Richard Dennen: Embarrassingly Below-Standard Gay Journalism
I wanted to vomit earlier this week when a friend sent me a link to Richard Dennen’s feature for the Evening Standard on “The Gay Tribes of London”. A feature which set out to be a witty round-up of London’s key micro-scenes within the overall gay scene, but one that read like some off-the-mark ramblings of a retired man in Capri who perhaps visited London once at the turn of the century.
Laughably generalised, gapingly incorrect and embarrassingly crass – I worry that gay teenagers around Britain might read Dennen’s piece and think that our scene is a shambolic charm-bracelet of sour clichés. Thankfully few people actually read Dennen’s work here in London other than a handful of watchful media gays and the odd closet-case. In fact it must depress Dennen if he ever takes the Tube to see how people glance for a split second at his often-pointless work before hastily turning the page.
We've spent years praying that if the Evening Standard insist on using Richard Dennen then could they please ask him to change the subject from his own invented social life and shout-outs to his random flatmate. But now I think I preferred his self-obsessed features to this off-key "written during the advert break" drivel.
So, here is a blog post ironing out a few of the many creases in Dennen’s poorly-observed portrayal of the London gay scene. I've tried to be nice because you just know Dennen is one of those journos that relentlessly Googles himself whilst his Mum goes to the toilet in Pizza Express.
"EAST END BOYS"
Dennen’s stinky section heading “East End Boyz” says it all really. He hasn’t got the faintest idea where to find East London’s fashionista gay “tribe”. He mentions the most obvious venues, The George & Dragon, The Joiners and East Bloc, the latter he describes as “The new gay hang out” – if your definition of new is YEARS. East Bloc is a great club but it certainly doesn’t have a “club kids” vibe. The George & Dragon has a decent core of middle-aged regulars too, strong bald-headed blokes who arrive early and fill out the seating booths. Better examples of underground East London gay venues would be The Oval where BUTT magazine recently held a massive party, Backstreet in Mile End, The Macbeth on Hoxton St which is home to Polly Sexual’s annual Tranny Olympics, and of course Dalston – which doesn’t appear anywhere in Dennen’s feature despite it being London’s third largest cluster of gay bars what with places like Dalston Superstore, Vogue Fabrics and Moustache Bar among a myriad of other supergay-friendly joints.
Dennen praises the East End saying “gays can dress how they feel without anyone batting an eye-lid”. I just pray that a provincial gay teenager doesn’t read his feature and turn up at Old Street tube’s myriad of exits wearing a fur jacket and heels. East London is quite dangerous, there is a lot of crime on the streets, violent muggings and stark scenes of poverty. I wouldn’t advise anyone to dress outlandishly in East London unless they are out with a tight group of friends, and take a coat! Yes the occasional gay boy turns up at The Joiners with Mechano on his head, and yes people look trendy but it's not exactly James St. James. Leigh Bowery's London is long gone, today East London is all statement t-shirts and overt skinniness.
“The Lambeth Walkers”
Dennen describes Vauxhall as “the old-school gayhood of the twink and "Muscle Mary type who hit Fire, the club under the arches in Vauxhall on South Lambeth Road, because they think that's what being gay is about”. Overlooking the insulting nuances of his sentence and his almost unreadable clunky syntax, Dennen is wrong. You hardly ever see twinks in Vauxhall. Twinks, incidently, look like this:
Men in Vauxhall tend to look like Francois Sagat:
Lots of muscle, not that much Mary.
Fire is an odd club for Dennen to pick out, because whilst it is obvious and well-known, it is more of an after-hours club for those who have been drinking in Soho and jump on the 88 bus when Heaven closes.
“Land of the sauna” is a bizarre statement to attribute to Vauxhall. There is one gay sauna in Vauxhall and another near Waterloo. London has about ten gay saunas and they are evenly spread around the city, from Limehouse to Fitzrovia to Turnpike Lane. Maybe Dennen should add a bit of variety to his swimming timetable?
“Wearing checked shirts and a fair share of leather tumbling out of the leather clubs. How terribly on-trend” – Have you ever seen someone come out of The Hoist wearing a checked shirt? Me neither. And how weak when Dennen bows down to his ES readers by throwing a “How terribly on trend” jibe. It’s just, I don't know, pointless really?
“The Two Brewers on Clapham High Street might be stronger on the older gay who likes to pretend he's young with a bit of designer stubble and an Abercrombie T-shirt” – A tiny bit rich coming from Dennen, a man whose journalism strives very hard to forge the impression that he is young (he used to have a cap in his Standard mug shot!).
How does Dennen want middle-aged gay men to dress? Perhaps in statement blazers and sunglasses? The Two Brewers is a fantastic gay pub visited by young, middle-aged and old men alike. I first set foot in there when I was 18 and I certainly didn’t feel too young for it, there are loads of gay kids there, Boogaloo Stu the gay scene's honorary kids TV presenter used to run a night there. Also – lumping Clapham and Vauxhall together is clumsy. They’re both beneath the Thames but completely different parts of London.
I don’t like it how Dennen doubts the team at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern when he writes “whose organisers describe themselves as purveyors of progressive working class entertainment”. THEY ARE purveyors of progressive working class entertainment! Also, David Hoyle doesn’t receive any Arts Council funding, it was denied this year - so that's wrong too. Dennen rounds off his misjudged portrait Vauxhall with the hilarious (pass me a bucket) observation “How Establishment can you get?” – as if we should all ridicule Amy Lame for her constant community endeavours and David Hoyle’s tireless campaigning for Shelter, MenCap and the Elton John Aids Foundation.
Finally, Vauxhall isn't "old school". It attracts an older crowd but strictly speaking, and perhaps interestingly to Evening Standard commuters, it is a much younger scene than Soho, originally a deliberate alternative to Soho, hence its nickname Voho - a word which is completely absent from Dennen's piece. Molly Mogs is OLD SCHOOL, not Barcode where they play modern-to-the-minute house.
“The Camden Kids”
“The north London scene revolves around Camden where the gays are talking about music and whoever is playing later that night at KoKo or the Roundhouse...Main interests include hitting the skate parks, playing with their bands or discussing the new shades of illamasqua make-up or nail varnish”.
This is totally fictitious and sounds to me more like a personal fantasy. A skating gay tribe who hang out in Camden? The truth is North London doesn’t really have a gay scene, everyone travels into Soho or heads East. Yes, Camden has a gay-friendly vibe and is very studenty - but it’s no gay scene. The Black Cap is constantly struggling to fill its bar stools, The King William in Hampstead has been all but dispossessed by the gay community, whilst The Green in Angel doesn’t feature anywhere in Dennen’s piece, probably because lesbians drink there. In fact lesbians have been completely excluded from Dennen’s feature. A more interesting feature might be ‘Why Is London’s Lesbian Scene Being Systematically Shut Down In Front Of Our Eyes’?
“The West End Gays”
“Conversation is film and TV with arguments about Madonna or Gaga on the tip of the tongue. It is here that one can also find an unusually high number of guys who take their dogs to work”. I have no idea what Dennen is describing here, it certainly isn’t the West End. And Madonna? Nobody except the odd YouTube vlogger has uttered a word about Madonna since 2006. The West End’s gay scene is Soho, it includes G-A-Y, G-A-Y Late, Ku Bar, The Edge, Green Carnation, Lo Profile, Freedom, Escape, Village, The Admiral Duncan, Comptons, The Yard and other venues. None of them hold anyone remotely like the imagined character in Dennen’s feature. People take their dogs to work at Vanity Fair and World of Interiors, fair enough, but that's not the gay scene is it?
It’s as if Dennen has met one man in Soho ten years ago and is using his faded memory as a blue print for one of the world’s largest and most famous gay scenes. Not happy.
“By the weekend they've fled Soho with their other-half to the country, the dog and the wi-fi” – What the fuck? This is just sounds like drivel now stirred with the cynical leer of an ageing singleton.
Dennen cites Lady Lloyd as the tranny to know for the West End. Well, kind of, but she DJs around the entire city and has a resident slot at Mission in Leeds where she hails from.
London’s gay scene is ever-changing, galactic and complex. There are no “tribes” but merely trends and hubs of commonality that layer themselves like paint. London's gay scene is interchangeable and overlapping, it is complex, which is why penning it all down in a paraphrasal feature for a commuter paper is a task befitting for an accomplished gay writer, say Richard Gray or Alex Needham.
I just wish Dennen would use his generously given platform with the Evening Standard to write insightful, hearty features that add something to our community, rather than constantly holding up his smeared mirror to the gay community with that creepy insecure smirk of his. It's not our fault that you're gay Richard.
"Is There A Point To Richard Dennen?" on Drowned In Sound.
"Richard Dennen: The Worst Columnist in London" by Scott Bryan.
"Richard Dennen: The Standard's New Gay Columnist" by Caspar Aremi for SoSoGay
"Richard Dennen: The Single Worst Thing Written by Anyone Ever" by The Urban Woo
Richard Dennen's Work on the Evening Standard website