Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Night of a Thousand Stars

Going out this Saturday (September 26th) to the Grand Vintage Ball at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley Road. Should be a good night, but as always on the rare occasions when I go to the Rivoli nowadays I am hoping to recapture some of the magic of one of the best nights out there has ever been (for me at least) in Brockley or anywhere else - Club Montepulciano's Night of a Thousand Stars.

The club started out at the Rivoli some time in 1997 I believe - anyway I know that I went to the 4th night there on Saturday 27th September 1997 (flyer below) and at that time it was running more or less monthly in Brockley. The club promised 'style, glamour, comedy, dancing, cocktails and kitsch' and it always delivered.

The host was Heilco van der Ploeg with the Montepulciano house band Numero Uno - among other things they did a cover version of the Cadbury's Flake advert song from the 1970s ('tastes like chocolate never tasted before'). The format was usually a floorshow featuring a mixture of cabaret and dancing turns. Among the former I recall seeing Jackie Clune doing her Karen Carpenter routine, Earl Okin and burlesque act Miss High Leg Kick; among the latter were Come Dancing finalists like The Kay and Frank Mercer Formation Dance Team.

Then the DJs took over - usually Nick Hollywood and the Fabulous Lombard Brothers - playing kind of loungecore kitsch, but always very danceable - Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Peggy Lee, Perry Como and Andy Williams. The latter's House of Bamboo was something of an anthem - anybody who ever went to that club must surely have a flashback if they hear the line 'Number 54, the house with the bamboo door...'. The dance floor was invariably packed with a mish mash of styles - mods going through their paces in one corner, couples doing ballroom and Latin moves, and disco bunny hands in the air action (that was me anyway).

Xmas 1997 flyer

There were themed nights too. Moon over Montecarlo was themed around Motor racing, complete with an 8 lane Scalextric track.

There was a 1998 Halloween Night of a Thousand Vampires featuring one Count Alessandro, who performed a punk-flamenco-operatic version of Psycho Killer before wandering through the crowd biting necks with his vampire teeth. Sometimes there was a casino - but not for real cash - or you could get even get your haircut.

If all of this sounds a bit too arch, I must emphasise that it wasn't full of people being cool or ironic in a detached sort of way. It was a full on 90s clubbing scene with drink, drugs, sex in the toilets and other madness (well I can only speak for my friends). As usual in clubs when the queues for the women's toilets got too long, the women invaded the men's toilets and I remember seeing one woman peeing standing up at one of the urinals.

But above all else there was dressing up. I went to lots of clubs at that time with supposed glamorous dress codes - Renaissance, the Misery of Sound - but none came anywhere close to Night of a Thousand Stars. And while at these glam house nights, dress codes were arbitrarily enforced by bouncers to create some kind of dubious sense of style elitism, at the Rivoli nobody had to dress up to get in - but everybody wanted to. It was a mass of sequins, feather boas, suits and dresses in velvet and fake fur (zebra, patent snakeskin you name it), sombreros... There was a real sense of entering a fantasy world where every man and every woman was a star.

Planning what to wear was all part of the fun, sometimes I would go up to Radio Days (retro shop in Lower Marsh, Waterloo) to buy a new shirt especially. Feeling like a million dollars, and thousands of pounds in debt - I'm still paying off my credit card bills from that extravagant time, but that's all part of the proletarian dandy experience.

The other star was the venue itself - the red velvet and chandelier splendour of the Rivoli Ballroom. I'm not sure exactly when the club finished in Brockley - I think it was some time in 2000 and the rumour was that in all the time it had been running the venue had never really had a license for late night drinking. It moved on to the Camden Centre and Blackheath Halls but I don't think it was ever the same. I went to the latter in 2003 and it just didn't have the stardust.
Xmas 1998 flyer

It was all very handy for me living within walking distance, but it wasn't 'a local club for local people'. People came from all over London - one flyer said 'Get out your A-Z'. When the club closed, the taxi rank up the road was transformed into a post-ballroom chill out as the best dressed queue in town hung around chatting and waiting for a lift home. Bliss was it in that Brockley dawn to be alive.

Heilco van der Ploeg went on to open the Kennington tiki bar, South London Pacific. I thought I saw him pushing a buggy round Brockley last year.

More details of the Grand Vintage Ball here.


Mikey said...

The best night ever, and ten minutes from home. Absolutely agree with all the sentiments expressed here. So much so, in fact, that this is the first EVER blog/picture comment I have made in 15 years on the internet.

. said...

Can you remember any other tunes they played? There was Secret Agent Man (I think the Guess Who's version) and a Tom Jones song I've never been able to locate that goes something like 'o you don't know just what you meaaaaan to me'.

Chassy said...

Incredible nights out, was a regular from '98 onwards and particularly remember the Hallowe'en night they did; there was also one great NYE at Blackheath Halls, which I have been trying to recreate since (I now work there).

The hair stands up on the back of my neck every time I hear "House of Bamboo"! Another classic Monte theme tune was Sammy Davis Jr.'s "You Can Count On Me" - the 'Hawaii 5-0' theme tune with lyrics. Good times!

Nick Hollywood said...

Great article. Thanks for posting.

No corrections, so a good bit of research. I ran the club with Heilco and as you say, creatively things tailed off after we left the Rivoli. Although there were many amazing nights after that, the magical combination (for those in the know) of venue and event, was never bettered. We continued until 2004 at the various venues mentioned and were in fact more successful than ever with Time Out describing the night as one of the "things you have to do before you can call yourself a real Londoner"! The timing however, was to prove ironic. Feeling we would never recapture the best of what we had done at the Rivoli, we decided to bow out gracefully while still popular.

Clubs like Lost Vagueness, White Mischief, Lady Luck and many more picked up the vintage baton and the whole scene has continued to snowball ever since.

I went on to form the label and Heilco South London Pacific. Recently I've been doing very similar nights in a 1920's/30's style with White Mink.

If anyone is interested in writing a history of Club M please get in touch on facebook and I have hundreds of photos, flyers etc and a list of acts that appeared etc....

. said...

Thanks Nick for some of the most memorable nights of my life. By the way what WAS that Tom Jones song (at least I think it was him) - think it ended 'you left me hear to cry'?

Nick Hollywood said...

Hello again - sorry for the very delayed response... stop by the page if you want to chat!

The Tom Jones tune - which was surely THE Club M anthem - is called The Lonely One. It brings back floods of memories every time I hear it now... it always kicked off the club section at the end after the floor show.

I'm actually just putting together a 2 hour tribute show (I do a weekly show on Brighton's Juice FM) of Club M classics. When it goes out I'll post a link here and archive it somewhere for future readers. Its been really fun to get together, so I'm hoping it'll be an enjoyable show... in the meantime, by way of self-promotion, if you want to hear the current evolution (more of the same old same old really) go to

Thanks for listening, and more importantly, thanks for being YOU.

Unknown said...

I just stumbled across your blog (albeit over 4 years after it was posted!) and this brought back so many memories. My friends and I would put on the gladrags and head over from SE22. I loved the eclectic mix of music and the one tune that stuck in my head was House of Bamboo by Andy Williams.


Matt Cox said...

Hahaaa! Felix Lombard here, one of the Fabulous Lombard Brothers. I've just stumbled across this thread and delighted to read the good memories. Frank and myself used to kick off the dancing after the floor show and there were always several tracks that featured every month; The Lonely One, House of Bamboo AND Up, Up and Away by Sammy Davis Junior. All guaranteed to fill the floor!

The Tom Jones track is an obscure B-side and I probably have about 10 copies (I snap them up whenever I find one!). I was lucky enough to DJ for Club M from the early days at the Water Rats in Kings Cross to the last few in Black Heath but nothing will ever compare to the Rivoli night. They were probably some of the best club nights of my life and I can still remember every single one of them.

Funnily enough, I used to do most of the graphics for club as well, both flyers and records/CD's so great to see your collection here.

Bloody good times!

. said...

Good to hear from you Matt/Felix, thanks for the good times - never surpassed.

Anonymous said...

Ha, was trying to tell a friend about Club M. started looking around on web found this. Wigmore Hall was the first for us, then Night of a thousand Stars at Blackheath Halls, a night I will NEVER EVER forget unbelievable! Hi to everybody out there who remembers.

The Badgers

Freshly Squeezed said...

We've caved in to nostalgia (grown up) and started a tribute page:
We plan to post photographs, flyers and more - please share your memories, pics or anything else...

Anonymous said...

Time Out has a new and very interesting oral history of the Rivoli Ballroom (inc. Club Montepulciano) here: