Archive for November 2, 2011
We have said it so many times, but six months on the London clubbing scene is an absolute eternity, even six weeks a long time given the huge amount of activity across hotspots like Soho, Shoreditch & Vauxhall and it seems that while we have been missing in action, all sorts of happenings, developments & newsworthy stories have been presenting themselves. But while we may have missed out on events like Lovechild’s re-emergence on the capitals clubbing circuit, Trade’s 21st birthday, Room Service’s 1st & WE Party’s latest outing, we haven’t been able to escape the rumours circulating that two of the scene’s most prominent venues have are in the firing line (no pun intended) from the police & so the local council. So, amidst reports of mismanagement, illicit drug use and increased criminality both in & around the venues in question plus with the latest news of their fate splashed across the gay press & clubbing websites, we thought it only right to delve deeper into what has definitely become the talk of the town, cutting through the rumours & the hearsay to bring you the facts, as well as then giving our opinion on the issues as they stand.
So who are we talking about? Well Fire & Area of course, two venues that are run & managed by London’s premier gay clubbing organisation, The Orange Group, a business that boasts some of the biggest & best brands on the circuit, Beyond, Later & Onyx three in a stable of clubs that extends deep into double figures. And while it is clear that the dynamism & diversity of the scene here in the capital extends far further than the group, the brands & these two venues, no-one can deny, whether fans or not, that Both Fire & Area together with the clubs that they run week in week out, are intrinsic to the gay clubbing scene in London and so any suggestion or thought that their future would be in doubt is big news indeed. However, before we look at the news, it is also worth mentioning that since the emergence of Vauxhall as a clubbing mecca in the late nineties, Fire and more latterly Area, have been instrumental in the draw & subsequent success of this south of the river suburb, although with other venues including Colosseum, Hidden, Renaissance Rooms & Union, gay watering holes Barcode, The RVT & The Eagle, plus Chariots sauna & The Hoist fetish club, the draw of Vauxhall for the gay community and so the implied accusations of illicit drug use and increased criminality cannot be laid solely at the doors of The Orange Group.
With that prologue pitched & positioned, what is the situation with Fire & Area as we go to press on the subject?, What picture has been painted by certain elements of the press regarding issues of licences, closures & criminality? And what are the facts facing Fire in particular? Well, first & foremost, from what you may have read in the press, on clubbing websites or by visiting Lambeth council’s own site, it is true & yes we can confirm that Fire is closing, or should we say closed, but this closure which came into effect on Monday (31st Oct) is a temporary one & part of the conditions of Fire’s premises licence renewal grant, the councils ruling “…to suspend the premises licence for a period of 6 weeks, in order to deter and prevent crime…” one of a list of conditions it has applied to the new premises licence, this an important point to stress to those doubters that feel (or fear) that Fire’s on-going operation is under serious threat of complete cessation. So, making the situation crystal clear, as part of its licence renewal, Fire will be closed until Thursday 15th December and in doing so, meeting this important & intrinsic condition of the licence. It is also worth noting a particular point within the council’s decision document (one which you can read in detail at http://lambeth.gov.uk/moderngov/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=2387) when they state that “…The LSC gave serious consideration to this revocation of the premises licence, but concluded that this option was unnecessary and disproportionate in all of the circumstances..”, this confirming beyond reasonable doubt that Fire have their licence renewed and so very much laying to waste any rumours to the contrary.
But before we tackle what this temporary closure of Fire will mean to you as clubbers & the plans The Orange Group have made to circumvent the impact of this closure, we want to spend a moment to look at why & how the venue managed to find itself in the position it is, plus to give a considered approach to the view of the various camps, whether they be the police, the clubbers or, more importantly, the community in & around Vauxhall. Having immersed ourselves into that council decision document, it is clear that Fire, its management & the whole operation, top to toe, has been under sustained scrutiny from the police for a considerable length of time, although having digested many of the claims, findings & statements made, there seems to be an underlying current of disfavour towards Fire as a business & as part of the community it finds itself in. There is no doubt that the issue of so called “…illicit drug taking…” and consequential “…systematic failiure by the management…” is a serious one and it is also clear that, as a result of the police’s covert operations within the venue, that a huge weight of evidence was brought to bear, leaving The Orange Group management an equaly serious case to answer, although seemingly one that they managed to achieve during a hearing that lasted close on nine hours, such was the complexity of what would, in normal circumstances, be a straight forward licence renewal process.
So, taking an arm’s length look at our own claim of disfavour towards Fire as a venue within the community, while we have to acknowledge that the sustained scrutiny by the regulatory authorities has highlighted grave misgivings & shortcomings extending to claims of outright criminality within the venue, the rumour machine that has pointed the finger of blame in Fire’s direction for general criminality across Vauxhall, not least waged by local residents, seems a little unfair, especially given that so many other gay businesses draw crowds into the area. Therefore, suggestions that the closure of Fire would completely address these issues across Vauxhall seems entirely irrational and maybe the real issue is that a proportionate amount of the local community are simply tired of seeing scantily clad clubbers pouring out onto the streets, or occupying the parks & green spaces following clubbing events and that, because of this activity, Fire is been singled out as the main protagonist. As a developed suburb of the capital, the fabric of Vauxhall has changed considerably in recent years, smart apartments, cafe’s & bars have sprouted up alongside established ones , although no-one can deny the LGBT credentials of the area and, as such, the issues that this can bring to bear.
That said, as a responsible venue and as responsible management, Fire & its whole team have a binding commitment to uphold the law, whether it be in terms of licensing or otherwise, so have a duty to the authorities & to the wider community to ensure that it does just that, measures adopted both within its walls & beyond its boundaries to suitably demonstrate commitment & compliance. And whilst some (us included) may think that Fire has been unfairly singled out, the raw facts of the matter are that the authorities have a duty to ensure that clubs within the community they operate, do so within the law and it was deemed that, from a licensing law perspective, Fire was breeching that commitment, so, as a consequence, the club, its employees, it’s clubbers & the wider clubbing community, were in grave danger of losing their livelihood & mere existence, as without the necessary licence to trade, one which the police were looking to permanently revoke, in essence, Fire would be no more. But, thankfully it is more; the licence has been renewed, although with a hefty amount of conditions within the venue’s “licence operating schedule”, all means that the club is not out of the woods yet and, while having been given the time to do so, not least with this temporary closure, the management team will need to prove that they have addressed those issues of illicit drug use by implementing the series of measures within their revised operating schedule, many of which will hopefully become visibly apparent for regulars attending Fire when it re-opens.
So those are the issues, but what about this six week closure & what impact will it have? Well, clearly in the eyes of both the police & the council, it is Fire rather than the wider Vauxhall community that was the focus of attention, the mere closure probably intending to temporarily reduce the level of club events taking place, although the wording used within the council’s decision document is clear when it stated their aim was “…to deter & prevent crime…”. However, it seems the stance taken by The Orange Group has been to merely switch their branded club nights to other venues in Vauxhall, Area soaking some, while just today, a formal announcement that Factory will be accommodating some of the clubs during this closure period was made. So it seems that rather than reducing levels of activity in Vauxhall, as seems to be the implied intent, Fire’s temporary closure will merely see club nights operating out of different venues, so leaving a serious question mark over whether the police will deem this as sufficient evidence that suitable steps are being made by The Orange Group.
As for Fire during this period of closure, the team will be using the time not just to roll out & prepare the changes requested in their operating schedule but will be using the opportunity to, in the words of The Orange Group’s director of promotions, Jonny Marsh, “…complete refurbishment works, install new production & lighting rigs and review processes in place to cater for the expanding business…”. And having recently undertaken a facelift of Fire’s main room, we expect that the finishing touches to this space will be applied, while we are sure further attention to the new phase in the venues development, Protocol, will also take place. Plus, in an exclusive interview with QX magazine, Jonny gave an indication of what to expect when Fire re-opens by saying “…it may be a while off, but we are already planning some very special parties for that weekend…”, although clearly they will need to, especially given the Logan Presents Anniversary event which already looks like being a sell-out, George Michael’s appearance the irresistible draw, but as Jonny also said of the six week closure, “…London’s gay community is going to miss Fire and we will miss them too…” but has hinted that we can keep abreast of plans for the venue in the coming weeks by going to http://fireclub.co.uk/news.
In conclusion, it is clear that The Orange Group have been under considerable scrutiny and as a result lessons will have to be learnt and, we hope, a stronger sense of humility with respect to its position in the clubbing community. However, the overriding fact of the matter remains that, as a venue, it now has its licence renewed and so will continue to play a pivotal part within the dynamically diverse & rich clubbing scene we are so fortunate to have here in the capital. So here’s to the future of Fire and one that we continue to support both through this short period of closure & then re-adjustment, in the knowledge that bigger & better things are to come for this vivacious venue. (DISCO MATT)