As part of LGBT+ History Month 2021, we invited members of our community to share their local memories of living in North Somerset. Our trustee Dave Frost shared his experiences of DJing at the Lodge (formerly in Oxford Street, Weston-super-Mare) in the 1980s. Dave launched a 'Gay Night' at the venue on Sunday evenings, and told us about how it all started...
"The Sunday "Gay Nights" at the Lodge started in February 1987. A farmer's son, smalltown boy and mobile DJ (me) was desperate to start a gay night in Weston, there was literally nowhere at the time between Bristol and Taunton and having made several visits to Oasis in Bristol was under the impression that it needed to be dark, dingy and sweaty and a bit out the way!
The next difficulty was that it needed to be discreet; I had barely come to terms with it myself, yes I was gay, but that wasn't going to go down well amongst my agricultural community - so I chose an ailing backstreet night club that fitted the bill: Canadian Connection on Oxford Street, run jointly by two straight couples. I wrote them a letter and hand delivered it and to my shock got a nervous phone call a few days later to come in and meet them and it was agreed - Gay nights on a Sunday 7-10:30 was all their licence would allow! I'd get paid £15 for my trouble!
With no internet and very few mobile phones, publicising the event was going to be difficult, I sent letters to Gay West, a support group in Avon (now North Somerset) and the Gay Switchboard in Bristol. There was also a pub I'd heard about in Weston called the Britannia Inn where the "Theatre Crowd" met - I knew no-one to spread the word but the club owners Pete and Peter said they would tell a few - but looking at their normal cliental this was an ominous proposal!
The night arrived and I carried my boxes of records to the DJ booth, which remained unchanged during the years I worked there. I played a mix of chart music, LOADs of Stock Aitken & Waterman and Eurobeat disco to an empty room for an hour... But then a couple walked in, then two more and then a short girl who came and had a chat with me - she promised to tell her friends and the crowd from the Brit Pub, The last record played was "So Amazing" by Luther Vandross; the entire cliental all came and thanked me and said good night see you next week... All seven of them!
At the end the manager gave me a pint and I asked if he wanted to continue, he said "we'll give it a month! and the records your playing , they are brilliant!" I didn't know but at the time they sometimes struggled to get more than 12 people in on a Saturday night so 7 on a Sunday was promising.
Week two we got to 15 people and week three, 25 - I had suddenly created a scene in Weston-super-Mare and was actually beginning to meet people. They were arriving from Bristol, Taunton and then Exeter and Cardiff, and yes the locals were trickling in as well, some were however nervous to go to a venue in their home town in case they were spotted by their work mates (sad times). By the second year Spring Bank Holiday the club was reaching capacity and by 8pm the door staff put up notice CLUB FULL!
There was a refurb and the name changed to Tedders then a year later it became The Lodge - it was still dingy with flock wallpaper and sticky carpets. The dance floor was small and sweaty, the overused smoke machine, strobe light and mirrors made the dancefloor look bigger than the tiny slab of wood that it actually was.
The main complaint was that the night ended too soon - we illegally extended till 11pm and then turned the music off for a while - then I'd wait for a signal and start back up again for an illegal and very regular lock-in sometimes eventually leaving in daylight! I was reminded by Helen, the regular door steward of the night the police raided, with the view of arresting everyone they went in thinking at midnight there would be perhaps a dozen people illegally drinking, however there were 50 or more and the police didn't stand a chance. They started taking names and addresses but the slightly tipsy LGBT crowd gave false names and addresses mainly Mickey Mouse and Minnie, and the chant of '2,4,6,8 is that copper really straight!' springs to mind. There was no further action and normal service resumed soon after!
The club management after six months made Tuesday a gay night with much less success however introducing drag acts on Tuesday did increase footfall, it didn't help that some were dire and embarrassing. However some names were the very best in the business including the legendary Dave Lynn, Adrella and Maisie Tollette as well as the late Dockyard Doris! Strippers were also a regular occurrence with Rebel Red making regular appearances and then the stripper who had a huge python wrapped round his naked body... Until it disappeared down a hole in the dancefloor causing mass panic and much hilarity as they pulled the floor up with a crowbar! And the one who swallowed a beer bottle (but not with his mouth) caused gasps of shock and admiration!
When the club went seven nights a week 'gay friendly' the Sunday nights died off a bit there were regular homophobic incidents and the straight management struggled to handle it well. Several other venues in town opened as gay venues in the late 90s and the management of the Lodge failed to work with them effectively causing its gradual demise in the early 2000s.
The DJs were mainly local would-be's who played to the crowd with one notable exception- Stuart Robinson started his career DJing at The Lodge before becoming professional and playing some of the biggest gay venues and club nights in the North of England and Europe - several of us amateurs claim that we taught him everything!
At the time the Lodge was often slated and ridiculed, but there is no doubt that for many people in the late 80s and early 90s it gave them the best of times, the opportunity to be themselves and to meet others and make friends for life. It appears that I actually wasn't the only Smalltown Boy in Somerset 87!"
If you have memories of North Somerset you would like to share, please get in touch! Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to the Get in Touch tab to send a message.