People from the era tell their stories.
Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Sapphire and I was a club promoter in the 80's/70's.
What were your early experiences with music?
I think my early experiences with music were when I became a club promoter. I just stumbled into being a club promoter because in those days you had loads of young kiddies that were DJs and I thought they were very good. In those days Bristol only played jungle music and people didn't think that I could pack a club with house music so I tried it out in the Moon Club and it became very successful. When Lakota opened I tried it there and I tried in many other clubs because Bristol in those days was full of brilliant young talent that nobody had discovered and I sort of discovered them.
When did Lakota open?
Dates? I am terrible with days, they all merge into one.
Was that early 80's or mid 80's? Could you have an estimate about that?
That's fine, it's ok.
So what were you up to during the 80's?
Suppose I was clubbing a lot. I was very flamboyant and I suppose in those days to see a black man wearing ladies clothes. Not in a gay club.
Anywhere you pleased?
Yes, anywhere I pleased. On the gay scene I am only a drag queen, on the straight scene I have become something else, so I just hang around all the straight clubs and dance on stage and just hype the place up.
You attended the Dug Out during the 80's what was that like?
There use to be a gay club up the road from there which was called, I think, the Oasis. It was very good and one night I was in there thinking I am a bit bored of this, I am going to check out the Dug Out and everyone says “you can't go down there, you will get beat up”. I said “I will go down there and see if I get beat up.” I walked in and I thought it was just an amazing club. That club was busy every night. I went in and had a lot of few strange looks but nobody was being offensive. In those days I was into my amyl nitrites, which were poppers, very well into that. I would just jump up on stage or jump in the middle of the dance floor sniff my amyl nitrite and swinging my dress around, swinging my feather boa around. There was just a great crowd. I think in those days you had Tricky he is famous in America, Daddy G who became part of Massive Attack and Nellee Hooper he went into Soul to Soul. The club had future stars that I could see so it was quite special because all the ones that I thought that would become famous have. I am famous locally, they are famous internationally.
What was the dress code like for the Dug Out and what were the crowds like?
The dress code was wear what you like and the crowd was very different. You had your black men in trilby hats and there nice smart suits, you had funky ones with trainers and the street look then you had the working girls. There wasn't any prostitution going on in the Dug Out but a lot of the girls when they finished working would go to the Dug Out. There was a great mix of people and then you would have your students. The Dug Out was a lot of people's first experience of clubbing.
You have already mentioned some of the bigger names like Daddy G, who else do you remember playing at the Dug Out?
There was Dennis Murray I think he was a jungle DJ, he was very popular with the big jungle things they had around the country. He use to main line it. We had Claude Williams [Willy Wee] he was in Massive Attack and he was a very good MC, there was another famous DJ called Mushroom [Andy Vowles] but he went to live in California and I think that's it.
Specifically out of the house nights you were putting on who were the most memorable artists?
I think just my bedroom DJs I thought they were so talented and they were so brilliant. I suppose my nights were showing-off new talent, they would do my nights a few times and people would take them from there. I would like to think that my nights in those days were a showcase for new talent.
We have already talked a little about house music but what kind of music including house music were you into at this time.
I didn't mind a bit of reggae, I didn't mind a bit of soul and I didn't mind a bit of hip-hop but I did like house music most because it was faster.
Was it faster than say jungle? what was it about the speed that was important to you?
I don't know I was young, I was a dancing queen, I liked anything that was a bit faster. I liked the tweeting and the melodies and it was quite happy, to my ears. Sometimes jungle can be a bit heavy to me. I know you have different variations of house music some deeper and some was more like trance, but whatever house music it was I liked it.
What other venues or parties you were attending?
I attended a night called Conscious Club that was very good, there was a night called One Love, I thought was very good, there was a night Duck you Fucker, I thought that was very good.
Where were these nights taking place?
Different venues, they could be at Lakota, they could be at Trinity, they could be in a warehouse outside the city. When I first started I didn't have any competition so people could see that my nights were very popular and raking in the people who use to do jungle and changed to house. All the ones I mentioned I thought were very good, very nice, similar to what I was doing but different. It was most probably the DJ they heard from my night, you would hear the same sounds at my nights but the décor would be different so it's a different night.
Where were did the warehouse parties happen?
Some of them use to happen in Avonmouth some of them use to happen where The Exploratory is now in the centre. People just use to use the warehouses where the docks were in the centre places like that.
Did they have the permission from people to use the warehouse?
I wouldn't have thought so. I think that's the nicety of it, isn't it?
It adds a bit of danger?
Yes, they can't promote it too much. Perhaps a day before or two days before somebody would say so and so is going on, when and where.
In the late 80's raves and things were advertised through phone numbers and things how were things advertised when you were involve?
Were mobile phones around then?
Probably, yes towards the late 80's. How was information about parties distributed, was it word of mouth?
I think word of mouth and telephone, because people did use to live without mobile phones you know. Very hard to see how they did, but people did use to live without all those modern inventions. I don't have a mobile phone.
Still? Is this an intentional thing, right?
Yes, and I don't have a computer, I don't want people to bother me all the time. I don't want to be texting everybody, I don't wont to try and be popular by saying I have 600 friends, I don't know if it's because I am old, it seems quite false and shoddy to say you have all these friends. I am quite sure if you are in need or in trouble you wouldn't see any of them but if you log online you have all these friends. I want to make real friends. I have friends that have a web cam and can see somebody in Australia and all that and can talk to people and have cyber sex and all that. It's boring (laughs) I am not saying I am virtuous but I find it a bit boring.
Do you have a mobile phone?
Yes I have, I have to actually.
Everybody has one.
If I didn't have a mobile phone I wouldn't have a phone at all as there isn't one in my house. What part of Bristol where you living in and what was it like?
I was living in Clifton that was very nice, I lived in Cotham that was very nice. I do like living round here the best, Gloucester Road. I have seen it grow because when I first came round here it wasn't like this at all. Nice area, nice people I like that fact, it's mainly a family area with pockets of students because Bishopston isn't over run by Students, Clifton is, and the students you get around here are nicer,
A bit more laid back
Yes a bit more laid back and less pretentious than the ones in Clifton.
There are a lot of independent shops round here now, what was it like back then?
I think the same shops were there then, a lot of shops were boarded up but the independent shops were here when I first came and they are still here now.
What were the kind of record shops that you went into?
There use to be record shops, there was one that use to be called Replay, they were all in the Park Street and Cotham Area, but the one that sticks out in my head used to be on Picton Street. It use to sell reggae, and that shop was the oldest shop you could buy reggae music from. It lasted for a very long time but now he does mail order, he still does it but mail order. I thought that was quite different to see a shop that was quite packed with reggae music which I didn't think that white people could understand or know what they were talking about but the shop was always busy.
Could you tell me about a stand out gig, event or artist from that time?
A stand out gig, I would say, but that wasn't a gig but a club night.
Event? One Love, I thought they were very good
What sort of music was that?
House music. I did like the way they presented their nights; they had a nice theme about it and crowd. My crowd was very sophisticated and the One Love crowd was very sophisticated, very beautiful women always dressed so nice, the guys were so trendy and stylish. The club could have a thousand people in there but everybody in there had prestige or style. It was great.
What do you remember of the fashions at that time?
Fashion at that time, what was the fashion at that time? Was it quiffs? Flares? Was it stay-press? I can't remember actually
You mentioned some of the guys in the Dug Out, I only know this because I have watched some videos on youtube that the kind of the fashion for some of the guys, who were more street guys might be American hip-hop influenced?
Yes, only the black ones use to have the nice suits on and gold chains and the hats.
What was that influenced by?
Wasn't that influenced by the Shaft?
Yes, okay I can see that.
Barry White era, wasn't that sort of black men with trilby hats and the nice jackets, pin striped suits and cravats?
Yes, I think your right I can see the link there between Shaft. So, I am sure you got up to some pretty hell raising antics when you were at the Dug Out or other places. Were there any particular encounters or stories or anything?
Because I was the only gay man in a dress, whatever I do is going to seem shocking. If lifted up my dress that was deemed shocking, if I went on the middle of the dance floor and span around that was deemed shocking. I would wear a dress with long material and I was very good at spinning. I would go in the middle of the dance floor and I would spin but my dress would go up. It was quite a simple thing like that which was quite effective which still sticks in peoples minds today. To me it wasn't that shocking it was quite simple (laughs).
You were getting a little bit of pleasure maybe from the shock value of that?
Oh yes I love shock value, I like people to notice me, I am quite open. Not so much now but when I was younger you had to notice me, you would never walk past and not notice me. I use to like the attention, I am an attention seeker, perhaps really deep inside I am quite sad and lonely. I am analysing myself (laughs), I needed that attention to actually give you something.
I can understand that.
Some people go and drink too much and fight, well that's their thing, how they can prove how tough they are how. How many people can they beat up? It's the same thing, I wanted attention but they want the wrong attention. I was very protected in Bristol, all the years I have been here I have never been beaten up. People find me amusing, I might be wearing a dress or I might chat you up but I am not touching anybody, I wouldn't touch somebody's ass because once you start doing that you are trespassing on their territory. I want to be flamboyant. I can spin around and do all that because I am free doing that. You have to work it out and respect them, so I chat them up all the time but I would never cross the line.
Do you think there is anything particularly unique about Bristol that made it feel somewhere you felt safe?
I think Bristol is a unique place, and yes Bristol is a special place. The people here are very nice, very friendly and kind, especially round here. It's a great area. I have been at Marie Curie [charity shop] for 16 years, all the people that come in are very nice lovely people. We do get a lot of volunteers in Marie Curie from people around the world because if someone from a language school in Germany or France comes over they put them in a charity shop for 2 weeks to do charity work and learn English. They all say how it's very friendly, Bristol, especially around here.
Do you have any anecdotes involving in notable people?
Yes, there was man who I thought was so amazing he was always wearing leotards with blonde hair and he would skate around the city.
On roller skates or a skateboard?
On roller skates, I thought he was very, amazing. We do have quite a few people round here, Shaun and Jason they are brothers and I think they are slightly special needs but they are so loved. People love them so much. Shaun and his brother I have watched them so many times, all the girls are always kissing them and cuddling them and I am always saying to the guys see you have got to get by them to get to all the girls. A women came into Marie Curie and she said she had too many bags in her hand and Shaun just came up to her and took her bags off her and took them to her car. They are very special, that's why this area is so great, most areas people like that would be picked on and me, yes, would be picked on and ridiculed but we are embraced. There is a magazine that came out once that said the Gloucester Road celebrities are Shaun, Jason and Sapphire, (laughs) very nice.
So who are Shaun and Jason?
Shaun and Jason are brothers, I hate to say special needs. They are not special needs to me.
Do they work in the shop with you?
No, no they come in all the time and chat. You might see them on Gloucester Road they go in all the shops and chat, everyone loves them. They are so refreshing and sweet, they are not moaning or complaining, I absolutely love them. I remember at Easter time the churches were doing washing of feet and I was sat outside Marie Curie fund raising. Shaun came up and sat down chatting away, his feet looked a bit dirty, I asked if he wanted me to wash his feet, so I went and got this bucket of water. He put his feet in there and I washed his feet, you would have thought he was in heaven (laughs). People were going pass, that's why I like them, because they muck in too. I asked people “do you want me to wash your feet?” People were saying were too busy. The people treatment them the same way they treat me, with a lot of love. Through Shaun and Jason's eyes I can see how they get that great love, they go to places, they give them free drinks or free coffee in all the bars. I hope you see them before you go.
What is your recollection of the wider political climate and how important was politics to you or the kind of music you were listening to?
Well, I think politics is really interesting. Music and politics matches. Though I've never really been interested in it.
Perhaps it's a bit of escapism then?
Yes, escapism from the realities of life.
What are your lasting memories of that time, of the late 70's to 80's?
People seem, I don't know if it's because I am getting old, I think people seem a bit happier to me. I think now the world is money obsessed and the lack of money makes people want it more. You intend to get a lot more violence, a lot pick-pockets, a lot of people making up stories about people or fabricating stories to get money. We seem to be very money orientated. In those days it was more fun orientated but now we seem more obsessed with money.
I mentioned specifically your antics which I remember reading on this website, I think it was either the owner of the Dug Out or the bouncer at the Dug Out they found you in the toilet with two guys, do you remember that?
I thought what was bizarre one night, I was going round the Lakota barking like a dog biting peoples ankles, I remember that. I remember once there was a riot, there was a big riot I can't remember where it was and the police turned up to stop this riot, and when the police were backing us away I had this ball gown on and I started slapping the policeman in the face.
Was this one of the St Pauls riots or was this a different riot?
It was a different riot, I don't think it was a riot. I think they were stopping a party, the police turned up to stop the party from happening. The two guys from the Dug Out what were we doing? What did the website say we were doing?
On the website it was saying you were giving them a blow job or something.
Really (laughs) I don't remember that.
Was that a normal Saturday night for you back then?
No, I wouldn't have thought that was a normal Saturday.
What kind of drugs were you taking then, and what drugs were around on the scene that were important to people?
Well I use to like tripping and that was only 50p.
What was that?
It was acid, that was quite good, you didn't need to have a drink with that, well I didn't. People thought I was taking more drugs than I was. Everything affected me really easily, for me to say I went out one night and got really pissed up, I must have had four pints of cider. To get me out of my head you know kind of tripping, you use to buy things called acid they were only 50p, I think because I was quite lively and bizarre I didn't need too much. I like to be in control, I never liked to be out of control. So many people were out of control, they didn't know what they were doing, they were falling over. I was never like that I was always in control so I knew what I was doing, I knew where I was going, so no one could ever have done anything to me. I was that type of person that liked to be out of it but I liked to be in control.
When you got wasted you embraced the situation?
Yes, and people never know how to stop. I was like mother hen then, because I use to hang around with a lot of people. I give the impression that anything goes but that is the image. I use to hang around with loads of women, this beautiful girl and this other beautiful girl and I decide to go to London for the night. We were driving along in the car and she was telling me a list of the drugs she had taken, I was like, “oh, my god, can you see the road?” Even though I was a hedonistic type person, I wasn't really. I think my flamboyance, what I wore was far more important to me than getting that out of my head because I would fall down or I'd ripped my dress. I could loose my gloves, I might loose my handbag because everything was in a stylish way, I had to know where my handbag was, who was giving me a lift home. When I look back in my life that was pretty clever, because people now from a young age loose control.
Alex Cater (October 2011)
Jeli Sound Archive / Bristol Archive Records