"I first met Laurie Williams and his partner Lionel Strawbridge in
1977. I was a student at Birmingham University where, during term time
I helped run the Birmingham University Gay Society, (GaySoc). In the
1970s The Nightingale Club, at Witton Lane, was often very quiet
during the week and only got going at the weekend. Some gay friends
introduced me to The Jug, then at 8a Albert Street and now
demolished. I was greeted at the door by a man who called everybody
“bab” and who wore two wigs at the same time – Laurie Williams. The
Jug was a dive, and everyone knew it. It was in the basement of a
tacky wine bar and was entered via a narrow twisting staircase. The
whole ceiling was adorned with a complex array of bamboo canes, some of
which had tiny jugs dangling from them. The bar was a hole in a wall no
bigger than a couple of cash points and decorated with empty wine
bottles submerged in plaster. The barman would go into a room
at the back to pour the drinks. There was a small stage with a dressing room at the left. The brown vinyl floor was not carpeted and there were about ten plastic tables with chairs and gingham tablecloths. There was a persistent musty smell of stale smoke and beer. It reminded me of a scene from Cabaret.
On my second or third visit, I asked Laurie for a temporary job, and over the course of that summer, I was his barman, DJ, cleaner, doorman, cloakroom attendant – depending who turned-up for work on the night. His partner Lionel, ran a small café on John Bright St. On the other side of town, and it was a condition of my continued employment at the Jug that I had to work at the café during the day for 50p an hour!
Laurie was a complex character – he was often charming, outrageously funny and camp. But if you crossed him he would lash out with a tongue that was acidic and venomous enough to kill an elephant. He was a very trusting man, possibly too trusting and although the Jug opened at 9.00 p.m. , he would rarely arrive before 10.30. I remember his grand entrances always with a smile, second wig firmly in place, (he only wore one during the day), and a raised arm, not to greet his fans, but to check that the single overworked air conditioner was still managing to pump out a little warm stale air.
It was after closing time that I got to know Laurie well. He liked to sit in a corner and drink and smoke with us , often till dawn, when would drive us home. His tales of gay life in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s fascinated me. He was often scathing of the Nightingale Club saying that he opened it and one day he would close it for good. I did not know why at the time. At these after- hour’s sessions he would entertain prostitutes, rent boys and anyone else that he had taken a liking to. Lionel was never there.
The Jug and Laurie were always in financial difficulties ; to save money he would refill empty Schweppes mixer bottles with cheap tonic and lemonade bought by the litre from his local supermarket. He used to reseal the bottles with little plastic caps that were also recycled. At the time his takings were around £200 a night and the café rarely made more than £100 a day, (not very much even 30 years ago).
On Friday Laurie often hired a drag mime artist and Tony Page was a regular. On other nights he would often ask a staff member to mime to a song. His favourite at the time was Julie Covington’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” for which he would dress the barman has an old ragged hag, complete with hideous mask and then make him mime to the record while dribbling blackcurrant juice. It was a shocking spectacle at the end of which Laurie would shout 'that’s the truth – she was a thief and a whore!'
I left The Jug in September 1977 and returned to university, but
continued to work part time for a few years as a DJ at the Nightingale, (the pay was better). I saw Laurie rarely after that summer, but one summer with Laurie Williams was like a lifetime with other mortals."
Contributed by: Graham 2, 55