Club Licensing

One of the main things I miss since moving back to Shetland is the opportunity to go clubbing at the weekends. And by that, I don’t mean being jostled around a sticky floored late night drinking den full of drunken teenagers with blasting cheesy pop-dance music ringing in my lugs.

By clubbing, I mean going for a civilised drink in a pub with a suitably laidback atmosphere and having a yarn with friends, before heading to a late night establishment staffed by polite door and bar persons to listen to some eclectic music and have a boogie with some like minded people.

Many of the late night premises I frequented on the mainland operate strict door policies that mean you simply don’t get drunk before, or in, a well-run club. A slurred word to door staff means you’re refused entry, and a drunken swagger on the way to the bar will result in you being escorted to the door.

I must admit that after becoming accustomed to the drinking habits of Shetland in my late teens and early twenties it took quite a while for me to understand, and come to appreciate, these policies.

But in Shetland, what are the options if you’re looking for a civilised evening out?

If you don’t fancy the Thule followed by Posers, or Flint’s and on to the Wheel then you’re stuffed. Is that really the best we have to offer, or that anyone can expect?

It’s ironic that somewhere with such a rich and diverse culture has no clubbing scene to speak of. Posers is a particularly bad offender in terms of music. It’s like stepping into a hellish musical timewarp haunted by tracks from 15 years ago: N-Trance’s ‘Set You Free’, or the tragically remixed ‘Country Roads’ being two regular and notable offenders.

Yet hundreds of people go ‘clubbing’ in Shetland every weekend. I’m sure its not for the specific entertainment experience, its because there is no other option.

In reality, the ‘nightclub’ scene in Shetland, as I would recognise it, disappeared with the closure of he LK Sound Factory (the Jubilee to you and me) and North Star, where the music and dancing actually came first. However, these clubs tended to err on the side of hard-edged dance music, so fans of hip-hop, jazz-funk or northern soul weren’t well catered for. I’m not sure that I’d even consider Posers or the Wheel as nightclubs in comparison – more like late licensed pubs.

But maybe I’m an old fart, so let’s look to the SIC to see how those groovy hipsters identify a ‘nightclub’.

Here’s how, in their 2008 Policy and Practice for Extension of Hours, they defined a nightclub – “The premises operate on a commercial basis throughout the year, there is a distinct part of the premises set aside as the nightclub area, the primary function is to permit dancing and not exclusively to be a drinking facility, entrance is by a charge for admittance to the nightclub area, and fully trained and qualified staff and stewards are employed.”

If premises fitted these criteria, it was a club, and a 2am license could be granted.

However, no such phrase is present in the 2010 Statement of Licensing Policy. It’s now left to the Licensing Board to use their judgement as to what merits the 2am nightclub status.

Alarm bells rang recently when councillor Gary Robinson of the Licensing Board once again used his position to rally against Mareel maintaining that the new venue shouldn’t even get a basic license and that Posers and the Wheel were ‘bona fide’ nightclubs.

Worse still whilst the Board have recently refused 2am licenses to important and culturally significant events such as the Tall Ships and the Bergen to Lerwick race. Where is the parity or logic?

The prevalent fear among many of the older generation seems to be the idea of people going out with the sole aim of getting drunk. But if all we’re offering them is the opportunity to get drunk, where entertainment or indulging in a bit of culture is secondary, where does that leave us?

Limiting the hours of some events and venues, whilst allowing drinking dens to operate until 2am, won’t change the negative drinking culture. I’m not advocating pulling back the hours of Posers or the Wheel; quite the opposite. I believe that we should be allowing other events and venues an equal footing by being more relaxed with licensing. There’s a vast body of evidence that indicates later licenses allow people to tail off their evenings how they see fit and discourages ‘last orders’ rushes, followed immediately by an outpouring of people onto the streets and the problems that ensue.

In reality, the majority of people are more interested in enjoying themselves than getting legless, but the culture of Shetland, where entertainment is often secondary to booze, is the root of the problem, not the drinking hours.

I suggest that satisfying people’s desire to spend time in a pleasant atmosphere where dancing, music and socialising are the primary reasons for going out is the way forward.

Article for Shetland Life magazine – July 2011