Tiffany Jenkins: A sad tale unfolds at the Arches

The music has died, at least for the time being, at the Arches nightclub in Glasgow, after it lost its late licence. Picture: John Devlin
The music has died, at least for the time being, at the Arches nightclub in Glasgow, after it lost its late licence. Picture: John Devlin
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The demise of the Glasgow venue is the latest blow to the whole idea of a night-time culture and economy, writes Tiffany Jenkins

There is something exciting about the night-time, about being out and about with people you know, and those you don’t yet know, after the witching hour, and that feeling never wholly dissipates, no matter how many late nights you’ve been through, how old you are or how jaded. Even though I now prefer to be tucked up early in bed with a cup of camomile tea and a nice book, the time between midnight and dawn remains enticing, underneath the duvet and in my dreams.

Some of the best ideas of the most creative people have been hatched during the late and early hours, when out listening to a new band, laughing, talking about stuff over a drink, arguing with others over what is urgent at that moment or just dancing the night away. Close friendships are forged, some of most treasured memories – and embarrassing mistakes – made. The night-time feels different. Like you’ve been given permission to play, to take a break in another world without the demands of the everyday.

Whilst many of us slumber, others party and work, hard. The rise of Sunday shopping and its healthy impact on the economy is widely noted, but less so is the 24-hour economy – and yet millions of people work a night-time shift: performing, playing music, serving drinks and good food, keeping clubs open, letting the good times roll. Many of Britain’s cities are profiting from the night-time economy. Liverpool and Manchester are committed to become 24-hour cities. London is finally getting a 24-hour Tube. And those out and about spending money, having fun together, aren’t just locals; they are tourists. Figures suggest that the night-life of Newcastle upon Tyne attracted 1.9 million visitors in 2012.

Abroad, the city of Edinburgh is known for the festivals, and rightly so, but in my experience it is Glasgow that is spoken of with respect, in Europe, in China, in America, for its cultural output, and for turning a city around, for having a creative edge. The contemporary cultural riches of the second city of the British Empire, one of the largest seaports in Britain, more recently very run down, is envied worldwide. It may be overstated, but naming Glasgow European City of Culture in 1990 had a great impact on the city. Creativity has thrived.

But something is happening to the night-time. It is under scrutiny like never before. As it is opening up, being extended, it is also being sanitised. Policed to death. And what is being killed off in the process isn’t just illicit and dangerous behaviour, as officials claim, but activity that is economically productive, culturally vibrant and social at heart.

One of the roots planted in the 1990s with the European City of Culture was the Arches, a leading multi-arts venue, which blossomed, widely recognised as one of Europe’s leading arts hubs. It is – or, sadly, perhaps now was – a superb venue for gigs, a stage for good theatre, and a massive club space where thousands of people could get down. Work that was performed at the Arches travelled across the world. Artists from the other side of the world performed at the Arches.

This week the Arches went into administration, following the withdrawal of its late licence, due to a decision by the Glasgow licensing board. This prevented the organisation from continuing its club nights. The venue had to shut at midnight. Punters were turned away. But the club nights generated more than 50 per cent of the annual turnover and, without them, the venue cannot stay open. The statement was posted: “All events scheduled at the Arches from 10 June 2015 are now cancelled”. It will mean the loss of 133 jobs.

The Arches is a victim of a problem particular to Scotland – Police Scotland – and a broader clampdown nationally on what happens after hours: clubs that include the wonderful Madam Jojo’s and Plastic People in London have recently been shut. The Arches had its late licence revoked after apparent failures to act upon drug misuse, as well as some alcohol related offences. But the club has co-operated with police on this problem for years, and it has a zero-tolerance approach – indeed, for six years, the Arches won “gold standard” under the Glasgow Community Safety/Strathclyde Police Best Bar None awards – recognition of best practice in maintaining safe and well-run premises.

It’s hard not to see the withdrawal of the late licence as overzealous policing, especially when it becomes clear that some of those alcohol offences cited as a problem include people standing around outside with a drink in their hand. Besides, no night or daytime activity is without risk. People do dumb and harmful things to themselves and each other at home as well as in nightclubs, and, realistically, if they cannot do it in the Arches, they will do it elsewhere. It’s probably best they do it in a moderately controlled environment surrounded by others.

The fight to keep the Arches is not over, all is not lost, but the one emerging solution may not be the best way to save what is most valuable about the venue. Fiona Hyslop has encouraged the arts organisation to continue its “hard work”, describing the venue as a “powerhouse of culture and arts activity”. John Swinney said the Scottish Government will do all it can to help. The idea posited is that arts funding body Creative Scotland contribute to the shortfall, that subsidy could step in where the market provided. But that would turn the Arches into a very different beast. A safe and dependent one. Its innovative funding model – subsidy and normal punters paying to party – is probably what gave it an edge. And in a climate of cuts, especially in the arts, turning down the possibility of millions from peoples’ pockets is crazy.

Closing the Arches will make Glasgow economically, culturally and socially poorer. Even Cinderellas should fight for the right to party.