Too old to rave, too young to die

Want to bop till you drop without a teenager in sight? Rosie Millard knows just the place

It is every party-goer's nightmare. You are queueing up outside a nightclub, dressed in your best grooving gear, but people are looking at you. People wearing slightly flared hipsters and acrylic tunic tops. People who look so very 1996 that they are almost 1997. People still in their teens. You, meanwhile, are a thirty-something who still wants to have fun but hasn't quite got round to reorganising your wardrobe since Band Aid.

Inside, it's even worse. The music is unrecognisable, the dancing impossible and the drinks are all either (a) far too expensive for a mortgage-payer like yourself, or (b) bottled water. You go home to sulk amid your mahogany- look Ikea stacking system.

But ageing groovers now have an alternative. Welcome to the Over-25 nights; a godsend for those who still like Adam Ant and for club-owners aware of the large and lucrative population bulge now hitting its mid-thirties. It's a trend happening countrywide. Unlike club evenings such as Carwash , a revivalist fancy-dress evening in Soho where students dress up in wigs and dance ironically to "Super Trooper", this is serious stuff, a place where wrinkles are in, the music of the Eighties is king and you can sing along to Duran Duran without shame.

In London's West End, eager thirtysomethings are queueing up outside the delightfully named Don't You Want Me Baby? (if this title needs explanation, you either live in a monastery or are far too young for this article). "I remember all these groups," says Pippa Hutchinson, 28. She eagerly waves a flyer from the club, which lists some of the bands she and other mortgage-paying hopefuls will get to hear that night. "Depeche Mode! Wham! And, oh my god! Dead or Alive!" As if by Pavlovian response, her friends, Linda (27), Jennifer (28) and Katie (27) all start intoning DOA's greatest (only) hit. "You spin me/ Like a record baby/ Right round round round," sings the trio, hopping up and down in the cold.

"I like dancing with people of my own age," says Teresa Reynolds, a 34- year-old travel agent who has come up from Brighton with her husband for the experience. "Younger people just look at you rudely." Particularly if you say you are with your husband. "I just don't feel at home in a rave," chimes in her spouse. "You're into alcohol, and, well, they're into E. It's a major gap."

David, the club's promoter, whose company is called Planet Earth (Duran Duran's second hit, do wake up) organises three such Eighties nights each week in London. "They're not revival evenings," he yells while Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" wails in the background. "More like celebrations of Eighties music. The music's so much better than nowadays. You can remember it," he continues. "I mean, you're not going to sit in the bath in 20 years' time singing jungle music, are you?" Well, perhaps not.

In the subterranean depths of Don't You Want Me Baby?, about 400 25- to 35-year-olds are throwing themselves around to a variety of numbers ranging from "Embarrassment" by Madness to "Everything Counts" by, erm, Depeche Mode, who used to be an embarrassment but have clearly benefited from the passing of the years. Indeed, those whey-faced losers with disastrous hair days that we all used to laugh at on the pages of Smash Hits now apparently symbolise all that we over-25 clubbers miss, and mourn. "They were committed to music," says Greg Hurst, a 25-year-old engineer. "Not like show bands such as Take That, who were just put together for money. I mean, something like their track `I've Got The Balance Right'. It's a great tune. Real music. Real lyrics." Greg elects to remind me how the number went. "Get the balance right, get the balance right," chants Greg, hopefully snapping his fingers in my direction. "Dur Dur Dur Dum Dum." Hmm.

Out in Watford, the song remains the same. Culture Club, Human League, Gary Numan. Songs that have nothing to do with modern Radio 1 and everything to do with Top of the Pops when it used to come on after Tomorrow's World. At Kudos nightclub in Watford (1995 Discotheque of the Year as voted by Disco International), Wednesday nights are over-25s nights. They are some of the busiest nights of the week, according to the club's manager, Alistair Kennedy. They attract more than 1,000 people each week revelling in life before Brit pop and Coolio. The club is part of First Leisure entertainment group and has been running over-25s nights for two years. First Leisure was so impressed by the club's success that it now runs oldie nights at its clubs in Kingston upon Thames, Cardiff and Manchester. "The thing is, older people don't like mixing with younger people," says Alistair. "We were losing their custom. It made them feel old. Now they have an evening all to themselves."

Indeed, Kudos has introduced custom-made elements perfect for the more mature outlook. The beer is cheaper, for a start. Apparently cash-strapped 30-year-olds balk at paying pounds 2.50 a pint, so it is reduced to pounds 1.60. There is also a free Chinese buffet (from the Flower Garden, appropriately Chinese Restaurant of the Year), so punters feel they are getting a proper night out. After 30, the idea of bopping on an empty stomach is a big turn off, it seems. And there is less grief for the doormen; the older the clubber, the less likely they are to put a chair through a plate glass door at the end of an evening.

"My 14-year-old daughter's embarrassed about me being here," says Beverley Klymkiw, a mother of three. "But it's the only night in the week Mike and I go out, and we only spend about a fiver each."

The atmosphere in the club has a marked released-from-prison air. "They're sometimes still here till 2.30 in the morning," says Mark Gallen, who runs lights in the club. He looks around with an expression of sympathy. "They only have one night to go out, so they don't want to go home."

"I look forward to Wednesdays," says Ray Cook, 38. "On Saturdays, I tend to stay in and watch a film. I also write poetry," he says, suddenly. "Mainly love type. I reflect on the countryside. And desolate beaches, that sort of thing. It just flies off the pen. It's the old-fashioned romance, that's what I like."

"Teenagers make us feel like we're sitting in wheelchairs," says Jill, 28, who comes to Kudos every week. "You can't dance to their kind of music." She waves a hand over the dance floor where people aged from 25-55 are gyrating in no particular style to Madonna's "Vogue". The atmosphere is akin to a school disco. "This is our kind of music. It's nice to have a club where you can dance and have a good time. And if the men chat you up, you don't feel like you're mutton dressed as lamb."

Back at Don't You Want Me Baby?, Allan Eagle, a self-confessed New Romantic, is standing by the cigarette machine (another habit beloved of the over- 25s). We are talking across the joyous melody of "Club Tropicana" by Wham!.

"Fun and Sunshine, there's enough for everyone," warbles George Michael. Allan sighs, transported. "It takes me back to my youth club, all this. Innocent days. When there were no worries. When life was innocent. No rat race, no dog eat dog. That kind of thing." He turns and goes back on to the dance floor.

Kudos, The Parade, Watford. Over-25 nights Wednesdays 8.30pm-2am. 01923 239 848. Don't You Want Me Baby?, The Office, Rathbone Street, London W1. Saturday nights 9pm-3am. 0171-636 1598.

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