Having failed to find work in the arts in my motherland after graduating, I was persuaded by some good friends to venture south to the cultural capital of the world, where they thought I might have better luck. It was the mid-1990s. There was an incredible creative energy in London at the time, borne out of a resistance to a Conservative government, which was in its final death throes. I found myself a spacious studio flat in Peckham, on the Number 36 Bus Route, and in my first week picked up a copy of Boyz and made a bee line for the first gay bar on the list … Comptons. Some may not remember, but back in the day, the imaginatively titled Comptons on Old Compton Street had a bit of a reputation. I was quite ignorant of it, and on entering I was groped and manhandled so many times on my way to the bar I thought I might be gang raped before I even reached it … which at the time was a mere 5 feet from the door.
Sad to say, my first ‘outing’ into London scarred me somewhat and it seemed that there was little variety of gay venue between murky cruisey pubs and the bars that were home to the disco twinks. It was on the Number 36 bus route that I discovered my haven in Vauxhall at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Duckie was a total revelation. The crowd was mixed in age, gender and identity (rather novel at the time), the music was fresh, kitsch and raucous. And there was at least one live act a night, which was often followed by a quiz in which the punters would be dragged on stage. Each week the collective presented a different and wildly inventive theme which perpetuated and encouraged the participation of the audience as a key component of the performance. The audience became members of a cast of characters who by their attendance were complicit.
I loved it. I had finally found my holy grail, a real gay community that meant something, not the one referred to in the gay press which in my mind didn’t exist at all. Here I felt like I belonged and I was welcomed with open arms. In the years that followed I had the great privilege of working, and creating art, with Duckie who are an incredible collaboration: Simon Strange, Amy Lamé, the Readers Wifes and Jay & Father Cloth. For almost 17 years Duckie has been providing an actual alternative to the gay scene in London. It has has supported and provided an arena for vast array of performance artists over the years and has given the arts community some very special and memorable events putting “highbrow performance in backstreet pubs and lowbrow performance in posh theatres”.
Duckie began the year I moved to London. It is for me, as I am sure it is for a great many others, intrinsically a part of my history in the capital. In the ten years after my first visit to Duckie I think I missed less than 10 Saturday nights in their company at the RVT. Duckie has continued to tap, and feed back into, the creative well of London. It remains to this day a valuable haven and one of the most important club nights in London; and long may it continue to do so!