Haydon Bridge's history of gay clubbing in London
The 60's - In which queers shift their traditional allegiance from prostitutes to the black community; Italy and France influence the style of the secretly queer mod movement; and the partial legalisation of homosexuality makes no difference to the London queer scene - or does it ?
Peter Burton (centre) and his sister Pamela and friend Stevie posing in D'Arblay Street 1967
where we went
Are you ready for the story of gay clubbing in
Yes, we really have been partying for that long - even before the first discothèque opened in 1960.“There’s a great myth that gay life didn’t start until
the gay mod club, Le Duce, which writer Alkarim Jivani calls “one of the trendiest places to be seen in
“Amber”, now 71, arrived in
We had more places then than now.”
Most of the bars were in basements and attics.They were tiny, but some had a juke box and people would dance.Amber reminisces about the Mambo in
“It was the pits.
When they all started jiving, you could see the floor going up and down.”
Ironically, the Wolfenden Report, which recommended to the Government in 1957 that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence”, made life more difficult for queers.
Homophobic police stepped up raids on queer meeting places.They rarely made arrests, but intimidated everyone by taking names and addresses.
Corrupt cops also took cash and booze from bar owners. Queers took refuge in illegal drinking clubs.
Gay activist, Claire Andrews, remembers, “They were usually run by black people, who were sympathetic to lesbians and gay men who didn’t have a place to go.”
In 1964, when homosexual law reform had become inevitable, the Director of Public Prosecutions warned the police to ease up. But by that time gay life in
It wouldn’t recover until the late 80s. In a double irony, the renowned Le Duce was co-owned by an ex-cop, Bill Bryant.
In 1964, he and his partner, Geoffrey Worthington, had opened a discreet queer bar, The Lounge, in
Like their hetero counterparts, queer mods wanted to dance non-stop (and had the drugs that enabled them to).
Le Duce was open all night every Saturday.The basement room had a door policy that kept the club fashionable (and predatory older men out).Working class poofs and straight dolly birds danced to black music – Jamaican blue beat,Tamla Motown.
“They spoke directly to us,” says Peter Burton, who was in charge from 1966 to 1968, when he
By then Soho had been carved up by
The queer scene moved to
“It was a long cellar and everyone would cram up the far end,” recalls gay historian Dr David Lawrence.“The lights were dim. It was like a scrum. Nobody ever came up and stopped anything.”
Alan Jones, co-author of disco history, Saturday Night Forever, is more explicit.“The first time I was ever given a blow job was in the Gigolo,” he reveals.
Meanwhile, in 1967, homosexuality was made legal according to the Wolfenden recommendations. It was little more than a rubber stamp.“It never changed my life in any way,” declares Amber.“It didn’t provoke a rush of new clubs,” agrees Peter Burton. But drag legend Pip Morgan feels that after 1967 there was a subtle change.“You used to keep an eye open for people who were in trouble,” he says regretfully.
“But when everyone could do what they wanted, people stopped being nice to each other.”
what we wore
“GROWING up gay and realising that one is different means a constant questioning of who you are,” says “John”, interviewed by the Victoria and
... Next to advertisements for John Stephen - Man alive published such ads for Domino mail order - fantastic text ...
On a trip to the South of France, he noticed such novelties as black jeans and tight swimming trunks.
Within months of the film’s premiere,Vince marketed “bum freezer” jackets, drain-pipe trousers and winklepicker shoes.
Green’s sales assistant, John Stephen, left to open His Clothes, around the corner in
This sexy and essentially queer look was appropriated by the mainstream rag trade to dress the mod era, big from 1963-6, when The Beatles helped to make
Were these first skinheads as gay as the skins at Hard On?
“They were always gay!” laughs Alan Jones.
“Braces! Even then it was a gay code.”
what we listened to
For decades working class queers and female prostitutes formed a natural alliance against the authorities that wanted the trouble makers off the streets and into jail.
But from the early 60s, when the legalisation of “discreet” prostitution and homosexuality became imminent, working class queers began gravitating towards the immigrant community from
This defining relationship between outcast societies can be traced through to the present day (and makes the homophobia of some Jamaican dancehall stars all the more preposterous).
From 1963, both straight and gay mod clubs played danceable records by Jamaican blue beat stars like Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker, music which became part
of the soundtrack of the mod era.
But queers also liked the whole package – the beat, the lyrics and the camp image – of US soul groups like The Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas and especially The Supremes.
At Le Duce the only white music played was “blue-eyed soul” by the likes of Dusty Springfield, who also happened to be gay and made-up like a drag queen.
Although ‘The Green Door’, a hit for both Frankie Vaughan and Jim Lowe in 1956, allegedly refers to a queer bar, the first unequivocally queer song,‘See My Friend’ by The Kinks,
For the rest of the decade queers generally ignored protest songs and flower power in favour of bubblegum music, the camp fun of Tiny Tim and Harpers Bizarre, and stuff promoted by gay radio jock Kenny Everett.
Incidentally, all records played in gay clubs in the 60s were on juke boxes. London’s first disco, La Discothèque, and its more successful rival, the Whisky-a-go-go, were in Wardour Street from the early 60s; but there was no openly gay club night in the capital until Tricky Dicky (richard Scanes) began at the Father Redcap in Camberwell in 1971.
how we danced
The jive and its variations, introduced to the
Queers preferred the rare luxury of dancing arm in arm. everything changed in the early 60s, with the arrival of the twist, first popularised in
The first dance in which partners didn’t hold each other, the twist was perfect for queer bars.
When the police arrived, dancers quickly turned towards a person of the opposite sex.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work when the pretty police were on the floor.
In 1962, David Browne, manager of the Kandy Lounge in
Browne’s counsel maintained that the men concerned were dancing the
It didn’t wash. Browne was found guilty.
The twist spawned several variations - the fly, the mashed potato, the locomotion, the pop pie – whose names were more familiar than their steps. (When Kylie revived the Locomotion in 1988, nobody could be found who remembered Little eva’s original dance).
In 1963, despite the continuing success of the twist, its prime exponent, Chubby Checker, turned his attention to the limbo.The next major development was the blues, the first of the “standing still and twitching” dances, supposedly invented by Dave Clark as a publicity stunt for his record ‘Do You Love Me?’ (1963).
It became the mods’ favourite dance, and was later “mod”ified into the hitch-hiker and the shake.The latter superseded the twist, but by the end of 1965 it had evolved into the frug, which became the staple dance of the late sixties.
how we got wasted
AS QX said in 1998,“Queers are always first to discover a new drug.”
And so it’s always been. Most of the queer bars of the 50s and 60s didn’t serve alcohol. Cocaine, which had virtually disappeared before World War II,hadn’t returned.
Therefore queers went in search of new excitement.
A popular destination was the branch of Boots on
(You snapped or “popped” the capsule into a hankie and inhaled.
Poppers weren’t widely available in bottles until the late 70s).
Queers and Jamaicans bonded not just because of music but weed.
Cannabis was unknown in the
The first drug bust was in
Amphetamines, notably Benzedrine, were widely used as stimulants during World War II; and under their street names – purple hearts and black bombers were most common – “uppers” became the mods’ favourite drug.
Sleep became difficult without barbiturates (“downers”).
Pip Morgan remembers that the dealers were often girls (they were good at charming prescriptions out of doctors).
Peter Burton says that the fish in the tank at Le Duce kept dying because clubbers threw their pills into the water whenever there was a police raid.
He also saw clubbers removing the wadding from Benzedrine inhalers and dunking it in Coca Cola, and Samantha the transvestite cat burglar sniffing her wig cleaning fluid.
Queers (or “gays” as we became known from about 1969 onwards) generally remained loyal to uppers and downers well into the 70s.
Lysergic acid (LSD), which arrived around 1966, didn’t suit queer club culture.The swirling patterns and dreamy,jangly music that contributed to the first Summer of Love in 1967 were pretty much a hetero thing.
Originally published in QXmagazine