Clubland UK: On The Door In The Rave Era by Steven McLaughlin – book review
By Steven McLaughlin
An account of life on ‘the doors’ during the rave era … a memoir of self-control and survival.
This is a gritty collection of often-violent tales from the author’s three years working the doors of Blackpool’s busiest and best-known nightspots at the dawn of the 1990s.
Fists fly, blood flows and weapons are occasionally wielded as McLaughlin learns to control access to clubs and handle trouble both inside and out. In parts it’s a memoir of self-control and survival: in others a stark glimpse of the challenges bouncers face.
McLaughlin’s previous book Squaddie covered his time serving in Iraq and Northern Ireland with the Royal Green Jackets and Clubland tackles his life immediately before, as he learns valuable physical and mental lessons on the front line of Britain’s party capital.
He policed the 3,000 capacity Palace in the days of ‘The Hit Man and Her’, the late night cult TV show presented by Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan, popular post-pub viewing in the late 80s.. until dance drugs changed the scene.
It’s painfully honest stuff. Door work offers direction after he drops out of school with no qualifications, leaves home to escape persecution by his step-mother and drifts through a succession of shitty bedsits and a suicide attempt. He finds salvation in martial arts and gym work, proving himself on the door of lesser venues to build his reputation and progress to the top clubs.
A succession of barrel-chested frame-fillers named ‘Brick’ or ‘Tonka’ and security firm bosses controlling the best ‘doors’ cross his path as the 20 year old works his way up through the nightlife world to a soundtrack of Happy Mondays and Betty Boo. The book’s emphasis is on anecdotes rather than an analysis of how dance drugs changed club culture, and McLaughlin is not afraid to offer views on fitness and fighting methods for those considering following in his footsteps.
It’s personal, pithy and in parts poignant: you can’t help but feel sorry for his colleagues unable to outrun their capacity to self-destruct, either by running door scams, using steroids or being drawn back into crime.
McLaughlin’s way out is to achieve his dream of joining the Army and in 1993 he leaves the club scene behind, just as Blackpool Council introduces compulsory training for doormen and police registration filters out what he calls ‘some of the more brutish types’.
With CCTV cameras everywhere the club security environment changed forever, so this is almost like a flashback to a bygone time of dicky bows and backs being watched.
If you want to know what life looks like from the other end of the club queue, the answers are in here: it’s not easy, it’s often not glamorous and it usually doesn’t end well.