This weekend the Cathouse Rock Club reopened after being closed for 524 days. I was meant to be working a DJ shift that night when Boris Johnson got on the telly and told us that we everything had to shut down. It kind of felt like the end of the world, but in a strange way it was also a relief; a relief that there was actually going to be some kind of universal concrete action in response to what was a completely unknown threat. Just a few days before, despite us all being told to stay at home, there was no financial support being offered for businesses, and a very real fear that many of the places we loved would be forced to shut forever.
At that point, we were told it would only be a few weeks. The experts of course warned that we would be facing restrictions for at least two years, but it was impossible to compute that, and so we pushed the possibility out of our minds. The night the Cathouse shut we got drunk in the flat, rigged the DJ decks up in the living room, and careered head first into the abyss with a bottle of MD 20/20.
It’s tough to comprehend that we’ve lost so much time to the virus – not to mention people’s lives, jobs, health… but perhaps the toughest thing is facing the prospect of how much we are still going to miss out on. For that reason, it was important to me that I would be there for when the Cathouse reopened at last. More than any other sector, the nightlife industry has been symbolic of a return to normalcy (in at least some form), with folks dreaming of the giant party that would take place as the big metal doors were unchained at long last. Something that seemed so distant not all that long ago when the Polis were telling people they couldn’t sit on benches in Queen’s Park because they might transmit the virus to an old person and kill them.
In reality, things weren’t quite the big blowout that many had expected. Whilst the majority of folks in Scotland are now double vaccinated, many young people aren’t. The infrastructure to support a night time economy has collapsed from 18 months of inactivity; from the lack of taxi drivers to the takeaways that have shut down and the reduced public transport, but also the supply chains and staff that these places rely on. Opening up a club isn’t really like flicking a switch… more like starting up a big steam engine. It takes time – and in reality – the end of the pandemic was never going to come at one particular point. The clubs may be open again, but there are still restrictions. There is still hesitancy. There isn’t quite the ‘end of a war’ festive atmosphere in the air. People are battered and bruised and tired from everything they’ve had to deal with over the past unmentionable months.
In all honesty, as the first Friday night loomed, I found myself dreading going back. Not only had I not really been doing many photo shifts before the pandemic, I had no idea if I had the patience or tenacity to deal with working in a club again. In many ways I feel like I am a totally different person from when this all started, and have been running close to full emotional capacity for quite some time. On top of that, staff were going to be required to wear masks, while punters are not, and I had no idea how that was going to work in practice – especially as a photographer.
To punish myself even further, I had decided that I wasn’t going to drink. Part of the reason I had stopped doing photos before was that in the end I was really just on a big permanent night out, which was fine when I was a lot younger, but not any longer in my rapidly advancing age. If I wanted to actually do more shifts in the Cathouse – or just stay sober at any kind of event in future – then doing so on the reopening night was kind of the ultimate test.
At first things were surreal. Everything felt weirdly normal, but almost as if we were in some kind of parallel universe. Seeing folks for the first time in that building we all know so well there was this bizarre sensation that we had all lived through this terrible event and scraped out the other side, which I guess is actually fairly true. One of the stranger things was just how small everything seemed. The DJ booth, the corridors, the height of the ceiling in Bar 4. As someone wiser than I pointed out: “We’re not used to being in enclosed spaces with people like this any more.”
Very quickly though, things began to feel much more comfortable, and as the night wore on, it began to dawn on me that it was actually really nice to be back. The Cathouse has been such a familiar and safe place for lots of folks for so long – myself included – and there’s something about working in a place where you know all of the staff and many of the other people in there are all looking out for each other that provides a real comfort and confidence in a way which I think seeps out into the rest of your life. There’s been a lot of dismissal of clubs or pubs or restaurants in the press and by people who don’t understand (or perhaps underestimate) the importance of communal human social connection that can be found in those spaces. Without community we can wither away.
Of course, having spent the best part of 15(?) years getting drunk in a place, not drinking was extremely difficult. I got a few pints of Coke to act as placebo replacements for my old triple Jack and Coke tipple of choice.
For the pictures I dusted off my trusty (but ancient) Canon 5D (Classic), licked the battery contacts and taped the battery compartment of the cheapo flash I have shut. From the crappy preview screen on what is now a sixteen year old camera model, I thought the pictures were going to be decidedly average, but I’m actually fairly happy with them for my first outing as a club photographer since November 2019. I guess I’d have to have taken a pretty severe knock on the head to forget something that became so familiar that I could (and would regularly) do it while blackout drunk. Having to wear a mask was tricky, as I realised just how much I I relied on non-verbal communication using my facial expressions for nightlife work, but hey. A good chance to evolve.
Here are some of the pictures. We aren’t out of the woods yet, and maybe we never will be, but it feels good to be back. I didn’t realise just how important that would be.