It was roundabout the time when the soul boy era was squeezing its last drops from the bottle. We decided to push further west. A friend had mentioned that our boy from East Ham was making noises in Soho. When we got to the Wag Club we saw a hungry crowd pushing their way down the queue. We moved to the front, blagging our way in. Once in we could see our man on the decks controlling his flock and pushing out the raw funk sound that the soul scene had lost. This was the beginning of the underground funk scene, which would change black music in this country for a generation. Forget the term ‘Rare Groove’ as this name only came about later. Barrie’s Friday night at the Wag influenced a host of other nights, including Shake ‘n’ Finger Pop, Family Function, and Jazzie B’s Soul II Soul, at the African Centre.
Inner London was now buzzing with the funk, after this we crossed paths with Barrie on several occasions. Barrie was not an easily contented man and always pushed things forward at a pace, any boundaries and obstacles in his path were knocked to one side. His latest venture was to put a style to this sound. He scooped up a few old buddies mainly a certain Eddie Prendergast from East Ham, Marco Cairns from Barking, and Cliff Bowen from Loughton, together they started pumping out the original selvedge denim stuff on the streets of Camden. The boys at American Classic’s and all the ‘trendy’ London stores would later take up their street style. This Camden pitch funded the opening of the first Duffer shop in Portobello Road, which brought a clothing style to match the sound.
The Wag got too big and Barrie needed to move on and host his own night, hence the start of The Cat in the Hat Club. Now there was a platform to move things a little bit further. This club still remains one of my main influences even to today. Soho day-life, especially retail, was still trying to shake of its seedy 70’s porn look that suppressed it. Barrie and the boys had moved into one of the side streets dropping one of the flagging team members from Manor Park on the way. The street was on its knees looking really tired. Three months later the shop was thriving and the Duffer label was upon us. Barrie being ever more adventurous saw what was coming and alongside the Staple Duffer Crisp ‘London-look’ developed a style to enhance this new breed that was coming through. Up popped the smiley-tee alongside bringing in labels from America like Schott, New Era, and Red Wing alongside the Duffer four-stripe tracksuit.
The Black Market record store opened two doors down a few months later, which became the voice for house music for London. Seeing this Barrie decided to re-launch The Cat in the Hat right in the heart of posh Mayfair. This club night had a different flavour from the original night a few years back, mixing up the new garage and house stuff from NYC alongside obscure disco. This was House for real people and earmarked the phrase ‘we don’t trance we dance’. The new club attracted a sharper looking dude who wanted to get down without dropping an E. Whilst this was happening I remember getting snippets of what Barrie was doing in the background. At the same time Jazzie B was developing his sound and was busy in his studio. Jazzie launches his first vinyl and then on his tail Barrie puts out the ‘Masterplan’. It had been many years since American club culture stood up and looked in the direction of London. Soul II Soul and Barrie Sharpe had arrived; mainstream people now knew who they were. The Duffers uprooted from Soho and moved the clothing label to the heart of Covent Garden. Never before had three boys with an East End background put their clothing label amongst the ‘big boys’. People took note and awards followed.
Down the line I could tell that Barrie was getting bored with the direction Duffer was going, and once the European investors were on the horizon he upped and jumped ship. From then on Duffer slipped into what I called the ‘CBBC presenter look’. Barrie went back to Soho and launched Sharpeye, his new clothing label.
Hitting his fifties Barrie wasn’t going to lay down easy, nah this ain’t his style. Instead he’s evolved his sound and has now launched The Nu Acid Funk, keeping to his pure roots and only released on vinyl. To compliment this he launches a new club night ‘Big Stuff ‘with long time buddy Femi Fem (Shake ‘n’ Finger Pop). When people talk about a certain Norma Jay inventing the so-called ‘Rare Groove scene’ back in the eighties, I’d say don’t believe the hype; if you were there you knew who the main player was; Barrie Sharpe.