Ready, steady, Glasgow ...

Clubbers in what was one of the UK's hottest scenes may soon be bopping again. Rob Brown explains
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Did you ever see Footloose, that mildly entertaining movie about a small town in the American bible belt whose puritanical mayor bans disco- dancing and all the post-pubescent high school kids rebel? Well, something not so far removed has, until this week, been happening in Glasgow.

Not that Scotland's largest city banned clubbing. But its licensing board did put a major dampener on the dance scene two years ago by imposing a curfew on nightclubs after a nasty spate of random street violence. No one could be admitted to clubs after midnight, and everyone had to be on their way home by 3am.

Night owls were outraged. "It neutered the club scene," groans Jim McLean, a photographer and keen groover. "Friends up from Londoncouldn't believe it. If you arrived a minute after midnight, your night was finished."

Clubbers took their anger to the streets with demonstrations. James Coleman, a councillor and chair of the licensing board, became their enemy. "James Coleman has no soul, man," was the slogan. Dancers were egged on by club owners, who feared for their own futures - and were deeply anxious about Glasgow losing its hard-won reputation as a happening place.

Until 1993, Glaswegians had regarded their city as one of the UK's hippest. Along with its fashion and music scenes, the1990 European City of Culture's nightlife, blasting out of every doorway, was second only to London's. Right up until 5am.

Then the music died. Clubs that had drawn busloads of groovers from all over Britain were suddenly half full. Although the curfew was later extended to 12.30am, it remained a turn-off for party animals.

But the City of Culture had become the City of Crazed Knife Attacks and clubs were an obvious target. Much of the mindless violence had occurred in and around their premises. Some owners installed airport-style metal detectors in a bid to block the blades, but the authorities branded such responses inadequate. "You felt you were living dangerously just going out for a jig," recalls one clubber.

At last, however, there are signs of detente. The licensing board is reviewing the curfew this week and is expected to loosen it to 1am, in response to a falling crime rate. Clubs that have co-operated with police on crime are likely to be rewarded with 4am licences. They're not quite dancing in the streets, but clubbers are delighted.

Sara Villiers, a Glasgow Herald columnist, summed up their feelings when she wrote yesterday: "This loosening of the 12.30am noose might not seem like a big deal, but for those of us anxious to party every weekend where and when we choose, it's been a major issue."

The police, however, do not feel like partying. "We'd be happy to maintain the status quo," said Superintendent Jim Guy of Strathclyde Police. The curfew had had a "marked impact on reducing disorder in the city centre".

But it was only one element in a wider crackdown codenamed Operation Blade. Hundreds of youngsters responded to an amnesty and handed over their weapons. And the law was sharpened up, making it an offence to carry a blade of three inches or more. Crimes in the region involving knives fell from a peak of 1,383 in 1992 to 1,005 last year.

Club owners played their part, too, as Supt Guy admits. They have helped to fund a system of surveillance cameras. Some even enrolled their bouncers in a short course at Glasgow Caledonian University on how to mix brains with brawn. They were taught first-aid, drugs awareness and conflict management.

"The authorities had to take drastic action to address a ridiculous situation which was threatening to make Glasgow a byword again for squalor and violence," says Colin Barr, one of the city's leading nightlife entrepreneurs. "But we have all learnt important lessons and everyone will be keeping their house in good order."

Formerly the owner of the Tunnel and the Volcano, Mr Barr is now proprietor of the Voodoo Room. He is endeavouring to start up the city's first members- only nightclub. "I do a lot of travelling and Glasgow is still widely regarded as the second city to London in terms of nightlife," he says. "But the city has been frowned on because of the curfew."

Jim McLean, for whom clubbing used to be almost a second job, cannot wait for the relaxation. "It's going to be party on down through the summer," he says, proclaiming with a flourish that would please the city's marketing team. "Glasgow will be really alive in '95."

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