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PICTURES: Black Sheep - The bar that set itself apart from the flock

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BYE bye Black Sheep, the bar which set itself apart from the flock. On Monday, news broke that Croydon's longest-standing independent nightclub had shut after 15 years. The High Street bar had been at the forefront of the borough's alternative scene and was one of few remaining late-night venues in the town centre with real character and personality. The cause of its demise is depressingly familiar. Owner Paul Bossick, who had run the Sheep with his dad Howard since 1997, says he's been "pushed out" by plans to build flats above the bar. The Sheep helped establish dubstep and its back catalogue boasts an eclectic mix of top DJs, bands and musicians; from Pendulum, Enter Shikari and Newton Faulkner to Raging Speedhorn and Ozric Tentacles. Such an off-beat mix led one national newspaper to dub the Sheep "an oasis in a desert of terrible chart tunes". It hosted open mic nights, beat poetry, dubstep and drag queens, fetish artists, burlesque, drum & bass and hip hop. It had afternoon jazz, break dancing and happy hardcore. It featured films, gay nights, festivals, fancy dress and, of course, a huge number of local bands. While it could look daunting from the outside, the Sheep became so popular because it welcomed people of all persuasions. The Friday and Saturday night crowd was as varied as its events list. It was a community bar where memories were made and friendships founded. Its departure has met with a huge reaction online, with 30,000 people reading reports on the Advertiser's website, which were shared 3,000 times on Facebook. It is, perhaps, the biggest and most talked about blow to Croydon's nightlife since the closure of the Blue Orchid in 2004. But those expecting a last hurrah befitting a venue with such a formidable reputation have been left disappointed. The Bossicks told staff on Saturday that the venue was to close – and then it did. No final night or big send off. Silence where there had once been anything but. "It's a real shame it went out like this," said manager Bob Gill, 37, who worked at the bar since October 2000. "A place like the Black Sheep Bar was never destined to go out so quietly. There should have been a massive thing." Like many of those who paid tribute to the venue this week, Mr Gill said the Sheep set itself apart by "accepting everyone". "You could meet anyone in the Black Sheep," he said. "They came in wary of it because it had this image, and then they had a wicked night because there was no pressure. So many people had wonderful memories of it. "I don't think it could be replicated again and, if it was, it would be a shame for that venue because everyone who went there would be comparing it to something they knew and loved." Unusually for a nightclub, the Black Sheep was also popular with licensing officers. It was the first venue to adopt a members-only, finger print identification system and, in 2010, won a council award recognising it as one of the safest bars in town. In March 2012, the Bossicks opened their second town centre bar, the Bad Apple (they had previously run The Cage, Croydon's first, and ultimately short-lived, gay bar). Paul said the decision to close their first club will not affect the Apple, which he now plans to open for five or six nights a week, rather than the current three. He said: "I've got no intention of making Black Sheep 2 – unless we open Black Sheep 2." Asked whether that meant he plans to reopen the Sheep in a different venue at some point in the future, Paul said: "Definitely, if I find the right spot I would like to have a go again. "I have loved doing it and a lot of people have enjoyed doing it with us. It's got a massive fan base and has become an institution. "Closing it down was massively emotional for me. When I did it I couldn't believe it. I was quite tearful about it to be honest. "It's more about the customers than the place or the management. They made such a community. It became their bar. That's what made the Sheep so great.”Former Black Sheep Bar employee Steph Darkes describes what set the venue apart... "I STARTED work at the Black Sheep in 2002, after having a bet with my then boyfriend over who could get the supervisor job advertised in the window. My interview was with Paul and Howard [Bossick] and directly after I was offered the job. So I started work at probably the most notorious bar in town and I was up for a challenge. The night time economy in those days was thriving, the footfall of a weekend was immense and there were many other venues in town enjoying success. I stayed at the Sheep for many years, taking on the music and promotion and all sorts of other odd jobs, and I have some fantastic memories of the place. For me, and for many others, Black Sheep Bar was a place where everyone was welcome. The ethos was one of acceptance, with zero-tolerance of hatred and prejudice. It was a hub for creative alternative sorts: hip-hop acts, artists, MCs, burlesque performers, break-dancers, older jazz lovers, metal heads, scenesters, indie kids, singer songwriters, musicians, artists, poets and people out for a good time. It was a springboard for Croydon's talent to meet and connect. Many bands were formed at the Sheep and many friendships sealed over plastic pint glasses and sticky floor tiles. When the news of its closure broke, a group was set up to share memories of the Sheep, and within two hours it had 700 members. It was a contentious place, always has been. Some people saw it as their Mecca or second home and others wouldn't venture near the place if you paid them. The thing is that, if you were a part of it (staff, customer, musician, DJ, music lover or party animal) you felt the magic and the memories you have will always make it a very special place. Love the place or hate it, it has certainly left its mark on a town whose nightlife is now on its knees. For more photos from Black Sheep Bar's heyday click here

PICTURES: Black Sheep - The bar that set itself apart from the flock


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