Sadiq Khan seems like a pretty decent chap, with some pretty decent ideas. However, we’re not altogether sure if his hopes of saving London’s dying nightlife via the Night Tube scheme – which launches tonight (August 19) – are altogether founded. The project was the brainchild of Boris Johnson (a pretty undecent chap with some pretty undecent ideas) and after a year of false starts has finally sputtered into action. Sure, the Night Tube isn’t just a dedicated service for ravers – or “a middle-aged clubber like me coming home after a late night out with your missus” as Lad-iq Khan puts it, oi oi – it’s for nurses, security guards and nighttime workers too. Yet one of Khan’s main promises during his election campaign was to reignite the embers of London’s once bustling nightlife. “We have waited too long for the promises made by the previous Mayor to become a reality,” he said back in April of the Night Tube, “but ensuring it is up and running as quickly as possible once I am in City Hall will be invaluable in helping to save London’s nightlife.”
As someone who grew up in London when major league, city centre clubs like The End, Turnmills and Home were still very much alive, for me and my friends working out just how we were going to get home was never a worry. I was a 15 year old living in Wood Green, a place where the inner city melts into the suburbs – a good hour on the N29 bus from Soho – but even mates who lived in the proper suburbs, places like Enfield and Chingford, didn’t bother racing home for the last tube at midnight. They just carried on dancing with the rest of us and then at 3, 4am hopped on that London institution, the Night Bus. A slightly shonky transport system was in no way a barrier to a good night out. Neither was it in 1967 when hippies would drop acid down at the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road, or in 1977 when punks were pogoing in their bondage trousers to Don Letts’ reggae sets at The Roxy in Covent Garden – above, or in 1980 when the art students would strike poses to new romantic bangers at The Blitz – pictured below. Back then, when central London was the place to see and been seen, no-one gave a toss if getting home was going to be a bit of a nightmare. It was a nightlife scene run on the thrills of fun, fashion and friendship not deliberations over transport.
Which makes me think that the kind of people who’ll be enticed into staying out a couple of extra hours thanks to the fact they can get the tube home to Stockwell at 2am aren’t quite the people who are capable of turning London’s nightlife back into what it once was before the city was hit by the devastating run of venue closures which has continued apace for the past five years.
But even with the Night Tube up and running, just where is Sadiq hoping these clubbers will be going? Even Fabric, the last acceptable bastion of mainstream raving, is currently closed. In fact, the last few of London’s great, still-standing clubs – Oval Space, The Nest, Birthdays, Visions, Canavans, Bussey Building – are in places like Peckham, Dalston and Hackney, areas renowned for their lack of tube stations. Which renders the whole Night Tube thing pretty useless. If Sadiq wants to save London’s nightlife, it’s not transport he needs to tackle – but the big businesses and property developers who’ve been cutting the heart and soul out of the city.