Tag Archives: disco

The new Wild West of Eastern Europe and its new stag party capital of Kiev

Dancing the night away in the Wild West of Eastern Europe

(This piece was also published in the Huffington Post and on the Indian news site WeSpeakNews)

I was in a basement disco in Kiev a couple of nights ago at three o’clock in the morning.

Anyone who knows me will tell you this is not my natural habitat. I hated dancing and strobe lights in the late 1960s and early 1970s when people not only dressed in primary-coloured clothes and juddered in bright flashing lights, but also wore flared trousers.

I remember going to a very jolly Saturday night party in someone’s house in London around 1981. The colours, the lights, the loud pulsing music. It was very well done but, that morning I had been in the studio in Birmingham for the live three-hour mayhem that was the Tiswas children’s TV show – and I think it was towards the end of that season’s 39-week run.

For people at the party, bright exciting colours, lights and noise were a good thing. I just wanted to stare at a beige wall for three hours. Sensory overload was not excitingly stimulating; it was more of what I had already had all morning, minus the smell of shaving-foam-filled ‘custard pies’ and whatever the sweet-smelling ingredient of the occasional explosive puffs was.

Which brings me to a basement disco in Kiev at three o’clock in the morning and me being there with a runny nose and a hacking cough.

Unmarried twenty somethings with disposable incomes way beyond the wild imaginings of their parents at the same age were dancing and drinking the Thursday night away to 0730 on Friday morning

Kiev’s streets are busy with Range Rovers and other 4-wheel drive vehicles and occasional nightclubs and 24/7 restaurants.

“It’s a cross between the decadent remnants of a Communist state and the Wild West with mobile phones,” I told my eternally-unnamed friend back in the UK via Skype and the free WiFi in my very good room at the Impressa Hotel. “It’s young people with money for the first time,” I added, knowing what I meant but not knowing if that phrase communicated what I meant.

In The West in the mid-to-late 1950s, ‘teenagers’ first appeared. Before then, people in their late teens had been schoolchildren or students or a living-with-their parents underclass with no money. But then they suddenly had disposable incomes and could afford to build their own lifestyles.

Then, starting in the Swinging Sixties though the Seventies, sexual liberation added a whole testosterone-fuelled extra dimension and (a phrase I hate) the Working Class British kids found they could be as decadent as the upper classes had always been because, suddenly, their parents were going on holiday to Spain not Blackpool and ‘Working Class Yoof’ was ‘in’.

From the early 1990s, post-Soviet Union kids had a theoretical new freedom, though without the money to fuel any real new lifestyles. I worked in Prague in the mid-1990s and saw this after it started but before it fully happened – there, the change I saw seemed to be heavily-fuelled by foreigners and tourists finding an open-minded country with relatively cheap living costs.

A Brit who has been coming to Kiev since around 1992 told me: “You could really see the changes happen from about 1999 onwards.”

The old Soviet Union is the new Wild West. Not an original thought, but true nonetheless. I vividly remember being behind a young couple in 1996 who were walking hand-in-hand down Wenceslas Square in Prague. He was wearing a dark jacket which clearly marked him as working for some private security company. Out of the bottom corner of my eye, I saw something bouncing on his right hip as he walked with his left arm round his girlfriend and it was then I saw it was a handgun in a hip holster.

It really was the Wild eastern West.

There was much talk in Prague at that time of the various mafias – German, Italian, Russian – who controlled parts of the city’s and country’s economy – one mafia ran most of the taxis. There is talk today in Kiev of the mafias and a surprising number of people – taxi drivers, shop assistants et al – without prompting, show extreme verbal dislike of the current President, openly calling him a ‘criminal’.

Where all this goes, only time will tell.

I do not know if the testosterone-fuelled mating rituals in that Kiev basement disco are a sign of a new awakening or the last belated gasp of a decadent Europe before the inexorable rise of China.

When I was in Prague in the mid-1990s, it was becoming (with Dublin for Brits) the weekend party capital of Europe. In last week’s edition, the Kyiv Post was touting Kiev as the “new stag party capital of world”.

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Filed under 1960s, History, Prague, Russia, Sex

A man with Tourette’s Syndrome and an FBI file… Plus how comedian Ricky Grover insulted me.

So, the story goes like this…

On Monday night, I went to the New Act of the Year auditions at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, one of the jolliest and most brightly-coloured comedy clubs in Britain. A film crew was coincidentally filming scenes for an upcoming movie called The Comedian.

The Comedy Cafe’s owner, Noel Faulkner, has had a ‘colourful’ past which he revealed in his astonishing 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel. I first met him when we were both helping-out our mutual chum Ricky Grover by appearing in an early pilot/showreel for his planned movie Bulla, which Ricky has recently completed as a ‘pucka’ feature film with Steven Berkoff, Omid Djalili, Peter Capaldi etc.

Noel has Tourette’s Syndrome which doesn’t mean he swears uncontrollably but does mean he occasionally twitches uncontrollably… except, oddly, he doesn’t do it when he’s performing on stage or on film. This non-twitching while performing caused surreal problems during the autobiographical Shake, Rattle and Noel show, as he was talking about how he twitched uncontrollably without actually twitching uncontrollably.

Noel has lived a life-and-a-half and he isn’t through with it yet.

After being brought up in Ireland by the Christian Brothers and working on fishing trawlers and having some peripheral encounters with the IRA, he was in Swinging London at its height where he got involved with the young Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood and sold Gary Glitter his first glitter suit. Noel’s twitching made him a wow in discos – people thought he was a great disco dancer – and it was assumed to be drug-induced, so he fitted perfectly into the very Swinging London scene.

Then he went to hippie San Francisco before Haight Ashbury turned into Hate Ashbury and became a friend of the young, before-he-was-famous Robin Williams. Noel ended up on the run from the FBI, went to New York as an actor and comic, dealt directly with and smuggled dope for the early Colombian drug cartels, was caught and deported from the US, returned to London and set up the Comedy Cafe, one of the few purpose-built comedy venues in the capital.

So this – the Comedy Cafe – was where I found myself on Monday night for the New Act of the Year comedy auditions, the 28th year of the contest – it used to be called the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year (Eddie Izzard came 12th one year). The final used to be held a the Hackney Empire, which organisers Roland & Claire Muldoon ran. This year, the final takes place at The Barbican on Saturday 19th March.

It was well worth going because I saw for a second time the promising up-and-coming stand-up Pat Cahill and, for the first time, the very interesting indeed Duncan Hart who had a dark and very well-crafted set about a heart problem in a hospital, a drug overdose, a mugging at gunpoint and much more. Not obvious comedy subjects and potentially difficult to tailor for comedy in a 5-minute spot, but he performed it flawlessly.

The only downside was that, looking around the Comedy Cafe’s full room, I was, as usual, almost certainly the oldest punter in the room. This depressing scenario is even more depressing when I am up at the Edinburgh Fringe and street flyerers ignore me without a second glance because – clearly, at my age – I can’t possibly be interested in comedy.

Ricky Grover cast me as a bank manager in his Bulla showreel because he has always said I look like a banker (and I don’t think he was using Cockney rhyming slang). After the financial meltdown, I should take this as an insult. And I will. But I won’t tell him.

It would be far too dangerous.

It will be our little secret.

Just you and me.

OK?

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Drugs, Health, Movies