Dom Joly: I've seen the Sugababes and the world's first fireplace

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The Independent Online

Two days back home and then it was off to Central Asia again. This time my destination was Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. As guest of one of the new tycoons this area seems to be producing, this was no ordinary trip. I was put up at a swanky London hotel, wined and dined and then, the following morning, whisked over Europe in a private jet towards Azerbaijan. It was a little like a de luxe special rendition.

As we approached Baku – the site, my enthusiastic guide told me, of the first fireplace in history – the Caucasus Mountains fell away to reveal the peninsula jutting out into the Caspian on which the city sits.

As we drove in from the airport, the architecture became almost Parisian, a reminder of the 40-year oil boom that this crossroads capital had enjoyed at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Reaching the seafront it was clear that another boom was under way. Cranes and building sites were everywhere: somebody had big plans for this place.

I didn't have too much time to wander about – just a cup of sweet tea in a wonderful old caravanserai before being whisked off to the opening of a huge new Baku nightspot. It was a big event in town and "le tout Baku" had turned up to party. Fake paparazzi had been placed outside to snap partygoers. Sadly, however, they had been provided with ancient cameras with neither flash nor film and so looked a little demented as they mock-clicked away as you entered.

Inside, I was ushered up to an area with a particularly good view of proceedings. It is extraordinary just how globalised the world of the nightclub has become. Once inside there was very little to indicate that we might be in Azerbaijan. Two celebrity DJs were advertised as being "in da house". They were, apparently, DJ Ravin' and DJ Jack E. In a suspended booth high above the dance floor a very fat man was playing air guitar and occasionally screaming nonsensical gibberish into a microphone. Was this Ravin' or Jack E? I didn't much care – the beats pounded away like mental hammers inside my head and I felt very old.

The local crowd seemed to be enjoying it, almost all of them dressed in black. The women were stunning, whereas the men all looked as though they were very useful with a knife and not impartial to a spot of shot-putting. Globalised canapés started to appear – provided by the maître d', who told Gordon Ramsay that I'd beaten him on The F-Word. Behind me, what turned out to be most of the Azeri cabinet lolled like awkward walruses on shiny sofas while their petite wives retouched their make-up.

D J Knobby, or whatever his name was, screamed at us to "make some noise" as the special international guest stars had arrived. It was the Sugababes. Three women climbed on to a stage. They wouldn't have looked out of place working in Primark and had clearly recently been clothes shopping there. They launched into an appallingly choreographed song, occasionally punctuated by random "sexy" moves and shouts of "Hellooo Bakoooo". It was embarrassing, and the crowd started to slip away from the stage towards the canapés and gallons of free drink on offer.

I even started to miss DJ Knobby for a very brief moment, as the latest version of this curiously uncharismatic three-piece warbled their way through another song. It was too much in the end, and I slipped outside past the freezing, fake paparazzi and wandered down alongside a darkened Caspian towards my hotel. Somewhere, out to sea, the wind sirens wailed their disapproval.