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RIP Pryzm: The provincial nightclub is dying – what a loss for youngsters with fake IDs

The tradition of the Big Night Out might be coming to an end as nightclubs struggle to stay afloat (PA)
The tradition of the Big Night Out might be coming to an end as nightclubs struggle to stay afloat (PA)

I’ll never forget my first time. The rush of adrenaline as he slowly looked me up and down, in my bootcut jeans and a “Nice Top” combo; paused with an aching air of inevitability; asked the question I’d known in my heart was coming.

“ID, please.”

Palms sweaty, I handed it over – the passport with the date of birth that proved the holder was, contrary to her baby-faced appearance, 19 years of age.

The bouncer looked at the picture. Looked at me. Back to the picture. Back to me.

“Date of birth?”

I was ready for this one.

“The-thirteenth-of-February-nineteen-eighty-four.”

It tumbled out in one breath, words eagerly tripping over one another after, perhaps, a shade too much prior rehearsal.

He said nothing. Handed the passport back. And, with a simple jerk of the head, indicated that I’d passed the test. I was free to enter the promised land: Visage nightclub in Hemel Hempstead.

People queuing outside Pryzm night club in happier times: the chain is currently under threat (PA)
People queuing outside Pryzm night club in happier times: the chain is currently under threat (PA)

My heart beat wildly as I scuttled across the entrance. Because, of course, I wasn’t actually over-age on my first ever Big Night Out at a provincial nightclub. No one is, are they? That’s all part of the fun – running the fake ID gauntlet and going head-to-head with the brightest and best security staff that, in this case, the Leisure World entertainment complex just off the A414 had to offer.

At 16, I’d plumped for using my big sister’s old passport – the corner very obviously snipped off to show it had expired – as my ticket to debauchery. My enterprising friend Hannah, meanwhile, had become a dab hand at doctoring people’s IDs, sellotaping tiny numbers over the DOB section. Such rough and ready tactics should never have held up to scrutiny but, in hindsight, they didn’t really need to. In most cases, it was enough that you’d made the effort to lie.

For British millennials, attending your local, small-town nightclub – the Visages, Divas, Envys, Liquids and Ikons of the world – was a rite of passage

Once I was inside, it was everything I’d dreamt of. Pulsating, coloured lights roamed the room; a central dancefloor was surrounded by the sweeping curves of a slightly higher “mezzanine” level, with shiny tables from where you could sit and watch underage comrades gyrating to the strains of Sean Paul’s “Gimme the Light”. And there, glowing like a beacon of hope, was the long, backlit bar, from where you could procure any number of sugar-laden WKD Blues, Smirnoff Ices, Reefs, Barcardi Breezers: oh, we were in alcopop heaven now.

Who cared that the carpet underfoot was sticky with... well, better not to know, frankly? Or that, five minutes in, your hair and clothes stank irrevocably of cigarettes (we were still four years off the smoking ban)? Or that to be on the dancefloor as a female was tantamount to advertising your buttocks were begging for a fondling?

But now, the very existence of the regional club might be under threat. The UK’s largest nightclub company, Rekom, which owns the Atik and Pryzm brands, has had to call in administrators as it struggles to pay the bills. Some of its venues will close permanently as part of the restructure; Pryzm in Watford, in my home county of Hertfordshire, was forced to shut its doors earlier this month, saying it had “no choice”.

Regional clubs are struggling as students cut back on partying (Getty)
Regional clubs are struggling as students cut back on partying (Getty)

It’s unthinkable for someone of my vintage. For British millennials, attending your local, small-town nightclub – the Visages, Divas, Envys, Liquids and Ikons of the world – was a rite of passage. Everyone has a story about being turned away by an overzealous bouncer, or about that time they got kicked out, or the night they saw a fight – a real fight! – on the street outside while eating a kebab. Everyone remembers the first time they locked eyes with a fit stranger across the smoke-filled floor, looked shyly away, looked back, thought, “I wonder if…”, before he inevitably made his way over and started pulling your better-looking mate. Everyone remembers sizing up his less attractive friend and mentally shrugging – might as well – before settling for pulling him instead. Tongues tangling inexpertly on the dancefloor; numbers exchanged on Nokia 3210s. Yes, it was crap – but there was a strange sort of magic in it, too.

Where will our young people go now for their statutory dose of cheesy tunes and gaudily coloured, overly sweetened alcoholic beverages?

More exciting than the club itself was often the women’s toilets, in which any number of plotlines worthy of a Greek tragedy would be taking place. Many’s the time you’d find yourself drying a stranger’s tears and fixing her smudged mascara as she wept bitterly on your shoulder, slurringly berating the “bastard” who’d broken her heart when he’d slept with “that total slag, Kelly”.

Rekom cited soaring energy prices and a slump in midweek takings – a result of students struggling with rising living costs – as the reason behind its decline. It’s only natural that Gen Zs would cut back on the luxury of partying as prices for basic needs like food and heating spiral.

But I can’t help but mourn the loss of the terrible club’s heyday. Where will our young people go now for their statutory dose of cheesy tunes and gaudily coloured, overly sweetened alcoholic beverages? Where will they practise technically poor snogging, or learn to comfort a total stranger while holding her hair back when she vomits?

It seems I’m not the only one suffering from nostalgia. The “Chaotic Nightclub Photos” Twitter/X account, which shares pictures and clips mainly from terrible-looking British clubs, has 1.6 million followers. Jumpin Jaks – a chain that also boasted a venue in Hemel until it folded in the late Noughties – has its own “UK Remembrance Page” on Facebook with over 700 members. Maybe I’ll set one up for Visage. I know I’ll certainly be raising a glass to all the deceased provincial nightclubs tonight. RIP Pryzm: forever in our hearts.