You Were There! Comments on ‘Rackets at the Pied Bull’

Missed Comments – thank you & sorry!

A big apology to the women who commented on the old blog.  When I eventually came back to the blog after a 9 year absence, I discovered some un-moderated comments which would and should have been published.

Comments on the original post ‘Rackets at the Pied Bull

Anne submitted this comment back in 2015:

I worked behind the bar for a year or so mid-80s. Rackets lasted a few years and the back bar/music venue was women only 7 night a week for a while.. I think it had originally been set up by two women who were local and had been doing club nights at the Carved Red Lion.

I remember a very mixed crowd, including punky leather clad girls, Islington feminists.. and a fair age range. DJs included Maeve and Ritu and quite a few women’s bands played there with quieter jazz from some of the Emma Peel crowd on Sunday lunchtimes.

Favourite remembered tune is a reggae cover of Dusty’s ‘Breakfast in Bed’ by Shelia Hylton. There were definitely a few fights, but a surprisingly amiable relationship with the other drinkers out front and a great guy who was a local youth worker who acted as bouncer.

It changed in 1987 when the manager of a Soho pub took over aiming to re-establish the pub as a music venue with only a couple of lesbian clubs in the week. I continued to work there as I needed the cash and the crowd remained interesting if a little less queer.. including African musicians, Maltese gangsters, swinging-London photographer, Duffy, traders from Camden Passage and a couple of local boys illicitly returning from Spain.. regular all night lock ins! But there were also some women’s nights later 80s, maybe into 90s(?) as well. Depressingly, now a Halifax Building Society!

Belinda commented in 2014:

Wow wee I totally remember rackets it was the first gay women only place I went to and I totally remember a it was at a pub called the pied bull and Friday nights were never the same when it closed.

I remember listening to pump up the volume and the also played friends by Ami Stewart it was fantastic. I was only 15 and it was a totally different world which had totally opened my eyes. Very very happy memories…………………

I also used to go to Heds at Great Portland Street on the Euston Road was was like a sweat box and the music was also great.

Ah venus rising at the fridge in Brixton was also great and so diverse with so many different women it was very mixed which was mind blowing at the time. Fantastic memories……………….

Well I couldn’t find any 1980s pictures of the Pied Bull, only a more recent depressing one showing the Halifax, but here’s a great YouTube memory from the early 1980s of the buses that ran along Upper Street and past the Angle Islington tube station.  Gives you a flavour of the district in those days, imagine hopping off the back of the number 38 in the rain late on a Friday night and heading for the small door far right of the Pub (now a window??).

Picture above of outside of The Pied Bull is from PubWiki


From the YouTube channel of London Transport buff Soi Buakhao

You Were There! Comments on Venus Rising at Brixton Fridge

Missed Comments – thank you & sorry!

A big apology to the women who commented on the old blog.  When I eventually came back to the blog after a 9 year absence, I discovered some un-moderated comments which would and should have been published.

Comments on the original post ‘Listings from the First Ever DIVA Magazine


Claire submitted these two comments back in 2015/2016:

Wow…. 30 years ago last week I met a woman while on summer working holiday from France aged 22. I fell madly in love, she changed my life. I moved to London and never went back home.
The relationship ended up a real nightmare but I have been in this country ever since.
A deeper love by Clivilles and Cole is my Venus Rising anthem.

I remember cycling part of the way there from North London to avoid being charged by my mean girlfriend at the time if she gave me a lift!
It was the biggest date in the month for any girl who liked girls in those days.

Thanks Claire. A Deeper Love – one of my favourites too, and what this blog is all about:

Blast from the Past – Gingerbeer discussion

Today I was geekily practising my google advanced search skills* and came across this past discussion on the Gingerbeer website boards from 2007, entitled ‘Blast from the Past’:

Have a read through the four pages of comments for some great lesbian club scene nostalgia which obviously I would have joined in if only it wasn’t from five years back…  Apparently this Gingerbeer thread has been read 4441 times at time of posting, so I’m not the only one out there dreaming of better days/nights.  Some really interesting memories.

Btw I can answer post 55 – the club on the Tottenham one-way system was Beryl’s. Many a New Year was seen in there in the late 80s…Hey Ho Silver Lining! I remember forking out what seemed like a huge admission fee in 1985 (probably a tenner!) justified by the promised buffet which was just crumbs by the time I got there.

What are your memories of women’s clubs/venues? Join in by commenting below!

( All comments are moderated by me before they get published)

*The infrequently used intext: operator only gives results for a search term where the page includes certain text – eg. italian lessons intext:completely free

In the spirit of further exploration with Google I did the following search where you put in related: followed by a specific web address, in order to find webpages of similar content. See screenshot below:

screenshot of search results, showing Diva, Southwark Council, 100 best poems, gaydar girls

screenshot of search results, showing Diva, Southwark Council, 100 best poems, gaydar girls

The first and fourth are to be expected, but second and third made me laugh!

The GLC helping London’s Lesbian and Gay Community

GLC Changing the World Charter 1985

One from the box in my loft. Changing the World – A London Charter for Gay and Lesbian Rights was a thick brochure produced by the Greater London Council in 1985.  It was presumably sent around to schools, councils and other organisations.

See below the letter it came with, from Red Ken himself.  Keep reading for the reason why I’ve included it in my blog about my memories of ‘dancing’ round the women’s venues of the time…

Letter introducing GLC Changing the World A Charter For Gay and Lesbian Rights from Ken Livingstone

There was something empowering about seeing this confident, unashamed push for equality by the GLC.  It was one of many initiatives of the mid-eighties which, alongside a growing acceptance of gay but mainstream ‘entertainment culture’ (Boy George, Marc Almond, Erasure, Bronski Beat and others), started to really change social attitudes.

A generation of gay and lesbian Londoners owes a debt of gratitude to the GLC and the many voluntary organisations they supported, for making it just about ok enough to be gay.

Not many years later the governmental backlash (Clause 28) came.  But there were by then enough people with pride and energy to be able to stand up and fight.

A copy of this charter reached me when I attended the London Gay Teenage Group (see separate article about the LLGTG) as a fresh-faced 18 year old, fired up by going to London Gay Pride 1985 held on the South Bank.  I remember feeling really young amongst the crowd and seeing very few other teenagers, but I did see the LGTG banner and made a note of the phone number.  The rest is (my) history.

Why feature this in ‘OnlywhenImdancing’?  One night about two years later I was at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre in Cowcross Street, Farringdon.   Every Saturday night they gave over their main basement space to the women’s disco, (possibly to counterbalance the fact that the men had so many other commercial venues available to them).  Men were welcome as guests though, and that night we boogied on down with Ken Livingstone himself, who looked quite at home among the dancing dykes, his moves repeated forever by the wall mirrors.  If he was after street cred, he got it.  Remember, this was way, way, way before Boris thought up his cycling stunts to get down with the people.

A final GLC memory.  The GLC put on a final fling music festival bash on the South Bank just near Waterloo, to say goodbye after they were all shut down – can’t remember what year.  I went along and remember seeing Phranc (jewish lesbian folk singer) live, playing ‘Amazons‘, ‘Lifelover’ and more, and being mightily impressed by her unassuming style and cute flat top haircut.  I even shook her hand afterwards.

Thank you GLC for introducing and encouraging diversity and putting gay rights on the agenda.

Listings from the first ever Diva Magazine

Looking through old stuff this week I found a copy of the very first issue of Diva magazine from 1994. Thought I would share the cover and listings page with you.  And I hope they’ll forgive me from not asking their permission.

At the point this was published I’d been going to clubs in London for nearly ten years and the scary thing is how recent most of the news seems but that’s being 45 I guess.

I’ll go up in the loft and unearth the 80s stuff next week…watch this space.

Diva magazine first issue cover April 1984

Diva magazine first issue cover April 1994

Here’s the listings page apologies for the quality but hopefully you’ll see a few familiar faces:

Disclaimer: please don’t try to go to any of these clubs you will just find ghosts.

Listings from the first ever DIVA magazine April 1984

Listings from the first ever DIVA magazine April 1984

I’m looking at the prices for Venus Rising, and remembering how the trick was to be in the queue just before 11pm to save two quid.  And how the queue sometimes went right back the pavement three deep, down to the corner near the town hall.


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Dance while you still can

7 July 2012 and as London parties to celebrate a wet WorldPride 2012, I’m sipping tea and remembering the good old days.

So if you are reading this at some point in the future, wondering whether to go out clubbing tonight or just stay at home and watch Match of the Day – take my advice.  The years will roll by until one day you get to the point in life where – for one of any number of extremely valid reasons – you can’t go out. So seize the day while you still can and party for the rest of us.

OK so it might not be the best night ever but remember this: the days when the nearest you will get to the club experience is cranking up the volume on the car radio on the way to pick your kids up from school or on the way to your reading group or knitting club…are just around the corner.

Due South – Stoke Newington High Street

My memories of Due South are inextricably linked with that area since I lived on Amhurst Road in Dalston for ten years 1996-2005.  Football on the marshes, walking the dog on Millfields, Walthamstow Marsh along the canal, cycling to work in Kings Cross and Hampstead.  Happy days but I digress…

More a bar than a club, I don’t think I ever danced in anger there but I cannot leave this out. This landmark destination for lesbians opened mid-late 90s and closed sometime before 2004. Due South was the name of the actual pub rather than a specific night, and it was women-only a lot of the time as far as I remember, unusual in the decade of mainly mixed gay pubs.

Does anyone remember differently? Maybe I only went on the women-only nights…when the music was good and loud and the pool table full, especially on the popular Tuesday night sessions.

I enthusiastically took a friend of mine there once who was not a regular on the lesbian scene.  She revealed many years later how she had been disturbed by that visit, which reinforced her stereotypes of short-haired butch lesbians.  That was kind of why I went…and why I went to all the clubs back then.  I would love to have taken photos of the gorgeous clientele for posterity but that was in the days before smartphones and ubiquitous photography.

Maybe someone somewhere has some images – if you can help please email

This was also a regular after-match venue for several of the legendary but incestuous local womens football teams in the area. And sad to say one of my only other lasting memories of Due South is not of inspiring conversation but of having an impromptu ankle ‘healing’ by a spiritually-minded club-mate after a strenuous footy match out on Hackney Marshes.

It was the place where over beers in 1997 with some kiwi friends we got an idea, followed it up, and it eventually led to us winning a gold at the Sydney Gay Games 2002.  Due South indeed.

I missed out on the rampant partying there on election night in April 1997 when Tony Blair got in.  I was otherwise engaged in Tokyo but heard about it later from my shame-faced girlfriend.

It was on that part of the main south-north artery road north of not-then trendy Dalston – Kingsland Road where it becomes Stoke Newington Road in the A-Z.  Maybe that section is now full of coffee shops but then it was notable for being near the Post Office and numerous Turkish food shops, and heading towards the junction with Stoke Newington Church Street and Abney Park Cemetery.



Lower the Tone at The Oak Bar

My partner and I made a quick list the other day of all the clubs we’ve ever been to so that over the next few months I can get them onto this blog.

Two days later we realised we’d missed out the classic Oak Bar.  This was (and still is for all I know) in a pub on Green Lanes heading towards Clissold Park and Stoke Newington, so it was well positioned for the local lesbian population in that area.  It was ‘just around the corner’ from our flat in Dalston.

They held various club nights but the only one I went to was Lower the Tone, an indie-mix type night.  I can’t say personally this was a favourite club, but was a haunt of various North and North East London womens’ footy teams, and the pool table near the door was always popular.

This is one of those clubs I have no fond memories of, for no particular reason.  Which is likely why I missed it off my list. It had a weird platform in the corner of the dance floor and if I wasn’t falling off it (dancing with eyes closed) then I was being covered by beer from someone else falling off it. I always seemed to leave well before the end, heading out into the relative quiet of Green Lanes (that part of the road wasn’t too busy in the late 90s and early noughties), trying to remember which of the residential streets nearby I’d parked in.  A couple of times I walked home by myself, which, looking back, was probably not wise but took in the delights of the closed up local hardware shop, the lovely French patisserie in ? Square, and led me back across Kingsland Road just in time for a kebab…

Armed with the London A-Z

One of my favourite books then and now.  Maps on smartphones cannot touch it.  As a young lesbian living in the suburbs, the maps and streetnames meant the hope and excitement of other places and other lives.

When you are straight, you can find fun, love, lust, style in your local pubs bars and clubs.  When you are lesbian or gay, you need to be more choosy and often travel long distances, working out strategies to get home via night-bus or last-train home.  With the help of Time Out Magazine and City Limits Magazine the handful of women-only clubs of the 1980s were able to attract punters and establish themselves.  No online listings then, these were off-the-beaten-track venues whose names held mystery and whose clubnights etched enduring memories onto many of us.

I’m working on a Google Map of the places I went to which I’ll share when it’s a bit more finished.

Please let me know about the venues you enjoyed so I can add them to the map.


Rackets at The Pied Bull

Rackets has very happy memories for me. It was the very first lesbian club I went to.

My first visit was the Friday I got my A level results in 1985, I travelled up by train to Waterloo from my Surrey hometown and took the tube to the Angel.  I can still remember waiting in the old ticket hall for the woman who had offered to meet me. In those days the lifts from the tube opened onto City Road (no steel and glass – I’m imagining the walls were yellow and maroon tiling) and I had no idea of the geography of the area.

The Pied Bull pub was two minutes just across the road, past the turning for Chapel St market, at the junction where Essex Road heads off Upper St towards Barnsbury.  What kind of pub it was during the day I’ve no idea, but on Thursday and Friday evenings it was strictly women-only.  Dark, smoky, always crowded but felt like a sanctuary.

You walked through the narrower bar area to a wider dancefloor at the back.  It seemed to me that the older women were at the bar and the younger ones congregated nearer the dancing.

I have no idea who ran this club or who the DJ was but it was a large part of my life for a few years.  I don’t even remember hearing when it folded or why.  Were you involved?  Can you fill us in?

Rackets favourites of the time:


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