legendary Hacienda in Manchester during the late 1980s. Haslam has written three previous books, all works about cultural and music history. Life After Dark is his fourth book.

Whilst books about the artists, groups, albums and genres of modern ‘popular’ music might fill a substantial section of any decent book shop, books about music venues are a much rarer find. Yet most cities and towns of the UK have their well-known venues of recent or long-past distinction, the places that successive generations made their own; their stories passing into urban mythology. We all know and remember them fondly, often run-down, back-street nightclubs that hosted world-famous bands on their way up, nurtured new dance crazes and innovative fashions before the rest of the world discovered them ...even whole genres of popular music.

But Dave Haslam has not confined his study to a few of the better known of these venues or a particular decade or era of youth culture. Life After Dark is a veritable thesis of the cultural history of music venues, broad in its scope yet detailed and colourful in its narrative.

Neither does Haslam use as his starting point the widely accepted truth that live dance and music culture was invented along with the    notion of ‘the teenager’ in late 1950s America. His study takes us back to the vice-ridden Victorian dance halls of the 19th century and progresses through the jazz decades of luxurious ballrooms before it even reaches the basement dives of the mods and the venues that nurtured the Beatles, the Stones and the Sex Pistols.

There is a continuity in his narrative from the unorthodox leisure pursuits of the poorer urban classes of the 19th century, through the alternative artistic and sexually expressive scenes of Victorian and Edwardian radicals, taking in the diverse influences of black     American and West Indian music forms, the mass affects of post-war social economic change to the explosion of underground youth culture from the sixties onwards—this is a phenomenal journey which will be of interest to everybody from the social history professor to the nostalgic ordinary nightclub attendee / devotee. This is Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll meets Who Do You Think You Are?

For those of us in Spaghetti Gazette land here in the West Midlands, there are plenty of historical references and stories which different generations will relate to. Barberellas and the Rum Runner are given deserved credit for their roles in promoting punk and the new romantic movements respectively, but there are earlier recollections of the four dance clubs of Ma and Pa Regan which hosted live performances by the likes of the Beatles and Stones, as well as the legendary Mothers on Erdington High Street which John Peel once described as ‘the best club in Britain’.

The local influence of Kahn & Bell’s boutique gets a mention alongside the Hosteria wine bar. The Cedar club is in there, the Carlton Ballroom, the Barrel Organ, the Golden Eagle, the Fighting Cocks, Digbeth Civic Hall, the Adelphi in West Brom, the Gaumont, the Locarno and Ray’s Bar in Coventry, the Scala and the Lafayette Wolverhampton… even Thimblemill Baths in Smethwick!

If we consider that the book gives similar detailed treatment to most towns and cities in the UK, including places like Glasgow and   Belfast, it instantly becomes apparent that Haslam has left few stones unturned in his  fascinating exploration of UK music-related nightlife.

But this is more than an encyclopaedia of night-clubs which would be fascinating in itself. Dave Haslam also knows how to tell a good story or better still to draw them out of other people who were there and had the tee-shirt or still bear the scars and decorations of misspent youth. Music legends are interviewed alongside club owners, gig promoters, band managers and most importantly of all, night club punters and music fans of all types and backgrounds. The book therefore dispels a few urban myths whilst beefing up a few more—always told with respect, curiosity, fondness and humour. A great source of music trivia for those of us who love to soak up such material to help us sound knowledgeable in pubs and on Facebook.  

Dave himself says of the book:

“Nightclubs and music venues are often the source of a lifetime’s music taste, best friends, and vivid memories. They can define a town, a city, or a generation, and breed scenes and bands that change music history.”

Life After Dark is a passionate and authoritative history of significant venues and great nights out. We hear of a venue named after a mongoose; a disco that became a Tesco; and an old bingo hall where the Prodigy played for £60. We discover where Robert Plant met John Bonham, and where a singer killed a heckler. We meet one of the gangsters who nearly destroyed Manchester’s nightlife; and discuss goth clubs in Leeds with David Peace.

‘Warm and illuminating…the attention to detail makes this book so fascinating’ – The Sunday Times

‘Impressive…beautifully written, incredibly readable and fascinating’ – The Herald (Scotland)

‘A rousing tribute to Britain’s club culture and its place within the nation’s psyche’ – The Observer

So if you are in need of some post-Xmas retail therapy or have an Aquarian birthday coming up, indulge yourself with a copy of Dave Haslam’s fascinating and memory evoking book Life After Dark.

Buy a copy on Amazon:

Visit Dave’s website at:

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