There are not that many places -even in London- where you can see Amy Winehouse crashing the scene for an impromptu duet with Professor Green, or get Mark Ronson, Dizzee Rascal or The Kooks to play intimate gigs, as in Proud Camden, the club opened by Alex Proud (40) in 2008. Not content to rock the indie scene, the Brighton-born entrepreneur also owns Proud Galleries, one of Europe’s most successful independent photographic institutions, and Proud Cabaret, which has introduced the art of burlesque to the City. Here, he talks to Chic-Londres about how to get the party going and mingling with Paul McCartney and Hugh Hefner.
How did you decide to get in the entertainment business and what are the links between the three places: Proud Camden, Proud Gallery and Proud Cabaret? I basically started the club in Camden because the photo gallery I had opened in 1996, specialized in music, wasn’t making much money, despite some great press coverage. When I started a family in 2005, I thought it might be a good idea to diversify by opening a bar where you could live the lifestyle shown in the pictures. The idea was to go small at first but then it turned into this massive beast that has become Proud Camden. As for the main link, I would say it is me: in the case of Proud Cabaret, I just thought it would be fun to open a place where you could have a drink, then dinner, while seeing a great, sexy, risqué show, and then get a DJ up to 3am, all in one place.
You regularly get hot names like Mark Ronson, Dizzee Rascal, The Kooks, Stereophonics or Jarvis Cocker to play intimate concerts in you “Gig Room” in Camden. How to you manage to get this constant stream of talents? I think it is mainly because we really love what we do, and tend to be quite nice and trustworthy when most people in the music business are not, and the artists sense that. I saw many things happening here, but never sold a story and never will. Somehow we created a culture where artists feel safe here and the public can enjoy their music without being ripped off. On the day of opening, we got the Libertines to play their first London gig, and have had everyone since then visiting, from Sting to Damon Albarn. We also have great moments like having Jarvis Cocker on stage playing MC or Amy Winehouse singing when it is not planned.
What are the best tips to get the party going? First, think how much alcohol you need, and then multiply the quantity by five. Most off license will take the unopened bottles back so it is worth making a deal with them when you buy a lot of alcohol. English people are not natural hosts, but when you organize a party, you have to make a conscious effort to welcome your guests, introduce them to everyone, and make sure that everything is perfect. You must have music, but be sure that it is loud enough for people to dance but not to the point where people can’t hear themselves talk. There must be enough food for two servings, as people tend to eat when they arrive, but also like to have some late night snacks. I think it is also a good idea to get your cleaner to come over the morning after, so you don’t have to worry all evening about the mess.
What is your favourite party drink? I only ever drink vodka and cranberry, as I somehow think this is relatively healthy and therefore good for me -which is obviously ridiculous! Half way through the night, I usually also have a glass of milk, which always make my staff laugh…
Do you have any advice on how to mingle at a party when you know no one? Everyone feels awful about this type of situation, but you just have to take the bull by the horn, as if you hide in a corner, you just won’t enjoy yourself. You can start by going to the bar and ordering a triple vodka. Then find the most interesting looking person in the room and go introduce yourself: just be candid and say you know no one. Usually people respond well… It takes energy and a certain amount of bravery to put yourself out of your comfort zone, but it is often rewarding: you can make some lovely friends or fall in love (or at least lust)!
What was the best party you have ever been to? I co-hosted two parties with Paul McCartney and Hugh Heffner, and it was quite amazing in itself to see my name on the invite next to theirs. I also had lots of fun drinking champagne late at night with Damon Albarn, and when Noel Gallagher and Carl Barat played a small gig for me and ten people at the club’s opening party. But really, there are too many good moments to isolate one…