Manchester club, the Haçienda, is synonymous with many things: Factory Records, New Order, Peter Saville design, acid house, and the people who usually crave it. And while Manchester itself has a rich and storied LGBTQ+ history, the iconic nightclub’s own associations with that community are perhaps not discussed as often as they should be.
Now, a new photography exhibit has opened in the city that focuses on both the Haçienda and the more political side of LGBTQ+ history. Title Together As One – A Celebration of Manchester’s LGBTQ+ Communitythe show was orchestrated by the British Cultural Archive (BCA) — a non-profit organization set up to document, highlight and preserve changes in British culture and society through documentary photography.
Images of the show by Jon Shard focuses on Flesh, a midweek night out at the Haçienda that launched in October 1991. This was a tricky time for the venue: it was facing a kind of “comeback” of sorts, as BCA, after its heyday in 1988-90. This was the most successful period for the venue since it opened in 1982: it was sold out every night in 1987 (having consistently made losses in previous years), thanks in large part to its Friday night Nude event, which began his life in 1986 and marked the Haçienda as one of the few UK clubs playing house music – the definitive sound of that ‘second summer of love’ period of 1988-89.
The launch of Flesh by club entertainment and promotions director Paul Cons and promoter Lucy Scher was partly a way to revive the club’s faltering fortunes. Since that late ’80s boom, “Hac parties were losing their appeal due to a number of heavy-handed gang-related incidents and a male clientele repelling bettors,” says BCA.
However, the night quickly became much more than a marketing tool: Flesh “was one of the biggest nights there – probably the biggest gay party in Europe,” says Flesh’s. in-house photographer Jon Shard, whose work features prominently in the Together as a show. “My friends and people around me were talking about it all month. People were coming from all over, there were people from Europe coming for it – it was always packed and full of energy….
“It was always special,” he continues. “I was there for all of them, it was the best night to shoot because of the carnival atmosphere. It was very colorful, everyone spent two or three days thinking about what they was going to wear for it.
The evening also made significant inroads for female DJs. At the time, these were rare; but Flesh had been known for two Resident DJs, Paulette Constable and Kath McDermott. “Jon was into mustard and came over to tell us why we should let him take pictures at Flesh. He was even younger than me and absolutely killed it. An absolute sweetheart!” says McDermott, who was still a student when she DJed at the club.
A less glitzy but nonetheless very significant aspect of Manchester’s LGBQT history are the 1988 protests against the Thatcher government’s implementation of Article 28 (also known as Term 28), a legislative designation for a series of laws across Britain which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality”. ‘ by the local authorities. One was the ban on schools teaching “the acceptability of homosexuality as a so-called family relationship”.
It was a time that was already incredibly difficult for LGBQT people: coupled with the AIDS epidemic and subsequent backlash fueled by media alarmism and cruelty, Section 28 sought to further suppress the gay community. Over 20,000 people took to the streets of Manchester in February 1988 to protest and demonstrate their anger against the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, culminating in Albert Square and forming one of the largest LGBQT demonstrations ever in the UK.
Documenting the protests was Peter Walsh, who worked as a photographer for Manchester’s City Life magazine in the 80s and 90s, he made a name for himself photographing Manchester’s acid house scene. “The Anti-Clause 28 demo was one of the biggest protests I covered in Manchester during this time,” says Walsh. “The starting point was on Oxford Road, near the Poly and the participants seemed to go on as far as the eye could see.
“It was loud, joyful and vibrant. The country had been under Thatcher’s rule since 1979 and people were determined to fight against that law. Manchester’s left-wing council welcomed the marchers and stood with them in solidarity against the divisive Tory government.The civil liberties of LGBQT communities were attacked by Thatcher and we were ready to stand side by side with them and say enough was enough.
British Culture Archive Presents: Together As One – A Celebration of Manchester’s LGBTQ+ Community is on view at The Refuge, Manchester, until 30 September; refugemcr.co.uk