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Monday 23 August 2010

Queeruption — opening party and base camp

Yesterday late afternoon we left the Peace Garden in St. Peter’s Square and walked along to Rusholme for the Queeruption Opening Party.

Apparently the original plan was to host it in an old building, but that fell through and the replacement was Saki Bar which is on the corner of Wilmslow Road and Moss Lane East. It’s a grubby and run-down venue in a building that, not many years ago, was a branch of Barclays Bank. Back in February it was reported that it had lost its licence because it showed a ‘blatant lack of concern for its neighbours’.

I would like to write something positive about the Opening Party but it’s going to be difficult.

One person who had travelled from elsewhere in Europe for Queeruption was livid to discover the event was in a commercial venue: ‘this is not what I came here for,’ she told me and other people expressed similar concerns.

When so much of the gay scene centres around alcohol, can any night in a club buying expensive drinks ever really be considered ‘alternative’ or inclusive, whatever entertainment is put on? When asked, on the Queeruption Facebook page, about people who might have little or no disposable income, the response from one of the organisers was: ‘who goes for a night out without any money?’. So some might say a former bank was an appropriate venue.

At Get Bent! in 2007 one or two events were held in a bar and club but most were in alcohol-free spaces — a good balance.

The bar is located at the beginning of the ‘curry mile’ and the entrance is shared and overlooked by a cafe where Asian men hang out. If you happen to be gay and Asian this may not be somewhere you feel comfortable.

Going in you were hassled for a donation and had your hand stamped as if you were cattle. Entertainment was up two flights of stairs, so tough luck if you couldn’t manage to climb those. The sound system (provided by Queeruption) was poor. I could hardly make out what was said much of the time I was up there. But I didn’t hang around for long as there were only a couple of chairs, so nowhere to sit as you watched.

Performer at Queeruption 2010

One performer made me laugh when he claimed a well-known but not exactly well-loved local politician had given him a sexually transmitted disease. He certainly had his act off pat. However all deserved a much better location.

Many of the usual-suspect hipsters who to tend hang around at Contact Theatre and similar venues were there getting sozzled on booze. When does ‘alternative’ just become a marketing strategy to attract people to another night in a ‘vertical drinking‘ establishment?

Two of us went over to Tesco, bought some food and water, and sat at a picnic table at the rear of the building chatting.

Then at about nine o’clock about ten people who were planning to camp, left the bar and we headed off towards the chosen site. About seven tents were put up — which is easier said than done in the dark — and food was cooked and shared. The pole of a freedom flag was used to stir a pan because cooking utensils had been forgotten!

Stirring the food with a freedom flag at Queeruption 2010 base camp. Someone forgot the cooking utensils!

Again it began to feel more like an alternative to the mainstream. It would have been great if some of the performers had been there instead of in the bar. But I suspect one of the reasons why that doesn’t happen is because drinking alcohol in public places is banned in Manchester and many of the hipsters just can’t enjoy themselves without it.

So there you have the elephant in the room in all this: the British obsession with drinking these days and the dominant force in so many things now.


Filed under: Gay,LGBT,Manchester — GS @ 3:07 pm
Tuesday 5 February 2008

The ‘Pink Peak’ minority

Increasingly, it seems to me that life may have improved for a narrow segment of the UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, but not for the majority. In some ways, for a large proportion of us things are worse now than they were 15-20 years ago.

(more…)


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester,Politics,With video — GS @ 5:21 am
Sunday 29 April 2007

Bye bye Operation Fundraiser

The Manchester Pride website reports that Operation Fundraiser will be ‘will be hanging up its buckets’ this year.

(more…)


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester — GS @ 6:38 pm
Thursday 21 September 2006

An inconvenient truth: Gay Manchester was better 20 years ago

Ad for Heros gay club, Manchester 1980's

I get tired of newspaper articles that make out that the gay ‘scene’ in Manchester used to be so seedy and bad years ago, but now it is so wonderful. It just isn’t true.

Take this article from 2003 which appeared in The Manchester Evening News — a newspaper that can be relied on to regurgitate hype about gay Manchester (just check out contradictory figures in the Evening News for attendance at Pride over the past eight years).

Here the Evening News quotes Iain Scott, owner of Taurus bar and restaurant in Canal Street who says:

“The last 10 years have seen the biggest evolution,” says Scott. “It has gone from three, maybe four, venues to over 30 venues in the Village Business Association.”

There may only have been a handful of venues around Canal Street. But if he is suggesting that there were only three or four in the whole of the city centre, then that is not true at all.

Flyer for Stuffed Olives mid-1980's with typewriter and magazines of the time

I moved to Manchester in 1982 and in the early to mid-1980s there were the following gay bars and clubs in Manchester city centre:

Stuffed Olives, High Society, No1 Club, Manhattan, Rembrandt, Dickens, Napoleons, The Union, New York, Heros, Archway, Thompson’s Arms.

A quick look at a couple of issues of Mancunian Gay magazine from the time shows some others that I don’t remember. The November 1983 mag lists: Why Not? on Ashton New Road and the Egerton Arms Hotel on Gore Street. The May 1984 issue lists Shadows on Union Street (later called El Cid). The June 1985 issue includes Paddys Goose on Bloom Street.

I make that 16 pubs and clubs. Not ‘three or four’.

‘Him Monthly’ August 1983 issue lists a leather/denim night every Friday at the Wheatsheaf pub on Camp Street (would you believe?) and there was the Poly gay disco also on Friday nights. And let’s not forget the Bloom Street Cafe and Gaze bookshop and Clone Zone which were also on Bloom Street.

There were two gay bars that we used to go to in nearby Stockport: The Baker’s Vaults and the New Inn.

Flyer for Heros gay club, Manchester, 1983

In those days, gay bars and clubs were almost entirely gay. There were no straight boys looking for a fight and no shrieking hen parties. On the whole, people were not on drugs and it was rare to see anyone drunk and incapable. It was really quite civilised and fun. You could enjoy a night out without worrying that you might have your face punched in or drink spiked.

Yes it’s true you had to knock on the door to get into some places. But that kept out the trouble-makers. These days they are inside the pubs and clubs.

Ad for Manhattan gay club, Manchester 1980's

In the 1980s some of the places were in better parts of town: Stuffed Olives and Heros were on the other side of Deansgate to Kendall’s department store. Manhattan was in Spring Gardens and No.1 Club was near the town hall. In fact, far less ‘seedy’ than Canal Street is now.

Ad for No 1 gay club, Manchester 1980's

Many venues were gay owned and run (unlike today). There may be double the number of venues that claim to be ‘gay’ now. But I reckon there are fewer gay men and women out on the scene now than there were in Manchester 25 years ago.

This isn’t just because everywhere is now ‘mixed’, but also because older gay people aren’t welcomed by and don’t ‘fit in’ to most places in 2006. Meanwhile, many gay youngsters reject what the scene offers and can socialise perfectly well without it.

Years ago, it really was like a family. You would see senior citizens in The Rembrandt and The Union alongside 18-year-olds. Out on the scene we had friends of all ages and some of the older ones were almost like aunt or uncle figures to us. We valued their experience and advice and enjoyed their company. They cooked meals for us (poor students) and threw the best parties in town.

But where do older people go in the wonderful gay village now, Evening News? Do tell… That public community has broken down and everyone is poorer now because of it. I would say, in general, there is more ageism, sometime bordering on age phobia (everyone aged over 35 is a paedo — it’s a well-known fact!) and perhaps fewer mixed-age relationships because those are less accepted (‘what will my mates think?’).

However, off the scene, mixed-age LGBT friendships are still very much around. Some of my dearest friends are aged in their twenties. But we rarely meet or do anything on Canal Street. If the gay village, scene and Pride don’t welcome everyone, what is the point of them? Are they a force for good or bad?

Ad for High Society gay club, Manchester 1980's

The old magazines also list a number of gay groups that met and there was the Gay Centre in the heart of things on Bloom Street.

The 1982 and 1984 issues list two clinics in the city centre area where you could get a sexual health check up. Compared to one today. In those days you could actually walk in and see someone immediately without having to wait up to six weeks for an appointment as you have to now.

The Pink Picnic 1990

The Pink Picnic 1990

Out, proud and very visible at the Pink Picnic 1990. It was held on a public footpath next to the Dovestone Reservoir at Saddleworth. No fences, politicians, marketing people, police or permission. All the money collected went to good causes.

And as for people not being ‘very proud to be seen’ until the gay village became over-commercialised and full of straight people in the mid 1990’s, with bars like Manto… What a travesty of the truth: tell that to the thousands of men and women who walked around the city centre (not in front of friendly crowds) and then packed Albert Square for the Section 28 rally in 1988, the Liberation ’91 march, or who took part in the Walk For Life every year.

They were out and proud on the streets. By comparison, how much courage does it take to go to a ‘mixed’ bar where you can pretend to be straight if anyone sees you there?

Liberation 91 march, Manchester

Watch historic video footage of the Liberation 91 lesbian and gay rally in Manchester, 1991

What is there is to be so proud of now? It’s all about money, youth, alcohol and hairless gym bodies. Our (non-political) Pride event excludes people who can’t afford to pay and the binge-drinking, drug-taking, self-destructive culture which it promotes results in many actually ending up with HIV and needing a lifetime of expensive combination therapy.

Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990
Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990
Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990

Above: raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a jumble sale on Canal Street, Manchester, August Bank Holiday, 1990.

Which makes a mockery of the relatively small amount that Manchester Pride raises for charity. In 2006 people with HIV were actually charged to walk in the Pride parade.

Currently, the gay village is something to be ashamed of, not celebrated. We have let big business and the City Council destroy the community that we once had.

Meanwhile the same people are behind this blatant rewriting of history because it suits them and their business purposes.

As for Iain Scott’s suggestion that in the 1950’s ‘all’ the buildings in the Canal Street area ‘were derelict’, this isn’t true. In a recent episode of BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, featuring David Dickinson, he revealed that in the 1960’s he worked in a building on Princess Street opposite the New Union. There were lots of businesses operating in the area.

Photo 1: from 1963, a shot of the site where Clone Zone stands now on Sackville Street. There are two neat little shops that are open for business. On the far right of the block is what is now Napoleons (then a restaurant) and beyond it a church which stood where the Bloom Street car-park is today.

Photo 2: The Rembrandt in 1962. The shoe repair shop next door was still there thirty years later.

Photo 3: this picture from 1973 shows a restaurant in the building that is now Thompson’s Arms.

Photo 4: a cafe and a couple of other businesses at the junction of Sackville Street and Major Street in 1962. This is the street that is between the CIS building and Bloom Street car-park.

In all, a thriving area I would say and probably with a wider variety of different businesses than there are now.

UPDATES: small additions were made to this article on 5 September 2009.


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester,The media — GS @ 6:08 am
Wednesday 5 April 2006

Staying up

A quick video about working through the night…

It’s day three of .


Filed under: Personal — GS @ 9:15 am
Saturday 11 February 2006

Profits fall in Manchester’s gay village

This morning, both The Independent and The Times have stories about profits being down in Manchester’s gay village. Income has fallen by 20-25% they say.

This is not a surprise to me. Recently I found figures that suggest, since they began charging for entry, attendance at Manchester Pride has fallen to one quarter of what it was in 2002. And contrary to the ‘best-ever event’ hype that we see in the media each year afterwards.

Aw what a shame. Now, after ten years during which time the businesses abandoned their traditional loyal customer base in search of the biggest possible profits, finally the chickens are coming home to roost.

Neither article mentions that gay bars and clubs used to be a safe space that could be enjoyed by gay men and women of all ages. The pubs may have had curtains at the windows but, once inside, they were friendly and rather civilised. You never saw a fight and it was rare to see anyone really drunk and misbehaving.

Anyway, the ‘gay village’ has always been a commercial manufactured thing. Years ago, the bars and clubs were spread across the city centre — from Deansgate and Spring Gardens to Sackville Street. Despite what it says in The Independent, there were no gay bars actually on Canal Street until the early 1990’s (the entrance to the Rembrandt is on Sackville Street and the New Union is on Princess Street).

These days the area is threatening, unpleasant, cynical and aimed exclusively at the 18-30 age group who have a high disposable income and drink a lot. Everyone else has been driven out. There is no ‘community’ anymore and they should stop pretending this now-awful area is anything of the sort.

Even the bricks and mortar have been destroyed in the quest for profit. Old shop fronts have been ripped out to make way for takeaways or bigger bars, stonework has been removed from the front of the old warehouse buildings and the original cobbles are long gone. Controversial and tacky waste-of-money memorials have been put up in Sackville Park, when the cost could have been better spent actually helping people.

It’s not just the fact that we are now more-accepted at other places around Manchester and have other ways to meet people — such as the Internet. It is that we don’t like what the so-called gay village has been turned into by money-grabbing businesses and Manchester City Council.

Now The Rembrandt (which used to be a men-only bar) is to take the drastic step of banning hen parties. Unfortunately, the time to do that was ten years ago. Not now, just because your profits are down.

So what is the future? I think the outlook is bleak for the businesses down there. Gay men and women are going to continue voting with their feet and the over-30’s who, in the past, would have been customers for life, won’t ever return. As the area becomes increasingly ‘less gay’, there won’t be the novelty value, so the ‘non-gay’ customers won’t bother with that part of town anymore.


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester — GS @ 9:25 am
 
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