Today marks International Women’s Day and we would like to celebrate the female music fans across the U.K who uploaded their memories to the People’s History of Pop.
Here are a few highlights from the collection..
My first gig, January 1978
The first gig you ever go to is something of a rite of passage. Perhaps you were, as I was, under-age and with tender ear-drums. Getting through the doors past the bouncer, in spite of being nearly four years under eighteen (and him being the size of a house), wasn’t a problem (perhaps because I was a girl…?) Even the process of buying a pint of cider at the bar was painless. Coping with the volume was something that got easier as the night wore on. But concealing my excitement at seeing a band I really admired up there on the stage, in all their real, raw glory, playing songs I’d only previously heard in session on John Peel’s radio show, was impossible. My first, proper gig was Siouxsie & the Banshees at a club called Triad in Bishop’s Stortford, January 1978. Cee
Ready, Steady Goer!
This goes way back to the 1960s when I was about 16 or 17 and regularly attended recordings of Ready, Steady Go. I was on the list of dancers for the programme and clearly remember dancing with The Hollies – great stuff. I used to go with my school friend, Stella and we just loved to dance and see all the pop stars. Once a floor manager grabbed a boy who was standing near us when we were dancing like crazy and he yelled at the poor guy, ‘dance with them, dance with them.’ Great memories’. Frankee
Spice Girls birthday party
The classic birthday party of the 90’s… get four of your best friends together and each dress up as one of the spice girls! You were bound to be chosen to be a member in at least one birthday party a year! Hanna Benjamin.
In an article about the Manchester gay club scene from NSM magazine in 1986, a photo depicts two women posing as they drink Breaker beers in a club. In the background, two others are slumped asleep on the sofa, done in by the night of partying. “I love that photo. I think it captures the scene at that time,” says Abigail Ward. “It wasn’t until the 1990s that Manchester was dubbed ‘Gaychester’, house music took over and LGBT music culture in the city went boom.”
The clipping is just one of thousands of pieces uploaded to the online archive Abigail runs to celebrate Manchester’s long and varied music history – the Manchester District Music Archive.
The idea for the archive came from two filmmakers – Matthew Norman and Alison Surtees. Inspired by historian C.P Lee’s book about Manchester music, ‘Shake, Rattle and Rain’, they started a campaign, with the help of C.P Lee and band manger Dave Rofe, to set up a physical museum in the city. Abigail got involved to develop the website soon after and found that people were sending her stuff from their personal collections, which she would upload onto the site herself. “One day I thought ‘God, I really wish people could do this for themselves!’ It was before Facebook had really taken off so I set about creating a site that would allow people to upload their own images. As the online presence took hold we let go of the idea of doing a museum. Instead of it being a large dreary institution, we took a more of a guerrilla approach.”
The online archive grew quickly as word spread and has allowed Abigail and her colleagues to create pop-up events and exhibitions giving a voice to untold stories. ‘Queer Noise’, for instance, explored the hidden history of Manchester’s LGBT music culture and club life, while ‘Moss Side Stories’ told the history of clubs in the area and ‘City Fun’ collected together memorabilia of the post-punk fanzine collective.
“For a long time, the mainstream perception of Manchester was a very laddish one. It was about celebrating a very white, male culture. We felt that there were other stories that needed to be told and the way to destabilise the dominant historical narrative was to give people a platform to talk about what’s important to them.”
For Abigail, the stories about Manchester’s music scene reveal it as a “radical, pioneering and political city”. That’s her personal experience too. “I am from Preston in Lancashire, which is about 40 minutes away, but it might as well have been 40 million miles away in terms of my ability to get to Manchester. I grew up obsessing about bands like Magazine and The Smiths. Listening to Morrissey in particular made me feel less lonely as a person who was confused about my sexuality. I would pound the streets with my Walkman listening to what he was saying and, when I was very young, Manchester seemed like a romantic place to be. It also seemed like a safer city to come out in.
“With my focus on LGBT club culture I have tried to tell a story about how lots of people only a few years older than me protested on the streets against things like Section 28 in the 80s and 90s. These demos helped to make Manchester a safer space for gay people, so that when someone like me came along, there were good clubs to go to. I’d never even met another gay person before I came here.”
It was in the 1990s, when Abigail arrived in Manchester, that Manto club was launched on Canal Street, flouting the secrecy of gay venues by installing full-height plate glass windows. DJ Tim Lennox had been building the house and dance music scene at the gay-friendly Number 1 Club and that led to the birth of Flesh, a popular house night at the Haçienda billed as ‘Serious Pleasure for Dykes and Queers’.
“As a curator, I would say the thread in my work is celebrating and exploring when communities come together through their music and club life to protest oppression. It doesn’t have to be under a specifically political banner. It’s the coming together and being visible that’s a political act. That’s when the best parties happen.”
You can explore the Manchester District Music Archive here and their collections on Historypin are here.
Abigail’s favourite pieces change all the time, but here are her current top three:
1. The article from NSM magazine in 1986 about lesbian nightlife in Manchester (pages 1, 2 and 3) – with photos by Michelle Smith.
2. A reggae poster for when the reggae artist Johnney Osbourne came to play at the PSV club. “When he came on stage it turned out he was an imposter who was performing under Johnny Osbourne’s name. It obviously kicked off massively in the club.”
3. A photo of Jonny Cash at the Astoria Plymouth Grove: “This is a beautiful shot by a guy called Brian Smith, who was just a fan in the audience. The venue is on the street that I first moved to in Manchester. It’s a fantastic picture of Jonny. It’s his first ever gig in the UK. It’s an Irish social club. And in the background you can see the clock and it’s just past midnight. It just really does it for me.”
The PHOP team visited Newton Dunbar, former owner of Four Aces, London to discuss how he came about opening Hackney’s first nightclub in 1967.
“There were hardly any nightclubs. The few clubs that were in existence were structured clubs, that more or less did ballroom type dances. We used to go to basement parties in Brixton and Ladbroke Grove. They were basic places where they would sell a few beers and ask for a small admission fee.
There was a space we started going into a basement in Highbury Grove. My friends and I started going two or three times a week and after a few months the owner asked us if we wanted to run it. We decided to call it the Four Aces. In Jamaica there was a brand of cigarette that was popular called Four Aces and there was four of us so it seemed appropriate.
After a while the the others moved on and I continued to run the club but it got to the stage where the Highbury venue became too small. We started to get around 60-70 people and that’s when I started looking for a bigger premises.” Newton Dunbar
Dunbar secured the lease on a larger venue in Dalston, London with a stage which enable him to booked bands to perform including soon to be chart topping rude boy..
“We had booked Demond Dekker to perform at the club and during the waiting period he went to No.1 in the U.K charts with ‘Israelites’. The night came and we had a phenomenal turnout. The queue went right up to the junction and he performed magnificently. The crowd that turned up were not just West Indians, there was a mixture of people. It was that night that was really instrumental in putting us on the map.” Newton Dunbar
We want to hear about your favourite music venues from across the U.K. Share your story at PHOP.CO.UK