As Club Noir closes after 14 years, we talk to the brains behind the world's biggest burlesque club
When Club Noir started there wasn't anything like it in Scotland. It took cabaret to the next level, inviting the audience to forget their humdrum lives and dive head first into a world of decadence. What really set it apart was the attention to detail from founders Tina Warren and Ian Single, who genuinely loved the artform. Each night was handcrafted with individual acts and performances, alongside set dressing and custom costumes.
Music has been a key element, too, with DJs spinning a mix of vintage and modern music. 'People might think there wasn't any great dance music from the 30s,' says Warren. 'But there definitely is and our DJs are absolutely wonderful.' The night consists of two live sets mixing classic burlesque, musicians, bands and dancers, plus they've hosted performers from the RSNO, Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet over the years. 'When we had Ballet Blue join us – two amazing dancers from Scottish Ballet --that was a game changer. It gave us a stamp of quality and you have to up your game when you are sharing a stage with someone like that.'
However, performers come from all walks of life. 'Sometimes I'll just see a waitress and she's got that little something special, so I'll say: "hey, you should give burlesque a try." Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't,' admits Warren, 'but I think that's what makes our shows and our troupe quite exciting, it's not all amazing classically trained dancers. You think: "maybe I could do that".'
Club Noir is now the longest running burlesque night in the world and is officially the biggest. 'When we set out we never ever dreamed it would get that big,' explains Warren, 'it just happened – a big thanks to the people of Scotland for that. We had an idea we were much bigger than anyone else, so we thought "let's make this official" and got Guinness World Records to verify it for us.'
Channing Tatum, Helena Bonham Carter and Vanessa Paradis have all walked through the doors of Club Noir. Tatum popped in while filming The Eagle around Loch Lomond and 'coincidently' set up his own burlesque bar, Saints & Sinners, in New Orleans a couple of years later.
Now, sadly, Club Noir have decided to pack up their sequins and bring down the final curtain. 'I've been doing it for 14 years and that's 14 years super-intensely,' says Warren. 'I love burlesque, I love Club Noir, it's my passion, it's my baby but I need a break from it. I want do something else and now feels like a good time to end it on a high while everyone still loves it.'
There will be two final chances to experience the glitz and glamour: Halloween and Hogmanay. Naturally, All Hallows Eve fits Club Noir like a silk glove with their ethos of dressing up and otherworldly thrills, but with a ghoulish supernatural twist. Warren promises the return of several of the club's favourite acts alongside some new performers.
And, of course, New Year's Eve is the biggest party on the planet, the perfect date to bow out. 'I thought, going into 2018, there's a finality to it. The end of an era. We'll wake up the next day and have all these lovely memories; it'll be very poignant.'
Clubbers are also asked to play their part; encouraged to dress up and embrace the madness. If you arrive dressed in jeans and a t-shirt or leggings, you will be turned away. 'As soon as you step through the doors it feels like you've been transported into a parallel universe,' explains Warren. 'Our audience always go further than we expect, they dress madly and wildly. You can be completely yourself.'
Club Noir proved there was an appetite for burlesque in Scotland. And since they burst onto the scene, other clubs and venues have followed their lead. Glasgow has plenty to offer with the 1920s themed Gatsby Club; Spangled Cabaret at the QMU; Enterteasement adds comedy and magic to the mix at the Admiral and there's 'Scotland's only dedicated cabaret restaurant', Wild Cabaret & Wicked Lounge, in the Merchant City. Over in Edinburgh, the Voodoo Rooms hosts regular burlesque nights, and if you want to go even more extreme, London's Torture Garden swings into town on a semi-regular basis.
As burlesque has grown in popularity, there have been thousands of column inches devoted to whether it is empowering or demeaning, a feminist statement or glorified stripping. Warren just laughs: 'It is stripping! If anyone starts trying to put an arty spin on it they are just being pretentious. I pride myself on burlesque being the lowest form of art: it's meant to be sexy and sleazy and fun.'
Club Noir Halloween, O2 Academy, Glasgow, Sat 28 Oct; Club Noir New Year's Eve, O2 ABC, Glasgow, Sun 31 Dec.
The great burlesque club present their vintage, retro and modern soundtrack alongside some trademark tassel twirling, human curiosities, burlesque shows and more. No jeans and trainers, please, although dressing up is positively encouraged.