Celebrating variety amid the glitz and glamour of Club Noir
‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world’….Club Noir is undoubtedly one of the top places to walk into.
- Full feature in Issue No. 4
Fantasy and nostalgia are mixed together with a glamour and a little bawdy humour to create an intoxicating cocktail of fun entertainment which can’t be found anywhere else…at least not on the same scale.
Club Noir at the O2 Academy in Glasgow is now the biggest, longest running, and some say the best, Burlesque cabaret show in the world.
And this October 29 the Club is going all out to prove it with their Halloween Horror Prom which the organisers promise will be the biggest burlesque party in the UK.
Burlesque can trace its origins back to the 1800s although its first real heyday as a form of popular entertainment was in the first half of the 20th century. It was intended to cock a snook at the establishment, ridicule those in power and puncture the pomposity of anyone wielding authority.
It’s no surprise then that Glasgow audiences, so notoriously tough to please that singer and comedian Des O’Conner famously pretended to faint on stage to escape their clutches and touring variety acts claimed no turn was ever left unstoned, have embraced the glamorous revival of Burlesque with unbridled enthusiasm.
Since it was launched in 2004 by Tina Warren and Ian Single as an antidote to some of the more staid and glamour-less traditional entertainment available at the time the club has become an iconic institution with an international reputation.
“We felt that there were no nights running in Glasgow that suited our tastes, or that matched the glamour of the scene in London”, said Warren who claims the initial aim was to amalgamate all the elements she and her friends enjoyed about clubbing.
“We wanted something unique mixing burlesque, cabaret and fetish, a little circus, rockabilly and vintage, with a bit of gay club vibe.”
Back at the turn of the 21st century Burlesque was enjoying something of a revival spearheaded by entertainers such as Dita Von Teese and Immodesty Blaize, among others. It was a fresh approach to an old tried and tested concept. A heady mixture of glamour, humour and titillation harking back to a different age through sparkly rose-tinted glasses.
The glitzy world of dancing girls draped in crystals while waving around strategically placed feather fans was conceived by Vaudeville theatre owners in the United States desperate to cling on to audiences during the dawn of cinema. Stage shows were full productions, often involving circus acts, musicians, comedians and dancing chorus girls. The girly show which has come to dominate Burlesque was initially only one part, albeit often the most titillating and memorable one, of a bigger variety performance.
As the popularity of cinema and subsequently television grew live variety performances began to lose attraction. Audiences drifted away and it seemed the time had arrived for Burlesque to hang up its collective G-string and accept its place as a footnote of show business history. However, there was still time for an encore and it came in the shape of the the movies.
Gypsy Rose Lee, so demurely played by Natalie Wood in the 1957 movie Gypsy, was an actress, author and playwright. As a performer she was the woman who put ’tease’ into ‘striptease’ and helped make Burlesque more mainstream. Her 1941 novel, The G-String Murders, was even made into film called Lady of Burlesque starring Barbara Stanwyck in 1943.
With her books, radio shows, feature films and television appearances she probably did more to keep Burlesque alive than almost anyone else and became the acceptable and recognisable face of the art. Even 45 years after her death, aged 59, she remains a popular entertainment, icon and unchallenged Queen of Burlesque.
By the turn of the 21st century the public was growing tired of sleazy back-street strip clubs and overtly graphical sexual imagery. There was a demand for a return to the humour and glamour of Burlesque in the Gypsy Rose Lee tradition. A new generation of entertainers, wearing ever more elaborate costumes and performing in front of increasingly ambitious sets, quickly struck a chord with a fresh audience across the country.
Entrepreneurial impresarios such as Club Noir were among the early innovators of the new style. They took burlesque back to its roots, providing an ever increasing growing fan base with a variety of skilled performers as well as everyone’s favourite attraction, a plethora of glamorous girly show acts.
“From the very beginning we knew that it was important to put in a lot of effort, make people aware of the club and to keep things fresh. We are not afraid of getting out there and marketing it,” said Warren.
As the club has continued to grow it has became just as much about the audience as the performers. Fans are encouraged to dress-up and join in the fantasy as a form of escapism from everyday life and the standard hum drum of the modern clubbing circuit. More than 2,000 people from all walks of life regularly flock to O2 Academy to take part in a variety of Club Noir theme nights.
“Club Noir fills a creative gap. It allows people to think, what am I? What do I want to be?,” said co-founder Ian Single.
“Costumes allow people to wildly express themselves and become a walking work of art. They can be anything for one night. I can’t think of another club were you could turn up in just your underwear and that would be okay. It is very liberating.
“The people of Glasgow famously love a party, and love dressing up. They have really embraced it,” added Single.
In the words of Gypsy Rose Lee: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly … very slowly”. Now, more than 11 years after they first opened Club Noir’s reputation continues to grow internationally.
In addition to performing for crowds at T-in The Park, The Connect Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Club Noir was the first troupe to send their acts to Siberia. It has even been voted one of the Top Ten Cabaret Clubs by the USA’s travel channel and currently holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s biggest burlesque club.
“We never rest on our laurels. We work very hard to put on polished and sophisticated shows. The acts are created for the club, and are original and devised for the theme,” said Warren.
After the initial revival of Burlesque in the naughties a new wave of fans are now finding their way to Club Noir as they seek fresh excitement away from the traditional clubbing experiences currently on offer. With the world in a seemingly constant state of flux and the dark shadow of austerity casting its shadow on many that need for escapism is more prevalent now than ever.