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Baker's Dozen

Dancing & Defiance - Paul Flynn's Soundtrack To 30 Years Of Gay Culture
Andy Thomas , July 24th, 2017 11:06

To mark the anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, Paul Flynn (author of Good as You: From Prejudice to Pride, 30 Years of Gay Britain) chooses 13 records that soundtracked his life, from ACR to Elton and Lil Kim to Sleaford Mods.

"To a mind spiralling with the possibility of what life had to offer outside of a grey, rainy world that pivoted on Saturday afternoons spent leafing through the vinyl at Wythenshawe public library's record department, it felt exactly like magic. There was a point somewhere between the angry sad falsetto of Jimmy Sommerville and the mischievous sex of Holly Johnson that felt like a perfect distillation of a gay adult life." So writes Paul Flynn in the opening chapter of Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride: 30 Years of Gay Britain. The year was 1984 and Flynn was entering his teenage years as these two gay figureheads appeared on Top Of The Pops with Bronski Beat's 'Small Town Boy' and Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Relax'.

When he set out to write Good As You, the year 1984 was the obvious starting point. "I was looking at one of the charts for that year and you had Frankie's 'Two Tribes' at Number 1, George Michael's 'Careless Whisper' at Number 2, and 'Smalltown Boy' by Bronski Beat at Number 3," he says. "Then when I looked down the chart there was Animal Nightlife, The Associates and Blancmange and they all had gay members. Then of course at the time you also had Pet Shop Boys and Culture Club. I was just fascinated by why there was such a glut of gay men making pop music and what was it they were trying to get out of their system by doing it in pop songs."

It's the way Flynn mixes social and cultural history (interviewing everyone from Kylie Minogue and David Furnish to Lord Chris Smith and HIV/AIDS specialist Alison Randall) with his own personal story that makes Good As You such an insightful and times very moving read. "The immediate impetus for the book was some old video footage of the Clause 28 march in Albert Square in 1988 that had been past around Facebook by old friends from Manchester," he says. "This was about three years ago and it was just massively evocative. Particularly for me as I remembered being there as a 16 year old just coming out and turning into the person I was going to become." It was suggested to Flynn by one of his friends that he should write a column about the footage for Attitude magazine where he is a regular contributor. "I started writing it and it quickly became clear that it was much bigger than an 800 word column," says Flynn. "It got me thinking about questions I didn't know answers to and one of those was why Manchester had turned gay in such a big way."

From the development of the gay village around Canal Street to the gay subtext of characters in Coronation Street and onto the dance floors of The Hacienda and Number One club, Flynn explores Manchester's relationship with gay culture. He also examines how gay and straight culture are intertwined. "I think a lot of gay literature is written as if being gay is an experience you go through by yourself outside of an immediate peer group and it's just not the case," he says. "I mean you look at a film like My Beautiful Launderette and that was an absolute event in Britain at the time and not just for gay people but for everyone. I remember when it came to The Cornerhouse in Manchester everyone was so excited. So yes I wanted to write something that integrated gay and straight culture. There's also something particular about Britain in the way gay culture gets a grip of mainstream culture that's really interesting. I think there's an otherness about being British that embraces gayness. And when it does happen it gets really exciting."

Despite the integration, the 1980s were years of virulent homophobia in Manchester. "At the time you had the Embassy Club and Bernard Manning and macho footballers with perms, so to hear a really cool man like Bernard of New Order saying all the best music was played in gay clubs was a really big thing," says Flynn. New Order were one of the many groups Paul was introduced to by his older brother whose refined musical tastes led to his own record shopping trips across Manchester. "I was buying lots of records by '84 and had a good collection by the time I left school," he says. "I had a Saturday job and would go to HMV on Market Street or Piccadilly Records. There was also the dance music specialist Spin Inn, that was an amazing shop to go in."

Spin Inn became Flynn's regular shop for buying house music 12"s in 1988, another pivotal year in Manchester. "The Hacienda was gorgeous and utopian but at the Number One club you also had that feeling of dancing for liberty and equality that is the basis of all great gay clubs throughout history," says Flynn. "This was also the year of Clause 28 and although the demonstrations were important, going to the Number One felt like a more effective way of protesting somehow – just to dance and be defiant. And the DJ there Tim Lennox who I talk about in the book was just as important to our culture as Graeme Park and Mike Pickering were at the Hacienda. But yeah Spin Inn was a really important shop at the time as was Eastern Bloc at the height of Acid House. Looking back pretty much everything I earned then went on music."

Flynn has maintained his vinyl habit and the diverse set of records he chooses here are a perfect accompaniment to one of the most important books about gay culture in recent times.

Good as You: From Prejudice to Price, 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn is out now, published by Ebury Press. Click the image below to begin reading Flynn's selections