Thursday, February 4, 2010

Simon Hobart - Red Lipstique

Simon Hobart
DJ and club promoter who brought a new style to gay London
September 24, 1964 - October 23, 2005

BEFORE Popstarz opened in May 1995, the gay scene in London was pretty uniform: hi-NRG, disco and house music predominated; you wore a tight T-shirt (or no T-shirt at all) and jeans. Popstarz came as a gale of fresh air — its creator Simon Hobart billed it as the “indie alternative”, but it was much more.
Hobart was an innovator. At Popstarz’s first incarnation, the now-defunct Paradise Club in Islington, one dancefloor played indie music from the likes of Pulp and Blur, a soul floor played the cream of Motown and a disco floor played everything from Kool and the Gang to Kylie. People drank beer out of plastic glasses and eyed each other up playfully rather than aggressively. The pressures to have the right body and clothes, and to dance mindlessly to the same old music, were challenged.

It was mixed gay and lesbian, and eventually — to the dismay of some of its regulars — it even welcomed straights.
Popstarz also attracted many celebrities including Mick Jagger, Boy George, the Little Britain star Matt Lucas, Bono, Siouxsie Sioux and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. Leading bands including the Dandy Warhols and Goldfrapp played there.

Inspired by the success of Popstarz, Hobart launched a series of clubs which differed from the mainstream gay scene. At his Soho club Ghetto he created Wig Out, Misshapes and Nagnagnag, with eclectic playlists of punk, nu-wave, indie, electro and pop. Last year he bought his first pub, Trash Palace in Soho; with its red sofas and black floors, it had the same art-school look as Popstarz and Ghetto.

Hobart was born in Peru in 1964 and raised in Hemel Hempstead. His father is a businessman. After attending Cavendish School in Hemel Hempstead and Kingsway College, London, he spent some months as a trainee chef at the Ritz.
Growing up, Hobart was the archetypal gay boy struggling to express himself in a stultifying small town. He was a child magician and, as a teenager, would come to London to the then fashionable club Blitz, presided over by Steve Strange. The club’s anarchic glamour showed him that difference was something to take pride in and provided a template for the clubs he himself would create.
Hobart adopted the New Romantic dress code of the time, decked out in the gothy, gender-blurring drag of Culture Club and Pete Burns of Dead or Alive: pirate tops, leggings, make-up. His “ultimate” hero, he once said, was David Bowie, and his favourite song was Bowie’s Young Americans.

In November 1981 Hobart got his first DJ-ing gig at the Kareba club, then moved to the Flytrap. Each Saturday he would shop at Jane Kahn’s outrageous dress shop in King’s Road, and eventually had a part-time job there.
In February 1984 he founded the Kit Kat club, named after the club in the film Cabaret, which was intended to have a “goth-gone-glam” feel. Around the same time, he sang in a punk band, Red Lipstique.

In 1985 police, dressed in leather and drag, targeted the club in a drugs raid. “Swoop Cops Wore Lipstick!” screamed The Sun’s headline. A beaming Hobart was photographed being led from the club in a huge blonde wig, thigh-high boots and leather codpiece by a doughty policeman.

He was charged with possession of drugs, later revealing how a “really lovely priest”, Father Bill Shergold, had acted as his guarantor during his probationary period. Father Bill gave him the leather biker’s jacket which he had worn when preaching to Hell’s Angels in the 60s.

When the Kit Kat closed in 1989, Hobart began the Bedrock night at Oxfords nightclub, which moved later to the Marquee on Charing Cross Road. He had successful residencies at Heaven’s Pyramid and Rage nights, and in the early 1990s opened two drum’n’bass clubs, Fusion and Vivid.

Popstarz made his name. The emphasis, Hobart said, “would be on boozing, not cruising, as an antidote to the mainstream gay scene with its muscle Marys or crass, boy band-loving gay teenagers. To publicise it, I scattered flyers round colleges and record shops, tapping into a younger, more intellectual crowd. To my amazement, Popstarz became massive. When I arrived there, there was a queue around the block.”

Its success encouraged other acclaimed counter-cultural clubs like Duckie. In 2003 The Observer named Hobart as one of the 20 most influential gay men in Britain. Hobart admired Peter Stringfellow, whose success — like Hobart’s — was down to being absolutely identified with his club. Every night Hobart welcomed punters at Ghetto, stationed in the little booth at the bottom of the stairs. At Popstarz he could be seen in the DJ box, surveying the dancefloor. He kept beer prices low.

As one bar manager recalled, Hobart chose to subsidise his clubs through loss-making periods because he cared about innovation more than profits.
Hobart had a fine gravelly voice which spoke of louche nights, but while he drank a lot and partied, he took his health seriously and kept his youthful looks. A self-confessed “jewellery snob”, he sported an arsenal of rings, including a razor blade and a silver skull.

Though a public figure, he kept his personal life private and did not become enmeshed in the bitchiness of the club scene. He was ambitious, and his clubs and bars were his all-consuming passion. They will remain open, “run in the manner and style that Simon wanted”, say his family. Future profits will be donated to Macmillan Cancer Relief, a charity for which he had done stalwart fund-raising since the death of his mother from cancer four years ago.
There will be a night in celebration of his life at Popstarz (at The Scala in King’s Cross) this Friday night as a fundraiser for the charity.

Simon Hobart, DJ and club promoter, was born on September 24, 1964. He died after a fall on October 23, 2005, aged 41.

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