Matt Newbury has put together a Pride mix tape (with love) that takes in some of the songs and artists who have provided a soundtrack to Pride events in London over the past 44 years.
The very first official gay pride march in Britain was organised by the Gay Liberation Front (including a 20-year-old Peter Tatchell), with the theme of being “out and proud”. With most gay people still being in the closet and often ashamed of their sexuality, only 700 people took part in the march from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park, which was accompanied by a heavy and aggressive police presence. After the parade there was an unplanned gay picnic in the park where people shared food, drink, dope and music, man. A sexually ambivalent David Bowie was huge at the time following a ground-breaking performance of Star Man on Top of the Pops (in a multicoloured jumpsuit and with his arm curled suggestively around Mick Ronson’s shoulder) which had outraged middle England and but resonated with his fellow trailblazers in Hyde Park.
Glad to Be Gay
Tom Robinson Band
This classic anthem by the Tom Robinson Band was written specifically for the London gay pride parade in 1976 and has been considered Britain’s unofficial gay anthem ever since. The original version criticises the police for raiding gay bars, the hypocrisy of the Gay News obscenity trial and the often violent consequences of homophobia. Over the years, updated versions have tackled everything from the AIDS crisis to further attacks on the tabloid press. On its release Radio 1 refused to play it (although John Peel did), while the song topped the Capital Radio Hitline Chart for six consecutive weeks. Cinema was also tackling gay rights with Derek Jarman’s feature debut Sebastiane drawing parallels with the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian with gay persecution in the 1970s.
I Am What I Am
In 1980, Inside Story screened a documentary called Coming Out, which was recorded at London Gay Pride week the year before. “This event is billed as the climax of Gay Pride week,” explains the narrator, “but in effect it’s the climax of ten years in which homosexuals have acquired a new pride and a new name. Today they are called gays and they are coming out on the streets of London.” Nearly 1,500 policemen were on duty, while the march itself was made up of around 3,000 gay men and women (two for every policeman). Drag queens, clones and other outrageously dressed people (some on roller skates) marched alongside more everyday characters. It’s a fascinating snapshot from a time when social discrimination and police harassment were rife and equality under the law was a distant dream. But the marchers are organised, determined and there’s a real carnival atmosphere, with many breaking out into dance to I Am What I Am by the Village People. Years later, of course, Gloria Gaynor recorded another song with the same title from the musical La Cage Aux Folles which became a gay anthem.
At the 1984 Lesbian and Gay Pride March in London, Mark Ashton and his friend Michael Jackson (no, not that one…) collected donations for the striking miners. The pair saw an affinity between two polar but equally bullied groups, which led to them setting up Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a remarkable fundraising drive told in the film Pride. In December of that year, a benefit concert called Pits and Perverts was held at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, headlined by Bronski Beat. The name of the concert was allegedly taken from a tabloid headline from the Sun newspaper which read “Perverts Support the Pits.” It was due to be one of the last Bronski Beat performances before Jimmy Somerville left to form The Communards. At the main Pride event, freesheet Capital Gay reported that just 2,000 people joined the march, bringing into question the event’s future. But things were about to change…
Walk like a Man
Lesbian and Gay Pride in 1985 was the biggest yet, with an estimated 10,000 people in attendance. A rally assembled in Hyde Park and then marched to Jubilee Gardens, with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners joined by miners and their families from South Wales, repaying their support. Indeed, at the Labour Party Conference held in Bournemouth later that year, they would also help push through gay rights policies in the face of opposition from the party’s National Executive. However, for many the most memorable moment of that year’s Pride was the outrageous sight of drag superstar Divine sailing up the Thames on the roof of the club Heaven’s party boat The Elizabethan and singing Walk Like a Man and Native Love (Step by Step).
A Little Respect
Pride this year was all about Section 28, a law introduced by the Thatcher government banning local authorities from promoting homosexuality in a positive light. This included the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools as a “normal family relationship”. Along with the HIV/AIDS paranoia, gay people were being stigmatised more than nearly ever before, with a staggering 75 per cent of the population saying that homosexual activity was “always or mostly wrong”. The offensive legislation did help rally the gay community, with around 40,000 people attending Pride in 1988, while actor Sir Ian McKellen came out as gay to campaign against the law, helping form Stonewall the following year. As a soundtrack to the cause, there couldn’t have been a better anthem than A Little Respect and the line “what religion or reason could drive a man to forsake his lover?”
The Crying Game
The first ever EuroPride was held in London in 1992 at the height of the AIDS epidemic and when Clause 28 was still very much angering the gay community. The concept of the pan-European festival was to choose a different country each year for LGBT+ people to congregate and show their collective power. The first London event attracted crowds of around 100,000, a mix of newly politicised protesters and hedonistic revellers. Meanwhile, both mainstream and arthouse cinema were tackling LGBT+ issues including Peter’s Friends which saw Stephen Fry in the title role, revealing to his university friends he is HIV-positive, and Orlando featuring Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth I. However it was Neal Jordan’s Oscar-winning The Crying Game about race, gender and sexuality against the backdrop of the Irish troubles that caused the most controversy, confusing an awful lot of heterosexual men with its “meaty” plot twist.
Kylie Minogue and Elton John
The 1995 Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival saw members of the Lesbian & Gay Police Association and gay members of the Fire Brigades Union joining the march for the first time. Meanwhile, the post parade party was held in East London’s Victoria Park, when the expected 120,000 visitors turned out to be closer to 200,000 revellers. Performing at the event were the likes of Lily Savage, Dead or Alive, Dannii Minogue, Chaka Khan and Sandy Toksvig. When the Danish comedian came out the year before, Save the Children dropped her as compere of their 75th anniversary celebrations. However, following a direct action protest by the Lesbian Avengers, the charity apologised. At the Stonewall Equality Show (raising money for their campaign to lift the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the forces) , Marc Almond, Julian Clary, Eddie Izzard, the Ab Fab cast and a newly out Michael Barrymore performed, and Kylie and Elton teamed up to sing a cover of Sisters.
Queer As Folk Theme
The last year of the 20th century was to be one of sorrow and defiance for the gay community in London. On 30 April at 6.37pm a bomb exploded in the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, killing three people and injuring at least 70. It was the third bomb to be planted by Neo-Nazi David Copeland, who was attempting to stir up racial and homophobic tension. At a rally in Soho Square, Angela Mason from Stonewall declared, “Nobody, but nobody, is going to bomb us back into the closet.” 1999 also saw the birth of Mardi Gras, a commercial event held in Finsbury Park for the next three years. Meanwhile gay issues were set to be literally rubbed in people’s faces, when Queer As Folk exploded onto our screens.
Cast of Taboo
For the 30th anniversary of Gay and Lesbian Pride, the Pride Parade (with the theme Gays Through The Ages) was followed by the very last Mardi Gras, this time in Hackney Marshes. Acts included Suede, Westlife, Atomic Kitten, Lulu, H and Claire, and Five Star. Both classic FM and Radio 1 had stages, while dance tents were provided by Manchester’s Paradise Factory, Liverpool’s Garlands and Trade. Although 27,000 people attended the event, organisers claimed it lost nearly £450,000. Meanwhile the Duckie crew organised another of their Gay Shame events (a festival of homosexual misery that ran in various club venues from 1996 – 2014) in protest of the commercialisation of gay Pride and the lack of political and community spirit. Boy George also took people back to the underground and alternative club scene of the 1980’s with his brilliant musical Taboo.
Jerry Springer: The Opera
I Just Wanna Dance
In 2004 former Mardi Gras director Jason Pollack founded the Pride London charity with a mandate from London Mayor Ken Livingstone to produce a free festival. The march was dedicated to murdered Jamaican gay rights campaigner Brian Williamson. A contingent of the Gay Police Association also marched in their uniforms in the parade for the first time. The parade was followed by a rally in Trafalgar Square, with speakers including Lord Waheed Alli (the first openly gay peer), Peter Tatchell and the London Mayor. Meanwhile dating app FaceParty organised The Big Gay Out in Finsbury Park, a commercial festival that was to run for two years. However the huge news in 2004 was the Labour Government passing the Civil Partnership Act, giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. Meanwhile, Jerry Springer: The Opera gave fundamental Christians something else to protest about for once.
If You Were Gay
Cast of Avenue Q
In 2006 London hosted a triumphant EuroPride Event, which saw a two week arts festival culminating with an amazing parade down Oxford Street and Regent Street – the first time this had been allowed in the event’s history. The rally in Trafalgar Square was attended by London’s mayor Ken Livingstone and guest speaker Ian McKellen. Entertainment stages were built in both Soho Square and Leicester Square, while another highlight of the festivities was EuroPride: The Show at the Royal Albert Hall starring the likes of Elton John, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton, Sandi Toksvig, Sir Ian McKellen (as Widow Twanky this time), Boy George and the cast (both humans and puppets!) of the hit musical Avenue Q. Couples who had recently celebrated a civil partnership were invited on stage to thunderous applause. It was also another huge year for gay rights with the Equality Act introduced and the age of consent equalised.
Let’s Have a Kiki
World Pride takes place every five years and just ahead of the Olympics and Paralympic Games it was the turn of London to host the prestigious international event. However nine days before the event was due to take place it was revealed that the organisers had failed to secure the sponsorship to pay contractors and in an embarrassing move all of the entertainment and stages were cancelled, the parade became a Pride Walk without floats or vehicles and the rally in Trafalgar Square became more of a scaled back social gathering. At a time when we should have been campaigning for full equality including marriage rights, the event became a bit of a damp squib. Thank goodness for Scissor Sisters bringing some campness and colour to the summer with the release of their fourth album Magic Hour and the brilliant singles Only The Horses and Let’s Have a Kiki. Sadly they announced an indefinite hiatus later that year.
Rise like a Phoenix
In a year that same-sex marriage became legal in England, Scotland and Wales, the Queen also praised the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard on their 40th anniversary, the first time she had ever publically supported the gay community. Pride in London was again organised by London LGBT+ Community Pride, a community interest company formed after the World Pride fiasco in 2012. Chair of Pride in London, Michael Salter, said: “Our theme for 2014 is ‘Freedom to…’. Freedom to…be ourselves, love who we want, change society, live without fear, be an Olympic medal winner…Whatever the Freedom is that you cherish, this is the chance to celebrate it.” 20,000 people took part in the parade, while more than 300,000 crammed into Trafalgar Square, clearly demonstrating the event was well and truly back on track. Sir Ian McKellen introduced Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst who sang Rise Like a Phoenix to the masses, something which could have been referring to Pride in London itself.