There’s probably no convincing way to put across just how unique and groundbreaking The Wag was. Situated in Soho, The Wag, founded on a whim by Chris Sullivan, quickly became an institution. Despite the run-down interior, those who made it in to this exclusive den after queueing along Wardour Street could expect to rub shoulders with a host of stars – The Who, Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise, Joe Strummer, Dustin Hoffman, Martin Scorsese, David Bowie, Al Pacino, Mickey Rourke, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Grace Jones, Elton John, Prince, Talking Heads, LL Cool J, Naomi Campbell, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, The Clash, Leigh Bowery and The Sex Pistols who are alleged to have attended, performed or to have held parties at The Wag. Legendary after-parties were held by Prince, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georgio Armani and Jean Paul Gaultier. Mick Jagger would regularly turn up to have a pint with his old mucker, yes David Bowie (practically lived in the place by all accounts!), and Angelica Huston and Jack Nicholson were also amongst the luminaries who would swing by. An at the time unknown Madonna performed on the tiny stage, as did Bananarama, Sade, The Last Poets, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Stevie Wonder, The Beastie Boys and The Pogues. Obviously any club is only as good as its music – enter regular resident DJs such as Jazzy Jay, Jah Wobble, Fat Tony, Pete Tong, Frankie Knuckles, Jeffrey Hinton, Princess Julia, Todd Terry and many more who went on to become today’s superstar DJs.
You’d think a place that successful was the result of intense brainstorming, investment and five year planning? When we asked Chris Sullivan what the secret was, he was refreshingly candid. He said, “In truth, I made it up as I went along – going purely on gut instinct. Some nights worked and others failed miserably. We did not have a VIP area, did not ring up paps when the famous balled-up and did not allow cameras in the club. We did not sell tables with minimum spend. A big conglomerate governed by accountants did not own the club. How times have changed.” Indeed. And how dull clubs have become..
A place that always felt inclusive, it was a catalyst for racial integration and hedonism. The Wag introduced funk and black music to a whole new crowd. It was the first UK nightclub to play acid house and spawned the rare groove scene that fuelled the growth of hip-hop and rap. The Roxy Tour brought together Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay and Grand Wizard Theodore, rappers The Fantastic Four, Fab 5 Freddy, Infinity Rappers and Rammellzee; as well as skipping stars The Macdonald’s Double Dutch Girls, breakdancers the Rock Steady Crew; and graffiti maestro Futura 2000.
It is therefore an obvious choice to celebrate the 35th anniversary by bringing out a stonking CD set, curated by Chris Sullivan, musician, journalist and most importantly, the Wag’s founder, director, promoter, designer and booker for the entire run of 18 years. The four discs feature a selection of the remastered rare, classic and collectible funk, Latin, disco, hip hop and jazz that filled the floor back then and which will have you humming in happy recollection or indeed discovery of the great music from back when.
The Wag 35th Anniversary CD box set is released on 10 June via Harmless.
Words by Anna Bang
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