During the sixties and seventies there was a certain smell to a Working Men’s Club. The pungency of old hops and fermenting yeast permeated the air, and added to this was the lingering aroma of tobacco: Pipe, Cigarette, Cigar or Roll-Up. The bouquet marinated the faux leather bench seating around the side of the room. The seating had robust wooden armrests and the upholstery was usually in an olive green or burgundy colour, ergonomically uncomfortable, yet frequently slippy and shiny in places with wear. Small wooden tables, often burned with carelessly handled cigarette butts, yet polished to within an inch of their lives, arranged regimentally on the chequered Marley tiles, gleaming with the care given by the buffer and its operative.
Some tables would be topped with ‘formica’ which although hard wearing would split at the edges, the veneer peeling off to show the wood underneath. Each table would have a large ashtray made of thick coloured glass or moulded tin placed in the middle, usually an advertising medium from the brewery. This would be emptied periodically by someone coming round with bucket, metal of course to prevent fire, and a paintbrush to remove the sticky bits. The table top would be decorated with beer mats placed strategically around the ashtray. These would be reused and, if they had been there for a few sessions, smelled strongly of stale ale. Surrounding the table there would be its own set of wooden chairs, the backs and seats upholstered in the same faux leather as the bench seats, secured around the edges with bright gold studs at perfect intervals, yet the seats were often so miniscule in size so that it was impossible to sit all night comfortably. The tables would invariably have a shelf beneath, meaning that it was hopeless to get your legs under, but invaluable for placing handbags, bingo tickets and dominoes.
The smell of the club would infuse itself into the artistes’ equipment so much so that when the equipment was taken home, often the smell of the club would accompany it. The busier the artiste the more pungent the aroma. You could wipe the speakers over repeatedly with detergent or even use a strongly perfumed polish, but the smell would still be there, waiting to be enhanced on its next outing. Alas, equipment does not have the same smell nowadays. The smoking ban which came into place in the early “noughties” meant that smoking was no longer allowed in public places. Admittedly there is still a smell of alcohol about the venues but it does not seem to permeate like the old aromas did. The smell of the old smoky pubs and clubs will soon be forgotten.
At the moment though, there is no doubt that “Nostalgia is ‘in’, and Vintage is Vogue”. So, my advice to anyone who has any old equipment still lying around.: Give it a quick sniff, breathe deeply and close your eyes.
Bring back the memories of the clubs and pubs of yesteryear
Also see UK Cabaret Nov 6th 2014