Looking out over the River Ribble in the coastal town of Lytham stands a Grade II listed pub, The Queens Hotel. These days, it is a popular eating establishment and magnet for the passing tourist trade.
“Back in the 1980s this watering hole had the dubious pleasure of being the ‘alternative’ centre of the town’s youth”
What few realise however, is that back in the 1980s this watering hole had the dubious pleasure of being the ‘alternative’ centre of the town’s youth. Today those of a certain age still hold this pub in reverence and affection.
The 80s were remembered for excess all areas, with music and fashion full of experimentation as well as the liberal use of elements from previous decades. The day glo, shoulder pads and electropop tend to get the most attention, but there was also a thriving undergound scene, supported by niche clubs in the major cities.
Not to be outdone, local ‘alternative’ pubs and clubs up and down the country were full of loose tribes of dressers aligned to different music genres. With a significant amount of crossover between groups, there were old school mods and rockers, shoegazing indie kids and flamboyant goths, or anyone who felt themselves unaccounted for elsewhere.
Being young in the 80s was, in many ways, no different to any contemporary journey of British adolescence. The period was full of pernicious social issues. Racism, sexism, Thatcherism, rampant capitalism and unemployment were rife. The young feared for the future, while simultaneously living for the moment.
Despite this, for a 17-year-old in a small town the big issues were music, clothes and relationships with peers. Without access to phones or social media, the only way to see and be seen was in person.
This meant the pubs and clubs of the time assumed huge importance in forming friendships and group identities.
Cathy Butterworth and Sharon Welsh still live locally and credit The Queens for their long friendship:
“There were never bouncers needed; me and the lads would sort it if things really kicked off; we used to be 30 or 40 handed in those days”
“We met at The Queens and bonded over a long weekend in the Lakes where our group was thrown out of the pub for being a fire hazard! I think the collective amount of hairspray must have been too much for the management.”
Back in The Queens, drifting hairspray and bizarre hairstyles were all part of the wallpaper. Sharon has been a hairdresser for years, as well as running her new healing business, ‘Earthtones’
“Not many of my customers want a Mohican hairstyle! Those days shaped us in so many ways; the people we met; the attitudes we formed. It was such a supportive space. The Queens was like a great big family where you could relax and express yourself. I wouldn’t go into a pub on my own now, but there, it was no problem.”
Cathy agrees: “I used to work in the pub as well; the landlady was like a second mum! I even did the door. At 18, I knew how old everyone else was, so I used to be the bouncer.”
These days, Cathy works for local government, and is a passionate community activist, working on local gardening projects:
“I still have that kind of punk attitude of making things happen. My husband says when I get angry he can see my Mohican rising! Of course, I still love to listen to the music, and go to bands when I can. I even took my daughter to the Rebellion festival in Blackpool one year. She loved it!”
Rebecca Willetts, or ‘Squiddy’, was one of the psychobillies; a mix of punk and 1950s rockabilly. Her hair is still coloured bright red, though back in the 80s she variously had a skinhead and a huge flattop quiff.
“I’ve always loved bright colours; people are used to my red hair now,” she smiles. ”The only time I had ‘normal’ hair in my adult life was when I got married; I had it back to brown and it was a mistake; it just wasn’t me.“
Rebecca spent most weekend nights at the Queens in her youth, finishing Saturdays with a dance around the sticky Union Jack floor at Blackpool’s ‘Your Father’s Moustache’ nightclub.
“I met loads of people. Then I met the Lytham St Annes Scooter Club lot down The Queens. I got myself a scooter, went to rallies all over Britain. It was all music, clothes and partying.”
Always creative since a child, Rebecca found dreaming up new outfits from meagre means a cinch.
“I used to make long shorts for my friend and me for the psychobilly gigs we went to,” she remembers. “Different pairs each time.”
Today, she channels her creativity into intricate sewing projects and patchwork quilts, in between her job at BAE Space Systems. She may not spend weekends on scooters and moshing at gigs, but her latest range of wedding dolls all have red hair.
Of course, the scene wasn’t just about clothes and drinking. A huge part was the music and sounds of the time. The Queens wasn’t an official performance venue, but the jukebox was legendary among its patrons. There were infrequent DJs, and appearances from local bands, who were also regulars of the pub.
Steve Wilson is still a keen music collector, and does the occasional DJ slot locally playing Northern Soul music: “I used to be a proper soul boy, went up to those big nights at Wigan Casino, and the Mecca in Blackpool.”
Later, he was a member of local band Zanti Misfitz. Throughout the early 80s they played across the North West, supporting bands such as the Damned and the Southern Death Cult.
“The NME came to interview us once, but they weren’t over complimentary” laughs Steve, “I think the phrase they used was big fish in a small pond”.
Whatever the music papers thought, the band was certainly a legend locally, and regularly played in and outside The Queens.
“The Queens was the centre of everything. There was a real mix of people here, but everyone was just up for a good time. There were always glasses being smashed, general drunkenness, but no real trouble. There were never bouncers needed; me and the lads would sort it if things really kicked off; we used to be 30 or 40 handed in those days.”
The Queens has recently been taken over by new owners, Ross Robinson and Katie Baillie. They live locally, and are full of enthusiasm about their newest project.
“We have lots of experience in the trade, but this is the first time we have a free hand!” says Ross. “We’re looking to keep the basic character and reputation for great food, as well as adding a few ideas of our own.”
It appears The Queens is in good hands for its next chapter. And perhaps those who once graced its sticky carpets will return to sip a well-crafted beer in the sunshine, and reflect on previous glories.