Terminal Jive

Creative projects by Abigail Ward

Month: February 2015

The First National LGBT History Festival – Queer Noise presentation, 2015

Photo: Pete Shelley by Kevin Cummins
Photo: Pete Shelley by Kevin Cummins

In late 2009 I acquired a small amount of funding to develop ‘Queer Noise’ – an online exhibition for Manchester District Music Archive that aimed to lift the lid on LGBT music-making and club life in Greater Manchester from the sixties to the present day. The exhibition would harness and contextualise scanned ephemera, such as posters, flyers, photos and press articles uploaded to MDMArchive by members of public all over the world, in addition to my own collection of artefacts, which I had been digitising for a number of years.

Launched in 2010, ‘Queer Noise’ now contains over two hundred chronologically ordered images and written recollections, and continues to grow as more and more people share their memories. A selection of these artefacts will form the basis of my short presentation to the LGBT History Festival in February.

In my talk for  I will be examining three key points in the city’s LGBT music history: the birth of punk in 1976; the house music explosion of the early 90s: and the alt-gay scene which developed a decade later as a response to the homogeneity of the music on offer on Canal Street (Manchester’s gay village).

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 very straightforward way. But ‘76 was also the year in which James Anderton began his tenure as Chief Constable, marking the beginning of a sustained period of harassment of Manchester’s LGBT community by police. Punk historian Jon Savage said of this time, ‘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.’

Fast forward to 1990 and we see the launch of Manto on Canal Street – a sophisticated European-style bar that deliberately flouted the prevailing ‘behind closed doors’ culture of gay venues by installing full height plate glass windows. Thanks to DJ Tim Lennox, house music took hold at Central Street’s gay-friendly Number 1 Club, which in turn led to the birth of Flesh at the Haçienda – a wildly successfully Ecstasy-fuelled house and garage night flagrantly billed as ‘Serious Pleasure for Dykes and Queers’. It was during this time that the city was dubbed ‘Gaychester’, the first Mardi Gras happened, Canal Street boomed and Manchester City Council truly cottoned on to the potential of the pink pound.

Flesh lasted until 1996, spawning many copycat club nights and, along with the Number 1 Club and Paradise Factory, was responsible for the making house music the dominant sound of ‘Gaychester’. But by 1998, some of the same DJs, promoters and club goers that had inspired the house boom were growing tired of the commercialisation of both the scene and the music. At this point, LGBT club nights boasting a more eclectic soundtrack spanning funk, soul, disco, hip hop and indie began to emerge. Club Brenda and Homo Electric were at the forefront of this movement. Like the punk scene that had come before, these clubs celebrated difference, with flyers boasting slogans such as ‘Music is life, gym is the coffin, be ugly‘.

As well as flyers, posters, gig tickets and photos, my presentation will include some unseen footage of Manchester’s gay clubs, plus excerpts of oral histories captured exclusively for the festival.

If you would like to add any artefacts or recollections to the Queer Noise online exhibition, please register to become a member of Manchester District Music Archive here and start sharing your history. Alternatively, you can email: info@mdmarchive.co.uk.

Love Will Save The Day

[From the vaults: a blog for Pop ‘Til You Drop, 2011]

“When you’re feeling full of doubt
And fear has got you in a bind
Love will save the day…”

I have done my best throughout my life to avoid the work of Whitney Houston. That never-ending winter of 1992 still casts a shadow. There was I, fifteen years old, miserable, watching ‘I Will Always Love You’ on The Chart Show for the umpteenth week, just yearning for something (anything) else to hit the number one spot. And there was Whitney, splay-legged, hands in that saintly clasp, wobbling her jaw to achieve maximum vibrato… God, she made me want to slash my armpits with boredom. No wonder records like this sounded so good.

But recent events have forced me to re-evaluate one tiny section of the Twitney back catalogue. At the second Pop ‘Til You Drop back in April, my partner in crime DJ Danielle Moore dropped ‘Love Will Save The Day’. I had just wedged myself into the toilet and was happily adding to the graffiti (I <3 Shep Pettibone) when the disquieting realisation that I was enjoying a Whitney Houston record hit me. Then, seconds later, lettuce barely shaken, I found myself careering around the dancefloor like an inebriated farmhand whilst paying customers looked on aghast.

By coincidence, last Monday evening, during an extravagantly lubricated Spotify session here at Pop Heights, ‘Love Will Save The Day’ surfaced again, confirming my suspicion that the tune is a wig-lifting, wab-wobbling, gusset-splitting anthem of titanic proportions, in spite of its cloying ‘message’.

The next day, after a couple of light ales, I was persuaded by my Whitney-loving friend to investigate the White Vest album further. One fraught listen off cassette on a car stereo, during which I left bite marks on my own fist, revealed there is little else on there for the taking. Whitney’s version of ‘I Know Him So Well’, performed with her mother (somewhat inappropriately), sounds like two car alarms arguing in an empty turbine hall. ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All’ is another wallpaper-stripping ballad that Ms. Houston approaches with all the subtlety and restraint of a newly promoted drill sergeant. The whole album is plastered in the kind of electric piano that makes you feel like you’re having the contents of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg squeezed into your earhole as you listen. It really does make a girl want to smoke crack.

Which I almost did, back in 1993, when eventually Whitney was knocked off her perch by this:

Hard times indeed.

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