The A to Z of the Vauxhall
This originally appeared at Swish Cottage
A is for Almighty Records
Without Almighty Records, the Vauxhall on a Sunday just wouldn't be the same. Some would say it would be a lot better, and I used to be one of those. I remember writing a long rant to my friend Steven about the evils of Almighty Records, how they had become the be-all and end-all of gay music, the lowest common denominator, ubiquitous in gay pubs and clubs throughout the country.
The Almighty formula is simple: taken a proven pop song, add some
cheesy handclaps and some tacky keyboards, and there you have it -
sure-fire queen-friendly fodder. The formula has been applied to S Club 7,
Cher, Celine Dion, Kylie, Billie, Pet Shop Boys, Lolly, Geri Halliwell,
A1, Roxette and Savage Garden.
A is also for Andy Almighty, the DJ responsible for foisting this lot
on us, and an all-round lovely bloke: "There's
nothing tacky about what we're doing," claims Andy Wetson, of the Deja
Vu cover of Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On'. "To take a ballad and
transform it into a stomping club tune takes thought."
Well, I thought it was dreadful. Week after week, I'd snobbishly,
grudgingly dance, one eyebrow raised, tongue firmly in (my own) cheek. And
then one day, possibly under the influence of the fifth letter of the
alphabet, I felt my right arm flinging heaven-ward to the chorus of S Club
7's "Reach!". And both arms raising involuntarily to Geri Halliwell's
"Lift Me Up". And I realised that's exactly what the music was: uplifting.
And on a Sunday evening, in a blacked-out shit-hole in the middle of an
exhaust-fume-clogged roundabout, what more could you possibly want?
Without Almighty Records, the Vauxhall on a Sunday just wouldn't be the
Trying to carry three pints from one end of a pub to the other is
difficult enough as it is. Now turn the lights way down. Now cram in as
many people as health and safety regulations allow. And then lots more.
Now play S Club 7, so that the throng all [Reach!] fling their arms
in the air simultaneously... A couple of my friends (you know who you are)
insist on drinking Guinness. I've
had one too many white shirts ruined by having half a pint of the black
stuff spilled down me. I now refuse to get people pints. It's cans of Red Stripe or
nothing. The handy thing with cans is that if you're wearing combat
trousers, you can carry an entire round of six drinks in one go - one can
in each hand, one in each of the top pockets of your trousers, and one in
each of those silly pockets halfway down your legs which seem to have no
other purpose in the world.
I have a great deal of respect for the Vauxhall's glass collectors, who
manage to negotiate the crowds while balancing implausibly tall columns of
empty pint glasses on one shoulder. As the Dame Edna Experience says:
"Spare a thought for our glass collectors, and when you've finished your
pint, put the glass on the floor! œ3.25 an hour? What more do they
You all emerge from Crash or
Trade, saucer-eyed and blinking in
the sunlight. Some poor fool mumbles "all back to mine" and you pile into
some stranger's car. He drives very carefully and very slowly, jaw working
manically. You get back to theirs and they put on a CD - inevitably Cafe
Del Mar, Massive Attack or Chilled Euphoria. Everyone flops onto cushions.
Someone spends the next 20 minutes trying to roll a joint. Red wine is
opened. And spilled on the flokati (oh, yeah, sorry, man).
The ritual phrases are repeated: "blinding set", "we'll always be
together, us", "Pete Wardman is like God, man", "top banana!" (some fag
hag that no-one will admit to inviting always says that). One
strange soul will decide that everyone should eat bacon sarnies, and those
brave enough to attempt them will spend 15 minutes chewing one mouthful
and then giving up and staring at the food suspiciously, wondering what to
do with a half-eaten sarnie, before hiding it down the back of the sofa.
Two people who have just met that evening will declare their love for
each other, and they'll curl up, head in lap, stroking what little hair
the other has. Eventually they'll make their way upstairs, close the
curtains and try to make love, but they won't be able to find their cocks,
let alone get hard-ons. But they'll have a really deep and meaningful
experience, you know?
Eventually you'll feel "together" enough to ask for directions to the
tube, and still later you'll be together enough to understand the
directions, and you'll make your wobbly way home, avoiding the eyes of
your fellow passengers.
The Vauxhall "Chill-Out" is nothing like that. Yes, many of the guys
there have been to Crash or Trade. Or both. But the idea is not to chill
out and get your head together. Oh no, quite the
That does even begin to describe her. She's guaranteed to offend
everyone. She's a drug-taking, cock-sucking, dog-shagging,
Widdecombe-licking, Myra-Hindley-babysitting comic genius.
And then there's the voice: spot-on vocal impressions of everyone from
Karen Carpenter to Marc Almond; Whitney Houston to Freddie Mercury; Nat
King Cole to Natalie Cole; Michael Jackson to Dusty Springfield.
She really should have her own TV (pun intended) show. See the DE
Experience at 5pm at the Vauxhall Tavern - sorry: "Rrrroyal Vauxhall
Tavern" - every Sunday. I do.
people's drug stories are
about as dull
as reconstructed dreams, but that's never stopped bloggers from relating
their dreams. Or their
drug experiences. I'd love to
tell you about the times I've done ecstasy at the Vauxhall, but strangely
I find myself unable to remember any. I do, however, remember my first
As I've said elsewhere,
I grew up in South Africa. This was way before South Africa became a hip
destination for Trade DJs to get a tan and cheap booze. Ecstasy only hit
South Africa in the mid-90s, so I had to wait till I arrived in the UK at
the age of 30 for my first pill.
One night, I went to FF, the infamous Sunday late-night gay club at
Turnmills. I'd heard that Marc Almond was somehow involved in the club,
and it was also rumoured that you could easily get E there.
With that, he took me by the hand, led me under an archway and
introduced me to someone. The rest is hysteria.
These definitions from the Collins English Dictionary could all apply
to Sundays at the Vauxhall. Apart from the 'brightly coloured' one,
perhaps. Try this
According to the Queer Skinhead
Brotherhood, "gay skinheads in Europe, especially London, have created
a lively culture of their own; though they are primarily sadomasochists
who took on a skinhead identity as a replacement for the biker and
lumberjack styles of the leathermen." Nowadays, though, the London gay
scene has got over its flirtation with skinhead culture, and it's
generally only in fetish clubs that you'll still see guys insisting they
are "real" skinheads.
The club which did most to increase the popularity and profile of gay
skinheads was Oi!. When Oi! was
started in the mid-90s, it attempted to foster a real skinhead culture in
the gay scene - the look, the lifestyle, the music - but queens don't
really go for that ska thing. Oh, they pretended to, but were secretly
relieved when Oi! grew to encompass two dancefloors: one playing the
dreaded skinhead stuff and the other playing the more acceptable trance.
Of course, they didn't really go to Oi! for the music at all, but that's
The Vauxhall on a Sunday tends to attract guys who could best be
described as "post-skinhead". Back in the 90s, they'd have been Oi!
regulars, and they still like the look - birds of a feather, and all that.
But now they want a bit of a laugh and a twirl to some camp pop tunes
after all those years of macho posing. None of the people in the pic above
indentify themselves as skinheads. I should know - they're all my friends.
And none of them will be talking to me after tomorrow's entry in my A
to Z of the Vauxhall - I for "Incestuous"...!
At times, the atmosphere in the Vauxhall Tavern is that of a stadium
gig - everyone pretending they're dead butch, pitching their voices an
octave lower to shout "we will, we will rock you" and clapping their hands
like it's Live Aid at Wembley. This week's most rousing moment was when
the DE Experience sang Kylie's "Better The Devil You Know" and did the
whole "first this side of the room, now this side": "Whoah whoah
Lord knows what newcomers to the Vauxhall make of 300 men, crammed
together, eyes rapturously closed, faces lifted, sincerely bellowing
stirring anthems. But we love it, so all together now: "you don't have
to say you love me, just be close at hand..."
Come midnight, the faithful die-hards are scraped up and swept out onto
the pavement, where they mill around bewildered, hoping someone will
decide for them where they're going next. "Should go home, but really want
to go on." "Is Habit still on a Sunday?" "We could go to DTPM, I suppose."
"Has anyone been to 333 yet?" Eventually everyone piles into cars or
queues at the cab office, already inventing the excuse to tell the boss on
And, of course, M is also for Minkered
It gets damned hot inside the RVT. The two industrial air conditioning
units rented by the Tavern management for the summer months try valiantly,
but in vain, to combat the heat created by 400 men dancing wildly in a
windowless room. Going outdoors is not merely a pleasant relief from the
heat, it is essential.
In the early summer months, before it really warms up, steam clouds
billow out from the doors. Vapour can also be clearly seen billowing from
the hard-nippled torsos of the guys outside, creating a strange climatic
condition - sweat clouds. Perhaps this is why it's called a "chill
On sizzling summer Sundays there are far more people outside than in;
sitting on the railings or leaning against the building. And there's
always one wide-eyed half-naked zealot dancing wildly on top of a bollard.
There are many more sprawled on the grassy banks behind the Tavern. Which
brings us neatly to tomorrow's entry...
Spring Gardens, the patch of green behind the Vauxhall Tavern, is all
that remains of the Vauxhall
Pleasure Gardens, which opened in 1661. These gardens provided all
sorts of entertainment from drinking and eating to music, fireworks and
The Gardens were also notoriously frequented by prostitutes and men of
loose morals. When the respectable heroine of Frances Burney's Evelina
(1778) makes the mistake of walking through the Gardens, she is accosted
by a large party of riotous gentlemen who assume she is for hire.
In 1771 Tobias
Smollett described Vauxhall as "filled with crowds of noisy people,
sucking up the nocturnal rheums of an aguish climate; and through these
gay scenes, a few lamps glimmer like so many farthing candles." He
continued: "I no sooner entered, than I was dazzled and confounded with
the variety of beauties that rushed all at once upon my eye, the place
crowded with the gayest company. Among the vocal performers I had the
happiness to hear the celebrated Mrs. -----, whose voice was so loud and
so shrill, that it made my head ake through excess of pleasure.
"I despise their want of taste and decorum but when they crowd
together, listening to a song, which one half of them cannot possibly
hear, how can I help supposing they are actually possessed by a spirit,
more absurd and pernicious than any thing we meet with in the precincts of
notes: Boswell described the Vauxhall music as "not too refined for the
general ear" and, despite one punter's complaint that the venue needed
"more nightingales and fewer strumpets", contemporary engravings show huge
crowds avidly enjoying the loud histrionics of over-dressed
One such performer was Madame
Saqui whose "appearance was rather masculine, her legs worthy of a
circus strong man. Dressed in tinsel, spangles and plumes, it was rumoured
that she earned around one hundred guineas per week."
In his book "Travels" (1795), Karl Moritz, a German contemporary of
Blake, mentions his delight at the Vauxhall gardens and the music,
although he thought the women "over-bold".
A number of brothels became well established in the surrounding
streets, including one called "Slut's Hole".
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened for the last time on the night of
Monday, 25 July, 1859, but their spirit lives on today at the Vauxhall
Thanks to Ian for inspiring today's
Arriving after 5:30 virtually guarantees you'll have to wait outside,
in the rain, till the show is over. Then it's one-in-one-out. Once you get
in, join the queue for the coatcheck. Which intermingles with the queue
for the bar. Holding your beer aloft, fight your way through the crowds
and find a spot where you can see the show - preferably not behind the
group of 7-foot-tall lagered-up bears. All that beer means you need a pee,
so join the 5-minute queue for the gents'. Or the 15-minute queue for the
ladies'. Learn to dance in an area of one-square foot, without actually
moving any body parts. Finally, when you want to leave, there's that
coatcheck queue again.
It's not as though this is a fancy West End club or anything - it's
just a pub south of the river, for crying out loud!
I may have to resort to the old fashioned method of looking it up in -
gasp! - a book. If anyone does know where the "Royal" bit comes from,
please let me
Rivers of sweat streaming off naked chests. Clouds of sweat steaming
off naked backs. Puddles forming in the small of your back. Puddles
growing in the back of your smalls. Sweatshirts. Wet shirts. Sweat
shirtless. Cheek to cheek to nose to armpit.
"the universe rumbles over Vauxhall Tavern, illuminating boys on the
verge of things." Christopher Rye, The Accidental
As your train rumbles from Waterloo to Vauxhall, look out of the window
to your left, just past the gaily-coloured tethered balloon. There it is,
faded gold lettering on a black background running around the building's
curved facade: "The Royal Vauxhall Tavern".
Or take the Victoria line tube around 5pm one Sunday and see how the
carriage gets gayer and gayer the nearer you get to Vauxhall. I call it
the RVT Express. The tourists get off at Victoria, leaving a curious
mixture of Brixton-bound elderly black women and shaven-headed men in
bomber jackets. While you hang around in the ticket hall, see if you can
spot 'The Hoist Nightclub' on the 'Local Information' map. Then follow the
shaved heads, the bomber jackets...
The police are there, of course, on the lookout for drugs offences,
unlike the bad old days of AIDS paranoia when, as Derek Jarman
reported, "more than 20 police raided the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in
south London on friday night wearing masks and rubber gloves."
I haven't seen masks and rubber gloves at the RVT since their
short-lived fetish night. Yes, I have performed onstage at the
Royal Vauxhall Tavern...
Fulk le Breant was given the right to bear his own coat of arms and
chose the mythical griffin as his heraldic emblem. The griffin thus became
associated with both Vauxhall and Luton. In 1857 Alexander Wilson founded
an engineering company on Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall. This company became
and adopted the griffin as the company badge. It is probably a coincidence
that Vauxhall Motors later moved to Fulkes' old stomping ground, Luton.
The Russian word for 'railway station' is voksal. There is a
theory - probably apocryphal - that Vauxhall station was visited in the
late 1900s by a delegation sent to Britain by Tsar Nicholas I. The
delegation learned that Vauxhall, the last stop before Waterloo, was a
ticket collecting point and thought 'Vauxhall' meant 'railway
Speaking of Russians, the headquarters of MI6 - the Secret Intelligence
Service, or 'spies' to you and me - are at Vauxhall Cross, a stone's throw
(or missile's launch) from the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Indeed, in September
2000, a missile attack on the MI6 building was launched from Spring
Gardens behind the RVT.
Vauxhall has long been a hive of gay clubbing activity. Before Sunday
licensing laws were relaxed, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern had to close in th
eafternoon. I have fond memories of trooping off in a crowd to the nearby
Market Tavern, where the condition of buying a drink was that you also had
to buy lunch - a somewhat dessicated roast. At 5pm or so, the RVT was
allowed to open again, and the crowds would stream back from the Market in
time to catch Lily Savage's show, or Adrella's famous Liza Minnelli
Well, people seem to think that I'm so rude
One day I might learn to keep my meal
The punters at the RVT are older than in your average gay club - I've
just paraphrased a Paul Hardcastle record, ferchrissakes - how much more
proof of, er, maturity do you need? Those shaved heads are not just
fashion statements - they're follicular necessities.
However, they certainly don't act their age - but then who does these
Women, last week's BBC documentary, looked at the "tweenager" - a
powerful market force. The programme followed a group of pre-pubescent
girls as young as seven, as they shopped for labels at Selfridges, and
bopped around to S Club 7 while wearing leather trousers. "I'm going for
the biker-babe look," said 10-year-old Alex.
A casual listener outside the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on a Sunday
afternoon might assume it was a pre-teen disco. Kylie, Steps, S Club 7,
Geri - anodyne pop. The "pink pound" is another market force, with exactly
the same music being aimed at it. Gay men are virtually encouraged to act
like little girls - and boy, do they ever! All the way through "Little
Women", I was struck by the parallels between the tastes and clothing of
the tweenaged girls and your average bunch of gay men. There were, of
course, a few noticeable differences. Sex [in both senses of the word] for
one. And the documentary opened with two little girls getting ready to go
out: "She's not my sister - she's my best friend." With two gay guys, that
would be the other way round!
On the right you can see the watering hole. Herds of parched animals
clamour here, trying to push through for a refreshing drink. Many of these
beasts have developed a camel-like ability to drink huge amounts, storing
it up in their vast pot-bellies. The warders on the other side of the
trough tend to their needs as fast as they can, but never fast enough for
these impatient hordes.
Ah, now here is a splendid sight. The brilliantly-plumed, bespectacled,
pink-legged Dame Edna bird of paradise [purplehairus sequinanus].
Note her strange courting dance and her unforgettable mating call:
"turnitdown itsmyshow". Note too, how all the other creatures
carefully observe her every move, echoing her cry: "parTICKularly!
You see this white-tiled room? Here you'll find pythons, boa
constrictors and anacondas. Or, more usually, earthworms, wrinkled
sea-slugs and assorted tiddlers.
Up in the booth you can see the striped anteater [shaggus
Continuing round, we come to my favourite animals in the zoo: the
push-me-pull-you [andy'n'alexiis campastits], the hairy-backed shag
[dorianus langridgii] - watch out for his deadly bite, Moore's
starfish, Guy's lemming, which
regularly falls to its death off high cliffs, and Ruffy's bulldog (once
its gets its teeth into someone, it doesn't let go). Over there, somewhat
camouflaged, you can just about see Martin's lynx
[iansie dotcommus]. Look away, there's Barker's beaver
[richardii awol] and Hooper's hoopoo [phill tonganus].
But it is time for us to leave the zoo. We cannot show the feeding
frenzy that ensues once the creatures wolf down their vitamin pills. So we
bid a fond farewell to Vauxhall. Perhaps we will see you there next