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The Vacuum Issue 3 spacer Issue 3
Bouncer Stories
by Conor Garrett
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Back in 1982, Yosser from Alan Bleasdale's drama series 'Boys from the Blackstuff' acted out the sub-conscious desires of a generation when he stuck his forehead firmly onto the face of an unsuspecting doorman. 'I fucking HATE Bouncers' he informed his bloody nosed victim - and at the time, it seemed a perfectly reasonable explanation for his actions.
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But then Bouncers never have been a popular breed - the prevailing image, one of a hard-boiled egg in a dinner jacket - heavy of hand, light of intellect and ever eager to test the latest half-nelson techniques out on just about anyone foolish enough to question their authority. And let's face it, the knuckle-dragging reputation hasn't been entirely without justification - particularly in this city, where everyone seems to have their own, personal favourite Bouncer tale of woe. (Mine in particular being placed, without explanation, into a headlock and while still in full-flow, forcibly removed from the urinals at Vico's - but we shan't go into that here).
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However try and put aside your well founded prejudices and spare a thought for the oft-scorned denizen of the doorway. There they are - listening to our pissed-up threats, mopping our sick off their shoes and, if you think about it, generally allowing the drinking of alcohol in an enclosed space with other Belfastards, to be a not-quite-so-life-threatening pursuit.
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Of course Bouncers aren't even called Bouncers anymore - they're now referred to in far less menacing terms as: Door-Staff, Security-Supervisors or in the case of London night-club, Fabric - 'Safety Hosts'. They also sit fancy courses these days which teach them things like: customer courtesy, how to diffuse situations without the use of violence and perhaps most surprisingly, flower arranging. Okay forget the flower arranging bit - but you get the idea.
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More than twenty years on the job, James Irwin says he's seen it all. Working the door at the Empire Music Hall on Botanic Avenue, he's just how you might imagine him - rotund, red-faced and quite good crack actually. Let's say more jolly sausage than hard-boiled egg. He chuckles when he tells you he got into the game because 'Daddy said it would keep me out of the pubs...' and believes he's there 'more to help people feel at home than to act like some sort of hard-man with a dickie-bow on...'
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There's less sectarian stuff now but a lot more bar-room lawyer types...' he explains, when asked about the changes he's noticed in his time. 'These days everyone thinks they know the law as regards licensing hours or how we, as Door-persons, should conduct ourselves - but thankfully the days of the strip to the waist and have-a-go boys are gone.'
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James can recall tougher times though: 'I was working in a place downtown called Tops...it's long gone now. At the stroke of 12 o'clock the hall divided into two factions and they started beating the living daylights out of each other. The Special Response Unit was eventually called out and people were taken to hospital with head-injuries, broken bones, and stab-wounds, that sort of thing. But that was many moons ago.' Round the corner at Lavery's and the story's a similar, if not far scarier one.
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'Somebody fired a shot-gun at the front door once - that was pretty bad...' shrugs Mark McCormick, who started work as a Doorman there seven years ago.
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'It was something to do with the old Doormen, they might have been a bit heavy-handed with the wrong people who decided they didn't want them on the door anymore. So they let the shot-gun off over the top of the door to scare the old Doormen off and funnily enough that did scare them all off and so they left...'
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Well, wouldn't you? Fortunately Mark is trained to deal with this sort of threat in the same way as any other self-respecting Door-man, Bouncer, Whatever (DBW?) in this town - through special, NVQ Qualifications. 'All of the Door-staff are doing the course at the moment and it's pretty thorough: drugs awareness, customer care.... It covers almost everything.'
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Failing to mention the threat of potential gun attacks, he adds, 'We all did a wee tester there last week and most of us only got one or two wrong'. I'm sorry but there is nothing that could fill my heart more with glee than the thought of a Lavery's DBW sweating over multiple-choice boxes. And when asked if he thinks these sort of courses and qualifications really make a difference, the answer is a simple and direct 'No'.
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However throughout the UK and Ireland, NVQ qualified or not, DBW's are fast becoming the main law enforcers in many city-centre areas. Recent research carried out by the University of Durham indicates that in some cities, up to 30,000 people are being policed by maybe a dozen or so police officers but by up to around two hundred DBW's at a time. And while we might have more cops on the streets here in Belfast, there's no doubt security staff from privately owned venues are helping to keep them mean streets clean more than ever before.
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For instance, take a trip down to the Odyssey Pavillion and you'll find a ratio of 15 DBW's for every 1000 patrons. Here, a triple-tiered, highly advanced security system is in place - aiming to create an 'incident-free and family-friendly environment' in what is essentially a cocooned space, similar in size and with a transient population equivalent to about ten, typical city-centre streets.
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Overseeing security across seven separate venues within the Odyssey, 33-year-old Alan McCrossan introduces himself as the A in ANL Security (Tee and indeed, Hee.) Outlining a modus-operandi that sounds more in line with that of a secret-service organisation, he describes their 24-hour, complex computer-operated surveillance system that can trace 'any individuals movements from within half-a-mile of the main Odyssey building'. He also outlines how they have 'an undercover guy, dressed like I am now, with an earpiece and radio keeping in constant contact with the rest of the team'. So remember kids, keep an eye out for shifty looking guys talking into their sleeves next time you go down that way...
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But could this be where the Friday night out is headed? Our city-streets and entertainment hot spots carved up between fistfuls of DBW's and pumped-up private security firms? Armed with an NVQ certificate, a radio Mic and a CCTV camera, it won't be long before Big Bouncer is watching us all...
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Bouncer Stories
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