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Do Ya Wanna Funk? Paul Flynn On Hi-NRG

In our monthly subscriber-only essay, writer Paul Flynn describes being handed a flyer for an unusual literary event which acts as a madeleine, casting him back to the 1980s, and a sexual and sonic awakening. Home page image: detail from the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt photographed by the author

Paul Flynn portrait by Danny Moran

In autumn 2019, a listing for a niche London night out caught my eye:

"Naked Boys Reading: Patrick Cowley’s Sex Journals at Ace Hotel, London Shoreditch. Doors 7pm, show 7.30pm. Tickets £8 (on the door), £10 (on the night)."

Despite the competitive pricing and ten-minute proximity to my doorstep, at first glance it prompted nothing more than an embarrassed schoolboy snigger. “Naked Boys”? “Sex Journals”? Pull the other one. Returning to the listing a day later, I recalled a buried memory which would take a little unpicking.

When I was an actual sniggering schoolboy, between 1982 and 1987, at the same battered Catholic comprehensive on Sharston Mount, Wythenshawe, Manchester that had previously educated two prominent members of The Smiths (Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke) and one prominent Coronation Street actor (Kevin "Curly Watts" Kennedy), I had a lovingly compiled C90 cassette of songs taped mostly from the radio. Scrawled across the gold label of the Maxell XL II-S was the genre distinction: “hi-NRG”.

My hi-NRG compilation was not a sophisticated reading of the genre. Compiled by a 14 year old and comprising selections plucked mostly from the limited resources of Radio 1’s unusually disco-minded early-evening DJ Peter Powell, Piccadilly Radio’s weekend dance show and a slim selection of LPs borrowed for 20p a pop from Wythenshawe’s brutalist Record Library (address: Leningrad Square), it was hardly likely to be.

These are my memories of that tape. It kicked off with Miquel Brown’s ‘So Many Men, So Little Time’, a record so deliciously sluttish it has to shorthand the number of men she intends to devour in multiples of ten during its intro.

Discovering the thrilling personal-life details that Miquel was not only a musical theatre actor but, furthermore, Sinitta’s mum only redoubled the camp audacity of ‘So Many Men”s matter of fact opening couplet:

“This morning I opened my eyes and everything’s still the same

I turned to the guy who stayed last night and asked him: ‘What’s your name?’”

The full 12-inch extended mix of Hazell Dean’s ‘Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)’ was on there, a hit fashioned in the early Stock, Aitken and Waterman days at the PWL Hit Factory on Borough High Street, two blocks south of the Thames. I later learned from an avid SAW devotee that Pete Waterman would whisk his succession of starlets straight from the vocal booth to The Gladstone Arms, a gay pub situated behind the studios for a celebratory pint, so long as he considered they’d just recorded a hit.

The tape hit more fabulously sha…

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