Barrie Sharpe, is a born and bred Londoner whose energy, style and creativity in music, design, fashion and nightlife helped to shape the Metro cultural landscape from 1980s onwards. We caught up with ‘Sharpeye’ recently to see what he is up to.
01 What was your Childhood like?
I Have Nothing To Fear I Have Already Seen The Worst – Sometime in 1964 my mother was admitted into Goodmayes Mental Institution. My sister Beverley and I were placed in a Victorian style children’s home at Gallows Corner in Essex, “Harold Wood Hall”. It was not a pleasant place, devoid of any love or warmth and it holds many dark memories. I was 4 years old, not yet of school age and left alone to my own devices from 9am until my sister and the other kids returned at teatime. As I had no supervision I got up to all sorts of mischief and was often punished either with the cane or locked in a cupboard for a few hours. I shared a bedroom with three slightly older boys, twins and their elder sibling; the three brothers bullied me at night and made lots of loud noise whilst arguing and giggling. We were situated next to the girls’ dormitory and the girls always complained about the noise. Each morning the housemaster would come in and question us; the brothers always blamed the racket on me and I was beaten, sometimes quite severely. I told Mr. Gee and Matron, the joint heads of the home: “We will deal with it”. But they never did and the beatings got worse. I saw myself as having no value.
02 What were your early formatative influences in terms of music?
1970 – By the age of 10 it was established that I couldn’t write, had poor reading skills and was not going to amount to much: but I had different ideas. I had discovered reggae, wore slick neat mohair tonic suits, Brutus Slim Fit shirts, Italian shoes and had cropped hair with a razored-in parting just like the Jamaican immigrants, “Rude Boys”, as they liked to call themselves. Yes I was a skinhead; I loved reggae music and it was Prince Buster (my favourite reggae artist) all day long. There were no politics; I was only 10 years old. The first skinheads I ever saw outside the electric store (where they sold the latest reggae imports) in Petticoat Lane were black and proud. Original skinheads were a cross between West Indian style and music mixed with British working class youth attitude, a great combination. Of course there were racist skinheads: this was 1970 so racism was part of British culture, having to put up with a new influx of different nationalities every ten years.
1971 – I was 11 years old, a Skinhead but becoming a suedehead (growing my hair) 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.
03 What about films and books?
An Angel In A Red Polka Dot Dress – I was excited. My friend Marcia May was taking me to see the new Wattstax movie in Leicester Square. The main attraction was Rufus Thomas performing “The Funky Chicken”; it would be my first time seeing these various American soul artists in action. The movie was great, the music funky and the dancing, locking and popping absolutely mesmerising. Then there she was, the girl in the red polka dot dress doing the ”Breakdown” for 35 glorious seconds (the Breakdown was the latest dance move from the States); an angel with smooth black thighs, dress so short that you momentarily glimpsed her white panties, but most of all she danced like a funky dream. I have loved the girl in the red polka dot dress ever since that moment.
Although the relationship with my father was turbulent, it is now coming to pass that many of my perceptions are based upon his views. At 15 years old he gave me Malcolm X’s biography. He explained why he thought MLK and Gandhi were tools of government to appease the masses, by preaching peace and not revolution. When I played “Free Nelson Mandela” he talked to me of Steve Biko…
04 Where does your love of fashion and design stem from?
(Tim Runnicles – School Friend) School for me was a memorable experience, it was at the advent of comprehensive schools and our school became an amalgamation of two schools, one a grammar school in a good area, the other a secondary school in a not so good area. I hadn’t been fortunate enough to pass the eleven plus as only the highest twelve marked students got places at grammar schools and I came fourteenth. Therefore I was at the not so good school. I initially met Barrie when the schools started merging. Like many kids at that time I had witnessed the demise of the mod era and the advent of the skinhead era before getting to high school, and I was a fan of the music that went with it. My first memories of Barrie were in the upper corridor, of the not so good school, with his hand held cassette player blasting out reggae and funk music. Another memory was Barrie’s high-waist trousers in about 73-74. His trousers were wicked, I believe he had them custom made, mine were the more normal off-the-peg jobs. He wore them with crepe wedged soled shoes, which were very stylish and very expensive. As we went through school, fashions changed and Barrie was always at the forefront of the change.
Barrie Was Always The Innovator (Eugene Kuti – Teenage Friend) I spent a lot of my teenage years with Barrie, we were soul heads and sometimes reggae boys; we were big into the soul scene and loved every minute of it. I remember scouring old second-hand shops looking for clothes that went with that movement; we also used to have our trousers made to measure, the baggier and wider the better. Barrie was always the innovator when it came to fashion and I followed him. We used to hang out at the hippest record shops listening to all the latest imported tunes and buying what we could afford. We had three regular clubs that we frequented: The Lively Lady, The 100 Club and Crackers. There we would drop the latest dance moves. Good times that I will never forget.
Levi Kid – This was the time of hot summers and the heatwave of 1976 was the best summer of my life, but there was one embarrassing incident. It was Tuesday, a big night at the Ilford Palais which would attract the most stylish dancers from all over London. I was there, Levi’s 501 jeans and jacket, cowboy boots etc, I thought I was so cool considering most of the other kids were still in their Oxford Bags (baggy wide 1930s Gatsby style pants). I was leaning against the wall trying to impress three very attractive young ladies. I thought I was doing fine, cool, funny, stylish; when one of them said “Who are you, the fucking Levi kid”. They burst out laughing in unison and walked away sniggering, leaving me mortified.
05 In your teenage years what was Clubland like at that time?
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 that they knew of just around the corner, “The Lively Lady” (later renamed Jaws). It was above a pub named the Heathcoate Arms; a strange place in the middle of nowhere, but 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 (he comes into the mix later) 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. I started frequenting many underground funk clubs with my schoolmates Eugene Kuti, Milton Henry and Chris Thomas, who had the biggest Afro you ever did see. The amazing thing was that so many like-minded people, from all over London, came to a small windowless, hot sweaty room, full of condensation, above a pub at the back end of Leytonstone.
The Hot Summer Of 1976 – I first went to the Lacy Lady on a Friday night with Maxine Cirillo, a real cool chick. She attended regularly and dressed appropriately in 1940s attire, a style started at the Goldmine in Canvey Island. The Goldmine club was too far away for me, I didn’t like to leave London, thus I was never a “Gold-miner”. I was already over the 40s style, although I still favoured my American Air-force Captain’s uniform and white canvas Naval officers shoes. That night I was doing 50s work-wear: Dee Cee denim overalls with Sebago penny loafers and chambray prison shirt, top button done up. I looked dapper with my crew cut hair almost shaved at the sides, longer on top with a side parting; I may have even had it slicked back with grease. No coat was needed; it was the summer of 1976. We queued to get in; a lot of the dudes were carrying Woodhouse or Stanley Adams carrier bags (the trendiest men’s clothing stores) and I would soon find out why. We paid the £1 admission fee, which also entitled us to “Chicken In The Basket” (something to do with nightclub licensing laws) and climbed the old wooden stairs to the dance floor. As we entered, the DJ, Chris Hill, was playing “Hard Work”, by John Handy; the rhythm was infectious. The strange thing was he was kinda singing, almost rapping over the record: I had never heard this done before. The atmosphere was electric and the people were “getting down”. I was hooked. We plotted up by the DJ box and started to get down with everybody else. Chris Hill dropped “Got To Get Your Own” by Reuben Wilson and the whole place just tore up. Man it was hot; there were no windows and no air conditioning. Upon attending the condensation soaked toilets I realised what the trendy carrier bags were all about. In the bathroom dudes were changing out of their wet sweaty clothing and putting on fresh dry trendy garms from their bags. I got it and I liked it; this was the club where I needed to be. I got talking to some cats that were checking me out, I had seen them many times at the Lively: Sammy Grearson and Tigga, two slick dressers and bad dancers. They were both wearing cowboy boots, straight leg Wrangler jeans and tight white T-shirts. I was impressed: this style was new to me. The next day I went to Ken’s Western Store in Manor Park for my cowboy boots then off to the Carnaby Street flea market to nick a pair of selvedge shrink to fit Levi’s 501s from The Westerner store. There were many different styles at the Lacy: the whole 1940s Glenn Miller Swing thing was going on; Stylers (cool stylish dressers); Soul Boys (wedge haircuts, white socks – a style which I could never get with); Rockers (dressed in Gabicci cardigans, Farah slacks, and Croc shoes – a reggae thing); and Punks. Back then they called themselves “Zoobies”; the first Punks I had ever seen, not the obvious style later recognised as Kings Road Punk. These guys, with cropped multi razor parting hair, were wearing Smiths carpenter jeans (the customised back pockets made from transparent plastic) or baggy Peglegs (pants that narrowed at the ankle) from Acme Attractions and fluffy mohair jumpers from Sex (Sex and Acme Attractions were two of the latest trendy Kings Road stores). The footwear was Brothel Creepers, as worn by Teddy Boys in the 1950s or plastic beach sandals. The girls were wearing black bin liners as dresses, mohair jumpers, tight pedal-pusher pants with pointed shoes or boots. Most of the girls wore safety pins as earrings and had cropped, spiky haircuts; some also had cat’s ears styled into their hair. They all danced crazy to the funky music, some were good. UK Punk Rock music had not yet been instigated: this style had nothing to do with the American Punk Rock. After the Lacy Lady Maxine and I went on to a Covent Garden club on Neal Street, Chaugeramas (or maybe by then it was called the Roxy). We loved it, the reggae music was provided by Don Letts who worked in Acme Attractions; later he would become a successful filmmaker. The audience was mixed, gay, straight, funky, trendy, but mainly Punk. A whole new world had opened up to me; we danced all night long.
06 Tell us about the notion of Groundbeat, the Rare Groove thing and the sounds from that period?
1984 – I was still in contact with Diana Brown; she was now the assistant of Rene Gelston, a top stylist at Vidal Sassoon (later to become the creator of Black Market Records). I would often make Diana cassette tapes of all my old music, which she would take to work. Rene was always interested in the music that I provided and inquired about me. Rene had secured Friday nights at London’s Wag Club (formerly The Whisky A Go Go) and he asked me to DJ along with Dave Dorrell. The night was called Black Market. Friday June 1st, I turned up with all my old 70s funk records and the night was an instant success. However I felt the music that Dave and I were playing was not compatible; I was a purist and the combination was not my vision. I convinced Rene to bring in my neighbour Lascelle (I named him as Lascelles Lascelle on the flyers). Dave Dorrell came into his own with the success of the Raw Club in 1985 and then went on to make big waves in the music industry. Lascelle and I became London’s premiere DJ’s. We didn’t only play 70s funk, we played all styles of good music, as long as it was loose and funky. If there was a fashion party we would be playing the music, whether it was a magazine launch, gallery opening or a Grace Jones party; everybody wanted us and we charged accordingly. On many occasions we played whilst on Acid (LSD). The thing is, back then acid was taboo; perhaps that was the excitement, we had to keep it on the down-low. We didn’t tell anyone and no one realised, I always thought we sounded great but maybe we didn’t. The problem I often had was that the records looked like they were warping in my hands and I’m sure I messed up the sound levels – way too much bass – but it seems looking back – a good time was had by all; especially me.
07 You got a deal with London Records offshoot FFRR and released ‘Blind Faith’ as Diana Brown & Barrie K Sharpe and went onto release the classic ‘The Masterplan’ single and a decent run of singles up to 1992’s ‘Eating Me Alive’ what are your key memories from that hectic period?
Masterplan 1989 – Diana Brown and myself signed a deal with a major record company and had the first Acid Jazz style hit with “Masterplan,” hitting high in the UK music charts and somewhere in the US charts. We shot an amazing video (with no help or finance from the record company) influenced by the Marvin Gaye record cover “I Want You” and directed by first time director Earle Sebastian (the guy I met in St Tropez). We recorded three more successful singles and an album, but I was not a team player and the record company was very unsupportive, thus I needed to step on and do my own thing.
08 You open the first Duffer of St George store in 1985 in Portabello, prior to your music career as such, with Marco Cairns, Eddie Prendergast, and Clifford Bowen, tell us about how you got started?
1984 – I was now hanging out in the daytime with Eddie ”Trendy” Prendergast, Marco Cairns and there was also Cliff Bowen, but 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, 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.
I was DJ’ing at Blackmarket (The Wag Club) so I was getting maximum exposure in my natty attire. A good example of this was wearing my Baker Boy (1930s style eight piece cap) which I wore backwards like the old style film directors; people on the street would laugh at me: “Oi mate you got your hat on backwards”. We had these caps produced by a traditional cap maker S & V Caps on Hackney Road; we could never get enough caps to meet the demand. All three of us were on DHSS work benefits: The Enterprise Allowance Scheme. We were usually skint and we nicked as much gear as we bought. Cliff wanted to get involved with our daily shenanigans; he gave us £60 to finance our small enterprise giving us bigger and better ideas. I knew a few contacts in the army surplus game, friends of friends. We would jump into my Peugeot 304 Cabriolet, roof down and shoot off to Brighton or Southend visiting old army surplus stores; we accumulated a vast amount of desirable stock.
Fly Pitching – Cliff, Marco and I went surfing in Newquay that hot August; I had to get back to London early as I was DJ’ing that Friday night. On the Saturday, Eddie and I went to the Reggae Sunsplash at Crystal Palace Bowl: we had an amazing time. On Sunday we went down to Camden Market and it all came to me. The following Sunday Marco, Cliff, Eddie and I were fly pitching our wares outside a closed store on Camden High Street; we wrote out a moody (fake) receipt from the shop owner, which satisfied the police. We were in business and were very successful, going home with big smiles and pockets full of cash.
The Name – I have no idea who came up with the name but it wasn’t me. One of the many books in our combined collection was “Dean’s Premiere Book For Boys”, circa 1960. It was a kid’s adventure book with various stories. One of the stories was written by Richard Lyne: The “Duffer” Of St. George’s. I don’t know why this story came to our attention or why the name was chosen, I guess it was just random; The Duffer Of St. George was now the name of our new Portobello store. I couldn’t get my head around it then and I still can’t now, but Duffer was our name and it worked.
Not one of us had a clue what we were doing. Eddie had worked in Take Six (a very fashionable men’s clothing store in the early 70s) and Yves St. Laurent in Bond Street. Marco was good at graphics. Cliff had a limited knowledge of leather manufacturing. My passion was for style: buying and stealing the latest fashions then re-fitting them to my taste, something I had done since I was 10 years old. I lived and breathed fashion, music and clubs, nothing else mattered except the obvious: girls! .
09 What types of items were you drawn too and how did you assemble such a diverse range of styles to fit and synch into a new look?
10 It was at that time that your ‘Cat in The Hat’ iconic Club night mushroomed in Leicester Square? You captured a very special buzz there?
The Cat In The Hat 1985 – I was not happy with the door policy at the Wag; I won’t go into detail but my friends could not always get in. We (The Duffers – Trendy, Marco, Cliff and myself) decided to open our own club night in Leicester Square: The Cat In The Hat. The basement club was small and dark with a low ceiling, held 200 people and was hot. At the new venue Lascelle and I really did our thing, if a record was to our liking it would be repeated many times in a row; the crowd was ecstatic. It was at The Cat In The Hat where we re-introduced to the world records such as “Across The Tracks” – Maceo and the Macks, “I Believe In Miracles” – The Jackson Sisters, “I Know You Got Soul” – Bobby Byrd, “Express Yourself” – Charles Wright, “Think About It – Lynne Collins” and most of the other tunes people were starting to recognise as Rare Groove. Lascelle and myself wholly instigated the whole Rare Groove scene, although many others claim it to be their own creation. We also had the pleasure of Paul “Trouble” Anderson playing with us at The Cat In The Hat. DJ’s such as Norman Jay, Trevor Nelson, the Soul II Soul Crew and many of our contemporaries frequented the club. Basically Lascelle and I were in the right place at the right time. Besides Trevor Shakes, our biggest influence, we had already heard DJ’s at the Wag, Beatroute and warehouse parties (Hector, Jay Strongman and Steve Lewis) dropping an offering of 70s funk in their sessions, but we played funk all night long and turned it into an art with a cult following.
11 What tracks stood out for you from that period?
The Truth – In 1974 I saw the Movie, “Come Back Charleston Blue”. For me the memorable part of the film was “Express Yourself Part II” performed by Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. The one-minute of rhythm at the intro was mesmorising. I managed to find the album “You’re So Beautiful” with this track on it, but had great difficulty finding Part I – no one had ever heard of it. Eventually, in 1977, I found the “Express Yourself” LP in an obscure jazz store; even in its day this was a rare unknown track. 1984: I played “Express Yourself Part I” at Black-Market in the Wag Club. The rest is history: anyone else staking claim to this discovery is twisting the truth.
In 1984 Lascelle and I were trawling through boxes of vintage 7’’ records. Back then we could pick them up for 10p, they had not yet been called Rare Grooves, as they were so cheap we could buy as many as we wanted on a whim and throw the crap ones away. “I Believe In Miracles” was one of these records. Lascelle picked up a record by the Jackson Sisters, he had never heard it before but the name “Jackson Sisters” was appealing. The rest is history: anyone else staking claim to this discovery is fabricating the truth.
In 1985, Although neither Lascelle nor I owned “Across The Tracks” by Maceo & The Macks we were intensely dropping this heavy rhythm with great passion. It actually belonged to Horace who was DJ’ing at the Wag Club. I am not sure which one of us played it first, but we played it at least 10 times a night often three or four times in succession. This tune was celebrated by all with much excitement and soon became the record that epitomised the Rare Groove scene. The tune was soon bootlegged and eventually re-released, bringing this underground scene to the world’s attention, thus destroying the purity of its essence. The rest is history: anyone else staking claim to this discovery is distorting the truth.
Unorthodox Soundtrack (Femi “Fem” Williams – Clubber, DJ, Producer, Friend) Imagine a world without songs such as “Across The Tracks” by Maceo & The Macks, “Think About It” by Lyn Collins, Bobby Byrd’s “I Know You Got Soul”, the forceful funk of the JB’s, the quirky sweet arrangement of Foster Sylver’s “Misdemeanour”, or the chance to do it good to Charles Wright’s “Express Yourself”. That was my world prior to religiously frequenting Black Market at the WAG Friday nights circa ’84-’85. This was a place of sanctity and escape from the drudgery of Thatcher’s Britain despite a pretty rigorous colour bar, which was fully sanctioned, approved by Tommy (the seedy owner) and enforced by Winston’s security team. There was an international cross section of the coolest in the capital, a self-acclaimed church of style, with an unorthodox soundtrack. Barrie Sharpe at the pulpit with his fellow father of funk on the wheels, Lascelles Lascelle, preached a sermon that relayed loose funk, blackened disco and reggae with a reverential air of distinction. Way before Facebook and digital imagery we danced alongside Sade, Boy George, Run DMC, George Michael, Grace Jones, Paul Weller and host of A, B, etc list stars (note; no celebrities) against the funky backdrop provided by Barrie and Lascelle. Many bands and DJ’s were influenced by this time and I still have the sound of first time I heard the female James Brown and her significant other ringing in my ears. Forceful formidable funk ‘n soul that to this day I have the preachers to thank for.
12 You eventually developed your own thing with ‘Sharpeye’ what was the driving force?
1995 January I’m Gone – With a more commercial product Duffer was starting to regain its foothold in the fashion market; by exploiting the brand DUFFER we had become a household name. Our new hoodie was everywhere: magazines, TV, celebrities, everyone was now sporting DUFFER across their chest. As successful as it was it was not for me. I didn’t feel part of this new branding, I was bored and wanted to design. We could no longer sell Duffer designs, just branded goods. Sadly I split up with my wife Hiywet and my personal life changed drastically, I needed to grow up and take responsibility for my son; my life style did not allow for this change so I was going to have to adapt. I left Duffer amicably, walked out on my record deal, left my band and cancelled my music tour sponsorship with Levi’s; my life changed forever.
13 What happened with the Duffer brand as it basically went global and off the scale? You sold up and moved on? Duffer changed from being a street style and design concept into a commercial brand.
This smooth talking, suntanned, flash German tennis player was now my boss! Thomas was an idiot; he bought the company and then gave it back to us to run, Marco and I on design and Eddie in charge of the accounts. We had already proven that we needed management but Thomas knew better, what an idiot! I didn’t like Thomas at all and had no intention of staying in his employ for very long. I started planning my escape. Earlier in the year we had been commissioned to do a collection for a Japanese company, Ready Steady Go, but we spent the money and no collection was produced. No one had the guts to tell the client that we had spent all the money. As I no longer had any loyalty to Duffer I informed the Japanese agent of our indiscretion and offered to produce the collection for them myself under the name Sharpeye, my childhood nickname; I never missed a trick. Sharpeye with its fine attention to detail took off in Japan: the writing was on the wall.
14 ‘This Was Not Part Of The Masterplan’ is your first edition memoirs – where can folks grab a copy?
You can get a copy here folks!
15 What other projects have you got planned for ‘Sharpeye’ for the coming years?
Sharpeye now produces exclusive limited edition clothes and shoes / 1-in-TEN – Rude Boy enhanced 1930s style !
16 What do you think about the current music scene in the UK and beyond?
Very few magic moments… check this out!
17 What about the Fashion Industry or ‘Street-Style’ of today?
I have no idea? I am not in the fashion industry…
18 What about a film to document your story?
A work in progress
19 What about the EU situation – in or out?
I perceive that we need a drastic shake up in the UK; I would prefer out. However, I think it would destroy British economy
20 Has the passing of time mellowed you? What would you say to an 18 year old Barrie if you could?
Forget that shit – They can’t hold you back…
Look beyond the beyond
Where the wind whips the sea
Where unicorns roam and shadows run free
There you may find the wizard you seek
Dancing on the edge of your dream…