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A month or so ago we took our late night series, The Night Shift, out clubbing, with a visit to the Vauxhall institution that is Duckie…
Our night out with Duckie came about because of something entirely different. I was at a meeting talking about another Night Shift-related project when the person I was meeting with mentioned that Duckie was another organisation they were working with. From time to time I’d thought that taking the Night Shift to Duckie would be interesting/fun/foolish but had never known who to talk to. Turns out my meeting knew exactly who to ask.
So I pinged off an email, and was thrilled that they were interested. A date was set (way into the future then) and we got on with planning – which basically consisted of booking players -obviously making sure that they knew this wasn’t your average gig…
A bit of background at this stage. Duckie is a club night with a difference, which has been running at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for an amazing 20 years. Playing to a primarily gay audience, the club has always featured two performance spots. These can be absolutely anything – contemporary dance, a quiz, theatre, performance art… While Saturday nights are a core part of what Duckie do the collective has also branched out into huge theatrical and interactive shows in venues as diverse as the Brixton Academy and the Barbican Centre.
As the event drew close some of my friends who know the club expressed a degree of scepticism. Surely the booze fulled audience would talk all through the delicate baroque music? There was only one way to find out.
So November 15th arrived. We arrived at the Vauxhall Tavern in the afternoon to get used to the space and ‘sound check’. Simon, Duckie’s producer was on hand – and as we’d discussed before, talked about amplifying the Orchestra.
One of our points of principal is that we’re acoustic, even in unusual venues like this. But understandably Simon was anxious that we might sound feeble in the space given that a few seconds prior to us starting the crowd would have been dancing to heavily amplified music. But we persuaded him to let us go acoustic – one of the interesting things we have found is that people do tend to respect and be quiet for acoustic music, whereas being amplified almost gives people license to speak over it.
That settled, the band ran through a few things on stage. As we packed up Simon lobbed an innocent question to the musicians. On the face of it the question “What’s the difference between classical and pop music?” is a simple one, but it somehow dumbfounded us – and I’ll come back to it in a future blog.
Anyway – we and the band went off to perform a more conventional pub gig down the road which wrapped up a little late at around 10.15. We were due on stage at Duckie at 11pm. My colleague Sophie and I made our way back to Duckie, and at around 10.45 the band and everyone else arrived. The club was in full swing – packed, and very very hot and sweaty. We got unpacked and set up backstage (with backstage being a VERY small dressing room and the area behind the curtain. Maneuvering a theorbo, two cellos and lots of people in that small space was NOT easy!
At this stage I must admit I was quite nervous as to how the crowd would react to us. We had been warned that they can be quite brutal in their judgement of the acts! But my nerves were assuaged as soon as the players were visible on stage – whistles and cheers rebounded around the room. Now I was more nervous about the extreme heat – it was like a sauna in there and we all know the havoc temperature plays with gut strings.
Having set the stage up, host Amy Lamé introduced the OAE to the crowd and Matt, Maggie, Louise and Liz came onto stage to an incredible reception. So loud in fact it was hard to know whether the room would get quiet enough to start – luckily some comedy ‘susssshhhh!’s broke out and the band launched into some Purcell. At almost 10 minutes long I was worried we might lose the audience with the piece but I needn’t have concerned myself. You could have heard a pin drop and the reaction at the end was the loudest must gutteral raw I have ever heard at an OAE event. It was deafening! You can see the stunned reaction on the face of violinist Matt in our video above.
At this point I must hand over to violinist and OAE Leader Maggie Faultless for her take on the evening:
“I will never forget the experience!
The thrill of being confronted by the roar of that crowd was like being attacked by a wall of sound! It completely took my breath away – and I can see how it would become totally intoxicating to hear that every time one walked out on stage. So more Duckie please! Or can we re-train our South Bank audiences to be that excited about going to hear live music? Now that would be something…”
After a Purcell drinking song (with audience participation) the band pulled out an encore – something we’d been encouraged to have in our pocket by Duckie ‘just in case’ the crowd wanted it. They definitely did.
After our set we could relax and enjoy the rest of our evening. Violinist Matt joined us and spent his evening speaking to a non-stop stream of fans!
The only problem now is that we have the whole Orchestra wanting to appear at Duckie (the musical grapevine being particularly effective). Will we return? Well, we can only tell you to watch this space…