I don’t get to Duckie as often as I used to, partly the result of moving to Brighton, and partly just getting older. But, for several years in the late 1990s, Duckie was the hub round which my week revolved. Friends’ parties, gigs and meals out could come and go, but from 10pm on a Saturday night, I would be at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
Duckie was founded in 1995 by Amy Lamé (appointed this week as Sadiq Khan’s new ‘Night Czar’), together with producer Simon Strange, DJs the (London) Readers Wifes, and door whores Jay and Father Cloth. London’s gay scene at the time was pretty conformist, dominated by identikit shirts-off techno sweatboxes, with only a few alternatives (like Popstarz, which was always a bit too fixated on Britpop for my taste). Duckie brought something new, mixing performance art, political activism, northern soul, electro, grunge and glam, all delivered with wit and intelligence.
Compered by Amy, a modern dance troupe would be followed on stage by an alternative drag act, or by striking Liverpool dock workers urging solidarity and collecting for a hardship fund. In between acts, you could spend half an hour swaying and struggling through the friendly crowd to bar or loo, as Kate Bush, The Damned, Suede, Pet Shop Boys, X-Ray Spex, The Smiths, and Althea and Donna boomed from the turntables (the Wifes were loath to indulge in DJ-ish gimmicks like ‘mixing’).
After the ever-changing roster of “the Readers’ Wifes’ favourite record OF ALL TIME!”, the never-changing refrain of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Xanadu’ would close the show, as the lights came up, and the crowd spilled out onto Vauxhall pavements. For five years, Duckie rocked my world.
Duckie was/is open and welcoming, challenging but safe, intelligent but amiable, arty but not po-faced, boozy but not lairy, crowded but not claustrophobic, raucous but not rough, sexy but not self-obsessed. As Amy Lamé settles into her new role, that sounds like a pretty good vision for what London’s nightlife could and should be.