Ace Hotel Takeover: Barrie K. Sharpe

Barrie K. Sharpe (the Wag, Duffer of St. George, Diana Brown) is one of the founding fathers of London's groundbeat genre, a mixture of acid jazz and rare groove. Before DJing at the Jocks&Nerds Ace Hotel Takeover this Sunday 24 July, Sharpe spoke to Jocks&Nerds Music Events Programmer Stuart Patterson

Barrie K. Sharpe – nicknamed Sharpeye by friends – grew up in east London in the 1970s. Raised in and out of a children’s home, he moved through skinhead and suedehead phases before discovering the man whose music would change his life – James Brown. As a teenager, he started going to clubs in Leytonstone and the East End, where he became a mover in the funk scene.

Come the 1980s, and Sharpe commenced a flurry of activity. Along with Lascelle Lascelles, he defined Black Market and the Cat in the Hat, two club nights that pioneered the soul obscurity-focused rare groove sound. Parallel to his DJing and promoting work, he established the Duffer of St. George (featured in Jocks&Nerds 11), a shop and then a fashion label that defined the decade’s street style.

The early 90s saw Sharpe embark on a short collaboration with the singer Diana Brown, which led to the Top 40 hit ‘The Masterplan'. A few years later, he embarked on his own brand, Sharpeye, which continues to this day. He currently runs the night BiG STuFF with Femi Fem.

Last year, he released This Was Not Part of the Masterplan, his autobiography, which looks at the style and sounds of the London club scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Hear him talk more about the book, and his life, here.

Tell us about your earliest influences in music and fashion?

I was 11 years old in 1971, a skinhead but becoming a suedehead, and living in a kid’s home where the accommodation was small cottages. For some reason, I was living with three older black girls. One night they decided to take me to a local youth club dance. I heard ‘Get On the Good Foot’ and ‘Make It Funky’ by James Brown.

Oh my God. My whole world was turned upside down. What was this music? I had never heard anything like this before, it was my first spiritual awakening and I have not looked back from this epiphany: I was born again. I changed my style, I had to learn to dance like the black kids and the girls enjoyed teaching me. This was my new path. James Brown had changed my life; my journey had now started.

When you first forayed into London nightlife, which DJs, venues and nights influenced and impressed you?

In 1974, I was hanging outside a pub in Leytonstone where the DJ played some good funky music, the Plough And Harrow. There I met Frenchie [Eric French] and Kenny Burns. They managed to talk me into going to a little club just around the corner, the Lively Lady, which was later renamed Jaws. It was above a pub named the Heathcoate Arms, a strange place in the middle of nowhere. When I got inside I knew I had arrived: it was heaven.

This was the funkiest place I have ever been. Besides Frenchie, Kenny and another kid named Ian Richards and myself, everyone was black. Fortunately I could dance and after a few visits was accepted; living in mixed culture kids’ homes had paid off. In my new environment, I was around some of the coolest dancers, like Trevor Shakes, who became a big influence on me for style and musical taste, and Horace Carter-Allen, who would eventually become my best mate. I was exposed to seminal new music, great style, and brilliant dancers; I had all the tools I would need and I was ready to use them.

Sunday's event is a celebration of London's dance culture, including a vogue ball and of course BiG STuFF. Can you remember the first time you were impressed by dancers, and tell us about some of the London faces who have lit up your dancefloors down the years?

Black Market and the Cat In The Hat attracted the best London dancers, who loved to down get to to the early 1970s funk that Lascelle Lascelles and I played: Trevor Shakes, Horace Carter Allen, Leon Herbert, Bassey & Norman Walker, Dennis Elcock, Foster George (Mutley), Mohamed, Johnny Reilly, Master Fontaine, Hoyle Baker and many that I can no longer remember. Indeed Lascelle (a great dancer in his own right) and I got down on the dancefloor all night long to every record that we played. The atmosphere was infectious...

Tell us how you came to co-launch the highly influential Duffer of St. George store and clothing label in the mid-80s?

Move forward to 1984. I was now hanging out in the daytime with Eddie ”Trendy” Prendergast, Marco Cairns and occasionally Cliff Bowen, though he had a real adults’ job in the leather industry down in Northampton. The three of us would cycle around London visiting charity stores. In those days one could buy a second-hand Burberry mac for £1 or a pair of Brogue shoes for 50p. We would pick up double-breasted blazers with military patches embroidered on the breast pocket, silk cravats, Crombie covert overcoats and two-tone loafers. It was the most beautiful quality clothing you could imagine; we all looked quite dapper.

There was much demand for vintage clothing from those not in the know, so we started collecting the best of it. We soon realised the value of these garms.

Clothes and dancing have always been important at your nights, dancing properly and dressing well seems to have evaded the majority of London club goers for a good while now. Any hope left for the city's nightlife?

One important aspect of the clubs I went to, rightly or wrongly, was the door policies, the pseudo elitism – you had to look right. Today huge events rely on pre-sold tickets – people are no longer vetted.

At BiG STuFF I dress for the event, fortunately BiG STuFFeR'S have followed suit, investing in Sharpeye. It seems that Femi and I now have the most stylish club in London, with some of this city's best dancers – just as it was when I played at Black Market in 1984, which had a positive effect upon Duffer. On Saturday afternoons people would queue up to purchase Duffer attire...

Tell us what is lined up for Sharpeye, BiG STuFF and other ongoing projects.

This year I came out of official retirement to do a Sharpeye collaboration with Tricker's, which once more gave me the taste for design.

Right now Sharpeye is selling to capacity – although I am only producing 10 garments per style and apparently still way ahead of the game. My new collection, arriving in August, is a 1930s semi tailored Rude Boy Style – I like to mix genres.

My shoe ranges are consistent, and I design and produce continuously, again only one in 10..

Please give us five tracks we might hear from you on Sunday.

'Big Stuff' by Rhythm Rhyme Revolution
‘That's How I Feel’ by Crusaders
‘Let the Good Times Roll’ by Little Beaver
‘If You Want Me To Stay’ by Sly and the Family Stone
'Funky Music Is My Style' by Fred Wesley