Night tsar, Amy Lame: bringing a bright future to London nightlife

PUBLISHED: 09:39 04 January 2017 | UPDATED: 15:51 05 January 2017

Sadiq Khan with Amy Lame

Sadiq Khan with Amy Lame

PA Wire/PA Images

Innovation in the role of the night tsar is transforming the nightlife offered by European cities

“I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.”

In a career defined by dramatic proclamations this line, taken from The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’, is arguably Morrissey’s most famous. It perfectly encapsulates the mentality of the stay-at-home introvert, too self-conscious to take a punt on the endless potential of the night.

Fortunately Amy Lamé, new ‘night tsar’ for London and self-confessed Smiths obsessive, hasn’t listened to her dear Steven Patrick too intently. Born in New Jersey she’s now lived in London for more than 20 years. In that time she’s started the LGBT uber arts collective Duckie, stood as mayoress of Camden, ran for Labour parliamentary candidacy, been a presenter on BBC program GayTime TV, written and produced three socially-conscious one-woman shows, and been the driving force behind a campaign to save legendary LBGT-friendly venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

A wilted daffodil she is not, and she’s now been chosen by Sadiq Khan to be the face of London’s £23.6bn night time economy.

It couldn’t have been a more timely appointment, with the recent closure (and subsequent reopening) of London clubbing mecca Fabric lighting the touch paper for arguments about a night life scene that has seen 50% of venues closed in the last eight years. Khan himself has said that there needs to be a dramatic addressing of these closures if “London is to retain its status as a 24-hour city with a world-class nightlife”.

A sizeable task it may be, but she won’t be short of people to ask for advice, as we are currently seeing a spate of night mayors appointed across Europe. Foremost among these is Amsterdam’s Mirik Milan, a former club promoter with a poetic flair almost as deft as Morrissey. “The night is for hearts and minds,” he says. “It’s where creative people can meet each other and be inspired to do beautiful things.”

Milan was elected into his role as nachtburgemeester in 2012, though he says it only “got serious” in 2014 when the role effectively became an official, independent NGO. Since then, his impact has been stark with his biggest achievement thus far, the agreement by the city to allow 24-hour licences.

“It’s the first time the night mayor really made a difference,” Milan says. “We were very closely involved on explaining to the mayor, to the council, why they should pass the bill. But it was a long process. The night is a delicate thing and you have to work really hard to bring all the stakeholders together.”

Of course, Amsterdam has long held a reputation as a den of vice with its relaxed attitude to marijuana and world famous red light district. It means the city is a magnet for stag dos and beery lads on tour, and changing this perception lies at the heart of everything Milan wants to achieve.

As an example, he points to the fact that 24-hour licences are only being given to selected venues like De School, and currently none in a city centre that – being the focal point for the city’s 17 million tourists, with 23 million predicted in 2025 – is already at bursting point.

“We ask: will the venue innovate? Will it attract people from elsewhere? These 24-hour venues are multi-disciplinary in use – they might have a bar, and a restaurant as well as a nightclub. They could have a kindergarten in the afternoon, a gallery space, sometimes a gym. It’s about 24-hour use rather than partying 24 hours day, though obviously there are also some excellent raves there.”

This idea of clubs being a creative incubator has long been at the heart of Berlin’s approach, with 24-hour licences being invoked since 1949. Lutz Leichsenring is the public face of Clubcommision in Berlin; a organisation that represents the city’s nightlife. “If you’ve got regulations, like a bank, then you won’t be bringing our new music, new fashion or new art.”

Berlin has more than 350 music venues, 112 night clubs, 450 underground music collectives and a 16 billion euro annual income from its creative industries, so it’s a city purring with the kind of artistic innovation that drives the engine of cultural and economic growth. Of course, in a situation mirroring London’s, the secondary effect of this prosperity is often gentrification and a razing of the spaces that made that growth happen in the first place. Leichsenring states: “The biggest challenge for Berlin is affordable space for creatives in the city centre. If the city wants to have an innovative and unique nightlife, space must be a playground for artists and affordable to experiment in different arts.”

Isabelle von Walterskirchen is the president of the NachtStadtrat Zürich (Zurich Night city council), which only came into existence in August 2015. As with Berlin, von Walterskirchen admits that spaces for nightlife to thrive in Zurich’s city centre are in short supply, though admits she is working on a much smaller scale with 396,000 living in her city. She says that Zurich is the most progressive city in Switzerland when it comes to attitudes regarding its night time economy – “nowhere else has a night mayor,” she laughs – yet says that her primary battle is “to make authorities to value it more, to set the lines for it [nightlife] to grow. There is often focus on the problems – like noise pollution, or littering – rather than the many benefits it brings.”

Over in Toulouse, Christophe Vidal, night mayor since 2013 and now head of the Toulouse Nocturne association, has managed to affect some pragmatic changes that have improved public safety. The organisation helped set up the Night Prevention Bus, that provides beds, shelter and medical support for those people that have gone a little too hard on the 1664s. It negotiated with the council for a later metro time of 3am for weekends and, as of this month, will also independently operate a bus that runs until 6am. These might not quite have the headline glamour of 24-hour licensing, but they actually represent the nuts and bolts of the night mayor’s work. Because it’s all very well crafting uber creative space for young wilds to run amok, but if the guys and girls working the bar can’t get home safely after their shift then those places shouldn’t open in the first place.

Lamé has already had one success under her watch, namely 
the re-opening of Fabric, albeit with a slew of pretty draconian measures designed to keep drugs out of the club. Keeping people safe that are taking drugs will be one definitive parts of her role, with chat of the police-approved, drug testing that was debuted at two English summer festivals being rolled out in the form of city centre kiosks. But there’s an awful lot of work to be done besides, and much of her role 
will surely be flitting between the powers-that-be, convincing them that a good night out can have a far more profound effect than a pounding hangover. Best, then, that she invokes the tentative hope of the protagonist of another Morrissey / Marr vignette, ‘How Soon Is Now’.

“There’s a club if you’d like to go/You could meet somebody who really loves you.”

David Hillier is a Brighton-based writer. You’ll find him in The Guardian, Vice, 
Wonderland and tweeting @Gobshout

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.

Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European

If Yes, Name to appear in The New European

Latest articles

Blow for Hard Brexit as Cabinet ‘unites’ behind transition deal

The Cabinet is “united” in backing a transitional Brexit deal which would mean continued access to migrant labour, Michael Gove has said.

What Euratom really stands for

The Euratom row lays bare the innate flaws of Brexit. But it also gives pro-Europeans their biggest chance yet to regain the initiative

How did Brexit Britain lose the spirit of the 2012 Olympics?

How did Brexit Britain lose the spirit of the 2012 Olympics?

Brexit could force UK to set up new healthcare scheme for tourists

Brussels is holding out on the government’s hopes of continuing membership of the European health insurance scheme post-Brexit.

Fox says UK does not need trade deal with Europe after Brexit

Brexiteer cabinet minister Liam Fox has reiterated the government’s widely ridiculed negotiating tactic of “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

UK and EU clash over ‘fundamental’ differences on citizens’ rights and divorce bill

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator has demanded the government clarifies its position on citizens’ rights and stumps up a Brexit divorce bill.

Britain’s creative brilliance has taken decades to build... it could be destroyed in months

It is no accident that Britain’s creative sector has grown as borders have become more open. Now, decades of progress are in peril, says one of the world’s leading architects

We can learn from the British motor industry: Our economy needs capital and talent not slogans

The British economy can succeed. But it needs less wishful thinking and a more hard-headed assessment of the facts

Juventus is Europe’s most colourful football club

The club in Turin is a football club quite unlike any other - an institution which combines excellence and ugliness

How climate change is forcing native American culture to change

Just because Donald Trump doesn’t care about it, doesn’t mean climate change isn’t already having an impact in the US.

The Honours system is so corrupt it would be an embarrassment in Zimbabwe

The idea that the British establishment is predicated on civilised values of ‘fairness’, ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ is beginning to unravel.

Somali pirates are back - history shows how we can stop them

The fight against the menace of modern day piracy must start on the land, not the sea

Translating for the enemy: Tempting financial services out of post-Brexit UK

For some in Europe Brexit offers an opportunity to prize business away from London and the UK.

London hit by Brexit ‘wobble’ as fewer Europeans come to work in capital

London’s economy is “wobbling” due to the aftershock of the Britain’s decision to back Brexit, according to a new report.

Online ‘echo-chambers’ are an effect of hate, not a cause

Legacy publishers such as the Mail and the Sun are condemning the environment they create

Oh shit... we’re blowing Brexit

Things are now so grim in Brexit Britain - there is no hero riding to the rescue – but it’s not too late to rethink

Remember this moment from Orwell’s 1984 and don’t let the Tories rewrite history

Really Theresa May? Consensus? With the “saboteurs”, the “enemies of the people”?

BBC and Channel 4’s obsession with so-called ‘impartiality’ is stifling true debate

Forget the social media whirlwinds around media bias, impartiality is overrated

‘EU leaders are willing to consider freedom of movement changes to stop Brexit’

It’s becoming clear what the British people want from Brexit. But they are not being given the option, says former PM Tony Blair

Brexit pathology: Leave’s latest lie shows the trouble they are in

A new Big Lie is currently entering the Big Lie lexicon. It is that 51.9% having voted Leave last June 23 – National Self-Harm Day – the number has now risen to over 80%.

Watch us on YouTube

The rollercoaster ride of Theresa May's plummeting approval ratings

Views: 242

A year of failure and fiasco in May’s Number 10

Views: 200

Tory minister Steve Baker demands the EU is to be ‘torn down’

Views: 400



Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter