Suzy Mason: Full Interview

Duration 1:01:45


Suzy Mason
Interviewed by Alys Duggan
28th January 2019

AD: This is Alys Duggan interviewing for West Yorkshire Queer Stories on the 28th January 2019. Would you like to introduce yourself?

SM: Um, my name is Suzy Mason and, er, I am a she, I was born in Leeds in 1964 where I still live and, um, I am female.

AD: Ok great, do you wanna just tell me a bit about yourself and your involvement in the Leeds night scene?

SM: Um, yeah. I liked going to parties when I was young, and I liked dressing up and it was really nothing more – kind of, er, nothing more than that really. When I was at school, there was, um – The Warehouse opened and that was the alternative nightclub in Leeds, where if you weren't, um, what we used to call Sharon and Tracey's in those days, like, you know just like kind of ordinary girls that just wanted to go out and get a boyfriend, we would all go down to The Warehouse and that was where they'd play like the goth music and you know it was just artists would go there and musicians would go there. So, that was my kind of first introduction to night clubs really, and I really loved it.

And then, um, I left Leeds, um, and went to Goldsmiths, to art school in London, and I was there for about five/six years in London. And I came back to Leeds, um, and there'd been a really bad recession, half of Leeds was boarded up, there was like nowhere to go out, it was really like a cultural wilderness after being in London so long, I was living in the East End in squats and things and a big group of artists, so I was really quite unhappy when I came back.

And um – so, we used to go to the Faversham which was like the only kind of pub where everybody would go really. And um, and then the rave scene kind of really kicked off and we started going raving and there were these big kind of nights that were just in – you know legal raves, so we'd go down the service station and meet people at, um, random places and you'd drive down country lanes and – there was a big night that they used to do called Ark at what was Leeds Polytechnic now - then, but is now Leeds Beckett – the Union. And it was quite insane, we'd never heard music like that, um, and I loved it, and they didn't play that music on Radio 1, they didn't sell the clothes in the mainstream shops like Topshop or anywhere like that, they didn't sell the clothes everybody was wearing.

So there was this whole underground scene and little businesses started popping up everywhere, like little fashion boutiques – so little designers, you know, local people or students that were just making clothes and we'd just buy them and wear them – or vintage. And if you wanted to get the cassettes of the music you'd have to go and meet somebody in a pub somewhere or down a service station and get hold of these cassettes which were like gold. And, um, and it was really, really exciting and it just felt like we were part of a – like a wave of some kind of, kind of a new feeling really, and um, and you could see this kind of – like people starting to kind of come into Leeds as well and, like, things happening.

And then – and I, I went for quite a long time with my friends, and then, I started to feel that it was very, very straight and very – one night I went into the girls' toilets and I thought I was in the boys’ toilets, but not in that kind of like unisex way, just that it was so rough. And there were no – there was no way – nobody was wearing any makeup, no heels, and, you know, I loved dressing up and I loved glamour and I just started to feel that, you know that, I didn’t – I just didn't feel like I could kind of express myself how I wanted to. And um, I just had this idea to start this fantasy club where – I don't know, I think growing up like in the ‘60s and ‘70s and being with Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe and all those films that I was kind of, you know, exposed to, I had that sense of, kind of, glamour, and I liked art. And these raves were purely about the music and your whole kind of experience and taking drugs and just losing yourself. So I wanted to set up an art club where we could put local artists and have lots of art on the walls and people could dress up, and we had cigarette girls and – cos you could smoke then in clubs – and, and as a bit of an antidote to what was going on, cos like any massive scene that's really exciting it will always turn, and it will always become about the money, and it will always become kind of corporate. It's just the way humans work.

So, um, and it was just a joke really, I just had this idea and my friend said, "Ohh I'd come I'd come". So, at the time I had a boyfriend and he was a musician, and we went to this little club and we said – we went down and we did all the artwork and everything and we went in and we said, “We'd like to do a night”, and he just went, "Oh we're full, we're not interested”. Really, really rude to us, totally dismissed us. And we said, “Oh we'll just leave it anyway”. And it was in an envelope, the concept. And we walked out, we walked down the street, and um, he came running after us, so he must've looked at it, he came running after us, he said, "Oh you can do it, I love it I love it, you can start straight away, you can have the club for six weeks for free".

And – so we started on a Tuesday night, with our friends. And we had cabaret acts – and I think that's when I started to – we started to uncover like lots of old cabaret acts, cos it wasn't fashionable anymore, so there were lots of like drag acts, that had kind of been popular in the, kind of, ‘70s and ‘80s and stuff and it was just like, they were just out of fashion. So we got them all down, and it was just great. And, um, sword swallowers, and snake charmers, anything we could find that was as bizarre as possible that we could expose people to. And then, we just asked everybody to work for us for free, and we said, "If you work for us for free and it takes off, we'll give you all a paid job in six weeks”. And it did.

And it was great, and it was very glamorous, and we had lots of beautiful girls there. And then, what started to happen from that is that we started to attract lots of groups of boys that were drunk, and we realised we had to put a really tight door policy in place, to protect the girls. And that was myself included, cos I had grown up going to clubs where you just knew it was dangerous, you knew you'd get your bottom pinched, you knew that you'd get harassed by other girls cos they'd be looking you up and down and everybody was so competitive and that was – and you knew, as a boy, you knew you'd probably get beaten up if you were gay or if they just didn't like the look of you, and you'd probably come home without your teeth. And that was kind of the deal, you didn't even question it, um, so I was just like, "We're putting this policy in place”. And it was very much about protecting women, for me, and – because I'd made this beautiful cigarette box and I'd made it all out of black velvet and I'd decorated it all and, um, and this boy had just walked up and he'd just flicked ash in my box, like really disrespectfully, and it sounded like nothing, and now I can laugh, but at the time I was cross and I just said, "Please don't do that”. And he went, "I'll do whatever I want", and I said, "Well, actually you won't", d'you know what I mean [laughs]. I said, "Cos if you disrespect me, I'll have you thrown out". And it just kind of came out, and I was only 26, and he said, um, "Oh yeah, as if you could have me thrown out, you're just a cigarette girl". And I said, "No I'm not I actually run this night”. So I walked over to the doorman and I said, "I want you to throw him out", and he said, "Why love, what's he done?" and I said, "He's flicked ash in my box”. Well they were just rolling around the floor laughing at me, and um, just didn't take me seriously, but they did ask him to leave, and he came back week after week on the door and threatened the staff. Never got back in, but at that point I realised that what I'd done was actually important because even though that act was actually quite small, once they do that then it's always something a bit – they push it a bit further and a bit further in terms of disrespect.

And, and then the big factor for me was, um, um, a while after that a boy came – a gay boy came in, in little like Y-fronts and a little denim jacket, and he walked in, and the doorman had just a complete knee-jerk homophobic reaction, he just went duf, punched him straight in his face and broke his nose. And everybody thought – not our crowd, but everybody that worked in that club thought that was okay. Because that was okay, that had happened, that had happened to my friends when I was at school. Like my best friend was gay when I was at school, he'd come out to me and – you know, there was – that was how the culture was in – not just in Leeds but I think – I mean it was still actually illegal when I was born. To be gay. It's hard to imagine that now, um, so, I was so cross, um, and I demanded that the doorman was sacked, and I ended up having a really big argument with the club owner, and after that everything kind of deteriorated with him, and we decided to leave, and, he didn't like the direction we were taking the club, he didn't like our kind of, er, welcoming of gay boys, d'you know what I mean, and he just wanted it to be glamorous with beautiful girls to attract older men to spend money behind the bar.

So we started to – and I was starting to really kind of understand what I wanted to do, and what I actually also – I realised then that I actually had some power. Not in a negative way but in a positive way, and I could actually make a club environment a safer space, and – for all the people that actually were always being ignored. And um, cos before I started the club, when I got bored of all the big, straight raves, I started going to gay clubs, and I liked them because they were much more fun and much more glamorous. But I was just a fag hag, that's what you were, you were just a fag hag, and you weren't actually being catered for as a girl.

So, and um, so, we left, and we started Vague, which was absolutely kind of clear mission with its politics stated. We had a statement of intent, printed out on an A4 sheet of paper with a clipboard that everybody had to sign before they came in. Um. And, it basically said that anybody that had any issue with anybody that was different from themselves, whatever their colour, whatever their age, whatever their gender, whatever their sexual preference was, that they should just go away and leave us alone, and not bother trying to get in. And, um, and we had a girl called JoJo who's now the presenter on Capital, the breakfast presenter, and she was a drama student and she came, and she ran our door for us, like really strictly. And, people just responded to it in a really positive way, and the biggest kind of response that I got was that lots of gay women started coming because they said they'd always been in the back – you're always in the back room if you're gay, you're always downstairs in the basement or you're always just shut away, and kind of the dance scene brought everybody out, because of the music, but this was, um, very very specifically not a straight club and not a gay club. We are actually cited in Wikipedia as being the first kind of purpose-built mixed space, and that was really, really deliberate because, in the beginning a lot of people say, "Well are you gay or are you straight?", or "What percentage is gay, what percentage is straight?" And for me it was really, really important to – if people are not sure, or they are sure but they don't know about whether they wanna tell their families, their friends, all of these kind of things. And I was just feeling my way because I hadn't even experienced that myself yet. And, it was like, I don’t – personally I don't believe in segregation. I understand the need for it, for protection, but I don't see it as an ideal or as a way forward. And for me it was really important that people could come in, and they could bring their friends, they could bring their brother, they could bring their sister, and you might not all be gay, d'you know what I mean? So you've got to have that kind of environment where people could, it was a bit more gentle really.

And, and it was very much about play and art and dressing up. And it was – and it just took off, and it took off, kind of, it kind of just was like a rollercoaster, it just caught us all, kind of, by accident. I was running it then with – well we had two different, one was – I was going out with Paul, and then a boy that we met, that was, um, came on board to do our, er, PR for us, and promotions and stuff, Nick, and, it was just, er – and they started DJing in drag and again that was – they'd started that at the KitKat to get rid of all those boys, and to kind of, to threaten them really, to make them question themselves, and then you can kind of work out what people are thinking, cos if they respond positively, er – you have to introduce people to, er, other people that they don't understand. I mean I – one – we started a membership at Vague that was very, very strict.

AD: Can I just clarify, so, the first one that you started was that at The Warehouse and that was the KitKat club?

SM: No that was at a club called Arcadia, which was down the Grand Arcade.

AD: OK, and was that the KitKat Club?

SM: Yeah.

AD: And that's when you disagreed with the owner.

SM: And that ran in 1992, from February to November.

AD: Okay, and then you moved to The Warehouse?

SM: Yeah – we moved to actually a club called High Flyers for six weeks, I forgot about that. In April ‘93, just because we wanted a Saturday night venue, cos we were busy and it was really hard to get a Saturday night anywhere, and, we got a Saturday night there cos they were not doing very well. But they were in loads of trouble the club and, um, we did six weeks and on the sixth week we walked in and there was like – they were taking the sound system out and we had to beg this company that – obviously that put it in, cos we hadn't paid for it, to leave it in for this night. And there was no alcohol and we had to go to Tesco and go and buy loads of booze and, um. And then – and we had Princess Julia up from London who was like – you know we were so proud to have her up as our DJ for the first time cos I really wanted to book female DJs.

And, and she was like, the best in London, and she came up and she played. And then at the end of the night they wouldn't pay us, and [laughs] one of the guys that was, you know, running the club – they had a basement downstairs and they had this like metal door on it, and I went downstairs and he just like locked me in and he was like, "Oh I'm not gonna pay you". And I was like – I was kind of this victim of, like, prejudice, like, because everybody thought that – cos I spoke quite nicely and I was a girl in club land, that I obviously had a really rich daddy and I didn't have to do anything. But that actually wasn't true. And, so, I just wasn't stupid, and, so, he said, "Oh you don't need the money", and bla bla bla. And, then he got his – he got this baseball bat out and I was – I was really, really scared, and then I kind of said to myself, "Right, he – he and me don't live in the same world and we don't kind of vibrate on the same level, so he can't actually hurt me." I had to kind of tell myself that and I just ended up kind of, I didn't get the money, but I just – he let me out, and he left me alone, but I didn't get the money. And then we got upstairs and he came upstairs and he started this massive fight with his staff, and we just had to kind of escape, and we had this van and we just loaded all our stuff into the van, cos we had loads of decor, and we'd dressed all the club up and visuals and projectors, we had all our staff, we had our door people, we had drag queens, and we just all piled into this van, and we fled from there – and it was like throwing bottles into the van – and we just fled. And we lived in this flat in Hyde Park and we drove, home, and everybody fell out of the van, and the police arrived and was like, "What's going on here?" And we just said, "Oh just go down to High Flyers because it's all kicking off”.

And when we – when we kind of got over that – and we had to tell Princess Julia that we couldn't pay her, which was, er, awful, and then, we decided to, um, go to The Warehouse. We decided to proposition The Warehouse and they had a night in there and we went and we said, "How many people have you got in?" and they didn't have many numbers so we said, "If you take us, we'll fill it". And we did. And it was really – it was a great relationship because the manager was gay, and he was older, he was like in his 40s and he’d – he loved the club, we'd gone there when we were younger like as teenagers and the actual space was really nice because it was the ground floor, it had like a – it was like a house. It had a ground floor, it had an upstairs, it had windows you could see out. And everything about it just felt right, and we were really happy there.

And um, and then. So, but – but Vague was like, it just kicked off. We were just getting so much publicity. People were coming from London, they were coming from Europe, I mean you could literally – the queues would start at six, seven, eight o'clock at night. People would queue all night just to get in, it'd be literally one in one out. And in those days you had to shut the clubs at two, cos of the licensing laws. And, you know, we were forever going on about changing the laws cos, you know, it was crazy, and then all our customers were coming out at two o'clock, with the rest of Leeds, so it was a nightmare for the police. And that's when all the clashes would happen.

So we went to court, and there was Lorna Cohen who was this fabulous magistrate, and we went to court and we pleaded for the first late licence in Leeds, on special needs, and I stood up and I said, you know, our customers needed protecting and they really couldn't be exposed to standing in taxi queues and all the rest of it, and walking through the city centre when everybody was spilling out at two o'clock, and could we stay another two hours. And they said yeah! So we got the first late licence in Leeds. And um, and we could trade ‘til four without alcohol, we had to shut the bars down at two. And, that was quite fabulous as well, and um – but it's really hard to explain what Vague was like cos people still talk about it to me that they've never experienced anything quite like it, um, but it – I think it wasn't just the club, it was the zeitgeist of the time, it was all this – it was the new music, it was kind of the fact that it was really inter-generational – you had teenagers in there.

There was no, um, IDing then, so if you told the doorman what your birthday was he just let you in, so there were a lot of girls in there that were 14, 15 years old. Which, um, I kind of rationalised by knowing that they would be going clubbing anyway, and I thought if they're gonna go clubbing anyway it's better if they're in here because we will look after them. And we knew not to let bad drug dealers in who would sell dodgy drugs, we knew to police the club, we knew how to look after them. We knew how to check that they were alright, we'd always put them in a taxi home. All sorts of things that we offered, that would make, kind of, a girl’s kind of rite of passage, if you like, a little bit safer.

And, so that was really important to us. And then, we had, um, er – like I say we had a program to champion girl DJs, and, and it – you just, I just think that we had – like I say we had people from about fifteen years old to about 50, and it was that kind of inter-generational, kind of, experience that I'd not experienced cos normally you’d go to a club – well clubs were teenagers. There were clubs in Leeds for like 30 somethings that were normally like, were people that were divorced and looking for love the second time round and it was very much like that, in these little – everybody was in their little fixed groups. So this was just this melting pot of different ages, sexualities, races, and I hadn't experienced that before. And neither had many people so it was just – I think that was what was really special about it. But it was that time as well, and we were all listening to music that nobody had heard before and I think that kind of – and taking drugs that nobody’d taken before, because this was also that boom where ecstasy arrived. So, it all kind of was hand in hand. So there was almost like, um, like religious almost, like spiritual kind of people kind of experiencing something kind of en masse.

AD: What kind of music did you have?

SM: House music, yeah. So, and – then upstairs we played like disco, soul, funk, you know, anything, and we had like, um - we would always allow – like anybody that wanted to be a DJ we would always find a slot for them as well. So you could trial – people could kind of dip their toe in, they could try things out, we created lots of opportunities. Anybody wanted to do any performance, any art, anything that they wanted to do they could come and suggest to us and we would give them a little platform and see how they went. And then, um, and it got so hedonistic, obviously, it got kind of a bit crazy, you know. And then what happened was we started getting lots of offers, like we had a – we had a night that people still talk about as being so fabulous but I actually hated it. And it was, er – we had a collaboration with Radio 1, and we had Pete Tong come to the club, and there were literally thousands of people outside, that had never been to Vague. And, it was like such a massive deal that Pete Tong was coming because he was like the God DJ at the time, and it was Radio 1, it was being live broadcast etcetera etcetera. So, it was like we'd arrived, do you know what I mean? And I was in that club that night and I just thought, “I don't like this, this is just full of strangers, this is like a boys' club”. And, it, it really upset me.

And after that the boys that I was working with they started getting loads of DJ work so they were kind of on tour all the time, so the club very much fell to me. And, and I met a girl that was a customer there, and she'd come in, um, with her friend and she'd basically asked me for a membership and, er, she said, "Oh I've never spoken to a club promoter before, they're normally always in the back, you know, snorting coke, I've never actually spoken to one". And we got friends, and, um, and that was Kas, and we became friends and then, we ended up like in a relationship together, and, that kind of really threw me, because, by that point I was 28 and I'd kind of – I'd been talking about all of this from other people's point of views because I had friends in this situation and it was all about other people and how I could support other people, and then I found myself in that situation and I literally went from being – living in one reality, walking down the street with a boy, to being exactly the same person, walking down the street with a woman, and, I suddenly lived in another world in terms of how I was treated. And that – that was massive. That was a massive driver for me as well.

And after that, um, er, they – I split up with the boys and they bought me out, went our – they went to London, um, because it was untenable because we didn't have the same vision at all, and I didn't wanna book these big DJs anymore. And it had got to a point with the DJs where they, er, the circuit DJs, they were so big that they'd literally, they'd – they'd want about 800 pound a night, and they'd come, and they'd tell you when they were coming, so they'd only – they'd maybe come – I remember once we booked a DJ and it was like meant to be like 12 til two and they turned up about 1:15. And they wanted a huge fee, they wanted a rider, they wanted four hotel rooms for their friends, etcetera, etcetera. Which is alright, but the club was only 550/600 people and, um, and then they turned up late, they DJ'd for like half an hour and just said they had another gig to go to. And you had to pay up front. And I just thought, "Do you know what? They can just all sod off". I had like queues of young kids desperate to get on those decks, didn't want any money, just wanted to get on the decks. So, it wasn't I wanted to save money, it just seemed stupid to give hundreds and hundreds, probably a grand to a stranger, when I could share it out, and give six kids an opportunity. So, and that, that was where we started – it started to fall apart really, the vision of Vague.

AD: So at that stage, when Vague was happening, would you tend to book different DJs each time, big names, or was it –

SM: Yeah we started booking a name a week, yeah, cos that was how it was, and then we'd use our residence would be our local. So, when, when I left Vague – ‘96 we did it for three years, I was actually quite heartbroken, I was heartbroken because I felt like I'd been pushed out because, um, the guys that owned the Faversham then, which is very different from who owns it now, was, they were putting the money up to buy me out and they had all these ideas of what they were gonna do with it and I felt like if I didn’t – I had no choice to leave because I felt like I couldn't fight them and I felt like it had been like, um, it felt like I was being overlooked and what I was saying was – they were just saying, "Oh Suzy just wants it all to be all like nice and local”. Like it was, um, irrelevant, that local things weren't as important as, er, big, international tours, and I was like, "I don't want to tour Vague", cos that's just a banner and a DJ, and a room full of strangers.

So, we left and, at that – just before we left I had started a boutique – I'd opened a boutique in Leeds, called SpeedQueen, um, and that was actually called SpeedQueen and it was actually named after an industrial washing machine company because I have got a massive collection of washing powders, like 300 from all over the world that I've been collecting since I was a student, and so it was just – and I put them on display. And I opened the shop because we had an office, in Blayd’s Yard, our first Vague office. And, because of all the clothes we were wearing at Vague, and it's hard to imagine now but you actually couldn't buy glitter in Leeds, you couldn't buy black lipstick, nail varnish, all the little, kind of, glittery bindis that everybody wore. Um, it was just really hard to buy those clothes, and I was going to London, to get all this makeup and stuff and everybody was asking me for it, so I thought, well, rather than just get another office space I'll get something with like a little shop and a hangout, and, like a community centre. So, I did that, and um, and that was in ‘96 and it was – so I set it up completely non-gender. So I just sold clothes, and I didn't put any – obviously they were male and female cos kind of you buy them like that, some of them, um. But I deliberately tried to buy things that weren't, or if they were I just mixed them all together. So, I just put dresses or I'd put shoes, I managed to find, um, a contact in LA where they sold shoes like in really large, you know really high shoes, um, in large sizes, so we had – we could, um, any – we had a lot of cross dressers that come to the club. And all the terminology now has changed kind of beyond – when I read our literature back from the 90s and the wording, it would probably sound offensive now, but it wasn't, it was the language of the time.

So it's, er, and we had a lot of men who would actually dress up as women but they were married and they were fine, and that's just something they wanted to do on a Saturday night, we had a lot of drag queens, we had like trans women, and so we sold all those shoes like in larger sizes, and all sorts of clothes, and then we got loads and loads of kind of quite quirky and unusual independent designers that would sell – make and sell clothes for anybody. So it was all mixed up together. And that was great and it was really good fun, and there was nothing like it, and there's still nothing like it. There's not been a shop really like that and –

AD: Where was it, the shop?

SM: It was down, um, King Charles Street, it's gone now the actual shop cos it's all been bought out by Specsavers, so, it just was the back entrance there, down a little side street. So it was a really good hangout. And we had a sofa, and you know people could come in and just talk about the club, they could come and talk about their problems, they could just sit on the sofa if they didn't have anywhere to go. And people used it, you know they used it a lot as just like a little stop-off point. And, er, kind of er ad-hoc counselling, all sorts of stuff went on in there, that was all very, um, nothing was really formalised, and nothing was really kind of thought-through really, it was all very instinctive. Um, loads of drag – so we mixed kind of fancy dress, we mixed dressing up, we mixed drag with fashion and vintage, and just anything that we kind of wanted to buy or people asked for.

And then, so, after I left Vague, um, I ran a club for a few months called I-Spy with Kas, that was our first venture together, and that was in a really – that was down Boar Lane at a club called Nato, which shut down, and it was – that was really hard because it was a Friday night and it was on Boar Lane which is rough. Friday night’s always been rough in Leeds so – we were quite exposed because The Warehouse is great cos it was hidden and it was down a side street so you could always guarantee customers were safe because you could just, um, you could get a taxi to it, you could walk to it and you were hidden. But Boar Lane you were seriously exposed, so it was a real challenge for us. Um, but it worked, and people came and, you know, they liked it and our door – we had to have a really, really tight door.

And then um, er, we left there because we had a regular member who was in a wheelchair, cos he'd had a car accident when he was a teenager. And in The Warehouse, obviously it was on the ground floor and everything it was fine, and again this is going back to the ‘90s where, kind of, disability was not something that people thought about at all, and they hadn't passed the laws yet where they had to have – like access laws and things like that so. And er, he came into the club when it was downstairs in the basement and he was carried down, and one night the owner came in, and um – I mean it was always gonna be like an interim move for us because it was just what was available at the time. And, we didn't wanna break up that kind of scene, but the owner who lived in London came up to Leeds and saw this boy and said to me, like, "What is he doing in the club?" and I was like, "What do you mean?" and he said, "Well, he's a fire hazard, get him out". And he just – I said, "Well you can't do that". And he said, "Well, why is he here anyway? What's he doing in here?" And I said to him, "Well, just because he can't use his legs doesn't mean he doesn't want to listen to music and be with his friends and have a beer". And he really didn't get it, like really, really didn't get it. And he was a horrible man and we had a massive argument and we decided to leave. I just thought, "I don't wanna make money for him. I don't wanna work with him". So we walked out and, I didn't tell this boy until this year that that's why we'd left. Just before he came to – I gave a talk in the Leeds International Festival and he came to that and then we did a party afterwards and after I told him he made a T-shirt that said "Fire Hazard". He came to the party in this T-shirt.

So, um, but – and then The Warehouse was free, the people that had been working in there that had taken over on the Saturday, they – it hadn't worked out. And we got a call from the manager and he just said, "Why don't you come back to The Warehouse?" So we did and we went back there and, um, he put this big banner up across the stage that just said, "Welcome Back Suzy and Kas". And, um, and we just rolled there for a long time, and that's where we built the, um, we built the community. That's what I decided I wanted to do, we got rid of all the big DJs and everything, we just built this proper community for Leeds, and the club was for them. And the whole of the membership was, if anybody had any problem with anybody, they had the right to have them thrown out, and that's what they knew. So anything, any bad behaviour wasn't tolerated, and it just kind of – it's almost like we made the club so female and so light, and we put all this imagery all over that was really – positive affirmations and cartoons and – a lot of people thought it was really tacky but it was very, very deliberate because it meant that when people came in they almost just kind of like dropped any kind of aggression and it kind of created this almost like a cartoon environment so people kind of behaved in a much kind of lighter way. And that was really important and then we, we employed –

AD: And you named it SpeedQueen after that?

SM: Yeah, and we called it SpeedQueen. And then we, and then we kind of, we had some drag queens that worked for us – but not as showgirls or anything like that, they were very, very deliberately brought in to just talk to people, and allow people to kind of understand who they were and where they were coming from and – and just, that was really important. We had a boy that came in once – cos they couldn't get a membership unless they came to me, and they had to find me, and then I had to give them a form, and then they had to take it away and bring me back a passport photograph, and then I'd make them a little card with a laminating machine and a staple gun. So it was all really kind of handmade, so it was quite a lengthy process. And my reasoning for that was by the time they'd gone through all that they would really want to be a member and they would have had to spoken to quite a lot of people. Cos normally on the door they'd say, "Oh you have to get a membership off Suzy". and they'd say, "Oh, she's, er, really tall and blonde". Actually I was quite small and had really dark hair so it would just be like to allow them to kind of move through the club and communicate.

And then one night a boy said to me – he came and asked for membership and I was a bit like, "Oh", cos I was a bit superficial and I just thought he hasn't got any glitter on him or – and um, and he just – he said to me, "I've left all my friends to come here”, he said, "They won't come." He said, um, "I used to hate gay people”, he said, “but I don't know why I've come here”, he said, “but I love it”, he said, “and I've learnt so much", he said, "and I'm so ashamed of what I used to be like", he said, "and I've left" – this is what he told me he said he's left all his friends – he was basically kind of reinventing himself and I just looked at him and I just thought well, "That's one person, when he has children he isn’t gonna pass that on”. And he became such a fantastic like regular member.

And so there was a real mix of, like, people that just got it, people that kind of were – I just was constantly trying to educate people. And then, when all the straight boys were getting their bums pinched by the gay boys they'd be like, "Suzy, he’s pinched my bum!" and I'd be like, "Yes, and now you know how girls feel, now you know what you've been doing for all those years to girls". And they'd just like walk away scratching their heads so it was just, it was really that, kind of just explaining to people that, you know, – I think people are a lot more switched on now. But, you know this is, this quite a long time ago, and if you think the culture that they'd grown up in, that I'd grown up in, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, people had very, very strict stereotypical behaviour, kind of, er, forced on them, like I did, as a girl.

I was really expected to look a certain way and behave a certain way. And be submissive. And be nice. And all of these things that were just totally normal to me, um, and the same for boys, you know, like growing up, you know, they were all expected to be kind of hard and strong, and – and you know, when you're kind of, in an environment where you actually think, "Actually, that's just conditioning that's not actually who I am". There was a lot of that going on for a lot of people. Because there weren't, there weren't as many options, like open options I think to kind of explore your identity. So we were very much an environment where people could do that. And also to give people the right and the opportunity to, er, change that identity. So, you might identify as, you know, I was a straight girl, I fell in love with a woman, you know, it's like, you're allowed to be fluid, your life's allowed to evolve, you're allowed to evolve. Without getting trapped and saying, "Well I'm this so I have to stay this forever". And I think, I still think that's really important for, you know for kind of personal development because life's long, if you're lucky enough to live long [laughs]. You really don't know what's gonna happen to you, what you're gonna experience or who you're gonna fall in love with, or what life's going to kind of, kind of throw at you really. So I think if you – and sometimes people really know, they have a really strong sense of their own identity when they're very young, but for some people they don't and it can take a lot longer to find themselves. And that could be family, parents, conditioning or just you know the fact that, you know, I s'pose we're all different.

AD: And did you, cos you obviously had a very strong sense of responsibility for your customers that they felt welcome and happy and safe within the nights you were running. Did you have any difficulties with – like inside – with discrimination?

SM: Yeah. In the beginning. In the very beginning at Vague, I remember talking to a big promoter in Manchester and telling him what I was gonna do and I said, “I'm gonna open this club in Leeds and it's gonna be mixed and basically I'm gonna put gay people and straight people, and black people and white people, and young people and old people together”. And he just laughed at me and he said, "You're crazy, it won't work". You know he was promoting The Haçienda, he was massive, and he just said, "It'll never work in Leeds, Suzy. There'll be bloodshed". And I thought, "Well, I'm from Leeds and I want this and I'm an ordinary girl, so I reckon loads of other people do".

And there was, yeah there were a few, kind of – there were a lot of elbows out, you know there were a lot of people elbowing people and there were a lot of people – like I said before, they wanted to kind of really, they wanted percentages of gay/straight/black/white, it was – you know, people were kind of, "What is it?", they didn't understand it. Some people – you know they were uncomfortable with it. Um, and there were a few – there weren't fights – bad fights or anything like that but there was a few – there was some aggressive behaviour definitely. And a lot of people were thrown out of the club, you know weeded out really, really quickly. We had a good door team, we worked really strongly with them and it – we just – we had to kind of state our colours like really, really clearly. So we would have rather have had 300 people in there instead of 600. 300 of the right people rather than 600 of the wrong people. And we never would have overfilled it.

So, you know, we had two people working on the door all the time, everybody was interviewed. I mean JoJo used to make the boys do all sorts of things. There was one time when you couldn't get in there if you didn't have a skirt on. Any boy. Boys would be like, "I've got my wife's skirt on!"/"I've got my girlfriend's skirt on, please can I come in ?!" And they might stand there for ten weeks with a skirt on, until we were sure that – it sounds like [laughs] trying to break them down psychologically – but until we were actually sure that they actually kind of really wanted to experience this in a positive way, and then – and it worked, you know people kind of got it. But you could never stop, even though there was no trouble later on, you could never stop having that really tight door and that, um, relationship with your doorman and your security and your members, cos people would always – there'd always be somebody wanted to cause trouble. But you know as long as you're kind of, aware of that, I think, and that people are aware of it, it just – they just kind of got to a point where they'd just go somewhere else cos it wasn't worth the hassle.

AD: Did you feel like, um SpeedQueen was more personal for you than Vague, now that you were in a relationship with Kas, or?

SM: No, I think I felt that, when I started, er, the KitKat and Vague, um, I was younger, I was very naive. So I was just quite wide-eyed, and I was having all these experiences myself for the first time, you know with the music and the clubbing and the partying, so I was the same as the customers. Um. Same age as a lot of them. Um. When I moved into SpeedQueen then and I was like, um, starting – you know I was, I think I was just turning 30 so by this point, you know, you start to think there could have been like ten, twelve years between me and the youngest customers and I felt more experienced and I felt more, um, like I could really, um… er, kind of, take more kind of control of what I was doing, I wasn't so like involved in experiencing it and my personal life and everything it was just – I just understood it more and I understood what people needed more, and I understood more how important it was to build this community, rather than just going out and having loads of fun. Yeah I'm not saying I didn't enjoy SpeedQueen, but it was more like, it had become more like a job to me, in the best possible way, rather than an experience.

AD: Was the music similar to Vague?

SM: Well we've always been a house music club yeah, and we've always had that kind of two-room policy but you know music kind of does change, you know, so. But we've always been quite an upbeat, uplifting kind of funky house kind of night, we haven't really steered away from that. When some of the music got like really kind of harder and into techno we didn't – you know we play some hard house and stuff but not, not – we didn't really move into that darker music.

Um, and then, um, I think one of the most, er, kind of, one of the biggest experiences that we had was, we got asked by NATO, by the stabilisation force escort under NATO to – if we would go and work in Bosnia, because, there was a guy there in the British Army who read about the kind of work we were doing in Leeds, in terms of integration. And he’d started a program to try and integrate the young displaced people after the war because there'd been this huge genocide in Bosnia ten years previously. And, he'd told us that the older generation were even more prejudiced after the war, like more set in their ways, and they were trying to, they were trying to integrate the youth through music. And so you had like Serbs and Turks and Croatians and Muslims, and they didn't mix at all, and he asked if we would go out there, like for ten days, and run some club nights where they were gonna try and integrate the youth and we said yeah.

And um, then he asked me if we would work with children. And – so we ended up – there were about fifteen of us who went out there, took the DJs and our performance artist, trapeze artist, loads of circus equipment, hostesses, and er, and the army flew us out there from Brize Norton. And everybody just worked for free. And, we worked in primary schools, secondary schools, clubs, um, refugee camps. Um. And it was amazing. And the strangest thing for me was, like, we went to this refugee camp in the middle of nowhere and it was cold, it was winter, it was like November, it was freezing. And this guy from Save the Children picked us up in a van and drove us there. And, um. When we got there, there was a little sign above the door that said SpeedQueen entertainment. And there was just this room, and there were all these like teenagers in there, little kids and women. And, they used rape as a weapon of war, so there were a lot of teenagers, young teenagers that had been born to women that had obviously been gang raped and um. And they had no identities. And when I was speaking to the man from Save the Children I said, "Well, they've obviously been kind of, obviously like left". Um, he said, “Well they don’t have one.” He said, “Unless they’re girls, they might be a seamstress if they’re lucky”. But he just wasn't interested. And on that tour I learnt a lot about, um, large charities and the corruption and that fact that a lot of people actually only work there cos they've got this kudos of a cool job with a good salary. And they don't actually care a jot about what they're doing. What they're meant to be doing. And it was really, really upsetting.

And – anyway we did these DJ workshops, and we had children there and they were like literally touching the records as they were going round and putting their hands on the speakers, cos they'd never felt the static, you know. They'd never had a party, like never. And I'd, er, taken all these balloons with me, cos I knew we were gonna be working with children. I was – we had no interpreter. And I was blowing up the – cos the guy from Save the Children had left us there for the day. And, er, I was blowing up balloons for these little children and they were getting really upset with me. And – and I had no idea why because all children love balloons. And, after a while I realised that, why they were getting upset with me was because I was tying a knot in the balloon. And obviously children here, you know, you just tie a knot, they all play with them, blow them up, pop them, that's fine, but they wanted to keep them. So they wanted to hold it and let it down and be able to blow it up again and again and keep it. And once you've blown a – once you've tied a knot in a balloon it's got a finite life hasn't it? So. And it was – I'd never forget that moment really, and um, and we'd – the kids in the primary schools, they were just like, “We’ve never had a school disco”, d'you know what I mean?”

And, er, we've actually got a documentary, er, that was made for it and it was shown on Yorkshire Television, cos a film crew came out with us, and – I think a lot of people felt very different after that. I know me and Kas felt very, very different after that and it kind of changed everything for us because, even though what we were doing in Leeds was very important, it was – we were also caught up in the hedonism of every single Saturday night, and, um, and I was also, like, teaching, I'd been offered a – just like mentoring students at university, like in fashion and stuff, and that just kind of happened by accident cos I'd given a talk, so I was working, you know, doing that in the week as well.

And when we came back from Bosnia, um, I don’t know, it was just – everything just seemed really, really different I can't really explain it. And then we went back the next year, and we – after that we worked with a woman who had set herself up as a one-woman charity, she was Bosnian. And she’d worked for World Vision and she'd experienced all this corruption, which is all kind of coming out now in the media. Um, with charities. So what we would do is we would do club nights, and all the money on the door – which was about 35p to get in or something – but still, there were thousands of people coming and, she would take that money, and then she would directly give it to the orphanages and the children’s homes and people where she could trust the owners. Because what would happen is they'd get a load of money for a charity, they'd buy all the computers for the schools, and then the owner of the school would just sell them the day after. So, the children wouldn't really see very much.

And the feedback that we got from the young people in the clubs was just like, you know, there were a lot of young people who had, um, relationships, er, like there'd be a Serb with a Croatian person or a Muslim and a Croatian, and that’s just – was just not allowed. So, this wasn't sexual prejudice but it was race prejudice. And prejudice is prejudice. And they were saying they weren't allowed to be together. But they could be on that night, in secret. And, they said that they just felt like they'd been forgotten, because of the war there’d been no fashion, no TV, no music. And they were so pleased that we'd come.

And then our DJs started going out there for quite a while after that and sending music and we'd send all sorts of – I used to do up-cycling projects with my students, we'd send big boxes of fashion and clothes and lots of things for children and, um. Because they had the stigma of disability so, a child with a disability would be put in a home. So, we would go and work in the children's homes and we did – it was, it was um – but what I wanted to say was, I had created SpeedQueen specifically for Leeds. And it was, you know, it was about clubs, it was about drugs, it was about sex, it was about all of those very adult kind of issues, or, you know, themes if you like. And we took it to Bosnia, and we worked – there was no drugs, there was no sex, there was no any of that. And we were working with, like, really kind of deprived kids, you know that had been through a war, or born out of war, and, it still worked. And, I think I came away – I came home scratching my head, kind of thinking, "I don't really understand this, why does it work?" Because it was purpose-built for something else. So – but the philosophy, it works in different, you know – because ultimately people need that, don't they? If they've got any kind of displacement, whatever that is.

And um, and I've wrestled with that ever since really, in terms of what SpeedQueen should become, because it got to a point with it when it ran for so long that I felt – I felt quite tired obviously cos I was getting older, and um. And er, I had a child as well, in 2000 I had a daughter, so, I had a – I was teaching, I had the club every week, I had a baby. Um. Me and Kas had broken up before, and so I was on my own. And I was very – I think I just got overwhelmed with everything. And, um, I started to think, "Well maybe somebody else should kind of take this on. Or maybe the jobs done". Because everybody was out, you know, and Fibre opened and all kind of the whole of Lower Briggate started to open up.

And you know, and then kind of the whole of the attitude of society started to change. I mean I remember the first time on TV when I ever saw two girls kiss and it was literally like a [makes short kissing sound], like a quick peck like that and it was on Brookside, a story on Brookside with Anna Friel, and, that must have been the early ‘90s, and I was like so shocked to see that. And when I've seen like over the last, kind of, twenty years like what’s happened in, kind of – I cite TV ads as the kind of – that's what I will – that’s my kind of gauge of society and society's acceptance. And now what you see in terms of, kind of, um, you know the acceptance of, of different kinds of love, is so phenomenal. I never thought it would be possible, when I was running SpeedQueen like 20 years ago, that gay marriage would be – I never thought that would happen in my lifetime, never crossed my mind that that would ever happen. You know it was only just, like I say, made legal when I was a baby but it’s just – and now I see the momentum is happening so kind of fast, um, that I can't keep up with it, you know, and it’s, it’s – and I just think it's amazing. And, and I’d got to the where I just thought, “It's really time for somebody younger and somebody to take over. And my job that I – my part of Leeds and the development and what I fought for has actually been done.” And, I'm not kind of best place to kind of, you know, kind of do whatever needs to be done in Leeds. Cos I really thought, "Ooh everything's fine now. Everybody can just get on and everybody can just go everywhere".

And then, we – we kind of retired from SpeedQueen, I think it was 2006 we stopped running it as a weekly, purely because we were getting tired. And I think a lot of the staff and people and – people had been like, kind of partying hard for, like, years. And we went to a monthly, and we did that for a while and kind of gradually kind of wound down, and then we got to the stage where we'd just do parties if we were asked to do parties. Um, and then, – and then what I've heard recently, a lot, I hear so many things about girls being treated so badly. I hear so many things about students and freshers' night and I'm absolutely horrified. And I think, everything that I was kind of fighting for, and I just think, "Have we just like, somebody just pressed the reset button in Leeds?", you know that it’s – “none of that ever happened? And that it's not actually safe for girls to go out anymore?”

And, that's something that I kind of – and now my daughter's eighteen, and, I sometimes think that we've made so much progress but sometimes I think we haven't made any. Maybe that's just how it feels to everybody when you've – when you’re older and you’ve lived through a whole cycle, kind of a whole generation, I don't know. I know that I grew up with the influence of feminism. Like 1970s feminism, when you’d hear – I remember in school when I was like about eleven/ten and my art teacher was, um, she wore trousers, and it was a really big deal for a woman to wear trousers, we weren't allowed to wear trousers in school. And, I think she was a feminist, and it was one of those words that people would whisper, and, she was an artist as well, and, um, and I remember once, being behind one of the male teachers, er, going through the door, and he was saying, "Bloody feminist", he said, "They want equal rights but they still want the doors opening for them. Bloody feminists". And that was the kind of message that I grew up with, like the whole, "Oh, the Greenham Common women burning their bras", as though there was some kind of – as though women were, kind of, hysterical or, um – I grew up with a very negative, er, kind of, voice about feminism, and yet, I knew that it was really important, and I've always known that it was important, and I used to study the suffragettes myself, off my own initiative, we didn’t have that in the curriculum at school.

And um, so – and then when I got to art school in the ‘80s, and I used to love wearing flowery dresses and red lipstick, I used to get, kind of, quite a lot of hostility because it was that you can't be a feminist if you like lipstick. And then you were like – you had that whole lipstick lesbian, kind of like, you know as though you were somehow less of a – you know, had less value because you liked lipstick but I don't really think that you need to apologise for, if you want to decorate your body. Because, um, it's not really what you do, it's why you're doing it, it's what's motivating you isn't it? But um, so I had a lot – all of these kind of messages and now we're in this very, very, kind of, new time, you know, a new wave of feminism. I kind of sit back and kind of watching it all, in terms of young women. I think in some ways, I don’t know but it seems, like, almost like tougher, in some ways – not for opportunities but –

And then I look at myself, as like an older woman, and, I’m an older woman and I've got grey hair and that in itself has become a massive political statement in terms of being a woman. Because, it’s almost like. Um, I understood when I actively decided to grow my hair out, and go grey. I just did it cos I wanted to know what it looked like, and, I didn't want to dye it anymore, and, because of – it's always like, as a woman, you sort of say, "Why are you dying your hair?" It's fine if you want a different colour, course you can have a different colour, you can have orange, pink, whatever you want, it's your right and a luxury. But it's if you're dying it cos you want to pretend that you're younger or because you're trying to keep your job, or because, you're actively saying, "I'm still fertile", which is what it seems to be to me. You know, so many women have said to me that they would love to do this but they daren't because they think they'd lose their job, or their husband wouldn't like it, you know, and, all sorts of things. So, you know, there's that other issue then of, kind of, young women and my generation, and how we kind of understand each other. I've seen that a lot with the #MeToo campaign as well, there seems to be a lot of older women and younger women having such, kind of, different viewpoints. And it seems quite divisive really, so – I’ve gone off on a tangent now.