In the early 90s, after a decade of service, he left his role as a Salvation Army Lieutenant and started exploring his queerness at The Black Cap, an iconic drag bar in Camden, London.
We caught up to talk about that transition, Regina Fong and other drag legends who performed at the bar, and what happens when you run in to your brother at a gay bar.Transcript
Mark Brummitt 00:00
It was very random. It was all kinds of looks, ages, shapes, sizes, sexes and even sexualities. There was a full smorgasbord it was much more a miscellany of, quite therefore reflective of Camden, which in the 80s, and then they’re all since the 70s. But through the 80s had increasingly been the kind of London’s East Village mix of punks to hippies to whoever. So the black cat was, it was a local bar that was punching above its weight at the time and just a good time without any self conscious, Lee stylised aesthetic or anything, it was a regular local pub.
K Anderson 00:50
I am K Anderson, and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast 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. Mark Brummitt is an associate professor of Hebrew Bible Old Testament, and assistant dean of students at a small postgraduate College in Rochester, New York. In the early 90s, however, after a decade of service, he left his role as a Salvation Army left handed and started exploring his queerness at the black cap, and iconic bar in Canton, London.
Mark Brummitt 01:55
So the HIV crisis had filled the papers from mid to late 80s. And by 90 as well, things were still pretty bleak. And it was still the dominant story in many respects it things had reached a kind of plateau in some ways. And what was interesting in the early 90s, is that there was a gay village as such appearing in Soho, there was a gay culture, there were now gay characters appearing on TV. It was a time when there was there was a shift of some kind going on, I’m not going to suggest that it moved into a utopia and anything goes Britain, but it was, there was definitely a shift going on. And things were becoming more recognised, more understood and more mainstream in many ways. And that has its gains and losses, of course, but the black cap at the time, for me was a place of going down the rabbit hole or going through the looking glass to use the Alice analogies or maybe to use a more contemporary one, Harry Potter, it was going into Diagon Alley, it was discovering the wick, the wizarding world that was there all the time. You know, I went from my muggle self to my wizarding self. And the black hat for me was the portal. How’s that for? How’s that for? For a nice analogy?
K Anderson 03:48
I mean, all the Harry Potter references are lost on me, but it was lovely.
Mark Brummitt 03:53
There we are. You got a sense of what I’m saying? Yeah, yeah. It was my entry point into a world and place of discovery. The black cat was. Yeah, it was a very lovely thing for me at the time.
K Anderson 04:09
So early 90s in London, yes. What was going on for you at that time?
Mark Brummitt 04:18
I was leaving one significant job and starting another, and it was significant because it was quite a lifestyle change. I had been running a small Salvation Army mission in Victoria. And part of that job was also to be one of the Salvation Army officers is a big Salvation Army in Oxford Circus. And I was realising that while but had been an exciting thing to do in my late teens, early 20s. For a good many reasons, from the theme illogical to the moral, it was time for me to exit that world. And I was already a registered nurse. So I went into care, cancer care oncology. So I left the Salvation Army and started working as a nurse at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
And this was at
Mark Brummitt 05:25
still peak aids, days was still a dominant was still dominating the news was still very current in the lgbtqi community at the time.
K Anderson 05:43
And if we could just quickly talk about salvation army, yes. Are they not kind of very well known for being quite homophobic?
Mark Brummitt 05:53
I’m the Salvation Army started out as a very radical movement in the 1860s, allowing women in the pulpit inviting all kinds of underclass type people to their venues and their events.
K Anderson 06:09
So you’re saying women are underclass?
Mark Brummitt 06:14
Absolutely. In the 60s, that was the thought of a woman being in a pulpit, was not going to fly very comfortably, but it was they were doing all these daring and radical things. And then by the 1930s, from the 1930s onwards, it became increasingly moved increasingly towards conservative positions so that by the 1980s, the Salvation Army was not treating. And giving support to people no questions asked, it was really very ill able or uncomfortable with dealing with the HIV AIDS crisis at the time, and largely because of its stance towards homosexuality. That was the official position, which made it rather awkward but within the Salvation Army ranks itself, there was many young gay and lesbian and many a person who just didn’t bother with whatever the official party line was. their motivation was compassion. And so in the early 90s, with some friends in Camden Town, we set up a Salvation Army HIV dropping so called chalk farm Oasis, and there was a Salvation Army. HIV dropping centre oasis in Wimbledon, was at Wimbledon, somewhere in South London, and another one in Cardiff and then another one starting in Manchester. So the worthies healthy hope for pockets. So there’s there is more to like anything like that there is more to the story than the general Yeah, opinion. But for me, working for the Salvation Army it was, it was not a possible position to be particularly out. And I’m not a tactful person by nature. I realised I couldn’t stay within the Salvation Army for theological and therefore moral reasons as well in that I just didn’t follow that party line, nor could I so, so I left
K Anderson 08:28
and then went into nursing. So what was that transition like for you?
Mark Brummitt 08:34
It was surprisingly easy. I’d only been out of nursing about four years and I’d done the full Rn training and then a year afterwards, and I finished the Salvation Army on a Sunday night and at seven o’clock the next morning, I was at the Royal Marsden in a men’s white tunic and getting myself back into the swing of woodwork. And it was a it was a fantastic job. It was bloody hard work, but it was a fantastic job. And my continued my involvement with the Salvation Army through the chalk farm Oasis, HIV drop in the centre and
yeah, so it was surprisingly smooth.
K Anderson 09:18
And so then what else was going on in your life at that time?
Mark Brummitt 09:21
Well, then I was suddenly given licence to thrill as it were. And
Mark Brummitt 09:31
start frequenting some of London’s popular hospital is at the time the Salvation Army isn’t really a pub culture unless it’s selling the walker I and I had not really been going to bars and clubs at all and now decided that yes, I was going to start doing that. And so after our Monday night sell the Salvation Army chalk farm HIV. Drop in centre evening, I would go with some friends and we would go to the black cap in Camden. And that became that became the hub of life. At that time I was living with a good friend in Tufnell Park. She was a nurse at the Morefield I hospital. And even though we were doing shifts, which often began at seven or 730, in the morning, we were dancing several nights a week at the blackcap. till about 2am. Like, sir, at this time,
K Anderson 10:31
was it your first kind of time going to blackhat? Or was it? Yes, really? Yeah. And do you remember the first time you went there? No. Do you have any lingering ideas or first impressions?
Mark Brummitt 10:45
I remember, I think the first few times I went, which would have been just before I fully left the Salvation Army and the, the, just that the DJ was the bar. And it was this, just remember, the narrowness of the dance area downstairs is long, narrow. Strip alongside the bar until you get to the dance area by a little stage at the back and seeing the major acts of the time because it was very much a drag bar and you would have a 20 minute drag break in the middle of the evening, even though it was a dance club effectively. And it was really Regina Fong and titulo camp and figures like that,
K Anderson 11:28
so so I didn’t live in London in the 90s. But Regina Fong is pretty legendary. Yeah. Do you have any memories of shows that she was performing?
Mark Brummitt 11:40
Oh, gosh, yes. Now there’s a there’s a guy who lives a few blocks away from me. And I’m in Rochester, New York, which is up towards Buffalo and the Canadian border. I’ve got a friend who’s a few blocks away from here he is a South Londoner, probably around about the same age as me. And we will talk about Regina Fong every now and then, because she had a set of what we would have guessed nowadays call means there were little skits she would do and she would do them every time and the whole audience would join in. And basically she would lip sync to sound bites from ads, and from songs or shows from the 50s and 60s and 70s. And she would just mine them on stage. And there were songs like there’s a worm at the bottom of the garden, his name is wiggly Woo, and she would have actions and everybody in the audience would copy those actions. And then she would do the typewriter and there would be this piece of hurried 1950s or 60s orchestral music and she would mind typing frantically. So that was really Regina phones? Stick?
K Anderson 13:03
I bet. So what do you think set her apart from other drag queens of the time?
Mark Brummitt 13:09
I don’t know. I think her name suggests a certain dignity and Royal status, which she very, very much embodied. I don’t know, I think she’d been doing it so long she had become an institution, there was something about the simplicity and absurdity of that Act, which was really nothing more than performing this well known series of skits and abusing the audience between each one, which just just worked.
K Anderson 13:39
You can never go wrong when you’re abusing the audience really,
Mark Brummitt 13:42
you know, that sort of sassing the audience in the usual way, which is really kind of baseline for a good drag queen and it worked wonderfully.
K Anderson 13:52
Do you remember any of the drag queens from that time?
Well, I remember Tila camp doing a marvellous Karen Carpenter
K Anderson 14:06
fan of eating disorders was there
Mark Brummitt 14:09
and moving swiftly on. series of very bad taste skits which covered Jackie O. and a few others, none of which I will go into details on but it was just so awful. And so on the nail that we were it was just hysterical. One of the funniest things I ever saw there was quite a bit later I’d be living in America already for a year and I was back and this must have been very late 90s and I was there with a friend and a drag queen came out with wish she had a broomstick across her shoulders so that she had two dummies hanging either side of her. And so that was five fingers in a row and She performed one of the each of the heads the two heads on either side were ventriloquist dummy heads. And so she was making the mouth work frantically. And it was the Spice Girls in napit form and it was perfect. It was
K Anderson 15:24
brilliant. Ah, which Spice Girl are you most like? Do I have to have? Oh, yeah, I mean, I think I think you’re Victoria. I really? Do you. Yeah, I’d say.
I can’t I have scary.
K Anderson 15:51
Well, yeah, I mean, yeah. to question to answer.
Okay. Is it possible not to have a Spice Girl at all? Um,
Mark Brummitt 16:03
I enjoy them as a collective. I couldn’t care less about them as individually. Can I put it like that? Brilliant that? Yeah.
K Anderson 16:14
poetic. So, let’s talk about how your romantic life at this time?
Oh, yes. What was going on? Um,
Mark Brummitt 16:28
a lot, but it wasn’t very romantic. Oh,
K Anderson 16:32
okay, your sexual life at this time. I,
Mark Brummitt 16:36
it’s taken me a long time to recognise that I have always been compelled or propelled by choices which don’t make relationships, very sustainable or easy. And that. given the choice, I will often choose other than the relationship I was in a very good relationship in London, a very happy relationship in London and I was offered a job in Rochester, New York, and I accepted the job before it even thought about the relationship is what I mean. So I’m basically what I’m saying is I’m not usually designed to be kind to other people in real life, that my primary relationship is rather with my work,
K Anderson 17:28
not relationship oriented.
Mark Brummitt 17:30
That’s not romantic relationship oriented, necessarily. And in some ways, I am nevertheless, very much romantic. I had a big falling in love experience when I was in the Salvation Army with a guy who I was working with, and there was reciprocation. But it was rather an impossible circumstance, which to, for him, was a major source of concern. And for me, I rather enjoyed the cloak and dagger creeping around late at night side of things, but it wasn’t sustainable long term. And he has been in what appears to be a successful heterosexual marriage for the last 30 years, and I have not so but I left the Salvation Army a little bit heartbroken with the end of that relationship, and kind of ready to have a good time. So the black cap was my hunting ground. And there was many a night I would leave the black cap and many a morning I would be working out what part of London I was in at that moment.
K Anderson 18:50
Okay, so you’ve used the term hunting ground? Yeah. Maybe explore that. Where did you? Are you always the instigator?
Mark Brummitt 19:00
No, I don’t have strangely, although I’m probably perceived as very confident. And in many ways, I am a confident person. I do not have an end. And I’m not.
I’m sexually pretty confident, but not.
Mark Brummitt 19:21
I don’t have a very high opinion of my looks or my pulling power. And or certainly then I didn’t. And remember, I’ve been in the Salvation Army for a decade from the age of 15, to about the age of 25. So I was a bit of an innocent, not that much of an innocent and not for very long, let’s face it, but I would. I would stand up standard not really feeling competitive, that I would be looking and interested but not really thinking that in the great scheme of things In the hierarchy of sexual choices I was I didn’t consider myself to be very high.
K Anderson 20:10
Certain How did you end up waking up in strange places?
Mark Brummitt 20:18
Because I still did okay. I, what I mean is that I was not necessarily the I say the hunting ground, but I was not necessarily
K Anderson 20:28
you were just there to sweep up the drags.
Mark Brummitt 20:31
Let’s put it that way. I did fine. I was not necessarily going in there and clicking my fingers and having the guys swoon. But I did fine. I did. Plenty of nights, I would be snugging randoms on the dance floor, and and then thinking, well, I’ll go with this one tonight. But next week, I’ll go with that one. And that’s how it works. So you know, I had a dance card. And
K Anderson 21:03
yeah, he said, Where where is the best place in the club to pick someone up?
Mark Brummitt 21:11
on the dance floor, I would in my experience on the dance floor could be dancing away. And and it wasn’t over Well, obviously, it was cruisy. But most people were they’re having a good time. And if you went regularly, and I was going three or four times a week, you would get to know many of the faces. And so you would end up just befriending them on the dance floor and dance with the same one several times a week. And things would flow from there.
K Anderson 21:39
Yeah, eventually read lean in. And
Mark Brummitt 21:42
yeah, in every sense. Yeah. And just to put it in context, I mean, I told you this story, and it’s a good story. So I’m determined to crank it in and I hadn’t been entirely innocent in the Salvation Army. When that relationship that I had in the Salvation Army was breaking down. I was already starting to think about an explore my sexuality at that time, and London Underground for me in the late 80s, early 90s was a pretty good polling place. I would be travelling on the underground and eyes would meet across a crowded rush hour train. And yeah, but I did find I had a good time in London.
K Anderson 22:28
So then on the underground as
what time of day, oh, anytime a day, anytime a day.
Mark Brummitt 22:38
I mean, my favourite story is one way where I, I was in full Salvation Army uniforms, this high neck with the collar with SS on it and the hat and this rather tall and handsome guy was standing next to me and our eyes kind of met and I noticed the knuckles were brushing and it was rush hour, so that’s not unusual. And then his fingers entwined with mine. And there was that little frisson of excitement and then the next thing, I realised he placed his business card in my hand. So of course, I called him before that day, what
K Anderson 23:15
was his business?
Mark Brummitt 23:18
Well, it was just his name on a card. It didn’t I don’t remember his business was well, I know what he I mean, he used to do. He was a window dresser at Selfridges. Ah, okay, but he didn’t say that on the card. I don’t remember. It was just one of those cheap out of arraignments machine cards with his name a number on it, so maybe he did this a lot.
K Anderson 23:37
Did people did people do that? Yeah, I did. Oh, wow. Okay, sorry. So you call them?
Mark Brummitt 23:44
I called him and we went? I think it was a Monday or a Tuesday night we met at first out. Is
K Anderson 23:51
it still there? No. No coffee shop? Oh, is it? Yeah,
Mark Brummitt 23:55
I’ve been I’ve been living here 14 years. Yeah, a coffee. It was a coffee shop just at the top but just near Tottenham road. Underground Station, tube station. And it was as the name suggests, a gay venue. And it was a place where people would meet for lunch or meet before going out in the evening. And so we met there as a safe, comfortable venue. This would have been 1991, November of 1991. And he turned up and heat an emotional mess. I was like, I don’t even remember his name isn’t awful. And I heard he won’t bite What’s going on? And he said, I’ve had a terrible 24 hours ever. And basically it was the night it was the night before was the night that the Freddie Mercury had died. And he had spent most of the night at a vigil at Mercury’s house at the gates of Mercury’s house, and he was an emotional and overtired So I said to him, Well, do you want to go home? And you know, call it another night? And he said, No, I’m here now and I need cheering up. So we had a coffee at first out, and then we decided we would walk into Soho, which was only just becoming the gay village at the time, and go to a new bar called the village. So we walked to the village and chatted politely as we went along, and he was quite weepy still. And every now and then we’d have a wave of emotion and get very tearful about Freddie Mercury. And we got to the village and we went inside. And the first person I saw at the bar was my brother, who I didn’t see very much, and I didn’t know he was gay, he didn’t know I was gay, he looked a port at the sight of me, which we’ve never been close. So we often would look appalled at each other anyway, but all I was to him was his salvation army brother. And so he presumed I was very much a homophobe and not a homophile. And what are you doing here? I think he thought I must have been on a mission or selling, sell evangelising, or selling the war cry. And I said, What do you think I’m doing here? And while he was so I was talking to him, he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the guy I was with. And he said, Well, who’s this rather rudely in front of the guy? And I said, well, it’s
who I’m with tonight. And
Mark Brummitt 26:39
you could just see the math going on behind my brother’s eyes. Gosh, I’ve lived in America 14 years, haven’t I just said math instead of maths. I do apologise to listeners back at home.
So um, yeah. And this.
Mark Brummitt 26:57
My date of the night who was already freaked out and upset about the death of Freddie Mercury was now completely freaked out by me and my brother bumping into each other and having this kind of surprise, surprise, mutual outing. So we just called it a night. I mean, I went back to his and we shag like goodness knows what, but we didn’t bother staying out any longer. So that’s your version of cooling it a night and night? Made it made it a night I should.
K Anderson 27:34
But so then what’s the age difference between you and your brother? Two years. Ah, um, so not not that big an age difference.
Mark Brummitt 27:45
Not that big an age difference. But even as little kids, we didn’t play well together. In fact, we didn’t really play together, I was quite social.
And, as I say,
Mark Brummitt 27:58
trolling around my house in my mother’s clothes. He said why he didn’t, I don’t. Whereas he would sit in his corner of the bedroom and take a clock apart and put it back together again, or something like that hit play for him was very solitary and technical. By the age of 15, or 16. He was recognised to be gifted at language learning and maths, went to an entirely different secondary school for me because of his genius. Whereas I was at the local comprehensive, throwing, you know, a good day was sticking pastor to pieces of coloured papers,
K Anderson 28:45
and then spray painting at gold.
Mark Brummitt 28:47
Yes, so yeah. We lived in we we were very, very, very different people. And we didn’t really ever Connect, and haven’t done since.
K Anderson 28:57
To answer that didn’t that meeting at the village didn’t change anything for your relationship.
We went to the what was the big dance club in
Mark Brummitt 29:11
Brixton, at the time the garage, the fridge, the fridge, the fridge, the garage is up in in Glasgow, the fridge and we went to the fridge I think once together, as soon as we got there, we went our separate ways. And since the mid 90s, he’s lived in what I think Frankfurt for seven or eight years and Copenhagen ever since. So we we’ve never been close and we haven’t really even been in the same
K Anderson 29:41
region. Yeah. Okay. So when you were talking about your hunting ground, you Yes. You said that you work up in strange parts of London? Yes. Are there any particular times that stick out in your mind?
Yeah, um, one time a guy who Belgian guy, show style, shaved
Mark Brummitt 30:13
cropped hair, who I thought was the sex. And one night he kind of beckoned me over and we were smoking and ended up back at his place which was only just across Camden High Street. And we got into his dark apartment and we’re going for it on the sofa. And then I heard a noise and I realised that this was a studio when we were on the sofa and there’s a bed across the room and in that bed was his boyfriend.
K Anderson 30:46
And the boyfriend was delighted you were there or horrified you were there.
Mark Brummitt 30:52
I think deeply asleep and just turning over embed
K Anderson 30:55
our dis I didn’t wake up.
Mark Brummitt 30:57
Not that I remember. And I suspect if he had woken up I would remember.
So that rather Yeah, it through a dampener. All right,
Mark Brummitt 31:15
well, yeah. So So yeah. So I got on my home back to Tufnell Park got back on the bus home to Tufnell Park.
K Anderson 31:22
Ah, oh, ah, I could have been so good. Yeah. And so the black cat, let’s go back there. The Black Cat is that’s what we’re here to talk about. What am what was the general vibe like?
Mark Brummitt 31:40
Back then, in the early 90s. It was very much a local you would have people from all over the place. But there was a kind of a core of people from the Camden. Yeah, from Camden region in general. So there were a lot of the same faces night after night, week after week. Monday was if I remember rightly free entry in half price drinks, it was old isn’t trash night. And it was just a lovely, there was no drag at night, it was a lovely party, feel where the music would be everything from the 60s 70s 80s any old pop really and just good fun dancing and pretty crowded. And then other nights had various themes. I don’t really remember but there would be often a drag act. And it was very popular than you were at the time. And it was really only when Soho was getting going as a gay village and voxel hadn’t been invented as anything gay.
K Anderson 32:50
So I had to deal with that so had always been kind of pretty gay. In the
Mark Brummitt 32:56
not in the commercial gay village way it became I think it would it always been the red light porn
shop sex shop, porn cinema,
Mark Brummitt 33:10
knock, but hadn’t become the kind of commercial pink power and then you that it became in the 90s.
K Anderson 33:19
And so so Okay, so we’re going back to the Salvation Army. I’m so sorry to labour on this. You said Damn, you were there from 15 to 25.
Yeah. And I go for it. Ask ask what you want. No, no, no, no, I
K Anderson 33:38
just I mean, the word is kind of on the tip of my tongue is oppressive, but I’m not sure if that’s the exact word I want to use. But it was quite a rigid lifestyle.
Mark Brummitt 33:53
It that’s not unfair, but it wasn’t oppressive. Okay. When I thought it was going to become oppressive, I left. And for me, it was actually very liberating. Which is a surprising thing. It was disciplined let’s call it disciplined, okay, for various reasons. Practical as well as moral the Salvation Army since its onset, since its start on so it sounds like a disease since it began to become one of its fully signed up members you promise not to drink, or gamble or even swear? It’s a cleaned up lifestyle in that sense. And one of the reasons was that its primary work in the 1860s onwards was among alcoholics and people with various addictions. So a lot so it was like an early, a hotel step kind of thing in that use you. You were everybody was in a kind of salvation recovery. And so the lifestyle reflected that if you were a member, even if you’ve not been an alcoholic ever yourself or had any known addictive issues, you would nevertheless not participate on behalf of everybody. It was part of it. That’s kind of the ethos to begin with. And so it was a disciplined lifestyle. But I was I had been a very secondary school had not been schooling, school period had not been easy. For me, I was very much a bullied child, I was very clearly the sissy I was. Nowadays, I would be very much diagnosed with ADHD. I mean, I am diagnosed with ADHD. But it wasn’t a diagnosis that was banded around at the time. But I didn’t do well in class at any level, I would be true. And whenever possible, I would just walk away and go home, I did that a lot. And I didn’t really know how to fit into the world as a teenager, or as a child. I lived in my imagination more than anywhere else. So I didn’t have a companion in my brother. As I became a teenager, I did make good friends, several best friends are friends I’ve had since about the age of eight or nine, which I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a sad thing. But I didn’t know how to be in the world very easily. In Yeah, for all kinds of reasons. And the Salvation Army, for some reason, had long been an interest, there was something about it, which I don’t know caught my imagination, I did have a stray I wasn’t brought up in any way religious, I had a strange sort of religious leaning, which goodness knows where that came from. And for some reason, I found a sense of place and purpose in the Salvation Army, a sense of discipline, which was helpful given my ADHD and, and didn’t feel oppressive felt like a helpful schedule, that kind of thing felt like it felt like a helpful sense of order, and not control but containment almost, which for a lot for a good while was a very healthy environment, my family life sort of fell apart mid teens, my mother became sick and died when I was 1617. So older end of teens, my brother was at university, my father didn’t cope well with this at all, and quit his job and went to Australia to stay with a friend for about six months. So by my mid to late teens, I was quite a solitary figure at home, and the Salvation Army environment, there must have been a good 80 or so people at our local Salvation Army church, became this extended family and was incredibly, there was somewhere to be and people to relate to all the time. And it was a rather safe and happy and life giving environment at that time. And then I became increasingly aware that I was a big old wolf. And I said, I never had a kind of an internal self hatred. I never. It was always a strategic issue to me. I am gay. I don’t have a problem with that. I know the Salvation Army does I love my life in the Salvation Army. I love the people I’m working with here. How do I do that? And a very naive 17 1819 year old thought that I could sacrifice my sexuality for a greater sense of purpose in the Salvation Army and by my early 20s that you got horny? Yeah, that was not that was sustainable. And it was not sustainable. And it also it was to became clear that I was a lack of integration in my life that way that that maybe this is not the kind of lifestyle that will work for me long time. It had been a safe haven, which was now because I was like a plant I needed a good growing. I needed a good plant pot to grow in. But after a while, my roots and tendrils were going beyond that. And not nothing wrong with that part. But I wasn’t the right plant for it. So I needed to ramble.
K Anderson 39:44
So but So you mentioned before that you were bullied at school for being kind of a being a sissy. Yeah, a bit of a sissy and a bit posh a bit. And so at the time that you joined the Salvation Army where Are you aware of your sexuality? Yeah. Okay, but you thought and so it wasn’t from a place of internalised homophobia, that, you know,
Mark Brummitt 40:12
my parents were quite traditional, but they weren’t deeply conservative. My mother was very much a local actress, and she was chairing the Arts Council. I had a lot of unofficial,
K Anderson 40:24
Mark Brummitt 40:27
uncles who were very camp, very gay theatrical darlings. So, interestingly, I never had an opportunity to talk to my mother about it, because she died, as I say, when I was about, I think just turned 17 or something. But I never my dad who only died about five or six years ago, I never spoke to him about it, and for very particular reasons.
For him, he was he was not how to put this.
Mark Brummitt 41:05
If I had told him, I was gay, he would have made it his stress his issue, he would have struggled with that he would have worried about it, he would have worried that I would get sick, he would worry that I was going to be lonely. He had been he was a teacher, and he had given in the evenings been doing math classes for people with learning issues. And one of the people in one of his evening classes had been a young guy with who was hard of hearing. And that had been his learning issue. And so my dad gave him extra math classes, and he was murdered in and he stepped outside in East End pub in the 70s. And it was a gay bar, and it was a homophobic attack. And my father never really got over that. And in some ways, I didn’t share my story with my dad, because he was quite a bit older. And he would have it would have been a huge source of anxiety and worry to him, giving his understanding of that world, which was so very different from my understanding. So so you probably wanted him. Yeah, I wasn’t in a particular I wasn’t brought up in us in a particularly homophobic environment or wasn’t brought up in a particularly religious environment, and the Salvation Army experience I had was not strongly homophobic. In fact, it’s compassion and love. The culture of compassion and love was stronger than some of its moral coordinates, if that makes sense.
K Anderson 42:53
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But so at the same time, at 25, when you came out of the salvage came out, when you left the Salvation Army, you were ready to explore bits of yourself. Well, based upon those bits of yourself, alongside others, yeah. What was that? Like? Did you feel that you had lots of catching up to do?
I don’t really know. Did you
K Anderson 43:26
feel naive in comparison to other people?
Mark Brummitt 43:30
A little bit, but I was never, I was never hugely naive. I had made choices, not out of fear, particularly. But out of, as I say out, they were choices. There were strategic choices. They were almost mission or vocational choices, which I then chose against eventually, but I was not. There was a certain innocence about me, I hadn’t ever been even my home, even though my parents were not strongly religious. They were not drinkers. We didn’t really have alcohol in the house. I don’t remember them ever drinking. And so I hadn’t ever been to a pub particularly so this was not necessarily my world. But I wasn’t particularly scared of it. I didn’t feel like a fish out of water. I’m not even particularly adult. I mean, I spent I was drunk plenty of times in my late 20s, early 30s. But I’m To this day, not strongly. I don’t think there’s any alcohol in my house. I’m not strongly drinking person. So I it was not an environment that I was immediately used to, but I didn’t feel hugely fish out of water or anything. I was more like a child in a toy shop.
K Anderson 44:54
And what do you miss most about that park time of your life?
Mark Brummitt 45:00
But certain sense of possibility and liberation a certain sense of discovery. In the 18 months after leaving the Salvation Army, I got jiggy at the black cap. I went into a got a job, which was in many ways a revelation. I was working as a registered nurse at the Royal Marsden Hospital on a ward where it was pretty intense treatments of people with lymphomas, sarcomas and melanomas, and there was a lot of death and a lot of pretty desperate chemotherapeutic treatments going on. And I was amazed by the staff I was working with who are all highly trained in cancer care and the hospital was run and led by the work and the research is of the research of nurses. Not just research doctors, but nurses led the way in many respects and it was a revelation what I learned about nursing practice and and caring for people in such desperate situations. It was a liberation in the on my time off not only was I dancing at the black cat, but I was catching up educationally I had not done well at secondary school at school at all I left with not very much to my name. And I had got enough to do the RN training in the old days when it was hospital based but I’d never been to college and done a college or university degree or anything and I decided that I wanted to and I was doing some studies to get entry into a university and I had never considered myself particularly academically capable. My brother was the brilliant one in school. I was the one that would wear my mother’s pearl earrings and love and dance around in the garden singing showtunes.
K Anderson 47:10
Especially search searching of choice.
Mark Brummitt 47:13
I have confidence friend Leslie and I would would enact this in its totality at the drop of a hat on any possible occasion, and very sadly, still do. And she’s got a daughter who like
is a brilliant
Mark Brummitt 47:34
actress, singer dancer in the West End now and who just looks at her mom and her mom’s best friend. And by God, you’re so fucking embarrassing. But we don’t care. And
yeah, where were we what we were talking about?
K Anderson 47:53
Sorry, I distracted you.
Mark Brummitt 47:55
Sorry, I’m knitting. So my blackcap years when 92 to five, let’s say and by 22,019 95. I was a college, I was doing really very well but I was at King’s College London during the week, every weekend I was working two or three nursing night shifts to keep an income and I didn’t have an awful lot of time for going out and dancing. So I didn’t really go to the black cat very much for a long while and then in 97 I moved to New York City for a year to do I got a scholarship to do a master’s degree there and when I came back I went to the black cap and it felt different and that was maybe largely because of me I moved on in the sense that it wasn’t quite the toy shop that it had once represented to me and I think I’m gay venues and moved on the Soho was a much more established Nope, there was a lot more going on there. There were other venues around there were bigger clubs and the black cat was a little bit emptier didn’t have the same party stroke family lively feel. And perhaps it was mostly to do with me and what I was looking for.
K Anderson 49:29
Yeah, I mean, that’s really interesting. Isn’t it that Yeah, yeah. Like that. That thing about romanticising spaces and romanticising people and romanticising things. And then and then feeling let down. Yeah.
Mark Brummitt 49:49
Yeah. And I think that there was a mixture of these things. I was in at 30 and in my early 30s I was not going To be the 25 year old, just out of the Salvation Army, who found a wonderland in his local venue. Yeah, things have shifted, I’d shifted. It did not represent what it once did, as I’ve said, and maybe it’s self had changed and maybe even my memories were as much a not a nostalgia and a fantasy as a reality or certainly have been shaped by a mood and a moment that was specific to that moment. And so now to go back, I wasn’t going to find what I found at 25. So that how’s that for Li Zhi? Ik?
K Anderson 50:51
Oh, fancy word. You’re using so many fancy words today? I am sorry. Did you ever go to blackcap? Well, if you did, I would love to hear from you. Tell me any stories or anecdotes you have from the time you went there and share any photos through social media. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the username K Anderson music. Must basis is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking on all streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribe, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told someone who you think might also be interested in hearing this story. I am K Anderson and you’ve been listening to lost spaces.