It feels like it's probably time to start a Nightclub in Jeopardy column; and a daily one, at that. London's nightclubs are dropping like flies, their lights extinguished one-by-one by the joint forces of local councils and the Met police. In the last ten years over half of the UK's nightclubs have closed down—more specifically, most have been closed down—leaving our streets largely barren after sunfall. By now, we're all aware that many of those former pleasure palaces have made way for the kind of soulless luxury property developments that are currently pockmarking the entirety of the UK: rent has become a council deployed wrecking ball.
Last week a giant fell. Fabric's closure has left many feeling both disillusioned and powerless. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has promised to be "invaluable in helping to save London's night life," but thus far we've seen Facebook posts rather than actual action. Right now, we've got a night tube that takes us nowhere, and a distinct lack of Night Czar.
Now it's the turn of a club south of the river to face the threat of closure. Situated towards the end of Rye Lane, Canavan's has become the pride of Peckham. A pool hall-cum-club sat between an Asda and a greasy spoon cafe, the space formerly known as JFKs has become one of the area's go-to destinations for those of us who like loud music, late nights, cheap pints, and watching your mate accidentally pot the black. And, yep, you guessed it: the council want rid of it.
While Canavan's might not have the international stature that fabric did, we can't watch another one of the city's spaces for dancing disappear into the ether. With that in mind, we gave owner Ciaran Canavan a call to see what can be done to stop a South East institution vanishing forever.
THUMP: So, Ciaran, what's the actual issue here?
Ciaran Canavan: Since it became a pool club there's been five owners, and the previous owner, John Kelly, applied for a license that allowed it to open until 4am. This was given. However, he didn't apply for a change of use for planning, which he should have done. It's been 13 years since then, and that's 13 years that it's been a late night venue. But I've only owned it for five of those years, and the council are saying that if I can't prove that it's been a late night venue all that time I'll have to close up at 11.30PM.
When did Southwark council start these discussions?
Six months ago. I believe that it's something to do with the building next door they they're trying to build flats. I put an objection in as they hadn't consulted me about that. The law states that if you've had something in place for ten years or more, the council should automatically grant you a lawful license. Now, they know that they granted the alcohol license in 2005. They know the place was used as a late night venue. I shouldn't be going through this. This isn't just my workplace—it's my home.
What's the worst case scenario?
We will close. The stupid thing is, the 'use' of this club is a private members snooker club. If I wanted to keep the doors open I'd have to get rid of my pool tables and put snooker ones in, because as far as the council are concerned, a snooker club has a different use than a pool one. They're tying me up every way. There is something going on with the politics that they want all the clubs out of the city.
I was going to ask – what's your view on nightlife in general in London?
The problem is that there are no police around at night. If a 999 call is made and it's not life-threatening, we have to detain whoever is involved for and hour an a half. There's a 90 minute call out for the police on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. That's unbelievable. In the 21st century in one of the biggest cities in the world, you've got to wait that long for a police officer. It's not their fault—the government are insistent on cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks.
When it comes to drug security, we are not allowed to do personal body searches. We can pat people down and check their bags, but if we had to do a personal search, so women taking their bras off and men taking their pants off, it would take twenty minutes to half an hour to search every person. We wouldn't have clubs. What the government is saying is, look, we can't afford to police these places, and because there are silly people taking drugs there are going to be deaths. Fabric should never have been blamed; they search people. There are always going to be dealers going into clubs.
And what else can clubs even do without a personal search? The responsibility shouldn't be with them.
There are actually more cases of fabric closing dealers out than the police catching people. If the police knew fabric was such a drug den, why didn't they do undercover stings?
It does seem like it's just an excuse.
Oh, yeah. They closed down Passing Clouds and that's been changed into flats. On the 17th September, they are doing a march in Hoxton Square and Kingsley Road from 4pm to 10pm. They are also doing a minute's silence. They've got us involved, the Bussey building and loads of other venues. We are all going to stop our music at 11pm and we are asking all other pubs and clubs to do the same to highlight the situation. I have tweeted Sadiq Khan asking where the Night Czar is that he was meant to appoint. If fabric was such a big and fantastic place known worldwide, why not put special measures on it? Why just close it? You have to give people a chance. Passing Clouds meant that 50 people were put out of work in minutes.
And fabric was 250 people…
Really and truly I am a small fry in all of this—we have 23 staff overall. But I still think I put on great nights known worldwide. But as far as they are concerned, it's no good, get out. If this Night Czar was around and saying, let's look at an area with a couple of warehouses and buildings and make that into a night-time place that would be better than throwing these people out in the street with nothing to do. If you look at Amsterdam or Berlin, who would want to come and stay the night in London? What's the point of night tubes if there is nowhere to go? The thing is, although there's been statistics on how many clubs have been closed-down there's no data on how many are at risk. It's a society that these kids are living in that has a drug issue, not the people running the clubs. Why have they not published what clubs have been warned?
Apart from the march, what can people do to help you?
If you owned Churchill's or JFK's or any of the other names this place has as a late night venue, or if you've ever been here as a late night venue, let the council know. They already do, though—at one point it was a 24hr venue—and they were fine with it. It's only because it's now a popular place and the people moving to Rye Lane now don't like noise or kids on the street. We're as quiet as we can be, but obviously with pubs and clubs on a main street there's going to be noise. Why move to one if you don't like noise?
So please go on the council website and say something positive about the club, how you feel it's run, and please just give us any support you can. We are also the training centre for the London County Pool Team Juniors. I have twenty-five kids from the age of eight to eighteen that get free-play every day since I started here. No other pub in London gives that sort of service. If I have to close this down or change back into a snooker club they are going to lose out.
You'd lose out, consumers would lose out, the pool team would lose out…
What I put into this place when I bought it, I would never get back. I would look at suing the council because I believe there's no way for thirteen years the licensing committee in the council did not talk to the planning and no-one realised. Why did licensing not check with planning when they granted the license in 2005?
And it seems rather fishy that it's just come-up at the same time as talk of new flats.Oh I think it's all been well planned. The council come up and say, oh you're only a sceptic and using us a scapegoat. I'm not though—I run my business very well. I had an inspection by the Police Licensing Officer in 2011, and they turned-round to me and said you need to get a variation of license to include what you're doing here. I said, right sir, that's my fault, I thought it was covered under the present license, but I will do that. I then went to the variation of license board. I also asked for an extension of drinking hours which I didn't get. But I did get having dancing here, films here, and live music here, recorded music.
I had to go in front of the committee to get this. It's not like I was trying to hide anything or be an underground club! I went for a meeting with thirteen people sitting around the table. It was very daunting for me to go through this. The council definitely knew from 2011 what my intentions for the club were and they never said you can't open after half-eleven and supposedly only as a snooker club.
We'll have updates on the Canavan's situation when they come in.