The London club scene in 1983 was primarily all white stilettos and chart music and bouffant hair. However for those of you and us that are well lets say of a certain age and were living in London at that point, then there were only a handful of clubs to go to and The wag was the very best. Previously a late-night drinking dive and before that a jazz club in the 1960’s called Whiskey a Go-Go.
Renamed The Wag a bunch of students from St Martins School of Art ended up running the best nights of the week there and a legend was born. Everyone who is anyone claimed they went to The Wag, and actually many names on their way to being famous or already famous did go. But the The Wag was not about who you were so much as how you looked, who you knew and your general take on life…i.e did you look and think in a stylish enough way? Most of all it was a place to go for those who had a different take on life, a place for those that were not mainstream who didn’t like chart music and white stilettos to go and be creative and free.
Chris Sullivan below answers some questions for us in conjunction with the music collection Chris Sullivan presents WAG: Iconic Tunes from The Wag Club 1983-1987.
What is your most vivid memory of when you first did nights at the WAG?
Well there are a few, the first was turning up on the first night at 9.30 and seeing a queue to get in that ran some 500 yards all the way down to Coventry Street. I felt delighted that my incessant flyering and phoning over the last month had worked but, frustration, because I knew we could not get them all in.
Another, was when a pimp stabbed his prostitute to death just 5 yards down for the club as we opened. This underlined the fact that Soho was a rough red light district as lawless as any other. And then there was when David Bowie turned up one Saturday with Mick Jagger. I took them to the bar and David asked for a pint off bitter which we didn’t stock (no one drank bitter back then as clubs used to water it down so we sold only bottles and cans) so I joined him in a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale.David described the crowd as the most stylish and innovative he’d ever seen in one club. Having said that, these were post New romantic Days and the gloves were off. Inside were the likes of Princess Julia who manned the till looking like Emma Peel in beehive and pencil skirt, Leigh Bowery in full kit, Trojan with a blue face, Phil Salon who’s made an outfit made from tied up Tesco bags, Boy George a Geisha while I was dressed as a 1920’s New York pillar of Cafe society (while others sported cowboy, fifties biker duds, zoot suits, 60’s kit). It was a fab turnout and Bowie was all eyes and more than slightly taken aback. “This is a truly great club,” he said. “The Music the people, everything is spot on.” A few months later he was back shooting his jazzing for Blue Jeans Video on our stage while I supplied the audience and his backing band. He used my office as his dressing room, insisted on making the tea and got his assistant Coco Schwab to get us the Garibaldi biscuits to dip in to it.
What are, on the CD, the most vivd tracks and why? Can you explain what each track means to you?
Each of the CD’s tells a different story. CD 1 contains tracks that were played at the beginning of the evening and as such evokes different memories from the other CD’s. This was when people were warming up. You’d see a few die hards -the dancers – who came as soon as the doors opened and hit the floor till the end. People like Mark White, Clive Clarke, Sue Cook and many of whom went on to form their own dance groups and tour the world. Of course certain tracks sum up not only the time but the DJs who played them and one in particular, Cookies by Brother of Soul, reminds of my great friend and Wag D Pul Guntrip who, till his death in 1995, who never did a set without throwing this into the mix. On a rather poignant note music can offer all manner of emotions some sad and others joyous.
CD2 harks back to the early Wag days when we were running only on Saturdays while the tunes therein were played when the night was in full abandon with folk dressed to the nines, diving about as if there was no tomorrow which, for most, was certainly true. A lot of these tune’s especially Herbie Mann’s Hijack, were played only in soul clubs. Between 1975 and 1977 and, being confused with disco, had largely been ignored but still evoke memories of bank holiday weekends at coastal resorts such as Bournemouth and Margate in the summer of 1976 and Saturday at The Wag in 1983. Curiously, during both of these periods all bets were off style-wise as people threw out the rule book and dressed as they felt, and not as they thought they should or according to fashion mags who came to us to see what was happening and not the other way around. Then the mags were the sheep. They still are .
Of course, one of The Wag’s finest nights was The Jazz Room on a Monday that, via the auspices of DJ Paul Murphy and later Gilles Peterson, reinterpreted Jazz and Latin music and through the likes of the quite remarkable jazz dancers such as the Brothers in Jazz, I Dance Jazz and the Jazz Defectors reinvented jazz dance. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Palmieri’s Mambo Show I can envisage Irvine and Wayne of the Brothers In Jazz pirouetting and spinning , doing the splits and back somersaults in a dance battle with the likes of Gerry and of iDJ. It was simply incredible.
And then we have we had Joyce Sims, All in All, which whisks me back to the Saturday sessions with DJ Fat Tony and Hector when E was the order of the day and everything was somewhat rather camp. This track was loved by the ladies , many of whom looked as if they walked straight out of the pages of Vogue.
What do you feel is the legacy of the WAG?
What the Wag did was give a lot of young people the impetus to go into the world armed with just an address book an idea and some big cojones to do their own thing. The Brothers in Jazz – two young kids from Leeds went off to dance all over the world and teach Jazz dance to the highest level. Indeed, the success rate of those who attended really is remarkable, actors such as Tim Roth who decided to try his luck in the US after a conversation with me, TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross who met his producers there film makers, Sade got her record deal after a show at The Wag and then there were painters like Peter Doig and Tracey Emin, graphic designers, writers, musicians, architects etc,. Etc. while the amount of couples who met and have now spawned dynasties is countless. The Wag sorted the wheat from the chaff and enabled people of like mind to meet. Above all it empowered people.
1. Hercules – Aaron Neville
2. Cookies – Brother Soul
3. Home Is Where The Hatred Is – Esther Philips
4. Wicky Wacky – Fatback
5. 17th Street – Gil Scott
6. The Boss – James Brown
7. Kill That Roach – Miami
8. Pick Up The Pieces One By One – AABB
9. In The Bottle – Brother To Brother
10. Right On – Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers
11. Shorty The Pimp – Don Julian & The Larks
12. Woman Of The Ghetto – Doris Duke
13. Funky Nassau – Beginning Of The End
14. All This Love That I’m Giving – Gwen McRae
15. New Bell – Manu Dubango
1. Cathedrals – D.C. La Rue
2. Life On Mars – Dexter Wansel
3. Spanish Hustle – The Fatbank Band
4. Can You Get It – Mandrill
5. I Got It – New York Port Authority
6. K – Jee
7. Moving – Brass Construction
8. Crystal World – Crystal Grass
9. Hijack – Herbie Mann
10. You And Me – Slave
11. Galaxy – War
12. Time Moves On – Strutt
1. Freddie’s Dead – MFSB
2. Hard Work – John Handy
3. The New Killer Joe HQ – Benny Golson
4. Listen Here – Eddie Harris
5. Mr. Kicks – Oscar Brown, Jr.
6. Return Of The Prodigal Son – Freddie Hubbard
7. Making Love After Hours – Roland Kirk
8. Comin’ Home Baby – Mel Tormé
9. Sidewinder – Tamiko Jones & Herbie Mann
10. A Night In Tunisia – Snowboy
11. African Mailman – Nina Simone
12. I Can’t Get Next To You – Mongo Santamaria
13. Mambo Show – Eddie Palmieri
14. Pastime Paradise – Ray Barretto
15. Ozonio – Dom & Jadir De Castro
1. Runaway Love – Linda Clifford
2. (You Are My) All And All – Joyce Sims
3. Rockit – Herbie Hancock
4. The Word – The Junkyard Band
5. The Humpty Dance – Digital Underground
6. Genius – Quando Quango
7. Supernature – Cerrone
8. Dancing In Outer Space – Atmosfear
9. Go Bang – Dinosaur L
10. You + Me = Love – Undisputed Truth
16. Getaway – Earth Wind & Fire