We all lost someone we loved in 2016. David Bowie, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Rick Parfitt, Carrie Fisher, the list was a tragic who’s who of popular culture.
2016 was the year of celebrity death.
But I want to draw people’s attention to a death that passed us by almost unnoticed. In fact, it was pretty much ignored by everyone I know. Mysteriously no one talked about it or even seemed to really care.
But I did. So today I want to pay tribute to one of the greatest. Rest in peace Subtone, Cheltenham’s greatest ever nightclub.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I found myself avoiding the queues and getting there stupidly early. I couldn’t tell you how many times I stumbled up the entrance steps before buying my first drink in that weird entrance bar that felt like someone’s front room.
I still don’t remember a single song they played downstairs, probably because no one ever recognised a single song the DJs played. I do remember ridiculous queues and being crushed against the walls whilst attempting to buy a drink on Gold Cup night.
I also loved that piano bar. Do you remember it? It was the drunken Gatsbyesque dream at the top of the stairs. “Play Hey Jude” I would demand and some poor pianist would be forced to play it repeatedly, as we sang and slurred along.
Subtone was always my final destination on a night out in Cheltenham and for that I will be forever grateful.
So how should I remember this magical place and what would be a fitting tribute?
The only answer has to be my favourite Subtone story. The Darren from Hollyoaks story.
Firstly, do you remember watching Hollyoaks? We all did it. Hollyoaks was like smoking: we tried it, we knew it wasn’t good for us but did it because everyone else was doing it.
Now I bet you also remember Darren from Hollyoaks. He was the cheeky son of Jack, the unlucky Scottish pub landlord who faked his own death, had a heart attack, went bankrupt and probably died eventually. You name it – it happened to Darren’s dad, Darren himself and Darren’s spiky blonde hair.
So what has this got to do with Subtone?
Well… It was my wife Sian’s 21st birthday. We all went out and celebrated, ending up, as we always did, at Subtone. The evening was past its peak and we were sat eating chilli in the café at the top of the club. You know the one, it was next to the piano bar. It had been a great night and we were all drunk. Subtone drunk.
My wife, or girlfriend as she was then, went off to use the only toilet on the top floor while we plunged our chips into our chilli and planned our journey home. When…
My wife sprinted back into the room and shouted to our party, as well as to anyone else who would listen, the words I will never forget…
“I just met a girl outside the toilets.”
“So” we answered.
“She just told me that I shouldn’t use the toilet on this floor because Darren from Hollyoaks is taking a shit.”
“Say that last bit again!”
“Darren from Hollyoaks is in that toilet over there taking a shit, right now!”
We all ran to the toilet. It was instinctive and exciting. No one stayed behind at our table. We all left our polystyrene takeaway trays, left behind all of our valuables and ran to that toilet door armed with our digital camera.
We waited outside for what seemed like hours and listened eagerly to the sounds coming from within and speculated. Was it him? What would we say to him? What was he doing in Cheltenham? What was he doing in the toilet? Was he really taking a shit in a nightclub?
Then we heard something flush. It was soon followed by the rush of a running tap.
Finally the door opened. The first thing we saw was a rush of spiky blonde hair attached to a familiar face. He opened the toilet door fully to seven open-mouthed people staring at him. Once of us pointed her digital camera at him all we could do was shout out….
“Darren from Hollyoaks!!!!”
He looked scared. Especially when he noticed one of our party smelling the cubicle. Someone else tried to hug him and all Darren from Hollyoaks could do was search desperately for his entourage.
“Darren from Hollyoaks can we have a picture with you?” Someone asked.
It was a simple request. He must have heard it all of the time. Then more of us asked him.
“Yes Darren from Hollyoaks can we have a picture with you.”
He looked at us like a vulnerable animal and then opened his mouth…
“No.” Was his quick reply and he practically launched himself downstairs and safely away from us.
“But it’s Sian’s birthday” I said. “Darren from Hollyoaks, where are you going?” we shouted.
But Darren from Hollyoaks was long gone. He was lost into the Cheltenham night.
Subtone stumbled on for a further seven years and according to Wikipedia Darren from Hollyoaks is still in Hollyoaks.
From time to time I will catch his face and listen to him speak on our 32 inch screen and remember his desperate sprint away from us.