UK Cabaret Clubland Feature

UK Cabaret Clubs- Mark Ritchie

The shrinking scale of Clubland entertainment, once such a stable area of work for light entertainers of many types, still enjoys the influence and enthusiasm of many local champions. In the old days,  being voted on-board a working men’s club committee was a coveted post within many of the old heavy industrial communities. Nowadays many individual club-venues risk operating illegally, according to traditional friendly society guidelines, as so many fail to attract community-minded people to help run their local social club.

Some years ago, I suggested whilst writing for another publication, that the club movement was dragging its feet in terms of welcoming women on-board within the Clubland scene. Since I wrote those notes exactly twenty years ago, things have certainly changed a great deal. 

So are those involved in club life now benefitting from the inevitable defeat of the chauvinistic men of yesteryear who, in so many cases, did not seem to recognise that the world was changing? Or have the reformers of the club movement simply closed the stable door when the horse has long since bolted?

Visiting cabaret artistes who often perform two or three sets in many Clubland venues, have noted that there is frequently no-one on committee duty when they arrive at the venue. Others have looked on as overstretched committee members spread themselves pretty thinly, in an effort to get through all the work which, during the Clubland heydays, would have been shared amongst members of full committees.

The old days of elections to club committees have largely gone in so many of the clubs which have managed to survive the huge contraction in this market. During the 1970’s there were over 4500 clubs, of one sort or another, operating under the umbrella of the Club and Institute Union (C&IU). Now there is considerably less of half that number still open for business.

There is sadly no doubt that so many a club’s fate was sealed by dishonesty, perpetrated by those who were entrusted with the purse strings. Regarding the vast majority of clubs, I would argue that society has moved on. I made precisely this point in my recent book, The Clubland Empire. The old traditional heavy industries, where those who worked together also played together, lost traction as social cohesion was loosened when the mines, the mills ship building and the steelworks shut down or were scaled back.

For some of the surviving venues, the key is marketing community social clubs to families and attracting a younger membership. For so many others, the audiences on concert nights are ageing and are not being replaced by the generation of SKY TV, the supermarket beer can fans and those who say they do not feel safe on our streets anymore.

The challenge for the survival of Clubland is huge, but as social change can be cyclical, so many club officials are quick to point out that transitional change of any long-standing institution takes time, skill, patience and tenacity. A key component within the challenge is persuading or inducing members of the clubs to give up their time and their respective talents to run their local clubs. 

Note* The Clubland Empire by Mark Ritchie is available on Amazon and in all bricks and mortar bookshops. It is published by Desert Hearts Publishing in London.

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