If you find yourself rushing past Waterloo station in February battling against the winter winds, stop for a moment and cock your ear towards the Vaults and you may hear a little scream of delight or a muffled roar of laughter.
This is no winter illusion. There are those who refuse to let the dark months keep them locked at home. Tim Wilson is one of those.
He started the Vault Festival in Waterloo six years ago where burlesque, theatre, comedy and late night live music are all thrown together in a melting pot of creativity and entertainment.
With 300 shows across eight weeks, the event has grown to be one of the biggest independent arts festivals in South London and, at the age of 32, Mr Wilson is just getting started.
He talks with glee about the upcoming shows, relishing the thought of the wild sleepless nights ahead.
“I’m excited and terrified at the same time. There’s this spirit of total madness and chaos that surrounds the whole event,” he said.
Born in Brixton, brought up in Dulwich and now living in Peckham, Mr Wilson has been directing and producing shows since he was 16, so he knows a thing or two about a night out in South London.
“Make sure the Negronis are strong and the music is loud.
“I mean, February is just a s*** month anyway. Why not get underground and gorge on some cabaret?
“You don’t just come to Vault for one show, it’s a whole experience you’re letting yourself in for.
“We hold tickets for the night and so there is always an option to dip into another show.”
The festival has gone from 180 acts last February to 300 in 2018. “I used to try and see every show, but about three years ago it got to the point where I just couldn’t physically do it.
“It’s difficult to remember exactly why we got ourselves into this.
“There are so many versions of personal history, but I think we saw the power of putting artists back-to-back, in a network.
“Not only was it beneficial for the boring reasons like sharing costs, cutting down on admin etc, but also, there’s an explosion of ideas when you bring all these creative minds together.
“It’s the big whirligig that we like to keep spinning.
“Each year we grow more ambitious.
“Now we’re quite a recognisable brand so people will contact us with their shows. But it wasn’t always like that.
“We’ve had to scramble around all the dingy corners of Edinburgh and through the dark districts of London looking for the best shows.”
When Mr Wilson and his entourage first approached the Vaults in Waterloo in 2011, it was still a paper storage factory, but with its numerous sound-proof enclaves it was ideal for a big multi-show event.
Mr Wilson said: “When we opened on the first night we were expecting about 1500 people max. Almost 7,500 turned up. Holy hell.
“We had planned to do a soft launch with a writer giving a talk on the book he had written on the occupy movement.
“He said there wouldn’t be a big crowd, just a few BBC journalists.
“Then 500 anarchists turned up. It was the worst night of my life.
“Some of them were nice people, but they caused absolute carnage.
“No one could hear the speakers with the anarchists shouting over them.
“The security left them to it as well. They said there’s too many of them and not enough guards to take them on.
“So I had to rush round trying to control the anarchists.
“It was a real baptism of fire.”
The Independent described Vault as London’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe. But unlike the Fringe, where the biggest names in comedy and theatre have adverts splashed across buses and sponsors have tagged most of the stages, the Vault is still relatively untouched.
With this there is an air of unpredictability and excitement.
Mr Wilson said: “Nothing is fixed, the festival is constantly changing.
“A big favourite of mine this time round is the Becoming Shades show by Chivaree Circus. It’s sexy as hell.
“Another is Red Bastard. He’s an amazing and horrific comedy creation. If you don’t like audience participation then run a mile away from this guy.
“At the end, after the whole thing is finished, I always feel exhausted but also just full of joy.”
The festival runs from January 24 to March 18 next year and tickets went on sale on Tuesday.
For tickets and more information on the acts go to www.vaultfestival.com
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