Manchester Pride is today one of the biggest LGBTQ+ events in the country, bringing thousands into the city every year to celebrate love in all its forms.
Over decades, the festival has grown into one of the longest-running Pride celebrations in the country – expanding massively over the years, whilst doing its bit to raise awareness, acceptance, and huge sums of money for important charitable causes.
But it wasn’t always like this. Rather, when it began life in 1985 as the Gay Pub and Club Olympics, organisers had to deal with a lot of hostility from both the police and the public simply to put on some fun events like .boat racing down the canal, tugs of war, and egg and spoon races judged by local drag queens.
At that time, there was still a lot of institutionalised homophobia in Greater Manchester. Back then, the village was a secretive area that people visited covertly and most of the bars had blacked out windows so you couldn’t see in.
The community struggled with a lot of prejudice, as well as police raids to stop what was at that time termed as ‘licentious dancing.’
An except from Mancunian Gay magazine in 1984 titled ‘Not tonight, Anderton’ tells the story of how one night 20 plain clothes officers stormed into Napoleons and forced everyone in attendance to provide their personal information before being allowed to leave – an incident that was later branded as “an obvious case of police victimisation” in a press release issued by the Gay Centre.
In spite of this, the first Gay Pub and Club Olympics event still went ahead on the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1985. Notably, the event had the support of a new generation of Labour councillors elected in 1984 – who gave the gay community their support and appointed a Lesbian and Gay officer in a move reportedly inspired by Ken Livingstone.
Inspired by Livingstone’s ‘s early days on the Greater London Council, in 1984 those new Labour councillors created an Equal Opportunities Committee and appointed Lesbian and Gay officers Maggie Turner and Paul Fairweather in what would prove to be a landmark move for gay rights in the north of England
1986 saw things gradually improve for the community, as councillors ‘put their arms around’ the gay community and gave it their support, welcoming a Northern Pride event in 1986 and contributing public funds towards the previous year’s celebrations.
Paul Fairweather, Manchester’s first Gay officer, covered the 1985 event for Manchester magazine Mancunian Gay: That year, the council had donated £1,700 towards the event which was focused around fundraising for AIDS.
“Some of the bars got together to raise money for AIDS organisations in the city. There was a lot of support from the gay community and a lot more hostility from people in the city.
“At the time it was a very small event but people really, really put their heart into it. I think underlying it was beginning of the AIDS epidemic – people were concerned about the future.”
As the ’80s continued, Manchester’s fight for gay rights continued with the Section 28 march in 1988 acting as a huge turning point as the Thatcher government’s draconian legislation brought people out onto the streets to protest in their droves.
At the time, Manchester was almost alone in voicing its opposition and those involved came under huge pressure both politically and through the media. However, the marches were huge in that for one of the very first times locals who weren’t part of the gay community joined in solidarity and allyship.
Ultimately, though, that protest put paid to the restrictive legislation, which had been introduced to explicitly discriminate against gay people and prevent them from discussing their sexuality with, say, teachers or social workers at the time.
The march also did its bit to bring together different elements of the disparate tribes within the LGBT community, and the next year was followed by another event called Love Rights ’89 – which was billed as a “celebration of Lesbian and Gay Sexuality”.
Still, it wasn’t until the early nineties that the Gay Village welcomed its first openly-gay bar and even then police raids in the area continued right up to 1994.
The battles against institutional homophobia were still being fought, clearly, and some continued to call the Canal Street area ‘Satan’s Square Mile’ – but the opening of new nightclubs like Nightclub Cruz 101 and seminal events Electric Chair and Poptastic saw the community pushing back.
In 1991, the Village Charity was formed and the Manchester Mardi Gras, ‘The Festival of Fun’ was created – raising £15,000 that year alone.
That year, there was a ‘street market’ in Sackville park (instead of on the road outside the Rembrandt Hotel) soundtracked by DJ Mike Coppoc, and a ‘It’s a knockout’ competition that was characterised by the wearing of some very tight cycling shorts – by all accounts ‘the thing’ to wear at the time.
A heartfelt speech by Paul Orton of The Village Charity closed that year’s event on the Monday night, followed by a fireworks display which ended with “Manchester Cares” spelt out in the night sky.
In the years that followed, the free-to-attend event grew and grew, with stages erected in the public park and on the car parks every year. Then, in 1999, for the first time ever the Gay Village area was fenced off and what was then known as a “pledgeband” was introduced, with a commitment that 50% of proceeds raised would go to charity.
The decision to cordon off the village and charge an entry fee was contentious at the time, and is still considered to be so by some today – with some campaigners arguing that the wristband system prevents some members of the community from taking part by imposing financial restrictions.
In part because of this, some bars and clubs in the village still don’t require a wristband to gain entry to this day and the campaign group Facts About Manchester Pride have done quite a lot of work to suggest that there isn’t a basis in law to charge people access to the village over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Despite the contention, though, for many the party was only becoming more popular. By the early 00’s the event was attracting more than 100,000 people a year.
Renamed from Mardi Gras to Gayfest in 2001, the celebrations still didn’t officially become Manchester Pride until 2003, when the event was renamed once more – this time by Marketing Manchester.
In the years that followed, millions of pounds have been raised through the festival – which now has numerous different parts to it such as the Superbia Weekend, the Gay Village Party, Manchester Pride Parade (which is not taking place this year), Youth Pride MCR and the Candlelit Vigil.
It’s also continued to push the boundaries and campaign for equality, too. Manchester’s parade was the first in the UK to include services like the police, NHS and army amongst its floats – showing just how far things have come within the space of 20 years.
Remember the dancing footloose policewoman filmed on the parade in 2015? We can’t imagine that having happened without the progress of the past 20 odd years.
From what was essentially a jumble sale in the 80s to a world-recognised event, no matter what criticisms you may have of Manchester Pride it’s still fair to say that it has done a lot for promoting equality within the wider community. It’s also one of our favourite times of year.
Of course, the work’s not done – in 2019, the festival’s Chief Executive went on record to say that “the fight has only just begun.”
“Every year I am asked do we still need a Pride celebration and every year I say yes we do.,” said Mark Fletcher.
“We must support every single member of every single LGBTQ+ community and fight until they feel equal and free to be themselves.”
These comments feel even more pertinent in 2023 after ‘anti-woke’ GMP Chief Constable Stephen Watson told officers they cannot decorate their uniforms with rainbow badges and patches this year – leading some to wonder if we’re going backwards, not forwards.
This year’s Manchester Pride takes place from 25 – 28 August with the main party happening in Manchester’s Gay Village. To see the line-up and find out more about this year’s event, head to the festival’s website here.
Feature image – Manchester City Council / Manchester Libraries.
Rochdale Town Hall – one of Greater Manchester’s most spectacular buildings is about to reopen
Rochdale Town Hall is one of Greater Manchester’s most impressive and historic buildings – but until now, large parts of the building have been closed to the public.
All that is about to change this weekend when, following several years of careful restoration, the magnificent Grade I-listed giant throws open its doors.
From Sunday 3 March, people will be able to visit Rochdale Town Hall completely free of charge seven days a week (excluding Bank Holidays), exploring grand halls, historic offices, and impressive sweeping staircases.
The landmark looms over the heart of Rochdale town centre, an easy walk from tram and train stations.
Up until this year, spaces were available to book for events like weddings, and it was used for official business, but has never been properly utilised as a tourist attraction.
It’s taken a 500-strong team of volunteers and teams of conservation specialists thousands of hours to bring it fully back to its former glory – they’ve carefully stripped away years of grime using cotton buds and other equipment to expertly bring life back to the ornate stained glass windows and historic features in almost every room.
So what exactly is it like inside after its multi-million-pound refurb, you ask? Well it’s pretty damn impressive.
The most breathtaking space of all is the Great Hall, where 350 hand-painted panels cover the vaulted ceiling, carved wooden angels hold lanterns, stained glass windows tower overhead, an enormous organ stands on the stage, and a huge Magna Carta mural covers one wall.
It’s a room filled with red and gold patterns, including images of the English lions and Scottish thistle, and you might recognise these colourful walls from a little show called Peaky Blinders…
But before you even reach this point, there are wonders to behold.
The Grand Staircase sweeps its way up from the ground floor – look up and you’ll see enormous stained glass windows documenting Rochdale’s place on the global stage.
The Exchange will be used as the town hall’s main entrance, where different shades of granite and marble were used to make candy-striped ceilings, and craftsmen carved various flora and fauna into the stone pillars.
The Great Staircase at Rochdale Town HallThe Exchange will be used as the main entrance for Rochdale Town Hall
Off here there’s a brand-new exhibition space, known as the Welcome Gallery, which tracks the timeline of the landmark, including the fire that destroyed its original clock tower (it was later re-designed by the legendary Alfred Waterhouse).
There are also historic spaces, where the walls are covered not with wallpaper but with hand-painted patterns. These intricate designs have also been restored.
In one room, you can see the history of the cotton industry in the paintings, from the Ancient Egyptians all the way up to the industrial era that Rochdale played such a huge part in.
And as well as celebrating the historical features of Rochdale Town Hall, there are also new artworks that have been created with local community groups and schools, celebrating present day Rochdale.
Rooms which were formerly used by council staff and councillors have been turned into usable spaces for the public, like the new Bright Hall, which has double-height ceilings, angels along the walls, and a window overlooking the Great Hall from up high. The Bright Hall will now be available for community use and events.
Hundreds of volunteers and specialists have worked on Rochdale Town Hall’s refurbishmentAnother grand space in Rochdale Town Hall
When it officially reopens on Sunday 3 March, there’ll be bookable tours, longer opening hours, and new exhibition spaces for locals and visitors to explore.
And in a few months’ time, a brand new restaurant – The Martlet – will open, under the steer of executive chef Darren Parkinson who has honed his craft at some of the country’s best gastropubs.
The whole building has been made fully accessible for the first time, and there are new heating systems and a sturdier roof in place to future-proof Rochdale Town Hall for decades to come.
Councillor Neil Emmott, leader of Rochdale Borough Council, said: “It’s been a long wait for our residents and I’m delighted that they will finally get to see their beautiful town hall, fully restored in all its glory.
“Not only will they see the town hall they know and love, looking as good as it would have when it first opened in 1871, but they will see brand new features, like the Welcome Gallery, which makes it an even better space than it was before. We can’t wait to welcome people back in.”
One of many beautiful stained glass windows inside Rochdale Town HallThe huge organ in Great Hall
Councillor Janet Emsley, cabinet member with responsibility for Rochdale Town Hall, said: “Sunday 3 March will be a wonderful celebration, but it’s really just the beginning for our brand new town hall. Our new offer means that residents will be able to see it and enjoy it seven days a week.
“We will soon be offering guided tours, alongside a full activity, events and education programme, which will be revealed soon.
“We anticipate the opening day being very busy, so people who would prefer a quieter experience may wish to come along another day. This beautiful building certainly isn’t going anywhere and our new extended opening hours offer many opportunities to enjoy this special place.”
The huge project was made possible with funding support to the tune of an £8.9m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
For its launch weekend, there’ll be activities at Rochdale Town Hall like rug tufting workshops, the roving Bombay Raja brass band, and a special puppet show by Fool’s Paradise.
Pre-booking is now full but walk-ups are available, so, if you don’t mind a wait, you can head to Rochdale Town Hall between 10am and 4pm this Sunday to see the incredible spaces for yourself.
For more information about the town hall, including opening times and upcoming events and activities, go to rochdaletownhall.co.uk.
Five Manchester artists we’ve been listening to this month | February 2024
Ay up, you lot. It’s us again, back to give you another list of some of the best new music we’ve been listening to, be it little-known tunes from new and upcoming artists in Greater Manchester or the biggest releases from ever-rising names around the region.
We launched this new monthly series at the start of 2024 and will be serving up suggestions for all you Manc musos regularly throughout the year and beyond, so you best get in on the ground floor so as to as not to miss a single shout.
But let’s not faff about any longer, shall we?
Time to get stuck into five Manchester artists we’ve had on repeat throughout February — and it’s a leap year, so we’ve had an extra day of listening to make our picks.
Manc bands we’ve been listening to over the past month
1. Hello Cosmos
First off, we’ve got Hello Cosmos: a Manchester-based creative consisting of a four-piece at their core and other session musicians like Elara, a wonderful saxophone player and vocalist who is well worth looking into in her own right.
Founded by From The Fields director, Ben Robinson — the events organisers behind Kendal Calling and bluedot — their style is a seriously wild mix of alternative electronic and pop-punk. Think Yard Act if they had more synths, sax, keys, violins and had a Christopher Eccelstone sound-alike on vocals.
Our standout tunes to start with have to be their ‘FUSE’ from their debut Dream Harder, ‘Loud Is Beautiful’ (which pretty much encapsulates the full range of their sound in one track) and ‘Metaverse’ — there’s also a great twist on it by Catu Diosis and that goes for the whole Hard Dirt (Remixed) album too.
We also got to see them live at Stockport’s new Live at St Mary’s gig series and it was quite the experience.
Next up is an instrumental outfit and touring band called OMA, who have played on stage with the likes of American rapper Isaiah Rashad as well as Japanese hip-hop artists and producer Shing02, and they just might be some of the coolest cats on socials right now.
Going more and more viral on TikTok every week with their live takes on hip-hop classics by Dr Dre, Nas, MF DOOM, Lauryn Hill, 2Pac and countless others, we can’t accurately describe just how much we want to be in a room and headbob to their addictive recreations of iconic beats from down the years.
Every clip is an absolute earworm and you simply can’t listen to any of them just once. They don’t have any signature tracks of their own but it only takes one video to get hooked. I mean, honestly, just listen to them — and bonus points if you can figure out where they’re playing:
In at number three, although we couldn’t possibly put this is any particular ranked order, is local indie-pop group Hi Sienna — a bunch of best mates based out of Chorlton who make great stuff and they’re absolutely wonderful.
With every member taking time out of work to make their music dream happen, they sum up their sound perfectly in their tagline: unsigned, unmanaged and unbelievably good. Too right. We also recently had the pleasure of chatting with them as part of the new series of Stream GM’s Spill The Sound.
It’s nothing but positive vibes and non-stop fun listening to these lot and if we had to pick our favourites, they would be ‘Enter Disco’, ‘Be A Man’ and the soon to be released ‘Pickleback’ which we got a cheeky glimpse of over at The Yard recently. It’s a belter.
The penultimate stop on this month’s list is the mighty Maruja, who are bringing both funk and punk roots to their alternative rock scene here in Greater Manchester and we can’t get enough.
Playing White Hotel and New Century this April as their profile keeps growing around the city centre and beyond, we reckon it won’t be long before you see their name everywhere — not that our incredible fandom and heavy bias are getting away with us or anything…
Seriously though, they sound both familiar and unique enough if you’re this kind of stuff and genres that naturally overlap. We’d recommend kicking off with ‘Tao’, arguably their most popular tune ‘The Tinker’ second and then their latest single, ‘The Invisible Man’.
Last but by no means least is Cassia. They’re technically from down the Macclesfield but they’ve been plying their trade here in 0161 since they first began and we just hope they remember us and all our great proving grounds when they well and truly blow up. And trust us, they will.
Mixing tropical and Caribbean sounds with irresistible indie sonics and vocals, we just feel all nice and happy whenever we listen to them – almost as if we were on holiday. We also got to chat with these guys recently too and they were equally delightful.
If it’s your first time listening to them, you can’t go wrong with ‘Right There’, their new tune with KAWALA, ‘Circular Motion’, and a key part of our Summer 2022 soundtrack, ‘Drifting’. So, sooo good.