222 Kettering Rd, Northampton NN1 4BN
The Picturedrome is opposite the racecourse, at the end of a Victorian terrace avenue, close by the town centre. It was Northampton’s first purpose-built cinema in 1912 and is now a restaurant, occasional cinema, bar and dance venue.
And (and this is why I am writing about it) it hosts the most remarkable and amazing once a week dance scene that I know.
Every Thursday (save a few around Xmas and New Year, the club runs a 1pm to 4pm rock n roll club. Admission is free, and the bars are open for drinks, tea/coffee, and food (which is not just your local normal pub grub).
At 1pm the recorded music starts and the dance floor has 10 to 20 couples doing ballroom jive routines in which everyone does the same thing going round in a circle.
At 2pm on comes the band – and how many of them there are depends on who turns up. Eight is a common number, with a vocalist appearing late in day. They play 1950s and 60s rock – and the dance floor is utterly, totally packed. The dancers jive, do modern jive, or just bop with variations on 1960s non-partner dancing.
The age range of the audience is (I guess) 50s to 70s – maybe some older (but I wouldn’t like to check). Many turn up in 1940s and 1950s gear (although not Teddy Boy outfits – but you can of course dance in anything you like.
When I went there, there were about ten faces I recognised from the local Ceroc clubs – the rest looked like people who came each week for the show.
First time you arrive they take your name, and if you come three times you have to join – it costs all of £3 a year. As for the band, they have a whip round at the end of the gig.
The band themselves take a break from 3pm for about 10 minutes, but then get going again, finishing dead on 4pm at which point the leader of the ensemble said, “Well, it’s 4pm and its getting dark, so we all need to be off now,” or words to that effect.
If you have not been there, I suspect you have never seen anything like it – and you really should go.
The venue has a bar and restaurant tables near the front door, the inner sanctum which looks like the cinema it once was, with seating to the rear and the dance floor by the stage and then an upstairs retreat.
If there are other venues like this doing rock n roll tea dances, I’d love to know, but for now all I can say is you should go to Northampton and see this. It is truly wonderful.
- Air conditioning: 5 out of 5 – no fans needed, never once felt hot.
- Atmosphere: 5 out of 5. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
- Do ladies ask men: 1 out of 5. No – because this is a venue that is mostly inhabited by couples. That is just the sort of place it is. One modern jive lady did ask me for a dance.
- Facilities: 5 out of 5 – good food, two very extensive bars, loads of places to sit, close to the action or right out of the way, whatever takes your fancy. The dance floor is packed, so maybe I should 4 out of 5, but that would be churlish.
- Free water: No
- Friendliness: 5 out of 5. The ballroom jivers stick to themselves as do the modern jivers, but when we turned up at about 1.15 and stood by the bar a gent came up, asked if it was our first time, told us the form, and made us feel very good about it all.
- Location: 5 out of 5. Just out of the town centre opposite the race track. Undoubtedly it will be lovely in the summer.
- Music: 5 out of 5
- Parking: 3 out of 5. I parked opposite in the car park on the racetrack which technically one should not do, but there is a fair amount of street parking nearby too, with no parking restrictions.
- Space: 3 out of 5 – crowded but that is part of the fun.
- Venue overall: 4 out of 5. By its own standards and what it intends to be it is brilliant. I just wondered what they might do if an extra 100 people turned up and tried to get on the dance floor.
But despite the fact I am not giving 5/5 throughout, this is a place you really must visit.