Signs of Life or Clubbed to Death

Signs of Life or Clubbed to Death?

The old working men’s club and social club scene has been in decline since the late 1970’s. At one time there will over 4000 clubs in the UK, which were affiliated to the umbrella organisation, known as the Club and Institute Union. Many of which provided much-needed work for professional entertainers and their agents. Along with other journalists and Clubland observers nationwide, I have written many lengthy pieces in both local and national press over the years, all urging modernisation with the C&IU.

At long last the numbers of club closures nationally have bottomed out and at the recent C&IU conference in Blackpool, there were encouraging noises from delegates and others.

During my days of working for The Stage newspaper, they sent me along to attend the Blackpool conference as an accredited press representative on a few occasions. I remember one year at the Blackpool Opera House, there was a vote on allowing women to become part of the union, as full club members. The mere fact that this was being discussed still in the early 21st century speaks volumes as to why the club scene needed to change and change fast. The following years conference at The North Pier Theatre saw the motion to allow women into the union moved and seconded again. What women and modernisers were asking for back then was the right to hold the unions once coveted pass-card. The motion was defeated yet again, but only narrowly, due to what appeared to be a collective effort by men from the north-east of England. Palpable tension followed what was in the view of many, a mind-blowing pyrrhic victory for male chauvinism.

My other main memory of that conference was that the bracing April walk up the north pier was clearly too much for the constitutions of some of the more delicate male delegates, who were apparently nursing hang-overs. The toilets flooded and the smell of urine and vomit was enough to strip the paint from the walls.

The year’s meeting and conference, staged at The Globe Theatre on Blackpool Pleasure Beach last month, could not have been more different to those dark days of not so long ago.

The 155th annual meeting of the C&IU began with union president George Dawson revealing that the number of club closures within the union was the smallest in many years and was now returning that what he described as ‘pre-smoking ban levels’.

It was further revealed that, crucially for those of us within the entertainment industry, who deal with the clubs, the C&IU is now helping clubs with performing rights society paperwork and costs incurred from music licences etcetera.

A succession of speakers in Blackpool stressed the importance of recruiting clubs into the union. Recruiting club officials is key, according the most within the C&IU.

Mark Ritchie

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