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Chrissy Darling

February 2008

Chrissy Darling – born 1960s


Chrissy Darling moved to Birmingham from Bradford in the early 1980s for the social life of a big city. In this interview he talks about the gay scene and alternative scene in the 80s, including the Power House. He talks about the creative vibe in around in the city with Punk and New Wave. He talks about the impact of drugs, and the mix of gay and straight people in the 90s and the need to retain gay venues for the future.


80’s Birmingham - 10
The Grosvenor - 20
Attitude of the 80’s scene - 30
Funky Duncan - 40
The Power House – 60 65
Women’s access to bars - 90
Nightingale Thorp St (membership/door policy) - 90
Khan & Belle/ Patty Bell – 50 100
The Rum Runner - 50
Homophobia/ homophobic abuse – 130 140 160
90s House scene – 110 130 160
Black Pat - 80
Superclubs - 160
Licencing laws – 10
Straight gay mix - 65 110 120 130 150
Black and Asian / ethnic mix - 70
Drugs - 110
Miss Moneypennys - 160
Future hopes for the gay community - 170

10 Moving to Birmingham 1980

“A friend, Andrew, and me moved down; we were flabbergasted that we were in a city where gay club and bars were open seven nights a week, I was a teenager but underage, over age meant nothing then. I was going out from the age of fifteen.”

20 The Grosvenor House Hotel

“When I moved to Birmingham a whole group of us would go out, there was a club on the Hagley Road, a hotel (The Grosvenor House Hotel). Noelle Gordon from Crossroads used to be slung up in the bar and it had a swimming pool. It was absolutely fantastic.”

30 Small minded scene

“You had to fit into this mould of ‘don’t be a punk, don’t be new wave. They did not like it, as long as you were a middle of the road gay boy and liked ‘gay’ music you were OK. They liked Hazel Dean Searching Looking for Love (Hi Energy Music)”.

40 Funky Duncan

“The DJ at the time was Funky Duncan, who was great. He was a great character, in fact he was one of the superstar DJs of the time”.

50 The Rum Runner & Patty Belle 1982

“The Rum Runner was on Broad Street and it was the headquarters for Duran Duran. It was a really ultra trendy club with people travelling from London to go to it. You would have Patty Bell, a clothes designer, who makes fantastic clothes and who was a major influence on people at the time for make-up, hair etc. She knew people like Sid Vicious and was married to Steve Gibbons; she would be on the till. You could not get in unless you looked the part, for a time this was the trendiest place in the country. The club went from about 1979-1982 but its peak was in 1982, as soon as it came it seemed to vanish”.

60 The Power House

“There was a club called the Power House on a Wednesday night in about 1982/82. The Power House took over from the Rum Runner but was more general, you had the Punks, gay people, New Wave people, everybody was there, Ska Boys doing two tone dancing. The whole atmosphere was fantastic. Steve Strange tuned up to do a live PA, he was a God to us, he was the New Wave scene”.

65 Straight / gay and ethnic mix

Chrissy states that at the Power House ethnicity and gender did not matter; there were black and Asian punks, everybody just mixing together. “It did not matter if you were straight or gay. Everybody mingled in; it was like a golden era that I don’t think will come back again. Straight boys pretended to be gay, gay boys pretending to be straight. You would walk into the toilets in the Powerhouse you would all rush to get to get your hairdryers plugged in and get a mirror, as hair was all points. This was in the women’s toilets, nobody went to the men’s, it was boring. It was a great melting pot, you had the likes of Boy George, Phil Salon, Martin Degville, Twiggy, Dusty ‘O’ all the big names that are remembered now, the Powerhouse was our little Blitz Scene”.

80 Black Pat

Chrissy talks about Black Pat (Patrick Edwards) who was involved at the time. “Black Pat passed away a few years ago. He was the funniest person God ever put on this earth and the toughest, he was the kind of person although sometimes you would want to kill him, but you had to love him”.

90 The Nightingale on Thorp Street

“A group of us used to go the Nightingale, it was open seven nights a week. You would turn up, there was a shutter on the door, they would open the shutter and look at you ‘hiya’, if they knew you they would let you in, if they didn’t they would not let you in”. There was a veil of membership, just a rouse to keep straight people and women out. The gay women seemed to be non existent.

100 Khan & Bell / Patty Bell

“The shop on Hurst Street, its been pulled down to make way for the Arcadian, (its owner - Patty Bell) was the high priestess. She was as good as Vivienne Westwood if not better. Twiggy used to work at the shop; Gay John was influenced by her. Her shop on a Saturday was amazing, you would see all the latest fashions starting as she made them in the shop. People would make the most amazing costumes to go out in, people like Twiggy, Ray (who is now Rachel), Gay John but Patty Bell led the way.

110 Drugs and the House Scene

From 1987 the House scene hit, it was very drugs based. There have always been drugs about, in the early days it was amphetamines and bizarrely people would take Ativan, downers in clubs. Then Ecstasy appeared, people could not even say the name ‘what you having - E’s?’, £25 per pill but the whole scene just merged again, straight, gay everything. It was great for a few years. But then cocaine killed the vibe as it made everyone moody, this was in the early nineties”.

120 Mixed straight and gay venues

I think gay and straight people are becoming more removed from each other, ‘I work in gay clubs; I won’t work in straight clubs anymore as they are too violent. If you’re an average young gay person and want to express yourselves, as any straight person would do, you want to kiss, hold hands, you want to do that in a gay environment. I don’t believe in separate clubs as in men and women only. I prefer mixed male and female gay clubs”.

130 Straight men in gay clubs

Chrissy talked about how a gay club atmosphere can also be changed if a lax door policy means that more straights than gays enter the club. He states that this is what happened to Tin Tins. He believes that a few straight guests add greatly to the clubs’ atmosphere. He describes how groups of women on ‘hen nights’ attend gay clubs and sexually harass gay men and states that he knows he would be on his way to a police station if he sexually harassed any of these women. He says that gay places can easily become swamped if too many straight people begin to use them. He understands why women like to attend gay venues. They know they will not be harassed and can enjoy themselves in a safe environment. He thinks that straight men feel able to play the role of the ‘bully boy’ in gay clubs.

140 Homophobic abuse

Chrissy talks about homophobia he has experienced whilst dressed up on the door of clubs – “If I had a pound for every time I’ve been shouted at by people walking past, ‘You’re going to hell’, and other abuse, and these are people who are drunk with a cigarette in their hand, the usual rubbish. The amount of time I’ve been cursed by Big Issue sellers, until I turn round and tell them at least I’ve got a home!”

150 The Super clubs

“From about 1993 onwards it started the fragmentation, it was the rise of the super clubs, the straight clubs. I worked at FUN at the Steering Wheel, Miss Moneypennys started and Wobble was going, these fantastic straight clubs with great DJs like Jeremy Healy and Boy George. The whole atmosphere was fantastic and they were sort of gay friendly (to begin with), but they started to get quite hostile. Even Miss Moneypennys, which was great, most of the club would be quite friendly but you would always get these lads who hated gay people, hated effeminate men and brought the whole thing down. Miss Moneypennys and Chuff Chuff were probably the best examples of straights and gays mixing. By the time the nineties ended I decided not to work in straight clubs anymore”.

160 Homophobia

“I think the attitudes towards gay people are as bad if not worse than they ever were, I remember in the eighties getting on the bus with make-up on and a Mohican. If you did that now you would be attacked. You’re OK to do things in the gay area but if you step out of it you’re fair game to any old thug”.
170 The future for the gay community

Chrissy concludes his interview with a look towards the future. He thinks that Birmingham should make the whole of Hurst Street gay. Gay people should be encouraged to open venues in order to bring the community closer together. He thinks that rivalry between gay venue owners is bad for the community. Based on his own experiences, Chrissy believes that integration doesn’t work. Gays will always be seen as deviants, especially by the religious right. He states that gay people are the whipping boys of society but when we become creative again we will be accepted.