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Dancing my way into my 50s - why going back to Raving has been the perfect pill for my mental health.

This has turned out to be a much longer blog than intended. I don’t really do personal posts on my Facebook, so if I want to pour my heart out, I do it here, on my blog, which lets be honest, no one ever reads. It feels like the process of writing things down is more for myself, rather than for someone else to digest. Doing the previous blog about my PTSD (see below in the other blogs) was extremely cathartic for me, and dare I say helpful. 

(SOLO RAVER pre meet in 2024 - bubbly Jules is in the front)

This entry is about how becoming a clubber again (after three of the worst years of my life) has been in many ways the best form of therapy possible. In my youth my first main clubbing event was at Camden Palace, I think it was an orange event, but I had a brain injury in 2003 (nothing to do with clubbing) and lost a massive chunk of my memory as a result so I can't really be sure. So for example even though I am told I also went clubbing on the indy music scene in the 1990s when I lived in Nottingham, I have almost no memory of my life between 1990 and 2002 at all.

I always loved to dance. We had to learn to tap and dance when I was briefly in Bugsy Malone, cast by my friend the late Colin Bennett. But to understand how going clubbing in my 50s (along with creating my YouTube channel) would probably save my life I need to give you a bit of context here to what occurred in the years prior to me finding the courage in myself to just even go out again.  

I have done pretty much the same jobs since 1997. All in the Creative Arts, and never had any illusions that forging a career as a filmmaker and playwright (supplemented with Acting Coach, Script Editor & more recently Novelist) would be easy, but I didn’t know back in 2015 when I undertook what I thought would be my career defining project that the people I went into business with would wreck my entire life. This film, the historical drama, Pegasus Bridge, a story I had wanted to make all my life, would not only nearly be the death of me, but would result in the demise of my long term relationship. Resulting in the severance of the only family I had left my life. I won’t dwell on that in more detail here, but suffice to say I got proper fucked over by people I trusted. The film didn't happen and I lost out on more than one job, and it derailed my whole career and life plan, which would have massive personal and professional repercussions for me. We were no longer financially stable, plans to have children and start a family had to be abandoned, this betrayal came with a heavy price.

The resulting stress did so much damage, it literally broke us apart. We were both doing jobs we hated and barely saw each other. By 2019 our relationship was effectively over. In February of that same year I had a week where everything just went wrong. The culmination of this was a serious suicide attempt on my part which had two of my friends not intervened, I would not be here to type this now. Most people don’t know this because I’ve never talked about it, nor do they know that in December of 2018 I was seriously assaulted. I kind of shut it all out, which was the wrong move. It had impacted me far more than I realised. It made going out really difficult and the old social butterfly Lance was replaced by someone who had panic attacks and social anxiety. I would literally find reasons not to go out, and would frequently cancel at the last minute and just stay at home. I lost all my confidence and felt something of a shadow of my former self.

The day after I had ended up on the notorious suicide bridge, I literally went straight into see my Doctor, the near death experience told me I needed help and that my mental strength was failing me. It’s hard for someone like me to admit that. I’d always been so strong and wasn’t a fan of therapy even though I had worked as a counsellor myself in the past. I was the one who helped people normally so putting my mental health in someone else's hands was difficult for me to accept. I was also drinking more than usual, still quite light compared to most, as I was never a heavy drinker.  Before 2011 I had maybe one bottle of wine a month, not two or more a week that was more common from 2017. Since being single again it's been easy to cut back, but back then it was heading in the wrong direction. I also told my Doctor I needed some sort of therapy, problem was the NHS waiting list to get counselling meant I wouldn’t be seen until August. However he could see I was desperate and recommended a group setting for people dealing with various issues that I could attend, and if I passed the assessment I could be on that 10 week course by April. I’ve run groups myself, it was right up my street. 

I passed their criteria with flying colours, (they said my story was one of the worst they'd ever heard - reassuring) So I went, it was good, and I was able to process, verbalise and deal with several things having got them off my chest in a room with people who were mutually supportive. In August of 2019 my NHS 121 counselling also kicked in. It was a little bit by the numbers and felt as if the therapist was reading from a script at times, but on the whole it was useful. The best 121 counselling came via the support group, after the ten week course, you could apply for further 121 counselling - I applied, I got it, and was allocated this really cool gay guy, who also loved Greece, so we were never short of things to talk about. He had a more human and less clinical approach, it was this empathetic style that was most useful. I had 10 sessions with him, and I was making good progress. He was easy to talk to, and I always left a session feeling better than I went in, which is what you want from therapy.

Then the pandemic hit, I lost another potential life changing job and by the time it was over, I was single again at 50! Something I never thought I would be having to deal with to be honest. The lockdown was over but suddenly the world had never felt more lonely. Dating was all online and just wasn’t for me at all. It was so transient with its swipe left mentality. Being single again at a time when so many of my friends were settled down, had created a huge void in my life. So while I threw myself into various work projects like the play about the Post Office Scandal I needed a personal outlet to find my old self again. 

Dancing is where I found it. 

(Down at the front at Orange, at Koko)

I always loved to dance (my mother was a choreographer and danced for the National Ballet in her youth)  but I hadn’t been clubbing in as long as I could remember. Before 2011, me and my bestie Aisha went to a few clubbing events between 2006 - 2008 (New Years Eve being the last) before that I was a regular at SkinnyDippers in Brighton 2002 - 2005 run by the lovely Linda Lawrence (who I stayed in touch with and is like a big sister to me) even when I wasn’t clubbing, during my last relationship, I had a very active social life. We'd hosted frequent dinner parties, and a big TV and Movie Quiz every Christmas, there was always people around.

(With my bestie, Aisha, at Age Against The Machine - only took her 2 years to come down!)

But by 2021 through life attrition my social circle had drastically dwindled. Some of my closest friends had moved away, were off having families or had essentially become home bodies. My brother in all but name, Jase Flem had settled down with two kids, so if we saw each other at all it would be for a 20 minute coffee in Soho. Sharon Sorrentino my other closest friend after Jase, who had lived just up the road from me, had to move back to Nottingham to look after her ailing parents. Her moving away was like losing my right arm, Sadly several others had passed away in the last few years. I suddenly went from being Mr Social to hardly ever going out at all. The people I used to do that with just weren’t around anymore. That’s not to say I don’t have friends, I have loads, but now we mostly stay in touch on social media or by text and I am more of a human contact kind of guy!

(Me and Jase, who has always been my older brother in all but name. He co-owns the copyright to all my scripts, plays and films)

I had my YouTube community, which was a life saver, (I could write a whole other blog about that) but an online community is very different to in person social contact. I've always valued friendship most highly, but as you get older, making new friends only gets harder. I remember once being down the local cheap pub with my ex and looking at these older sad looking guys who were sitting on their own at tables, nursing a pint. Then a few years later, I was sitting there on my own, nursing a glass of wine, my head hung low. How had it come to that?

(Rehearsing with the actors for an online play on my Youtube channel - The Outcasts Creative)

I will confess after the events of 2019 (and especially the summer of 2022) I also found going out extremely difficult, I’d get frequent flashbacks and panic attacks and was diagnosed with severe PTSD in 2022. That year I was scammed on holiday, briefly imprisoned, then a prison guard who thought I was gay tried to kill me by throwing me down a staircase. The whole affair cost me £10,000 to get back home. It left me penniless and a fragile version of my former self. I still get nightmares about it.

The period between 2019 - 2022 had been a very difficult experience.

So finally on New Years Eve of 2021 I stopped procrastinating and set my sights on going to a clubbing night I had been meaning to attend for years - Age Against The Machine formerly known as The Coffin dodgers (I think you’ll agree the new name is much better) - this event was mainly late 1970s, 1980s music, with some early 90s dance, and even better it was only for people over 30. So I wouldn’t be the oldest person on the dance floor and I would know all the songs. Winner winner, chicken dinner! My taste in music has always been really diverse and eclectic. But the 1980s was a good place to start to ease back into things. Age is also run by two of the nicest guys on the planet, Don and Reg and easy to get to, being just off Oxford Street, under the Phoenix Club.

(With Don (Alex) at Age Against The Machine in 2023)

I first went to AGE on NYE of 2021 and made several friends that first night. I’d gone with my friend Kenny but it wasn’t really his bag so he left before me. It wasn’t their usual venue, but their vibe was good and I liked the guys. Fortunately I went back the next month, and the next and soon met my clubbing sister the awesome Julie Evans, another Age regular. It will sound soppy but Julie was the first person I met in this environment who felt like family to me - the big sister I always wanted. When I went with her, I felt safe. Age became my safe space, a night where I could let myself go, and above all - dance!

(With my clubbing sister Julie)

I loved the club so much I started doing no end of online PR for them whenever I got the chance. I’d always get in some of their event pictures and repost them on all my social media plus plug all the events and tag other friends of mine in to encourage them to go along. Pretty soon it became the one thing I looked forward to every month. I got to know the core group of regulars, and even hosted a dinner party or two at my house for Age people. In July of 2022 I had my birthday party there and a ton of people came down, but compared to the numbers I had for my 50th it was a stark contrast. It was harder for people to get away from life's responsibilities, but at AGE I'd made lots of new friends too. It was a blinding night.

(two of my best friends Alex (left) and Dickon (2nd left) join the gang at AGE for New Years Eve 2023)

I became good friends with the founders of AGE, even having them on my Youtube channel for an interview. They were only too aware I had adopted them as my second home and it was also good to look forward to something every month when so much of the news elsewhere always seemed to be bad. I was bringing the club new people down every month. I’ve only missed two events of theirs since I started going and even help out on occasion when they’re short handed. As I said to the lads, helping out made me feel useful, so I was happy to do it. It also turned out that Alex (REG) worked in my industry and we had loads of mutual friends in common.

(DON from AGE (Alfie) with his standard grumpy photo face)

But most of all I was dancing my arse off every month. As I wasn’t going to AGE on the pull, people knew they could just hang out with me and have a laugh with no hassle.  To be honest, after everything that I had been through, finding a new partner was the last thing on my mind. Now I know loads of the regulars, I can go on my own anytime and there’s always someone to say hi to.  I still had a long way to go, but felt finally I was on the mend. 2023, like the last few years flew by in a mere flash. Every month flying by faster than the previous one. Age had been a great bandage but something was still missing, life was growing short and time, as they say, waits for no man.

I always loved dance music. Especially the early 1990s era. Age would always play a little set towards the end of the night but I longed to go to a proper rave again.  So while I still love AGE and will be there every month, I wanted a similar regular dance music event with a like minded crowd to go to with. Kenny found it for me. When we were doing the Post Office play together Kenny told me he’d joined this social group on facebook aimed at older clubbers (SOLO RAVERS) and was especially inclusive to those venturing out to club on their own again. People like me were most welcome. Even though lots of couples go to their meet ups, it doesn’t feel too couples focused, its a very mixed crowd and everyone gets along and is so friendly. There's always someone who will chat and tell you their old clubbing war stories. I love hearing them and telling my own.

Solo Ravers started as a small Facebook group coming out of the pandemic and was the brain child of seasoned clubber Samantha Bliss. The idea was to create a social group who could go to events together and we could look out for each other. This creation of a sense of family I think was especially important for single females who have to be very careful clubbing on their own these days. People can and will take advantage. To be honest I needed to feel safe too, I'd started getting flashbacks during the day, going anywhere with large groups of people could feel quite intimidating. I didn’t want to go to bigger events in bigger venues and not know anyone.

(At the Orange Reunion Solo Pre-meet with the bubbly Julia)

Soon the SOLO RAVER facebook group got so big, Julia (known, by me at least, as Julia the bubbly) another Solo regular assisted Sam in running it, and you have various other regulars who help out. Its now got thousands of members with a core of love of dance music. (7500) There is a sense of community, safety and I soon realised I had become part of another family of sorts. As Kenny will tell you, I nearly didn't go my first Solo Event earlier this year. My PTSD had been really bad that week. The nights where I wouldn't wake up screaming were few. When travelling down to the pre-meet I had a massive panic attack and nearly went home. Kenny misunderstood what was happening and we nearly had a horrendous argument. Fortunately Kenny and I have a solid friendship which instantly overlooks these kind of misunderstandings and soon I was in the pub being introduced to several of the SOLO regulars. (btw Kenny dabbles in a bit of stand up comedy and has a gig this Sunday, do come and support him if you can!)

(Solo's founder Samantha Bliss (middle) regular Solo member Sara Jane (right)

SOLO'S always has a pre-meet before any event, normally at a pub close to the venue, it's a good way for new people to meet some of the regulars and for the veterans to catch up before moving on to a space where music makes dialogue somewhat less practical. Everyone was really friendly and I soon relaxed. It felt like I had taken another big step on to mending the parts of me that were still so broken.

(Solo Orange Reunion pre-meet)

On the way to the club in Old Street (the event was Rave Days at XOYO, run by the awesome Read brothers) I got talking to Solo founder Sam, she told me the whole story of how Solo's got started but she never expected it to take off the way it had. Sam was an old school veteran clubber, she appeared to have been to all the legendary rave venues and events that are now part of rave history folklore, she should absolutely write a book. I wasn't sure what to expect at my first event, but at Rave Days people were already dancing when we got there and within 20 minutes Julia and I were dancing on the nearest podium and pretty much stayed there for 6 hours. I proper let my hair down. There was a sense of coming home about the whole affair. I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I knew this was going to really help my recent battles. As soon as I got home from that night I bought tickets for two more events.

(Age Against The Machine boat party, the night before Orange)

We had the Age Against The Machine Boat party on last Friday, where I mostly helped out, didn't drink and made sure I got home at a reasonable hour. Because on Saturday it was the Orange Party Reunion at KOKO (Formerly Camden Palace) legendary rave events from the early 1990s, that were again part of the fabric of UK ravelore. They were having a birthday party celebration and word was out that it was going to be the event to attend, with an impressive line of DJs. What can I say about this event? IT WAS AMAZING!

When I came through that tunnel into the impressive old Camden Palace Ball room, the size of the place just hits you. Within an hour there were people dancing on every level. It was like I had come home.

In the film Human Traffic during John Simms opening speech, he has a line where he says 'tonight could be the best night of my life...' In my case, where clubbing events are concerned, this was. This event was the jewel in the crown. They got everything right - the music, the sound, the lights, the vibe, the atmosphere, the MC, the DJs, were all bang on. Everything was so seamless and it was like stepping back in time to 1992 all over again. That perfect blended cocktail that only seasoned Rave promoters could blend together to create the most magical experience. Everyone was so up for it and there was no shortage of love in the room. I went in with a load of the Solo's but ended up dancing in one of the balcony Royal Boxes on my todd, but was soon joined by the awesome Nikki, (who would end up dancing on the stage later) another Solo Raver, and another lovely girl who'd come all the way from Cardiff, and a third called Linda (probably) - the four of us danced away, it was that nice vibe of being part of the Solo Posse, it felt good.

(Down the front at Orange with the Birthday girl Denise, Monique - missing from this pic are Kerry & Debra. Lovely people)

Later I ended up down the front by the main stage where I met another gang on a night out. Led by Mega raver and all round firecracker Birthday girl Denise, who danced with me for the best part of three hours, and her cousins Debra (stunning) Monique (even more stunning) and Kerry (who puts the B in beautiful) all hung with me until the end of the night. Everyone was in tune with each other. It was like the days of old where you get that great feeling all connected to the music, and the people around me. We were all hugging each other and just letting that night wash over us. We were a community, with one purpose, to forget about the misery elsewhere and live and love in that moment, and god, it felt good. Obviously it was a total chore having to dance with four of the most beautiful women in the club all night, but whats a guy to do? :O) - I was so grateful to this little gang for letting me hang with them that on leaving the club I got Denise a birthday card, and each of them a lottery ticket for Wednesday as a thank you present. How cool would it be if one of them won?

You could tell when we left the club no one really wanted the night to end, that is how special orange was. There were after parties and Kenny and some others were off to another club in Old Street, but I had danced for 7 hours and wasn't sure how much more I had in me. I wanted to say goodbye to the Solo's gang but when I couldn't get in the pre-meet pub, (it was full) I went over the road to another bar, hung out with the Birthday Squad briefly before finally heading home. I couldn't sleep - the music was still ringing in my ears, the dance sets rolling around in my heads. So I stayed up and wrote much of this blog.

It is hard to put into words just how important the community and friends I have found at AGE & SOLO'S are in my life right now. I'd gone from being a frightened man who would wake up screaming most nights, to someone who found his confidence and love of life again. In a world where most of us struggle to just pay our bills and just get by each month, these events have become like beacons of hope, just enough to keep you going. Life is ultimately all about creating the best of memories. When we are in our final days, memories will be all you have, they are the true wealth in our world. So the more good ones you have, the better. Orange reunion at Koko was the best night of my life. It was just perfect.

(With Kenny at Orange Reunion Camden Palace)

So from the day I stepped back onto the dance floor at AGE and became part of the SOLO family, you might say I became a rich man. My life is all the better for it.

I'll end this blog with a quote from one of my favourite films of all time, its apt somehow:

Sam - I know, its all wrong, by rights, we shouldn't even be here,

but we are...

It's like in the great stories Mr Frodo, the ones that really mattered.

Full of darkness and danger they were,

and sometimes you didn't want to know the end,

because how could the end be happy?

How could the world go back to the way it was,

when so much bad had happened?

But in the end it's only a passing thing, this shadow...

even darkness must pass.

A new day will come,

and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you,

that really meant something,

even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think Mr Frodo I do understand,

I know now.

Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back,

only they didn't,

they kept going,

because they were holding onto something.

Frodo - What are we holding onto Sam?

Sam - That's there's some good in this world and it's worth fighting for.


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