As it is such an unusual night in a terrific location, it’s going to be as difficult to write about Shunt as it was to capture some photos on my underpowered, flashless cameraphone – where on earth (in this flat) have I left my camera? My date suggested bashing out a few vignettes, as varied and separate as the high-roofed rooms, candle-lit in the vaults below London Bridge station. This is not to say that the place has a discordant feel; one is led deep into the bowels of the building in wondrous harmony. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I got there just after 8 and straight away was struck by the queue of people. Not commuters reinvigorating Oyster cards, nor weekday day zombies seeking the panacea of coffee. “Arty” is the crowd lining up for Shunt. My trilby, to my consternation, is ubiquitous. I snaked against the tide of the achingly hip and windily arty. There was the date, gorgeous as ever and after catching up, she informed me that inside her bag was a bottle of fizzy, chilled contraband. Without the intention of taking it inside to drink, honestly, we plodded slowly to the entrance and proffered photo ID. It was required of all; this had nothing to do with our supernaturally youthful looks.
Date’s bag was checked on the way in, and whilst fairly big, we were stunned that security failed to spot the Lanson (dahling). Our original intention to drink it by the river was abandoned. In fairness, the light is very dim, as the photos illustrate, and I’m not complaining. Partly due to this darkness, it’s difficult to get a handle on the layout of The Vaults. We wandered towards the back, taking the odd detour sideways. Large rooms with a few tables, a poetry space, a cinema with airline seats and a stand alone cube stage made of pallets, all served by bars. Live contemporary violin resounded through the halls, relayed by an efficient sound setup.
By the time we’d found the back, our eyes were acclimatised to the light. And we found a door out to the road behind, a chance to smoke, and reflect on just what in the name of God was going on in there. We agreed that it was pretty enchanting.
We crushed our cigarettes into the asphalt and showed our red-stamped wrists for re-entry. We’d identified a room with a candlelit table away from the growing crowd, and in the haze I popped the cork and poured two plastic glasses of champagne. This was all very civilised, I must say. I felt like Jay Joplin channelling Terry Thomas at a Sisters of Mercy concert. Well, I can say that now, because I’m a bit of a ponce; truth is I was simply having a great time.
In fact, the great time feeling meant we finished the bottle in double-smart time. Firstly, it was good, chilled and thoroughly drinkable, but more tellingly, we just didn’t want to get thrown out. Despite the meagre light and our secluded location, we felt highly visible. The photos posted here were taken in the most brightly lit areas. As we sat at the table, the violin played out, and a parade of sorts took past us. At its head, a broad white performer, dressed as a gentleman pirate from the 18th century, was spitting ragga rhymes. He climbed another of the temporary pallet stages and his poem played out over a few minutes, the audience flowing around him.
The story complete, a strange force drew us back out to the station entrance; a Cornish pasty seemed perfectly at home with our hunger and a stroll around strip-lit London Bridge station an interesting opposition to the vaults.
Sat once more with drinks in hand, new music floated through, influenced by The Doors from the L.A. Woman era. Drawn as if by sirens to yet another stage, we watched as the guitar wielding soloist plucked and strummed songs ranging in style from beach bum love songs to tormented blues.
Whilst not as cheap as our naughty sparkles, the drinks are pretty reasonably priced, and once our VAT and Organic Lager were drained, we dropped some tequila shots back and headed once more towards the entrance, this time to take in the art of Bob Aldous. With a central motif of cave paintings of deer, Bob’s work was not immediately accessible. However, the repetition bangs like a drum, the lighting no stronger than a campfire; the occasional candle casting shadows and the rippling reflection of water maintained the charade of Neolithic times. Date is vegetarian (the pasty was tomato, basil and herb, and bloody good too), so she was not as taken with the boar skins as I was. The deer motif is picked out on the hide of one Italian boar by smoking around it, a powerful yet simple device. Whilst Bob was probably a little irritated by my commercial concerns, a hangover from a previous life as a gallery owner, I found his passion and enthusiasm engaging, and the works should be seen.
There are two small cinema areas. We took some time to watch the collage of fact and fiction space scenes in a perversely intimate yet open space. This feeling of separation infiltrated us during our visit; there are many people around, but somehow the experience is so personal.
By now we were nearing our last train home. Another quick short and we took our leave of the place, high on liquor and the excitement of the new. On reflection we agreed we should have stayed, and next time we will, lost in the condensation streaked walls and high arches of a forgotten part of London.