Richard Smith: Hell’s Bells that skinny boy was good

Richard Smith. The fabulous fagburn who made me wanna write, dance and FTPA. The wonder who’s words “coming here did me at least as much good as coming out” brought Trade BPM’s to the page in his article Us Boys Together Clinging: One Night In A Gay Club for Seduced and Abandoned: Gay Times in 1994 made me wanna bring our church to academia. Which I did. Much to the shock of my lecturers as they tried to find words for flyers filled with phalic symbols and references to a club culture we’ve all disco dallied in. The DJ who unlike any other I’ve worked with somehow got away with leaving the box more sticky than a treacle tart factory. The promoter who in bringing a queer drum’n’bass night to Brighton proved to me clubbing wasn’t about making money or giving a fuck about what people thought of you, it was all about having the time of your lives, regardless of who was (or wasn’t!) on your dancefloor.

Researching for my dissertation Strike A Pose There’s Something To It in 2013 I finally got to talk to Richard about FTPA. A queer Q&A about why he did what he did, how he got away with it and the state of gay clubbing, the state of us. Today when searching through my harddrive to find images to send for his memorial (god those are words written too soon) I found it again. It’s as glorious and get-over-yourself as he was. And so I thought I’d share. One skinny guy with attitude making a lasting impression, be it marching on the street, writing words way too honest, prancing on the dancefloor or fucked up behind the decks delivering tunes I’ll always remember.

For Richard Smith. Who it is right – would hate all of this. Because if there is one person who would rather be on the dancefloor, or behind the decks than writing words of mourning, it was Richard. Time to hit the dancefloor I reckon and have a wankered wiggle for Mr Smith.

FTPA Q&A

Club Night: Fuck The Pain Away at Storm, Steine Street, then Candy Bar, St James’s Street. October 1995-96 and August 2003-February 2009. I was the DJ and promoter – with my bald dwarf showbiz pal, A-Dam.

What made your club night / venue unique? It was the only alternative gay night at the time. Alternative music – Electro – and a lovely alternative crowd. I don’t want to knock the mainstream though, I had some great nights at Revenge back in the day, for example, though I was usually twatted on strong lager and speed.

Door policy? We always wanted it to be mixed – girls and boys. Cause that how we socialised, basically. We started the night at Storm, which was quite a ‘manly’ old school gay venue, if you know what I mean. So we’d do things to try and neutralise that so women would feel welcome, like always trying to get female security, not putting homoerotic imagery on the flyers. Then we moved to Candy Bar in 2004. Kim Lucas asked us to do the first Saturday cause she was running Wet Pussy, the big lesbian night at Charles Street then. Quite funny, going to the other extreme, as it were. We did wonder if some gay men would come to a night at a lesbian venue, but that wasn’t the sort of thing that would bother people that were into FTPA. We thought if someone has a problem with that, fuck ’em. 

Genre(s) of music played? Electro! Me and A-dam were the warm-up DJs at Dynamite Boogaloo, doing alternative weeks. That was fun cause you could play anything you wanted. Then we realised we were both turning up with the same records – these weird electronic records from America and Berlin; Electroclash. When we started FTPA it was just at the point when people started calling the music Electro. It got more dancey – Electroclash was a bit art school and arch; slow and deadpan female vocals about being bored and wanting to have sex with a robot. Electro was when it got great for club music. I wasn’t sure what to put on the flyers, but a friend came up with the term ‘Electrotrash’ (by mishearing) for what we were playing, which seemed apt. Eventually we settled on ‘Homo Electro Punk Disco’, which seemed even more apt.  I still think this was a truly great time for Dance music. Just so wonderfully inventive and beautiful, beautiful – if you could get away from the dull House bollocks. I used to grin with excitement at the thought of playing some fantastic new record out; often a DFA or Soulwax remix, or the latest release on Kitsune or Crosstown Rebels; these were our gods.

FTPA DJs? Me and A-Dam. We got the lovely Missy Electric in as a warm-up DJ after a bit. We had guest DJs occasionally, not sure they worked, to be honest, sounding a bit Billy Bighead here but I think me and A-Dam honed a distinctive FTPA sound which people liked. The fools.

And your hostesses? Tamzine did the door. She was perfect cause she’s so friendly and funny and welcoming. Me and A-dam are a couple of Grinches, best to hide us away behind the decks. 

As for those brilliant flyer designs? I’d choose an image and a slogan, and then they were expertly executed by various harangued friends who worked as magazine designers, in their lunch hour. We wanted them to be striking. I’ve got some on my bedroom wall, and they’re quite funny. ‘Brighton! Because we’re gayer than you!’ That’s my favourite slogan. The boy from Kes flicking the Vs. There’s also one that just says ‘PERVERT’.  Of course asking to put up posters in launderettes etc with the word ‘fuck’ on could be problematic. So we had some that just read FTPA, which became the name in a way. I love the first ones we did, with ‘The Kneeling Lady’. It’s from an old Jamie Reid/Sex Pistols design, ‘Fuck Forever’, and just seems such an unlikely image, but suitable for such an unlikely gay night. Also my old mucker Peter did these ones that just said FTPA in huge letters, white on black. Again quite striking in its oddness. 

FTPA_Front&Back

What was Brighton’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community at the time you were running your FTPA? Any social or political context that affected your work? Brighton is and always was Brighton. Thankfully. I am proud to belong to the lunatic fringe of the left, but it’s always tricky trying to bring politics into a club, no-one wants a lecture on the dancefloor on a Saturday night. I think gay clubs can be a political/politicising experience in themselves sometimes; ‘Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free’ Madonna. ‘If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution’ Emma Goldman. The gay community has come out of the gay scene. We did benefits for things we like, Schnews – Brighton’s direct action news sheet – and the Albert Kennedy Trust, who help homeless LGBT kids. And we put things on the posters, Free Omar! – who was a guy from Brighton who was imprisoned at Guantanamo, or George Bush with devil horns – this flyer of course led directly to his inevitable demise. 

So why did you set up FTPA? We set it up cause we were in love with the music and really wanted to hear it in a club and no-one else was doing it. So in true Punk Rock style we decided to do it ourselves. It was kind of an accident – I’m really shy, but one night found myself very drunk somewhere and met Simon who used to run Storm, and said I had a great idea for a club night. And he was up for it. But we also liked the idea of having a meeting place for freaky queers. That FTPA provided that for a few years, that’s what I’m most proud of.

Was your club night / venue involved with Brighton Pride? We did an all-dayer on the Sunday after Pride one year, at Concorde2. It was called ‘Queer Bash’, which we found amusing. There was someone involved in running Brighton Pride then who kicked off – cause we weren’t affiliated to Pride – so he tried to start a row about how terrible calling a gay night ‘Queer Bash’ was. It was hilarious, cause it just meant the night got loads of free publicity. D’oh! We played the Popstarz tent at Brighton Pride a few times. That was always fun, just watching the crowds coming in to Preston Park while playing LCD Soundsystem. We also did a night called ‘Straight Pride Dog Show’ one year with Yr Mum Yr Dad. A joke name that was only funny in our own drug-addled minds.

What role do you feel gay clubbing plays within the LGBTQ community? On a good night, being at a gay club can be magical. I was a Trade Baby and started dancing there and at Club Shame – that whole gay Ecstasy moment in the early 90s – they shaped me as much as anything else that happened in my life. For the much better.

So what kind of crowd did FTPA attract? Twas a night for ‘bumboys and lesbots’. They were a lovely crowd. The Electro scene was always very ‘trendy’; so we did everything we could to try and turn-off the trendy wankers. We just wanted the fun kids to come, cause it was fun, and not cause they’d read it was cool, in some fashion magazine. When the night was really rocking I used to get quite tearful just looking out at the people dancing.

Do we still need LGBTQ clubs? This question has been asked for eternity, probably ever since the first gay club opened. People are always predicting ‘the death of the gay scene’. It ain’t happened yet. I don’t think gay people should apologise for wanting to be with other gay people sometimes. There’s a special vibe there. FTPA was a slightly older crowd, too. Most people were late 20s and early 30s. People that had often got disillusioned with the gay scene, but got the music cause of distant childhood memories of Punk and Disco and appreciated the fusion.

And finally what was proudest night in your clubbing history? The first night – just cause I was worried NO-ONE would turn up. And they did. And they got it! We did one at Storm on my birthday the first January. After Christmas it can be dead in clubland, it’s freezing and everyone’s broke, so again I thought it was going to be Club Empty.  But it wasn’t, first time I really felt ‘We’re onto something here’.  Also I fulfilled a lifetime ambition of playing AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells in a club (and got away with it). Also our first night at Candy Bar. First night nerves again. It’s such a great feeling when it all comes together, the people, the music, just used to GLOW for days after. 

In memory of Richard Smith @fagburn 18.1.68 – 25.8.17