Shellac shock

A couple of weeks ago I went up to the Black Cotton Club night at Volupte to celebrate Kate’s birthday. Kate is an old school friend, another one of those who I haven’t seen for over ten years. I also met up with Mark and Dave that evening, for whom it has been a similar interval. It was great to meet up with lovely people after so many years (as well as nice new people like Kate’s husband), although it was a shame that some others had ducked out at the last minute.

Walking round a strangely deserted Holborn, past pubs shut on a Saturday night and darkened corporate headquarters, gave me the feeling I was about to turn the corner and face a pack of 28-days-later-style ravening zombies. London was presumably happening somewhere else that night.

But waiting on a side street off a side street was the club, two sets of doors, half a dozen chairs and some very friendly door staff. Upstairs is a small but relatively modern bar, with colour-changing LEDs set in the ceiling and a decidedly modern range of drinks. It was, however, packed with 20-, 30- and 40-somethings mostly attired in genuine and reproduction 1920s, 30s and 40s dress. It was amazing, everyone looked so confident. The hats, the stockings, the hair, the lipstick! The girls, not me. (I hope I looked rather dashing in my suit, but I was definitely not period!)

Downstairs is a small, almost tiny, room. Three or four large round tables, a few smaller tables and chairs and a dance floor. No flashing lasers, just a few static coloured lights yet they still created an atmosphere of excitement. The DJ equipment was decidedly modern, although the old tracks benefited from more bass than the equipment of that era could have provided. But the two DJs played out tunes from the first half of the 20th century from vinyl, but I don’t know if they were genuine 78s. Right from the start people were jiving and throwing each other around the dance floor with gusto and, fortunately, accuracy. Unfortunately I had to leave before the live band started.

The night really evoked the era it set out to recall. The deserted streets, the subterranean venue, people talking, smiling and dancing with strangers. Even the Coke I had to drink was served in bottles rather than from a postmix machine. I found myself thinking about my grandparents and whether they ever went to places like this. I’m sure they did, although the major difference, aside from the odd mobile phone and digital camera, would have been the absence of a smoke ceiling and the accompanying smell. By the time I left, the sweat of so many stuffed in such a small space swinging and jitterbugging almost compensated for that missing scent.

It was a bizarre, fun and thought-provoking evening and I was glad to have been invited along.

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