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Twiggy

Twiggy, 40+




Summary


Twiggy is a well know drag artist who has worked in clubs since the early 1980s. In this interview he talks about clubs and fashions in the early 80s. He talks about being gay on the 'alternative scene'. Later he discusses the impact of HIV and violent homophobia. He also discusses the drug culture of the early 90s and how the scene has changed to the present day.

Contents

Early Life - 10
Khan & Bell - 20
People in the Eighties -
Clubs in the Eighties - 40 100
Gay Village - 40
Fashion and appearance - 20 30 40 60
The Power House - 30 40 70 80
Gay John - 90 100
Homophobia - 110
Difficulty getting into the Nightingale - 120
AIDS - 130
City Living/Fairy Towers - 150 160
Tin Tins - 140
Drugs - 140 170
SLAG - 145
Mixed Scene - 180
DV8 - 190
Patty Bell - 20 40
Changing scene
Drugs - 140
Areas where people live - 150



10 Becoming aware of being gay

Twiggy first came to Birmingham between '75 and '77, "It was hot summers and around the time of the pub bombings (1974), the drought. When my parents split up my mother and I moved here to live with her great aunt and my dad stayed in Birkenhead. I recognised I was gay from day one, I did the girlfriend thing when I was 13/14 but I'd always found men attractive before that, I'd always done silly little things and I knew I liked men, I tried it with women and you know, nothing, I had a girlfriend like you knew you had to but it wasn't me and I just thought 'Well what are you going to do?'


20 Khan & Bell

After leaving school Twiggy started working in Kahn & Bell, a clothes shop on Hurst Street, (now demolished to make way for the entrance to the Arcadian), the Oasis market was nearby selling alternative gear. His boss at Kahn and Bell, Patty Bell, was a dominant figure in the local alternative scene, rather than the gay scene. She also worked at Barbarellas. "She looked amazing, I like that look but some people might think, there's a forty year old woman there with a tattoo on her head and pink hair but she's still eye-catching and mesmerising".


30 Clubbing on the straight scene

"There wasn't a village then (late 70s/80s), there were two bars, the Jester, a notorious gay pub everyone knew, they weren't even called bars then. Then it was back street bars, you couldn't just walk up and go in, back then". Instead, Twiggy and a mix of gay and straight friends were going to mixed alternative clubs such as Romeos, Steptoes and the Power House, at the top of Hurst St (later the Ritzy, Pulse, and currently Oceana). "If there hadn't been the punks and new romantic scene I'd probably have gone straight onto the gay scene. The group I was in weren't really bothered, even though it was mostly gay men and a few girls, it was mostly about dressing up, that was what was happening at the time. A lot of people we met in the clubs claimed to be gay or bisexual but they're not now, it was trendy then, and it's happening again, it happened through the late nineties."


40 Alternative fashion in the 80s

"It was the eighties, everything was changing, the Goths were just developing, all upside down crosses and fishnets, and the Power House was a place for everyone, gay, straight, or confused". "I think it was easy (to be gay) because I was going to clubs and everyone was an art student or fashion student, dressing up, so it was easy to shy away from the whole male thing, I wasn't feminine I've never looked feminine, more sort of dominatrix than dolly bird". At that time Kahn & Bell, Martin Degville, Duran Duran, Boy George, were all experimenting with dressing up, not in a sexual way, so it was easier for him to go out in costume. "Most of us were on YTS (Youth Training Schemes) so you had about 30 - 40 a week, you had to pay your mum a tenner, the bus pass was a fiver, so you had 25 quid to live on, or 15 - 18 if you were smoking, but you'd still be out every night". At that time Twiggy could create a whole outfit by spending 3 down the Rag Market! "What you're wearing can change how you feel and how you relate to people and how they relate to you as well, and because I was with a group of people with pink and blue hair and I was like that as well, nothing else mattered".


70 Cruising at the Power House

"The Power House was more accepting, opposite was the Copacobana and there was another one on the other corner, that whole cross roads, it was Milllionaires, then Steptoes, then Pagoda Park, and both of those places did gay nights, but they were unsuccessful and they were run by the people who used to run Cruising at the Power House. That's when places started doing one nighters, basically all I've done is clubs for the last twenty years, I'm not so concerned about where they are or who's running them, I just do my stuff, get my money and go home. I've always gone to openings, find out what it's like, give it a couple of weeks, obviously if I'm not working there, I don't go back, but I've always gone to find out what something's like, 'cos everything gets stale after a while, so yes, the Powerhouse was the main one".


80 A description of the Power House

"The Powerhouse was huge, a massive venue, you walked down a flight of really steep stairs which was always a nightmare getting back up at 50p a pint! Previously I'd been to the Rum Runner, these were small clubs, there was a big room upstairs, and a small room downstairs, so all the clubs I've been to were really small rooms, so this (the Powerhouse) was just an expanse, a huge space, like three regular rooms all knocked through, and there was a huge dance floor with a big circular stage against a wall, and we used to sit right next to the stage so we'd always be seen, there was a balcony across the top and over the dance floor, and a big bar behind that, that was where they first did Sundissetial so it was quite new and fresh and you met people you hadn't seen before and on the back of that was another club called Zig Zag, which was about the same size as venues we'd normally gone to, and that was a bit closer".


90 Gay John and Whiskers

Twiggy soon met an older gay guy called Whiskers, a leather jacketed biker but with the eccentric gentleman traits of Quentin Crisp, and 'Gay John' who was only a couple of years older than him, and he saw them as positive examples of gay men, people who were open and didn't shy away from trouble. "Because I choose to look like this doesn't give other people the right to degrade me or my sexuality, but I was thinking 'should I stop being a fashion student and work in a factory, just to prevent being attacked?' so it was refreshing to see these guys who weren't afraid rather than the weak homosexual characters portrayed on TV such as Larry Grayson and John Inman. All the best ones were dead, Oscar Wilde, Alexander the Great!"


100 Starting to do 'drag'

Twiggy later started working with Gay John who ran alternative/gay club nights in various venues, doing piss takes of the Rocky Horror Show, Grease and other musicals, doing a couple of numbers each and a group number at the end. He built up a good following at the Tin Can club, the Kipper Club, the Digbeth Institute (now the Sanctuary), and the Windmill (now Glamourous Show Bar) on Sunday afternoons.


110 Difficulty accessing the Nightingale in the 80s

At the Nightingale Twiggy said "I was regularly refused entry because of the way I looked in the early eighties; I dressed in an alternative manner to the regular guys in denim. The only way I got in hassle free was when I made friends with George Bancroft the manager at the time! And that took 18months to 2 years."

"They would say 'We don't want her, that sort in here,' because we were so overtly gay, and these were all backstreet bars where you knock on the door to go in, they were all really out of the way places, it was all quite secretive, and if we were seen coming out and getting in a cab it would go round, 'this is a gay club, I've just picked up this freaky person', but look at it now, the amount of people that merge".


120 Homophobic Abuse

Twiggy was approached by a TV company to film a piece on getting dressed in his flat which was then near Tescos, Five Ways, and then going out to the Powerhouse; "A week after the show was aired, me and some mates got the bus down Broad Street and a gang of kids on BMX bikes chased us all the way into town on the bus. Every time it stopped they threw stones at the windows, and when we got off in town these 14-15 year old kids grabbed us either side and dragged us along on our knees down the street. We were seen as the lowest form of society, so it was OK to abuse or attack you in the street. I fought back, I ran towards the kids and took my six inch heels off and hit one of them in the head, when I got to the Powerhouse the heel was covered in blood and hair, you had to fight back!"


130 AIDS

Twiggy recalled "AIDS pushed everything back 10 or 15 years, the way we were related to in the street, the abuse was always AIDS related, people were frightened and confused but it didn't stop people going out and copping off, personally it didn't make that much difference to me (I wasn't getting that much sex anyway because of the way I looked!!). Until you knew someone who died, maybe 8 or 10 years later, I started attending funerals, then it hit home though even then I thought, 'if your number's up...... '. People were having safe sex but in the last ten years they are less cautious. There are 'bare backing' parties, videos, groups etc. and even people who are specifically out there looking to become infected, which I don't understand!"


140 Tin Tins and drug culture

Twiggy started working on door hosting and eventually after the refurbishment he started dancing instead. "The atmosphere was electric, there was nothing like it. I danced with a girl called Andrea, we used to wear bikinis and big platform shoes!"

"Everyone was on pills, then you'd pay 25 for a pill, there weren't so many fights, everyone was loved up, for a good three to five year period. Then people started cutting their drugs with other shit and everyone was a little dealer, now people can get three pills for a fiver. Everyone is getting really moody and growly, what's the point of being like that, if you're not having a good time you should go home! Now the clubs are 24 hours you need something to keep you going, or go home and sleep".


145 SLAG at the Steering Wheel

"The Steering Wheel venue was a bit dingy, but an amazing atmosphere. It got refurbished and improved every six months, thanks to Patrick Edwards aka 'Black Pat' and his business partner 'Tatts'. They believed in reinvesting in the business unlike some of the other gay venue owners at the time". Twiggy recalls the people at the SLAG (Straight, Lesbian And Gay) night. "The people were really mixed, there were characters that you only saw out at SLAG on Fridays and it all added to the great atmosphere".


150 Living in the City Centre

In 83/4 it was easier to get a council flat but Twiggy challenged the Birmingham City Council when they tried to put him into unsuitable areas given his appearance, like Weoley Castle or Bartley Green, and he got a flat in town. He has never lived more than ten minutes walk from the city centre ever since. It was more practical to live there and stumble home when working and clubbing in town.


160 Fairy Towers

Twiggy lived in Cleveland Towers, one of a pair with Clydesdale Tower opposite, on Holloway Head. "In the 1980s they must have been about 20% gay, because lots of people had been diagnosed with HIV it was obvious there was a connection and so at this time some people called them the 'pearly gates'. I moved in in about 1994, after having trouble where I lived before, the Council's policy was they would rehouse you and so luckily after seeing a solicitor I managed to get a flat in the Towers. It was rough when I first moved in as there was no security, lots of drug dealers. It's much better since we opted into a housing association, there is security and it feels much safer and the blocks were refurbished internally and externally about 2001."


170 A typical weekend in the 90s

Twiggy described his weekends in the 90s: "I was working full time during the day, from 8.00 am, with a day off on Tuesday and one Sunday off a month, and in all t his time I'd be out Thursday night, go to work on Friday, leave work at 3 -4.00 am in the morning, work at the SLAG at the Steering Wheel on Friday night, leave there, go to Tin Tins, leave there get the bus to work, at half seven or eight pm, then work at Tin Tins on the Saturday night, go to work, straight from Tin Tins on the 10.05 am bus from outside Tin Tins, finish there at 3.00 pm, go to the Square, go to the Gale, then back to work on the Monday. I was a chef at the time, I'm still doing it but with different people now but the thing is in all that time I've managed to hold down a full or part time job as well as doing costumes and everything. My body's just resigned to it, I've never really had hangovers, just a headache for a couple of hours".


180 The scene has become very mixed

Twiggy talked about the scene "But look at it now, it's all too mixed, I think that's a bad thing, after working in gay clubs. I think the thing that really wrecked it was 'Queer as Folk' because you go down Canal Street in Manchester any night of the week and it's 70% hen parties, the gay men don't go out, diversity is great but you know... I was working in Ayanapa a few summers ago, and I was home for two weeks, there for two weeks for about three and a half months, even though it was a clubby scene there was nothing there gay, so when I came home and wanted to meet a gay man, that's what I wanted to do, I didn't want to go into a gay club and have a woman pinch my arse dressed in a f*^king cowboy hat. I had a letter published in Attitude, you know us gay men and lesbians, we do need our own, like at Pride, there is women only tents, people of colour tents, I know there's men only clubs, but I think if you go to gay clubs it should be predominantly gay. It's nice to have the mix and if you're coming out, you take a couple of straight friends, but I think now it's too diverse, too mixed. It's all over, national, apart from in London, there's so many gay clubs, so many gay people seven nights a week. You can go out in London and it can be quite similar or completely different, the main clubs are Heaven and G.A.Y. and that's because they've got acts on and cheap drinks and they're the most notorious gay clubs, but I've got friends in London, I go quite regularly, and even then in the mixed gay clubs, it's just tourists".


190 Working at DV8

Twiggy started at DV8, nearly four and a half years ago. "I've seen that change and they are quite staunch on the door, there's a big sign saying 'This is a gay club', and they have to deal with me on the cash desk, I'm normally about 8 foot tall when I'm done up, it must be quite daunting, some people just run and scream, but if you're going into an environment where there's someone like that on the door, what's at the entrance is indicative of what's inside!" Even though Twiggy reports going out with his mother and being mistaken for sisters, he says "Even though I do drag, I'm not attractive, not a lady boy, more Rose West, serial killer!"


EXTRA QUOTES not on Audio

200 Black Pat

Twiggy recalls "Pat organised a coach from SLAG to the Hacienda in Manchester, we all went up there. It was when 'It's not over' by Grace was out, about 1995. We were dancing on a podium right opposite Grace who was performing, she was waving at us."