‘The gay community came out in the 90s’: rediscovered photo book celebrates Lancashire’s historic gay clubbing scene

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Manchester Carnival in 1993/94
Manchester Carnival in 1993/94

Armed with his camera and tasked with documenting the story, Stuart Linden Rhodes had a front row seat. “I’ve always loved tinkering with cameras,” says Stuart, who speaks to me from Prague where he visits friends. “But I never had any formal training or anything.”

A daytime college teacher in Harrogate, Stuart led a double life. Tempted by the “ridiculous” chance of winning a trip on the Orient Express, in 1989 he took part in a contest for the gay magazine Scene Out which asked readers to submit a photo of their place of residence as well as a review. Stuart, then 32, did not win but, as a finalist, had his review published.

And it caught the attention of a certain Terry George, the founder of Mr Gay UK, who had just launched a new queer magazine called All Points North in Leeds, documenting gay life across the north. He asked Stuart to take over as the magazine’s stage critic. “I was like ‘free parties? I’m up for this,” said Stuart. “I had a good time.”

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Blackpool in the 90s

Traveling north up and down, Stuart was able to discover some of the country’s most famous LGBTQ + bars, pubs and clubs, like Flamingos in Blackpool, Garlands in Liverpool and the Hacienda in Manchester. He was Stuart Rhodes the professor by day and Linden the photographer by night – the man behind the lens as the gay revolution unfolded.

“I would go places for the weekend and go through as many places as possible for a two, three or four page broadcast on the Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, Birmingham scene …” says Stuart, 64 years old. “It was the start of gay tourism – people would read the review, think ‘that sounds like fun’ and go downstairs.

“Blackpool was fantastic,” he adds. “London had Brighton and Manchester had Blackpool. I’ve never known a city with so many gay B & Bs and hotels and stars like Basil Newby have created this amazing scene. Flamingos was amazing and The Flying Handbag was a hoot. There was something for everyone. I always looked forward to a night out in Blackpool. “

Documenting a scene that is truly of his time and an extremely diverse and vibrant crowd populated by all shapes, sixes, colors and creeds, Stuart himself had come of age by the late 1970s and early 1980s and therefore immediately came of age. recognized a culture change as the ’90s have arrived. “Things in the ’80s were very, very different,” he says. “The gay community was still largely underground.

Linden’s reviews of Preston and Blackpool in the 90s

“It was the mid-AIDS epidemic, the age of consent [for homosexuals] was still 21, and gay bars were back alley pubs left underfunded by breweries because “it was just the gay community and they don’t matter,” “he adds.” It was. secret. But, when things started to change, they changed quickly. In 1992, the Pet Shop Boys were organizing charity events at the Hacienda.

“It sounds cheesy, but it was in the 90s that the gay community came out.”

Breweries quickly became aware of the ‘pink book’ and, realizing that gay was becoming mainstream, they invested in gay bars and began sponsoring pride events. “At one point, the whole gay community was drinking Red Stripe because they sponsored pride events,” says Stuart. “An element of the revolution has overtaken you: it was just another gay bar, another club, another one night stand.

“But the notable revolution was with events of pride,” he adds. “They went from intimate little adventures in Sackville Gardens with people like Michelle Gayle, Hazell Dean, Nicki French, Boy George and Julian Clary to something much bigger. It was Mardi Gras, the gay carnival; it was built in. to the straight community It happened so fast.

Paul O’Grady aka Lily Savage

“But people didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes,” Stuart continues. “People like Paul O’Grady, aka Lily Savage, would perform in the evenings and visit AIDS services in the afternoon. gay community was in danger and needed support.

“At a party, there was always a poignant moment when the collection bucket arrived. And you were putting your money in to help people with AIDS.”

As the 90s drew to a close, Stuart felt disillusioned. “Doing three or four nights a week was easy when I was young, stupid and full of energy,” he says. “I saw the scene change, the music change and the drugs come in. People no longer walked around with a can of Red Stripe, they had water and were pushing their noses.

“One night I did a double header – one club in Liverpool and one in Manchester,” Stuart adds. “The one in Manchester didn’t even open until 2am and I remember being there and thinking, ‘I hate this.’ It wasn’t me anymore, I was done with it. My days with the nightlife was over. But, if I could go back and do it all again, I would. “

Sir Ian McKellen with Stuart Linden Rhodes

In the spring of 2020, Stuart was bored. The lockdown was in full force and he turned to the attic where he had stumbled across all of his’ 90s negatives. He spent most of the year scanning them and, after wondering what to do with them. do, created an Instagram account to post them on a whim. Out & About with Linden has proven to be very popular.

“We all have this job that we’re going to do ‘someday’,” says Stuart. “For some reason I had kept all of these negatives and they had sat on a shelf for 30 years but, when the lockdown hit and after I had had enough of the TV and books and the radio , I took them out, and it all came back to me.

“The feedback I received on Instagram was amazing, way beyond what I expected,” he adds. “I got comments saying ‘Oh my god what was I wearing?’ and “look at my hair, what was I thinking?”, but I also had some on loved ones that people had lost, thanking me for sharing a photo of a loved one they didn’t not seen.”

After a while, requests for a book started to pour in. During an interview, TV producer Joe Ingham offered to help Stuart bring the project to life. chop the project, decided instead to take Kickstarter to fund it themselves.

The book, titled Out and About With Linden and slated for release in February after hitting its fundraising goal of £ 8,000 after just a few weeks, features never-before-seen footage of celebrities who have experienced the gay scene firsthand. from the north of the 90s, such as pre-Spice Girls Mel B, Angie Brown, David Hoyle, Su Pollard, Heather Small, Denise Welch and Kelly Wilde.

Eager to put the images in their historical context, Stuart and Joe approached each of the celebrities in the images to ask them to write about their memories of the time. All agreed, with their contributions joined by other memories of the time donated by artists, patrons and punters keen to take a trip down memory lane to a truly unique time.

Out and About with Linden book cover (with dancer Louie Spence on the right)

“The book is a celebration of gay life in the 90s in the north,” Stuart says, with the foreword being written by Blackpool-born performance artist and writer Harry Clayton-Wright. that people see it as a photographic story of the scene that preceded and on which the gay community is built today.

“Each generation takes things for granted, so it’s an opportunity to see this ‘before’ that has allowed us to get to where we are today,” he adds. “It brings the story to life.”

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