At some point around 1990/1, I began to spend less money on gig tickets and more on club entry. I’d was a buyer of vinyl, an NME reader, and travelled across England for hip hop and indie gigs. I was still rooted in or perhaps stuck on a working-class peripheral estate in Stoke-on-Trent, but I had escape routes. Weekends had always been dull for me as a 16-year-old, either drinking in the Miners’ Welfare Club where my step-father drank – avoiding the bingo and the covers bands – or going to some straight disco for pop hits. The occasional trip to see bands like Public Enemy and Pixies turned into a weekly habit of dancing to house and techno, in Stoke and further afield. By the time I left Stoke at 18 – for what I thought was for good – I was fully embedded in a house/ techno club culture, and stayed with it (in Cambridge and London) for the next decade, doing a bit of DJing, promoting, working in record shops, and a lot of staying up all night.
What I didn’t know, at the start, was that Stoke had seen it all before. At some point, when my step-father’s friend Jack heard I was going to all-nighters, he started talking about the Torch, Tunstall and the Northern Soul events of twenty-years before. There, in the working mens’ club, sat a group of working-class men, who had worked in the mine that had closed in the 80s, or been ‘metal bashers’, but had been laid off in their 40s and never worked again, all on the sick. They would casually use racist epithets, but at the same time one of their number was black, and they would be drinking weak beer day after day, night after night, playing dominoes, cribbage and sometimes darts. It’s easy to see this place in one-dimension: they were the ‘left behind’ in 2016 parlance, and fit all the stereotypes of the lack of education, unthinking sexism, racism, homophobia, lacking interest in politics and culture beyond ‘the village’, the semi-derelict mining estate where we lived. However, even some of these people had been players once, before settling down. I’d even fell for these stereotypes myself, to some extent, changing the signs on the way in to Stoke to say ‘culture free zone’, on a visit back from university (where I’d found far more culture):