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Created 3rd March 2014 by Abigail

Exhibition

Queer Noise

Queer Noise: The History of LGBT+ Music and Club Culture in Manchester.
Curated by: Abigail Ward
Thanks to: Forever Manchester, Archives+, Kath McDermott, Ian Bushell, Claire Solanki, Al Baker, Rachel Adams, Philippa Jarman, Ste McCabe, Rod Connolly, Owain Richards, Geoff Stafford, Jon Savage.

Introduction by: Jon Savage

Welcome to the Queer Noise exhibition: an online project that explores the hidden history of Manchester’s LGBT+ music culture and club life. The key word here is hidden. Despite the fact that there have now been dozens of books written about Manchester music and pop culture - relating to Factory, the Haçienda and Madchester in particular - LGBT+ people are rarely given space in the city’s ‘official’ histories.

Believing that this is a severe omission, Abigail Ward decided to set up an online project that would invite queer people from across the generations to share their memories, pictures, artefacts and stories – with the aim of constructing a fuller history of the city’s oft-forgotten queer scenes and their wider influence upon British pop and club culture.

The memories go back to the nineteen-fifties, when venues such as The Union Hotel (now the New Union), The Café Royal and the Gaumont Cinema bar provided safe spaces for gay men. In the 70s we see the launch of the Gaslight, one of the first lesbian clubs in the region, opened by Joyce Edwards.

Then there’s the early 80s peak where, despite the attentions of police Chief Constable James Anderton, venues like Hero’s, High Society and Napoleon’s flourished.

Manchester’s LGBT+ scene exploded in 1991 with the success of Paul Cons’ and Lucy Scher's Flesh at the Haçienda (again an alternative story to the laddish ‘Madchester’ groups who dominate the histories of that club).  This helped Manchester's Gay Village to thrive, although there are many debates about the commercialisation of Canal Street and the dilution of the queer subculture.

In more recent times we have seen the emergence of a fascinating Queer Alternative scene with clubs like Bollox, Homo Electric and Club Brenda the helm. These club are all notably eclectic musically and trans-friendly, as are smaller nights such as Tranarchy and Drunk At Vogue.

But there are still many gaps, particularly from the trans scene, and we’d like your help to fill them. If you own artefacts that you think should be included in this exhibition, please upload them to the main Manchester Digital Music Archive website, or email them to info@mdmarchive.co.uk. Every contribution will be properly credited.

With your support, we hope to construct a proper people’s history and to reclaim Manchester’s vibrant LGBT+ music and club culture from the shadows.
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Manchester Hippodrome
Poster, 1959
Playbill taken from the collection at Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives. This was on display as part of the Life's a Drag exhibition led by artist Jez Dolan.

You can make an appointment to see this fascinating collection of theatre playbills by emailing:

archiveslocalstudies@manchester.gov.uk

According to manchesterhistory.net, in 1935 the Hippodrome Theatre in Oxford Street in Manchester was demolished, to make way for the construction of the Art Deco Gaumont Cinema. At the same time the Ardwick Empire was refurbished and renamed the New Manchester Hippodrome.

Odd to think of this splendid building so close to the Apollo, now vanished.

Ivor Novello famously met Noel Coward for the first time outside the Midland Hotel in Manchester in 1917. Coward six years Novello’s junior.

There follows an excerpt from Philip Hoare’s biography of Noel Coward :

They met on the pavement outside the Midland where Noel Coward’s ‘illusion of this romantic handsome youth drooped and died in the gutter'. Novello’s face was yellow and unshaven, he was dressed in a shabby overcoat with an astrakhan collar and wore a battered brown hat. Noel could have easily mistaken him for a busker and thrown him a few coins. Novello invited Coward to see his musical ‘Arlette’ and afterward they had tea in the Midland. As Novello shaved and changed for dinner Coward watched him transform into the matinee idol. ‘I just felt suddenly conscious of the long way I had to go before I could break into the magic atmosphere in which he moved and breathed with such nonchalance.’
The Rembrandt
Photograph, 1962
Rembrandt Hotel, Sackville Street/Canal Street, 1962. Image taken from the Manchester Local Images Collection.

The following recollection, by George E. Drew, is taken from a wonderful article on the
www.g7uk.com website. The piece argues that the gay scene of yesteryear was more friendly, vibrant and, well, gay than Canal Street is today. Many thanks to Geoff and George.

"How about this list of city centre gay venues in 1958. Yes! 1958! The Old Garrett (Original Building), The Union Hotel (it’s then name), The New York Inn (it’s then name), The Trafford Bar, The Prince’s Hotel, The Cafe Royal, The Concord Bar in the Midland Hotel – yes! you read that correctly!, The Garrick Hotel, The Thompson’s Arms (original building), The Kingston (now called Paddy’s Goose), The Waldorf (the one in Cooper Street).

A spot for a late night coffee or snack (maybe something else!) was the Bus Stop cafe -known by the gay crowd as the snake pit!

As a matter of additional interest what is now The Rembrandt was then in the pre-fire building and had the original name of The Ogden Arms. The licensee at the time was gay hostile – so we certainly weren’t welcome. That pub became gay when a gay licensee took over in February 1961 and the name became The Rembrandt later that year."

images.manchester.gov.uk/
Cafe Royal, Peter Street
Photograph, 1970
1
Buzzcocks, Pete Shelley
Fanzine, 1978
Excerpt from Pete Shelley's 'Plaything' fanzine, 1978.

Writer and academic David Wilkinson writes:

"In Manchester, punk’s second city, punk forms of same-sex passion took on a very different character from those of London. This was due in large part to Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. Shelley was born in the Lancashire mining and cotton town of Leigh, where Coal Board clerk Alan Horsfall had established the North Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform (later the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) in 1964.

Shelley himself had been involved with gay and women’s liberation whilst studying at Bolton Institute of Technology in the mid 1970s.

He gave an interview with Gay News in 1977 and openly discussed his bisexuality in the music press.

Echoing the emphasis of liberation politics on pride, he wore a badge which declared ‘I Like Boys’ for the Buzzcocks’ first Top of the Pops appearance the following year.

The early scepticism of gay liberation regarding clear-cut sexual identity, and the desire of its more radical elements to ‘change the sexuality of everyone, not just homosexuals’,[5] may well have played a part in Shelley’s repeated emphasis that the lyrics of Buzzcocks songs were deliberately non-gender specific in an attempt to maximise their potential for empathetic response. Shelley’s own fanzine, Plaything, was concerned with ‘personal politics’, one of the hallmarks of gay liberation and of the libertarian left in general. It argued that punk or ‘new wave’ was ‘not just about music’ but ‘a challenge to consider everything you do, think or feel…the way you react to the people around you. The ways that you love them, fuck them, hate them, slate them.’

Manchester’s key post-punk fanzine City Fun, run from the office of the New Hormones record label set up by Buzzcocks’ manager Richard Boon, featured adverts for Manchester Gay Centre and national advice line Friend. It displayed the influence of both gay liberation’s irreverent countercultural style and Shelley’s witty and heartfelt interrogations of desire and romance in articles such as ‘The Joys of Oppression - By Mouth Or By Rectum’.

Thanks to David Wilkinson
Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs, Pete Shelley
Lesser Free Trade Hall
Photograph, 1978
Photo by Kevin Cummins (c) 1978

Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley holds up a poster for the Pistols' second gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.
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In the summer of 1976, punk hit Manchester following the Sex Pistols’ pivotal brace of gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Misunderstood by many as an aggressive, negative force, the early punk scene in Manchester celebrated difference; fostered a DIY approach to creativity and self-expression; and created a tightly knit music community, which (for the most part) welcomed LGBT young people. Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, who co-promoted the Pistols’ second gig, was openly bisexual and sang about romantic experiences with both men and women in a matter-of-fact way.

Manc legend, and self-declared 'punk lesbian', Dawn Bradbury - one of the handful of people who (genuinely) attended the Pistols' first Manchester gig - described the scene she was at the heart of as ‘completely non-discriminating’. She said ‘whatever might be your thing, it was irrelevant, it was about being yourself, that was all it was about.’

Martin Ryan (of 'Ghast Up' punk fanzine fame) says:

This photo was taken at the reunion gig 2 years on from the Lesser Free Trade Hall gig of '76. Howard Devoto rejoined Buzzcocks at the end and they performed 'I Can't Control Myself 'with Steve Diggle switching to bass and Steve Harvey stepping aside, thus reverting to the original line up.'

With kind permission of Kevin Cummins.
Jon Savage
Photograph, 1980
Jon Savage. Image: Daniel Meadows (c) 1980.

There follows an article written by Jon Savage for Queer Noise/MDMArchive in 2010:

"Today, Manchester is barely recognisable from the city that I moved to thirty-one years ago, in spring 1979. I’d come from London so I knew it was going to be different, but nevertheless it was a culture shock: it felt like travelling back twenty years in time from the capital. Not that London was so fabulous then, but pre-regeneration Manchester felt really bleak.

It was the depths of recession. There were huge areas of empty space: bomb-sites or large-scale demolitions for the redevelopment that had not yet occurred. The modern shopping centre – the Arndale, Market Street - was grey and soulless. The general atmosphere was oppressive, thanks to the aggressive policing of James Anderton, the chief cop sent by God to rule over the city.

Manchester felt under lock-down then: if you were out late at night, you’d get stopped at least twice a week. It wasn’t just gay people, it was anyone who looked and acted different. Anderton’s presence was ‘really malevolent’ as queer writer and DJ Liz Naylor remembers: ‘I think he really did look around the city and thought “this place is full of scum and I’m going to wipe it out”.’

It was not a happy time or place, in retrospect. I’m glad to see that there are accounts of gay people having a good time and living well during this period, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was still uneasy about being gay: tentative, prickly, feeling barely fit for human consumption. This is a common experience for many people in the same position today.

I didn’t identify with the then commercial gay subculture. There were clubs like Hero’s but I didn’t like Disco then – more fool me – and I didn’t associate sex with drinking, so it was a bit pointless. I couldn’t make it work. While absurdly over-dramatising in its conclusion (I didn’t go home and ‘cry and want to die’), the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” captured that experience well.

My work-mates at Granada, where you would have thought tolerance would prevail, weren’t that helpful. Gay people were clustered in Light Entertainment – a form of TV that I disdained – and they were bewildered by my lack of interest in their subculture. ‘Why don’t you dress like us’, they asked me: well, I didn’t like pastels, Kickers or Fiorucci. I was a punk rocker, for god’s sake.

My social life was taken up by the people in and around Factory Records. The Manchester rock scene didn’t talk much about homosexuality, even though several leading lights were bisexual at least. Of the Factory trinity, Martin Hannett simply didn’t care, Rob Gretton was surprisingly sympathetic and warm, Tony Wilson not so – an attitude that eventually caused a divide between us.

I began to sense a big injustice and got interested in gay rights. You could buy a range of pamphlets and books in the large, subterranean Grassroots that was just off Piccadilly. There was also a Manchester Gay Centre on Oxford Road – but it all seemed small and fragile, a shard of hope in the face of a public attitude that veered between tacit contempt and active harassment.

It felt like the dark ages and we were in the shadow. I was rescued by Tony Warren, with whom I briefly worked on a project called “Love Margox” – a vehicle for GTV presenter Margi Clarke. In retrospect, this pilot – filmed in early 1980 – was a non-stop, over-the-top camp-fest, with contributions from Carol Ann Duffy, April Ashley, George Melly, Frank Clarke and Tony Warren.

Perhaps it was too ripe for the Granada bosses, because it was cancelled. Tony took pity on me – in retrospect I was pretty hopeless – and we’d go to the Granada Bar, the Stables, and talk about the Sixties, in particular the music scene and Brian Epstein. Tony had worked on the Gerry and the Pacemakers film “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and regaled me with stories secret and scurrilous.

Eventually he told me about the gay sauna that was beneath the Brooklyn Hotel on Upper Chorlton Road in Whalley Range. So I went – it was on my way home - and my life was changed. It was the period just before AIDS, around 1980/81, and in the steam bath and sauna many of my hang-ups began to dissolve. No lasting relationships resulted, but I had a pretty good, guilt-free time.

There were other saunas during that period: in particular the Euro Sauna in Stretford, which later moved to Blackley, on the edge of a tough housing estate – I think it later burned down. The Brooklyn became Stallions, and lasted well into the 90s before being torn down for redevelopment: there should be a plaque there to record for posterity all the orgiastic behaviour.

I left Manchester at the end of 1982. In retrospect, I value the warmth and friendliness I received from many gay men during that period. I’m also very glad that gay people in the city can live with freedoms barely conceivable thirty years ago, indeed that they have emerged from the dark ages imposed by those who would oppress in the name of the light. That’s the best revenge of all."