Welcome to Gaychester: The wild night-club success of Flesh highlights a gay boom in Manchester, says Matthew Collin

DRAG queens and bare torsos, leather and sequins; white knickers and black Lycra, gay ravers and lipstick lesbians. This is Flesh. A flamboyant, outrageous, frenzied celebration of all that is good about gay culture and clubbing in general, the North's largest gay event draws 1,200 a month to the Hacienda club in Manchester. The tribes come from all over the North-west, from the Midlands and London; one devotee flies in from Amsterdam.

Flesh is run by A Bit Ginger, the first gay public relations company in the North, opened by Paul Cons and Lucy Scher a year ago. 'The name comes from Cockney rhyming slang: 'ginger beer' meaning 'queer',' explains Ms Scher. It also refers to the duo's hair - they are both redheads.

Mr Cons, formerly the Hacienda's public relations manager, and Ms Scher, a promoter of lesbian events, teamed up with the aim of making Manchester the gay capital of the North. The demise of the local centre of musical excellence, Factory Records, and the recent shooting of 14-year-old Benji Stanley on Moss Side, have severely dented the city's public image. But against a background of drug-related gang violence affecting the city's clubs, the success of Flesh, with its melting pot of gay men, lesbians and heterosexuals, has been conspicuous.

'This isn't 'Madchester' any more,' says Mr Cons, referring to the city's past reputation as a place of young scallies in flared trousers and laddish dance-rock bands, such as the Happy Mondays. 'It's Gaychester.'

A wide range of media has provided glowing coverage of Flesh. The Manchester listings magazine City Life has even been inspired to start a gay section called 'Fresh'. Paul Cons sees this partly as a change in public attitudes towards homosexuals, and partly as a reaction to what is perhaps the most successful club night in Manchester since the Hacienda's halcyon days in 1988-89.

'The Manchester Evening News used to be really anti-gay,' he says. 'In the early Eighties, when the council was a bit more leftwing and had a gay rights unit, it used to run gay scare stories; but now - though I wouldn't say it's actually promoting gays - it's certainly not negative.'

Mr Cons says that the local council and police have been more than supportive. Response from the local gay community, however, was initially ambiguous. Murmurs of discontent about the use of a straight club for gay events and about the door price of pounds 7 blossomed into a protest petition against the club.

To understand why, one has to look at the options in the city. In what A Bit Ginger disparagingly calls 'the commercial gay clubs', men and women do not usually mix; each sex has its own venues. Ms Scher calls these 'trade clubs, where you go to cruise. They're generally run by 40- to 50-year-old gays and they're pretty tacky, they don't have any sort of musical integrity.'

The Ginger founders were young upstarts, offering a new formula to compete with the established gay clubs - an untested mixture of ages and subcultures, upfront music and high production standards - and attracting much attention. They countered the opposition by arguing that all Flesh's staff and DJs were gay and the Hacienda (its stark design was originally based on the gay clubs of New York) was used because it was simply the best venue in town.

Further antagonism was provoked by Flesh's slogan, 'for queers and dykes'. The word queer, previously an insult, has been adopted by a younger generation of gays to symbolise a more confrontational attitude towards heterosexual society.

After finally winning over the gay community, A Bit Ginger encountered a second source of conflict, this time from heterosexuals. The problem was not homophobia or harassment, it was simply that so many straight clubbers wanted to get in on what had become the North's premier night out. It is received wisdom on the gay scene that gays have pioneered many youth trends - from Doc Martens and Levi 501s to house music - which have subsequently been picked up by straights. Now the same was happening with Flesh.

'We have had a real mob situation when Flesh has been sold out,' says Ms Scher. 'If there are gay people outside and straights come up with pre-bought tickets, they're not allowed in. Crowd pressure means we have to give them a refund.'

To ensure that Flesh remained a predominantly gay event, a policy of positive discrimination was introduced. Flesh tickets now read: 'The management reserve the right to refuse entry to known heterosexuals.' But Mr Cons says that straights still try to get in, often claiming that they are homosexual. He says there have been arguments with the door staff: 'You're not gay]' 'Oh yes I am]'

Building on Flesh's success, A Bit Ginger has expanded its operation, promoting the regular women-only event, The G-Spot, which aims to showcase female DJs, and the wild new weekly club The Glory Hole. The company also promoted Sandra Bernhard's local show, and was involved in gay events during the Manchester Festival - when a massive billboard bearing the slogan 'It's Queer Up North' was pasted up in the city centre. An attempt to run Flesh across the Pennines in Leeds was a failure, however.

The Leeds gay scene was too small and 'too traditional', claims Mr Cons. 'Leeds is similar in size to Manchester, but all that gays have there is two grotty pubs and one grottier club. Liverpool is the same. In Manchester there's at least half a dozen pubs for a start.'

A start, yes, but not the end, not if A Bit Ginger has anything to do with it. 'We'd like to do a gay television programme,' says Mr Cons. 'And we'd really like to gather some gay talent and put together a band.' A gay version of the Happy Mondays? Now there's a thought.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering