Look we all know there’s a connection between music and clothes, that’s a given. So for this month’s musical selection we approached someone who joined the dots, and then some.
Barrie Sharpe was one of the founding members of Duffer of St George – pioneers of taking street into the fashion world. You can thank them for bringing John Smedley back to the fore, Shelltoes/Redwings? Yes, them too – and that jaunty New Era cap sitting on your head (shouts to the young crew). Yep, that too.
All this time Sharpe still managed to DJ in all the right places, coin Rare Groove whilst releasing a successful record/album and toured the globe off the back of it. He stepped away from Duffer after they cashed in on their meteoric rise, starting his own label Sharpeye which dips into the past whilst delivering on style with real quality.
We thought it was only right to ask some questions after he put some of his favourite records together for us.
Going by the mix you kindly put together for us, your musical love’s obviously Rare Groove – you were one of the pioneers of that movement, what or whom got you into that?
It was 1971 – I was 11 years old, a Skinhead but becoming a suedehead (growing my hair) and living in a kid’s home where the accommodation was small cottages. For some reason I was living with three older black girls. One night they decided to take me to a local youth club dance. I heard “Get On The Good Foot” and “Make It Funky” by James Brown. “Oh my God”, my whole world was turned upside down. What was this music? I had never heard anything like this before, it was my first spiritual awakening and I have not looked back from this epiphany: I was born again. I changed my style, I had to learn to dance like the black kids and the girls enjoyed teaching me; this was my new path. James Brown had changed my life; my journey had now started.
Fast forward to 1983 – I was going to a club in Soho, The Hot Sty, run by Sean Oliver, the driving force behind Rip Rig & Panic and Float Up CP. Sean played some good music but I thought I had better records, so I started to bring my own records to his club. Sean liked my music so I brought more and more records for him to play. Soon I was hanging out with him regularly. One day he asked me to DJ with him and Neneh Cherry (who was in both of Sean’s bands); they were having a sound clash with the Wrecking Crew at the Titanic. Although I had never DJ’d before I was confident enough with my record collection to put on a good show. I ended up playing most of the music and the night was slammin’.
At what point did you decide to move into production, was that a huge step or was it a natural progression from playing records?
I was in contact with Diana Brown; she was now the assistant of Rene Gelston, a top stylist at Vidal Sassoon (later to become the creator of Black Market Records). I would often make Diana cassette tapes of all my old music, which she would take to work. Rene was always interested in the music that I provided and inquired about me. Rene had secured Friday nights at London’s Wag Club (formerly The Whisky A Go Go) and he asked me to DJ along with Lascelle Lascelles. The night was called Black Market. Friday June 1st, I turned up with all my old 70s funk records and the night was an instant success.
We’ve all read/witnessed the rise and (so called) fall of Duffer – at what stage was the breaking point for you to get out?
1994 – The Beginning Of The End. This was a bad year. None of us were shrewd businessmen, far from it; we were just very lucky. With growing overheads, twenty members of staff, massive collections, the cost of two stores and an expensive studio, it was all coming to an end. We had spent the money living our lives: i.e. Florence trips to buy Coffin Soled loafers from Suitor, an expensive Italian shoe store which we frequented regularly for our £375 shoes, all on our gold Amex cards. No one was watching the books; we were on the way out (going skint). On the verge of bankruptcy, a German investor stepped in and gave us the money to pay our debts; in return we gave him Duffer and were promised employment in the new regime. We had no choice. It was over.
Thomas – This smooth talking, suntanned, flash German tennis player was now my boss! Thomas was an idiot; he bought the company and then gave it back to us to run, Marco and I on design and Eddie in charge of the accounts. We had already proven that we needed management but Thomas knew better, what an idiot! I didn’t like Thomas at all and had no intention of staying in his employ for very long. I started planning my escape. Earlier in the year we had been commissioned to do a collection for a Japanese company, Ready Steady Go, but we spent the money and no collection was produced. No one had the guts to tell the client that we had spent all the money. As I no longer had any loyalty to Duffer I informed the Japanese agent of our indiscretion and offered to produce the collection for them myself under the name Sharpeye, my childhood nickname; I never missed a trick. Sharpeye with its fine attention to detail took off in Japan: the writing was on the wall.
After being such an integral part of “street” culture does it still interest you what the ‘kids’ are up to?
Definitely; I always look towards the street and youth for inspiration.
What direction are you taking Sharpeye and where do you get your inspiration?
Vintage imagery (1970s, 60s, 30s 20s) & military designs, particularity the Luftwaffe.
Thanks to Ade for the connection.