I can't keep up, Mum!

A new breed of mother is elbowing her offspring out of the way to get on to the dance floor. JAMES ANDERSON on the women who'll try anything

James Anderson
Saturday 04 September 1999 23:02 BST

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


My mate Jimmy gave her a pill four years ago," says 23-year-old Paul, son of Jean - or "Rave Mum" as he has nicknamed her, "and that's when it all started". The "it" in question is 42-year-old Jean's five- year descent into/devotion to clubbing at hard House nights.

Her life now is one of stark contrasts. By day she works as a cleaner in south London. By night? No boring old bingo for her, ta very much: the only house Jean is interested in is House music. In this she is unusual, though not unique: one of a small but growing number of mums who go clubbing. Perhaps you have seen one of their kind on the dancefloor. Unashamed and unabashed, they drink booze, chuck pills down their necks and wave their middle-aged hands in the air - not caring who cares. They are the ones for whom the beat truly goes on and on. They are the ones who, literally, may bop till they drop - still rasping the repetitive strains of the latest anthem, as the disco ambulance lurches to A&E.

"Women who are in their forties might have brought up children but they have a different attitude to mums who are in their sixties," says Mandy McGarvey who works for Mixmag, a dance magazine, and, at the ripe old age of 31, still regularly goes clubbing. "If they grew up in the Sixties and Seventies - which these women did - then they are used to drugs - a lot of them were taking acid, all sorts and dance drugs and the culture doesn't come as a shock to them. In fact some of the time they're worse than the kids."

"Mums are definitely in," agrees Jo-Ann Furniss, "Monitor" editor at The Face magazine. "In fact clubs would be better if all their younger patrons were booted out, and mums were allowed to run amok."

Vince's mum Hazel in Channel 4's Queer as Folk summed up the phenomenon: a mum who not only accepted her son's choice of lifestyle (clubbing every night) but joined in, raving away with the best of them. When another mum joins her on a night with the boys, she expresses concerns that her own son is embarrassed by her. "Vince used to be like that," nods Hazel.

Having Mum in tow can certainly provoke ambivalence in the clubbers' offspring. Paul, a handsome but somewhat nervous trainee sound engineer, was initially receptive to the notion that his mother, Jean, was a clubber. But with hindsight, he's decided he prefers his social life prior to her discovery of disco fashions and designer drugs.

He recalls how it started. "She was miserable because she'd been made redundant and split up with her boyfriend. We were around our house one night watching telly and Jimmy [a friend] came round with some pills. It was only a Wednesday or something, but that's how we were then. Mum has never minded me smoking puff or drinking and she knew we were doing pills all the time. So she asked Jimmy to let her try one."

That evening would alter the course of Jean's life more significantly than her soon-to-be-dumped drinking buddies down the pub could comprehend. "Seen Jean?" they would enquire among their ranks, with much shrugging of shoulders and raising to the roof of whatever-next?-type eyebrows.

"She got really giggly and loved-up," resumes Paul, of his mother's transformation into Mrs Ecstasy. "Jimmy started messing about on my decks and we were all dancing about in the living room. She kept going 'I feel fan-tastic, I feel fan-tastic' and stroking my arm and cuddling the cat. Next thing you know, she started going on about 'trying it in a club'."

Fast-forward to 1999 and Jean is now a regular at clubs in and around London (although mums in clubs are by no means simply a city phenomenon). One of her favourite nights is The Gallery at Turnmills in north London. Jean regards Tall Paul, its semi-celeb resident DJ, as "fit", according to her son, though not being too nimble herself he does admit that one time she slid over on the dancefloor and did her ankle in. Oh, then there's Strawberry Sundae, an enduringly successful weekly bash, described as having "an old-skool flava". Old, in this instance, being the operative word, according to Paul. "You should see the state of her when she comes in from there," he says. Only after considerable urging will he produce some snaps of his mother in her going-out gear. She's wearing clumpy platform trainers and tight Lycra; her sweat-drenched blonde hair frames a face dominated by a Class-A grimace, masquerading as a smile.

"At first it was a laugh," Paul concedes, as he ferrets the photographic evidence away (he is anxious Jean should not know about this interview), "a bit of a novelty - having your mum out of her box on a podium. All my mates thought it was hilarious. They kept calling her Rosie [a reference to legendary OAP raver of yore, Rosie The Rave Granny, who frequented many of the post-Acid House dos] but I started to feel like I couldn't relax, always having to keep an eye on her. Someone told me they'd seen her with some dodgy-looking bloke in the toilets. That made me feel a bit sick. And it's not nice seeing your mum gurn."

Poor Paul - by now his complexion is ashen, his hands

shaking. Having a party-hard parent has taken away his pride, robbed him of his youth. He reaches for yet another cigarette: "I'm not arsed about going clubbing anymore..." The voice trails off to a whisper.

Thankfully, it's not all doom and gloom. After all, people might not even realise she's your mum, says Mandy McGarvey. "Women look younger these day, don't they? I mean you get old boilers and that can be embarrassing but club culture is all-embracing, of age and looks and so on, so it doesn't really matter how old you are."

In certain sections of the gay scene, a club mum is a fashion accessory - on a par with oversized turn-ups or a bottle of poppers - particularly at techno nights. Carol, whose son, Leo, is gay, enjoys the occasional dawn at Trade (the legendary Clerkenwell club which doesn't even open until 4am), despite being old enough to be most of the attendees' ... well, mother (ie, she's 45 years of age). "I love it there, and at Heaven," she says, dragging impeccably filed nails through her glossy locks.

Her husband works as a long-distance lorry driver, and Carol admits to occasionally feeling lonely. But this is only part of the reason she seeks the company of strangers in the night. Seated outside a cafe on Soho's "gay catwalk", Old Compton Street, she swills down expensive coffee and elaborates. "All the gay guys in Trade, they're like peacocks, so well- groomed ... beautiful. They always flatter you and tell you how nice you look and want to dance with you. There's no hassle. I have a great time, and it means I can be a part of Leo's life."

Carol disagrees with the suggestion that Leo might prefer to to play alone with the boys. "He loves it when I come along," she says, "and it's me who always forks out for more speed when we run out!" (Her claim is borne out by dark lines under her eyes.) By day Carol is a florist in central London and she frequently recognises customers from her night- time outings.

There are few kinds of music that clubbing mums won't try. Big Beat - usually a bloke-ish domain - is especially popular. Perhaps this is a result of famous block-rockin', radio disc-jockin' ma, Annie Nightingale, being one of the earliest supporters of the movement. Indeed, she has often been spotted in various London clubs (just as her son was a "face" on the Brighton club scene, some years ago). Annie is, no doubt, an inspirational figure for finger-on-the-pulse mums who think trance is for hippies and glam house no longer hip.

"I've started to call her Fatmum Slim," chortles John, a student at the London College of Printing, about his late-thirties Big Beat mum Lucy. "She's well into the Chemical Brothers, Jon Carter, all them lot." Lucy first got into this sort of behaviour not, as more fashionable folk would probably claim, at the much-trumpeted small Sunday Social dos of the mid- Nineties, but at a cousin's wedding. "There was a party afterwards and the DJ kept playing Josh Wink's 'Higher State Of Consciousness'. She was paralytic," sniggers John, imitating his mother's swayings. "I looked up and saw her really going for it with a gang of lads. A few weeks later she starts getting on at me to let her go down a club night called Heavenly Social with my friends. She's never really grown up, because she had me when she was really young. She's more like a mate than a mum."

Fatmum Slim differs from the aforementioned parents in that she looks (just about) youthful enough to "get away with it". Her penchant for late nights, drugs and lager could soon put paid to that, however. And were her employers at a leading marketing agency to find out, they would go ballistic. But she's keen on The Ballistic Brothers (club DJs) too, though, so she'd probably like that. Oblivious, as he is, to the notion that most clubbers prefer their mothers to remain forever in the dark regarding their nocturnal shenanigans, young John is philosophical. "She's just having a laugh, isn't she? The mother's gonna work it out!" he roars, laughing at his own joke.

A shorter version of this article appeared in 'Sleazenation' magazine.



George IV, Brixton, London (tel: 0171 207 5515). House.

"My mum had a great time," says promoter Lulu La Vey. "She kept requesting Sister Sledge!"


Music Box, Manchester (tel: 0161 819 5205). Legendary dance night.

"We welcome anyone who's not a dickhead," says Cecile Ginibre, promoter. "Maybe we'll get a sign saying 'Mums Welcome'."


The Joint, Brighton (tel: 0171 435 2375). Pop/cabaret/knees-up.

"Mums invariably have the best time and end up on the floor," says Boogaloo Stu, promoter.


Various, London (tel: 0181 469 3426). House. Welcomes mums, dads, kids and anyone else.

"We start in the afternoon and go on until about 11 , so mums can dance with their babies," says Amy Dagley, promoter.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in