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Kudos Bar, London (with Wilfrid Wood)

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I had never heard of ‘Kudos’, which was an out-of-the-way pub in Charing Cross, London, but I loved hearing from sculptor Wilfrid Wood about his experiences there, and what the place meant to him whilst he was figuring out who he was and what he wanted from life. What I loved most about this conversation was how candid and up-front Wilfrid was… I’m sure you’ll enjoy his frankness too!

Wilfrid 0:00
I like the boys and getting pissed and bitchiness. I mean, that’s that’s quite a good combination.

K Anderson 0:11
Hello! I’m K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces and podcasts that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there and the people that they used to know. Wilfred wood is a London based sculptor who started his career building latex heads for the 80s Classic TV show spitting image. He makes amazing like really amazing sculptures, often quirky busts of celebrities, made of plasticine like Clare Balding Wayne Rooney, and Simon cow. We caught up to discuss kudos a gay bar that was in Charing Cross London. Now there is surprisingly little information about this bar online. So it can’t tell you when it opened. But in amongst the lukewarm reviews on yelp.com, somebody posted that the bar closed in 2014.

Wilfrid 1:37
The tribe that killed us was rice, Queens, and potato queens.

K Anderson 1:41
For those that don’t know, those are kind of broad terms for when you were a rice Queen, you’re a non Asian person that likes Asian men. And when you’re a potato Queen, you’re a non white person who likes white man.

Wilfrid 1:55
Sticky rice, you’re Asian, he likes Asian. And when your mashed potato, you’re white, he likes white.

K Anderson 2:02
I’m learning new things is a very, very exciting.

Wilfrid 2:06
Yeah, there was. I don’t know why gay culture sort of splits. Its fragments itself up in this way. So particularly, but there’s some sort of temptation to do that. I don’t know. I mean, it wasn’t. Now there’s the bears. And there’s twinks. And there’s, yeah, there’s loads and loads and loads of all these types, which are which really exist. And you and you suddenly find I know what happened to me, which is quite funny, in a way, was that when I joined Grindr, which was probably I don’t know, like, five years ago, or something like that, I looked down the list. And I suddenly realized, I’m a dad. And it’s not because I want to, I always assume that somebody sort of sets out to be a dad, and they, they want to be by suddenly, what I don’t fit into any other category. The only one I could be is a dad. So I, you know, you suddenly find yourself in the category, and you feel obliged to call yourself fit,

K Anderson 3:03
because that is really interesting as well, like when your ad, Daddy, suddenly you have to be dominant. And

Wilfrid 3:10
it’s a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy. You know, you you, you look down the list, and you think, well, that’s all I can be. And then you slightly play up to the to your category, which is completely weird. I think it’s all it’s almost sort of marketing speak or something like that is kind of marketing yourself, isn’t it in a way? Because obviously, we’re all a bit of a mix of all sorts of different and we might be some other category that isn’t even on the list, or we probably are,

K Anderson 3:40
which is why autism exists really isn’t a bear. And I’m not a twin kid. Yeah, good point. So we’re like going right off topic. You asked to talk about kudos. But what time period? Would you say that you most frequented the bar?

Wilfrid 3:59
Probably sort of mid 90s just or late 90s to about early 2000 10s. Whatever you call them. We’re in them. Yeah. So so. So a kind of 15 year sort of period? I should think.

K Anderson 4:18
So quite quite a significant period of your life.

Wilfrid 4:21
Yes, absolutely. For me being sort of mid 20s to early 40s, something like that.

K Anderson 4:29
And so what is it about that bar that made you want to talk about it?

Wilfrid 4:33
Well, I thought it would be would be a good one for me to talk about because I imagine nobody else that you are going to talk to would talk about it because it was kind of tacky, strange sort of place. It wasn’t at all arty or trendy. totally unlike the sort of bars that I might go to now or that I might bump into you in or or that people talk about. Because it was in central London it was it had that kind of almost touristy sort of feeling about it. And it was really a place where particularly older guys would meet younger Asian guys. But it was a kind of, I don’t know a kind of a kind of the wasn’t that it was very disparate gang of people of all sorts of ages. And then quite a few people who just drifted in on their way back from the theater about to get a train from Charing Cross, I should think so. But there were also a core of people that were very often there. And I could go there practically any evening. And be be fairly sure of bumping into three or four people.

K Anderson 5:45
You started going in the mid 90s. What drew you to that bar in the first place?

Wilfrid 5:51
Well, I was I was quite I didn’t know what was going on the internet was, was really much less in in existence. I think I was also shy and not really very out to many people. So I, I kind of I went to college in San Martin’s, which was on long acre, then. So it was just down the road from there, although I never went there when I was at college. So I think I just very slowly and gradually found this odd bar where there were boys that I liked. And I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by people who who were kind of cool or fashion II or more sophisticated. It was it was quite a non intimidating apart from sort of crappy, basic bitchiness, it was, it was quite an easy place to be really and it was quite an easy place for me to turn up there. And actually be quite a fun person as part of this, this very motley collection of people that I used to see there, what I used to do quite often is go to Oasis, which is the sports center go for a swim, they’re quite sometimes after work. So I worked in central London for a while there. And then used to go down to Q dos with a bit of an empty stomach had a pint of Cronenberg, which is like rocket fuel, and really got on quite a high almost chatting people up being quite young. And you know, up for it. Really.

K Anderson 7:30
I mean, you’ve talked about it being an alternative to the more cool places or the places where you’ve felt like you might be judged. Or how would you describe those venues at that time?

Wilfrid 7:41
I don’t, I don’t really know what they were or where they were or anything. I mean, Dalston didn’t really exist as a place. The other the other area where I went to was voxel. I’d like to know where were the cool places where I never knew where they were, I never found them that I don’t know now or then what the call venues were really they were probably happening somewhere else. And I was too tentative and sort of conservative in a way to to approach them. When I when I say Dalston didn’t exist, it was it there was there wasn’t as far as I know, no equivalent place to go out. There was central London, the voxel and then going to voxel that was massive clubs with muscle Mary’s taking drugs. And that was really fun on occasion. But that was partly because of taking drugs. They weren’t interesting or or left field. They were euro pumping house and loads of tops off basic stuff.

K Anderson 8:40
And you know what you said what you were looking for in your nightlife was a bit more casual, a bit more fun and a bit less pretentious.

Wilfrid 8:47
I think I was just looking, looking to hook up with people, much more than then a good venue. So I put up with any old shit.

K Anderson 8:56
Okay, and so the men then the kudos, what was it about them that set them apart?

Wilfrid 9:03
I went through a bit of a phase of really fancying Asian boys. When I say Asian or all sorts of like Asian Chinese, or Japanese or Indian all’s also is quite suppose it was quite International, really. And I quite liked someone very different from me. I think I think that was the main thing really, that got me to go to a rather sort of obscure place like que das. And also it’s one of those things where you get in a habit. And it’s easy, and you know that you know the scene and you’ve got people there that you’ll know and you’ll probably bump into, you know, you get your local pub or something. I think there’s something quite reassuring and nice about that.

K Anderson 9:45
You came out quite late. Is that right? Yes,

Wilfrid 9:49
I did. I had girlfriends. I had girlfriends at school. I had girlfriends at college. I saw I slept with men occasionally, which I was very conflicted about. Rarely, so yes, it took me it took me ages to come out fully.

K Anderson 10:06
And so the first time that you’d gone to kudos had you come out at that stage?

Wilfrid 10:10
I doubt it. No, I wouldn’t have because it was a bit obscure and out of the way in everything that might have been a reason why it held a certain attraction because I will just be so unlikely to bump into anyone or I felt completely independent, but but in your enrolled and exciting, free way that I could just do whatever I liked, which was it was all very, very exciting. I think I you know, I kept it kept up the excitement for quite a long time of elicit thrill. It wasn’t like, rah, rah rah, I’m gay and everyone else’s, and clap your hands. It was all a bit underground and a bit spooky and a bit, you know, quite a fun, but rather tense sort of existence. I’ve never been very strident about being gay, or very sort of. I don’t, I don’t think it’s particularly good thing, either. Not a bad thing, either. But I don’t think oh, it’s great. I’m so glad. I mean, some people really do I think, just like, you know, I don’t think is great to be to be straight. It’s just literally how I’ve come at either come out of the womb or what, you know, that’s a massive debate, you know, whether you’re, you’re born like it or you, you, you acquire it in some sort of ways. But I’ve just always felt naturally, really, really quite attracted to people of all sorts, and not have had such rigid sort of views about being gay or straight or, or things like that.

K Anderson 11:39
And then so you’re coming out late wasn’t about shame, then it wasn’t about kind of,

Wilfrid 11:45
I think it was, I think it was partly, it’s always something I’m really, I still don’t like to talk about really, but bisexual people are really rejected by both sides. And I think it’s a really tricky situation to be in. And people. If anyone says they’re bisexual people always assume you There can’t be true, you must be one or the other. And I’ve just never, I’ve never really felt like that. I haven’t had a girlfriend for ages now, you know, 1520 years or something. And I’m fine. I’ve got a lovely boyfriend and all that sort of thing. But I think women are pretty great as well. You know, I don’t have in my heart, I don’t see a big dividing line.

K Anderson 12:27
Do you not feel like there’s been a bit of a shift in the conversation about bisexuality and, and by visibility,

Wilfrid 12:34
the maybe, but perhaps you get when you get older, you get slightly stuck at the point where things were most visceral, but also, I’m still not really very, very easier about it, because nobody’s nobody’s gonna throw their champagne in my face if I say I’m bisexual anymore. But I think people do think it’s, it’s kind of more suspicious than being gay. And there’s something like undiscriminating about it and perhaps wanting to have it both ways and kind of unreliable or duplicitous, or I don’t know quite what it is, or just desperate. I think it’s much easier to say I’m straight, or I’m gay. For me, it’s for me, it still is, maybe someone someone in their 20s. Now wouldn’t wouldn’t say that at all. And good luck.

K Anderson 13:23
So what was the coming out process? Like for you generally, it was a reaction from family and friends, in terms of family

Wilfrid 13:34
buy was, was trying to buy my first flat. And when I tried to buy my first flat, though, you had to get some sort of life insurance or something, because of the mortgage. And when you did that, they asked you whether you’d ever slept with someone of the same sex, I think, which was to do with HIV, which was to do with it life insurance. And because I was confronted on this form with this question, in some weird way, I thought that this is my cue to tell my parents, I presented it to them as a kind of question in as much as I said to them, I’ve got this form to fill in, is asking me whether I’ve ever slept with someone of the same sex and I’m going to have to say yes, so in this weird sort of form, or sort of way to do with to do with filling in a form. I then told them that way, which is, I mean, I’ve never even I’ve never told anyone this part from now. But well, why would I nobody’s really asked me how I ever came out to my parents, but that’s how I did. So I found this weird, convoluted way of doing it. And my dad had a lot of gay friends always on was would wouldn’t say surrounded by gay people, but a lot of gay people around in my brain, my upbringing and stuff like that, but I think at that sort of time any any Parent just immediately thought aids, my son’s going to die of AIDS, no doubt is going to happen tomorrow. He’s probably already got it. You know, it’s just absolute panic. So they were really upset about it, which wasn’t great. I would say it was, I would say it was mid 90s. So I was probably about 25, or something like that, or even a bit more. So it was all late. And especially compared to how young people come out. Now, my my friends have got a 30 or no younger like 12 or something year old boy. And he he’s now out and he’s going to all the prides all around the country. I couldn’t believe it. And it took me years. I was in my late 20s before I came out to my, my parents and stuff.

K Anderson 15:41
Yeah, so there was that kind of initial knee jerk reaction about like, Oh, shit, he’s going to get HIV, he’s going to he’s going to develop aids, he’s going to die. What was that like to navigate? How long before the dust kind of settled on that initial reaction?

Wilfrid 15:55
It was it was gradually years, you know, but I don’t think because I’d had girlfriends and stuff like that as well. I don’t think they probably really believe me, they probably thought I was just kind of trying to cause trouble. in certain ways. It was never like Hooray, welcome new gay Wilfred. It was like this, this, without even sure this is quite true. It was very fudged and unclear cut.

K Anderson 16:23
So you just kind of waded through the tricky. Yeah, just

Wilfrid 16:26
just just muddle through, and there was no need for me to sort of, I just think it’s generally good to to be who you are with your parents as much as you possibly can. But there’s often lots of difficulties about it. So I just thought it was better that they know because I didn’t want to be so I didn’t want to be hiding things. But it’s not like we then everything changed. And we were all happy. Or we talked about it all the time when it was just there, and fairly much ignored.

K Anderson 16:53
And so what about your circle of friends at that time?

Wilfrid 16:57
I was really cagey about it. But gradually, gradually, bit by bit, I remember I remember the girlfriend of a very good straight friend of mine saying, why can’t we meet your boyfriend? And I said, Oh, no, you know, you never, I don’t imagine him being involved in that sort of way at all. You know, looking back on it, it was mad, I was terribly hung up about the whole thing, and can unconflicted really, homophobia directed towards myself and, and shine him, you know, but I don’t know why I should feel. So I don’t really sort of worry about these things that much anymore. And I feel fairly comfortable in my own skin, I suppose. I’d need a few major sessions with a shrink in order to disentangle what was really going on, because we’re not talking about it. Now. It seems quite strange that it was also difficult. And I mean, it was it was a somewhat different climate and different time. But not it was it wasn’t sort of Victorian Britain, you know, there were plenty of gay people around and it wasn’t such an unusual, especially since they’ve been lots of gay people around in the family. I come from an arty family. So the gaping wound all over the place. I don’t know what was quite going on with me, quite honestly.

K Anderson 18:17
But I mean, there’s no there’s no one way of doing things. And there’s no roadmap, and there certainly weren’t tons of examples of the process of coming out and the things to think about and the things to consider. So, so it was a bit murky, I suppose in your early 20s. And by your mid 20s, this was the period when you started going to kudos. Do you remember your first time there?

Wilfrid 18:39
No, I don’t think so. I used to go to a club called the long Yang club that was in heaven for a while just looking around astonished and kind of why died at the possibilities and all these amazing looking people and stuff. And then from there, I probably gradually found q Dawson found my way. there somehow.

K Anderson 19:17
And so then if you can’t remember your first time Do you remember your first impressions?

Wilfrid 19:22
I was probably I was probably really excited and very scared. I was very scared of God. I hardly dared step into a gay venue. God knows what I thought was going to happen. But yeah, I was terrified of it. So I was there very excited and very nervous. Even in my mid 20s, which sounds almost pathetic, but there’s

K Anderson 19:44
true. It wasn’t a venue that you just went to on your own or were there groups of friends that you would go with

Wilfrid 19:50
what I need. I nearly always went there on my own and very often left with other people. Either like I picked someone up or I went that we then went somewhere else like heaven which was then at the historia, or the edge we went to occasionally on so in Soho square. Once, you know, it was closing time, and there were a bunch of us who are ready to go off somewhere else.

K Anderson 20:14
What was it that said the other thing I was going to ask? Was it quite a cruisee? space? We talked before about rice Queens in potato queens. Is that why everyone was there just to get off? but largely

Wilfrid 20:27
Yeah, it was very cruzi. But I think I pretty much imagined that most bars were much more crazy than than they were now. Basically, because Grindr didn’t exist. So everyone does their cruising on Grindr. So that was the only chance of meeting people. So yeah, it definitely was. You always had your eye out.

K Anderson 20:45
What are you picking up tips and what were you What was your approach to it? Wow.

Wilfrid 20:52
Well, I mean, I can’t, not being overly modest, but I can’t survive on fantastic good looks. So I would have to be nice and fun. So my, I mean, that was my, my only way of getting anywhere. It was to be enthusiastic. And I mean, it’s flattering to listen to people. This is my what I remember somebody telling me or bread or something, absolutely years ago, was that it’s seductive to actually listen to people. So I think that’s my

advice if you if anyone really needs my so you just smiled and nodded if

K Anderson 21:31
he follows that, that you

Wilfrid 21:34
know, hopefully to be fun and to join in, but it flatters people to take them seriously, even if they’re good looking idiots. If they’re great looking idiots. They probably love the flattery of my very direct sincere attention.

K Anderson 21:51
What was kudos? Like physically from the outside and what was it like when you went in?

Wilfrid 21:58
It was it was pretty, pretty tacky. It was it was like it was it was had a slightly expensive veneer. But you knew it was it was basically tasteless and tacky underneath. So yeah, nothing nothing good about the interior at all. No horrible light sort of flock fluffy walls next to him a mirrored area next to a bright pink, you know, is kind of like clashing or 490s interior decor.

K Anderson 22:32
Okay, so I walk into the venue and I’m just assaulted by flashing fabrics and textiles. Where’s the BA Is there a downstairs as well, while the the Yes, there is a downstairs like, was downstairs more of a dancing area or was upstairs or

Wilfrid 22:51
it was it’s quite a small place, I wouldn’t have thought that downstairs was maybe a bit more of a dance II sort of area. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t really a dance II sort of bar, it was more more of a boozy chatty bar. And there were kind of little sort of snuck cubicles exactly, but kind of set bits wave kind of sit and be a little bit private, then it was the kind of separate bit next door. But nothing, nothing. Nothing remarkable. I mean, it’s quite small, presumably, because partly because it was outside of Soho where there are quite a few of those sort of bars. And presumably, the rents are massive. So it just there wasn’t much room for kind of expanding, you were pretty tightly cropped in a

K Anderson 23:37
series of just going back to what you were saying before about the clientele. What you’ve just talked about there is that in Soho there another time where tons of gay spaces, and this was kind of out of the way of all of that, but on the way to heaven. And so you’ve talked about lots of people who may be going to the bar for a drink before they get to Charing Cross to then take their train to home. Did that mean there was lots of going of business, the people and after work on the ground?

Wilfrid 24:06
Yeah, that’s exactly not large, but quite a smattering of those sorts of people that you will be less likely to see in the middle of Soho. Yeah. And also the typical kind of pissed girls with their gay friends. At the end of the night. Hop os 10 sort of rolling in. It was quite around the corner from a pub called halfway to heaven. Does that still exist? Yeah. Anyway, that was that that’s even worse place. But that was the sort of another place that people would drop into on the way to heaven, called halfway to heaven, literally, from Soho.

K Anderson 24:40
I have to say, I’m loving music, did you because most people that I talked to are like, Oh, I love this venue and looking at it with rose colored glasses and you’re like, yeah, it was a dump. It was a bit of a shithole.

Wilfrid 24:51
I don’t think I’ve ever had that before or since a place where I can turn up and almost definitely bump into people that I know and it Everyone’s willing, you can have quite a good time with a couple of beers with all sorts. I mean, I met where people like political journalists, all sorts of policemen, you know, you met, you bumped into all sorts in a place like that, that you wouldn’t in Dalston. Now, you know, you meet loads of great fashion students, but it’d be much more of a closed scene rarely. And somewhere like kudos. Yeah, it could be, it could be a soldier, or somebody who drove a bus, you’d hardly ever meet RT people.

K Anderson 25:33
I guess that’s kind of what we have lost a lot of gay spaces. Because sometimes, you know, especially outside of big cities, where there is one gay bar, and that’s the only option that you have. That’s where just people from all kinds of walks of life in all different backgrounds and careers come together? And I guess, yeah, when you’re talking about a venue that’s in central London, likely to pick up lots of tourists, because of where it is likely to pick up lots of people who are getting a drink in before they go home, on their train back to God knows where people coming to.

Wilfrid 26:04
But back a little while ago, you all had this amazing thing in common, which was being gay, and now that it’s on the whole in this country, almost completely easy to be gay, you know, you don’t have this common enemy of everybody else, which is great for bringing people together. era is a very tricky, tricky subject. And I don’t want to be saying that, you know, any sort of oppression is a good thing. But there are certain elements to having a common enemy that are fun. Yeah, it did bring people together in a way that you don’t find Now, as far as I know. But then, of course, the complicated thing about talking about any of this, is that not only have times changed, but I’ve got older. So I perceive I’m talking with with older, perhaps insight into how things were then. But also i’m not part of a young scene now. So not only as the scene change, but I’ve changed so it’s quite difficult to know how objective one is being because i think that’s that’s the beautiful thing about these conversations is that people kind of get to reconcile who they are currently with who they were then and reflect on decisions and circumstances.

K Anderson 27:17
Do you remember hearing about the bar closing? Yes,

Wilfrid 27:24
I do. And I couldn’t but leave it. I think it was one of the first gay bars that I knew of to close down. And I absolutely couldn’t believe it, because it’d be in a total mainstream of my life, but it co it coincide. It happened in my early 40s. Like when I was about 41 or 42. And it was a really difficult period of my life. It was my my midlife crisis. It was I remember, I spoke to a friend of mine who’s a doctor, and I said, I’m lonely. And I’m drinking too much. And I’m going out. And I said, it’s almost like a midlife crisis. And she said, Well, what do you think a midlife crisis is? And it was amazing to hear that because it was it was, it’s so funny how you can be in it and not thinking you’re you think everyone else has midlife crisis. And it was great that she said that I suddenly thought, well, this is what it is. And I’m having one. But it coincided with that. Because I started all this late, I kept it going all through my 30s. I took too many drugs, I went out too much. I drank too much. I slept with too many people, all of that in my 30s rather than my 20s. And I hit early 40s. And suddenly just got a little tiny bit too old to keep doing that. And it was really difficult to wean myself off it. And it was really difficult to get out of going to Q dos two or three times a week. But I had to because it’s the bloody thing close down, which was actually good for me. Because it but it was an awful shock. But it got me out of a pattern of overdoing it.

K Anderson 28:59
So you were still regularly growing at the time that it shot.

Wilfrid 29:02
Yeah, I was once twice a week, maybe something like that.

K Anderson 29:06
Do you remember your last night there?

Wilfrid 29:09
No, because it wasn’t like, Ooh, this is the last night I didn’t know.

K Anderson 29:13
So it just closed suddenly one day it was there one day it was gone.

Wilfrid 29:15
Yes. Exactly. No build up or anything. Yeah. It just gotten I couldn’t believe it.

K Anderson 29:20
And so as a result of it closing, are there people that you lost contact with?

Wilfrid 29:25
Exactly. Because lots of people that I wouldn’t see basically drinking buddies, you could describe them as I didn’t have much in common with them. Other than that, so yeah, I’ve lost touch with I would say everyone from that scene.

K Anderson 29:37
I have a question that is very cheesy. And I asked everyone, if you could go back to that time when you first started going and have a conversation with yourself. What would you say? Oh,

Wilfrid 29:48
dear, that’s really, really difficult. That sort of question. Well, when you say that I made you think Do I have any regrets? Which I think is is you know, it’s simple. First of all to have, I might I probably have general advice for life, I tell myself to have a slightly higher self esteem. My boy, my boyfriend now told me the other day that I always think people have got a bad opinion of me. It’s a bit like sitting in the psychiatry’s chair. So that’s not really going to do that. But I would I would tell myself, your lovely boyfriend in the future will tell you even 25 years on from this, that you have this idea that other people have a bad opinion of you, which they probably don’t so just cut that out now and enjoy things and and feel a little bit warmer inside not like you’re always doing the fucking wrong thing. You know, something like that, I tell myself but in terms of going to que DOS, there are aspects of it that were shared and aspects of it that were really fun. And it’s just the way the odd way that my other you know, our all our lives that all these little influences that make us who we are and I don’t regret anything rarely.

K Anderson 31:08
Do you have fond memories of going to kudos? Do you have your own stories or photos that you want to share? then reach out on social media you can find me on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and pretty much everything other than tik tok because I’ve not got my head around that yet. With the username K Anderson music, and you can find out more about Wilfred by following him on Instagram. His profile name is Wilfred wood sculptor. Wilfred is spelled w i l. FRI de la spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record. Never gets easier saying that. I’ve been writing songs about queer spaces and the people who live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing the songs over the next year. You can hear the first single, which is called well groomed boys, and is also the theme song for this episode. and is available to stream and buy online on iTunes and on Spotify and all those places. If you enjoyed today’s episode and want to hear more, please do subscribe. It would also make a huge difference if you are able to leave a review or share news about the podcast on social media or with your friends. Thank you for listening today. My name is K Anderson and this has been lost spaces.

 







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