Numerous social and other clubs exist, including Rotary clubs, workingmen’s clubs, business clubs, church groups, Conservative clubs, the Freemasons, international friendship clubs, Kiwani clubs, Labour clubs, Lion and Lioness clubs, Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) clubs, Round Table clubs, ex-servicemen’s clubs, sports clubs and women’s clubs. Expatriates from a wide array of countries also have their own organisations in major cities and elsewhere; ask at your embassy for information. Prominent among them are American Men’s and Women’s clubs. The many famous, exclusive and very upper crust men’s clubs in London principally exist to enable members to escape from their wives.
Clubs exist almost everywhere focussing on pastimes such as chess, bridge, whist, art, music, theatre, photography, cinema and local history. If you want to integrate into your local community, one of the best ways is to join one or more of them. In major cities, there are also singles clubs, some of which operate nationally and organise a comprehensive range of activities throughout the week. If you’re retired, you may find your council publishes a programme of recreational activities for your age group. Most publish calendars of sports and social events, and information about local groups and associations is displayed in libraries.
Dance Clubs & Nightclubs
There are dance clubs and nightclubs in all major centres, open until 2 or 4am, with entrance fees ranging between £5 and £25, which sometimes includes a ‘free’ drink, drinks being usually expensive. Admission may be cheaper if you arrive early (before the real action starts). London has one of the most cosmopolitan nightlife scenes to be found anywhere, with venues to suit every taste in music, fashion and atmosphere. A huge variety of gay clubs also exists in London, information about which is available from gay publications such as the Pink Paper, free in bars and cafés.
It’s common to charge a fee for membership (which may be only temporary) in the admission price, although this sometimes requires being sponsored by at least two members and waiting a few days until it becomes valid. However, some clubs admit visitors accompanied by a member. The dress code is usually smart casual, which excludes jeans, leather, T-shirts and trainers, although in some establishments this may represent the ideal style (fashion usually dictates, depending on the venue). Some up-market establishments admit couples only. Only clubs with a music or dancing licence can sell alcohol after 11pm. All-night clubbing was legalised in 1990, but around 3am alcohol gives way to fruit juices, or black coffee.
‘Alternative’ comedy provides cheap and exciting entertainment and is popular in London (which has more comedy clubs than any other city in the world) and many provincial cities. Observational, spontaneous and surrealist comedians vie with impressionists and sketch teams nightly for the limelight. Admission is around £5 to £15, there’s usually a reduction for students and the unemployed, and the club circuit is becoming ever larger.
Classical concerts are staged regularly throughout the UK by British and international performers and celebrated international festivals cover orchestral, choral, opera, jazz, folk, rock and world music. London’s unrivalled concentration and variety of music venues, and its four major orchestras, the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and the Philharmonia, make it the music capital of the world. Acclaimed provincial orchestras include those in Birmingham, Manchester and Bournemouth, along with the BBC National Orchestra. One of the most famous classical music seasons is ‘the Proms’ (promenade concerts), performed at the Royal Albert Hall, and culminating in the celebrated ‘Last Night of the Proms’ concert which is televised internationally.
Most major cathedrals take part in a summer festival of music performed by the London Festival Orchestra. Provincial professional and amateur orchestras and ensembles perform individual and subscription series of concerts, tickets for which are reasonably priced. Tickets are usually available for a whole season of classical performances or a selection of them, interest-free payment for which can sometimes be made by direct debit and spread over a period, e.g. six months. In summer, free open-air concerts are staged in public parks by orchestras and bands throughout the country.
Local music societies or music clubs regularly organise concerts and recitals, for which members (or ‘friends’) receive priority bookings; reduced seat prices; savings on meals, holidays and special events; a free mailing list; and may even take part in programme planning. Tickets usually range from around £5 to £15. You can become a member or friend of a music society, orchestra or theatre for as little as £10 a year. Free lunchtime organ and choral concerts are performed in cathedrals and churches throughout the year, and free outdoor concerts are staged in summer (a collection is usually made to help meet expenses). Look for announcements in your local newspapers or enquire at your nearest TIC.
In addition to classical and choral music, just about every other kind of music is performed regularly somewhere in the UK. This includes brass and steel band music, country & western, folk, heavy metal, hip hop, house, jazz, indie, medieval, reggae, rock, rhythm and blues and soul music to mention just a selection. Fans of certain kinds of music, e.g. folk or jazz, can find specialist clubs in most cities, usually with low membership fees. The UK is a world leader in the popular music industry, and London is again the centre of attraction, with more ‘gigs’ in one night than most provincial cities stage in a month. These range from pub sessions to those of mega rock stars who fill Wembley stadium.
Concert ticket prices are generally lower than in many other western countries, although the prices for superstars can be astronomical. They cost from £5 to £70 depending on who’s performing and the venue, with smaller more local ones offering discounts for students and usually increasing prices on Fridays and Saturdays.
For potential music-makers, a wide range of amateur musical groups exists, including orchestras, marching bands, choral societies and even barbershop singers, most of which are constantly on the lookout for new talent. Free music is also provided by an army of buskers, many of whom are excellent (and most of whom are illegal).
Many publications are dedicated to the popular music industry, most prominently the New Musical Express. Classical music magazines have burgeoned in recent years and include Classical Music, Gramophone, and Early Music Today. The London entertainment magazines Time Out, and What’s On provide comprehensive music reviews and list all concerts in the London area. Free music newspapers and magazines are also available in some areas. Information about provincial concerts is available from local TICs and libraries. Among the many websites of interest are the London Symphony Orchestra (www.lso.co.uk), London Net (www.londonnet.co.uk – all kinds of music, including a free email magazine), Folk and Roots (www.folkandroots.co.uk – folk music) and London Organ (www.londonorgan.co.uk) for organ recitals in and around London.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.