From hardcore punk to London Fields bar-managing minister: Off Broadway’s Byron Knight
PUBLISHED: 15:28 27 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:30 27 November 2016
The Gazette catches up with hospitality entrepreneur Byron Knight, an ordained African minister who has presided over 13 weddings – one while dressed as Elvis
Byron Knight began working full-time in the hospitality industry in Los Angeles aged 14, when he stopped going to school.
“In those days no one really checked your ID. I was mature and I needed to work because I didn’t have anyone taking care of me,” the 47-year-old tells the Gazette as we sat sipping coffee in his bar, Off Broadway, in London Fields.
“I wasn’t the type to steal for drugs. I wanted my own money to buy my own dope. I had been thrown around between my mum, my dad, my step-dad and my brother’s house, and at some point I said: ‘This is ridiculous – I can just take care of myself.’ I put my mind to it and worked a bit harder.”
Byron was an early starter in lots of things, and had already become “a hardcore” punk rocker two years before on a trip to the Kings Road in Chelsea with his mum, when he saw punks with Mohawks and leather jackets drinking “tinnies” in Sloane Square.
"If we spent a bit of time thinking about how similar we are rather than dissimilar we would all get along a lot better."
“I felt like I was coming home to Mecca,” he said, laughing. “My mum’s hairdresser friend gave me a Mohawk. I went over to the pub and ordered a Pils and double Southern Comfort and they served me. I was 12. I wasn’t irresponsible. I did what I wanted but in a controlled way – I was a little too headstrong for my age.”
He credits the Presbyterian church and being a born-again Christian from the age of 13 to 19 with “saving his arse”.
“I was a bad kid, a delinquent,” he said. “It did amazing things for me. As an institution it is horse s*** – the dogma is ridiculous. But as a community it is one of the most important things and it taught me about extended families, and supporting people and being available.”
He spent his early 20s with his “punk rock family”, and from the age of 27 to 37 he was involved in left-wing anarchist political work, “trying to overthrow the government”.
“I fell out of it and realised trying to change the president in front of me was never going to be as effective as trying to change the child that’s going to grow up to be the next president,” he said.
Food and hospitality has always been central to his life, with a Japanese mother, a father who is a Polish Jew, and a Mexican step-dad. But he came to London a decade ago, “looking to get out of hospitality” and work with young people.
He ended up opening the Broadway Market bar eight years ago, however, where Beyonce and Jay Z threw a last-minute private party during the Olympics.
Three years later he launched barbecue joint Duke’s in De Beauvoir with Robert Plant’s son Logan, where Beavertown brewery began.
Byron misses the craft beer industry so much he’s about to start his own label Deviant and Dandy.
Having been ordained in a Unitarian church, he can conduct spiritual wedding ceremonies. His favourite of the 13 he’s presided over so far was one in Rio Nevada for a rockabilly couple when he got to dress up as Elvis.
When he gets the time he attends the nature-based Ghanaian mystical church in Surrey, which “honours everything that has spirit and energy”.
“There is so much to us that defies basic chemistry, and even if it doesn’t, the basic chemistry feeds who we are so there is some sort of connection we have between humans and animals and the environment,” he explained. “If we spent a bit of time thinking about how similar we are rather than dissimilar we would all get along a lot better.”