Bowie Boys, Pips Nightclub

Concerning ‘Manchester Slingback’ by Nicholas Blincoe (1998) and Pips Night Club

Manchester Slingback is a book about a group of gay and bisexual boys sharing a flat in the Hulme crescents in the early ’80s. Their lifestyles (described convincingly) make entertaining subject matter… their worst betrayals seeming innocent compared with those of the ‘real grown-ups’ they encounter, some of whom are involved in child abuse.

The story is packaged up as a crime thriller through alternate chapters set fifteen years later, and these seem a bit contrived by comparison with the core story.

Although the boys spend much of their time around Bloom Street, in what is now called the Gay Village, they all seem to frequent Pips, behind the cathedral, which wasn’t a gay club. Manchester Slingback documents the complicated overlap between gay and straight club culture at a time when androgynous fashion was normal.

Photos by Kevin Cummins published in The Face December 1980 provide a glimpse of Manchester Slingback’s milieu:

David Roles, Nick Greenwood, Paul McVeigh - Manchester Bowie & Numan fans photographed by Kevin Cummins - The Face December 1980

At Pips Nightclub - by Kevin Cummins - The Face December M1980

At Pips Nightclub - by Kevin Cummins - The Face December 1980

For me, the highlight of the book is Chapter Twelve, with its fly-on-the-wall account of a night out at Pips nightclub, circa 1981. I never went there but this description sounds very convincing:

“There were five dance-floors in Pips, each with a different theme and not all of them dedicated to gothics, romantics, queer boys, glamour pusses, starlets, cross-dressers, or whatever Jake’s group looked like that week. In descending order, there was the Roxy Room, the Bowie Room, the Electro Room, the Perry room, and finally, Floor Five, the only room without a name and without its own regulars…”

“He met Domino on the stairs to the Perry Room. The first thing Domino asked was whether he’d seen Sean… ‘He’s turned into a Perry; got the Lacoste sweater, the jumbo cords, everything.’
…Jake squinted against the lights… Then he saw him, stepping around to the Gap Band in the weird Perry dance…a kind of forward/backward strut.”

“Each of the separate dance-floors was set into a grotto, their walls painted in coarse white stucco. The Bowie Room was decorated with different portraits of Bowie wobbling unevenly across the Polytex surface. The Roxy Room had similar pictures of Bryan Ferry, as well as one enormous painting of Lou Reed taken from the back cover of the Transformer album…”

Lou Reed - 'Transformer' (1972) Back Cover

“…Unlike the Bowie Room, there was less of a hard connection between the Roxy Room and its given name. Jake passed through a low arch and, for a moment, two different songs blended together … Bowie singing ‘Golden Years’ and, beneath it, the bass-heavy hum of a darker track… ‘Warm Leatherette’ by Grace Jones slowly segueing into ‘Homo Sapiens’ by Pete Shelley. Out in the rough circle of the dance-floor, Kevin Donnelly was dancing on his own… wearing a tight plastic T-shirt and Clash pants, both of them cast-offs from Johnny’s clothes pile.

…Kevin Donnelly turned to smile at him, the boy was wearing blue eyeshadow, a slash of disco glitter across his cheeks and an artificial beauty spot high on his cheek. The style was white disco-trash, Debbie Harry reborn as a boy. Jake winked and then tried to refocus, concentrating on finding the beat.”

Lots of New York references: Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop. At exactly this time, Factory Records people were shuttling back and forth between Manchester and New York, researching their Hacienda nightclub project, which would represent a very different version of New York culture, and a club environment at the opposite end of the spectrum from Pips.

This video by the BBC arts programme Omnibus was filmed in Pips Roxy Room in April 1977. It predates Manchester Slingback’s era by several years, but still seems a good fit with Kevin Cummins’ pictures of December 1980.

Pips was situated in the basement of The Triangle/The Corn Exchange just off Corporation Street (continuation of Cross Street.) The club was later called Konspiracy. This photo by Andy Allen shows the club entrance in the ’90s:

Konspiracy, Fennel Street - Andy Allen

Nicholas Blincoe solves one puzzle: the Perry Boys at Pips were Soul Boys, not Northern Soul Boys, although their ‘steppy’ dance sounds Northern Soul inspired. Definitions of what exactly constitutes Northern Soul can be contentious, but Blincoe’s Perrys danced to Earth, Wind & Fire and The Gap Band which is ’70s and ’80s soul/disco. But then maybe a room full of white people dancing exclusively to American black music is the true definition of ‘Northern Soul’.

Mick Middlehurst’s article accompanying Kevin Cummins’ photos from The Face December 1980 raises another puzzle though… why did the Bowie Boys (& Girls) of Manchester never produce a band?

“…Manchester has a ready-made audience impatiently waiting to latch on to a band, who represent the Pips set. I’m amazed it hasn’t happened yet.”

It would seem that, like Manchester’s Perrys, the Bowie Boys & Girls were content just to dress up; making their own music was somehow a step too far.

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  1. wanda cannon

    There were a few musicians hanging out at pips one being Martin Coogan the band were Vibrant Thigh who went on to become the Mock Turtles I used to sit through quite a few rehearsals around 1980

    • Thanks for that information… it did seem very unlikely that no-one came out of this scene… I wondered about The Smiths, but then wasn’t bold enough to make that claim.

  2. Just read that A Certain Ratio formed through Pips Nightclub:

  3. Alan Maskell

    Hi, just read the books description of Pips and can assure you it was nothing like that. At the time the book was set, there was the Roxy Room which was, indeed, a grotto style room. I was deejaying there at the time and the music was across the alternative spectrum from Bowie/Roxy/Reed to electro (Human League/The Normal/DAF etc) to the pioneers of Goth (Bauhaus/Siouxsie) to pioneering dance like Grandmaster Flash and not forgetting Killing Joke. Then there was the Roxy overflow room in the basement to cope with the fact that the alternative kids made up the bulk of the clientele, a “pop” room and on the top floor, what I can only describe as a Stag/Hen party room playing the most horrendous music imaginable!
    As for the Perry boys, many of them were actually into the alternative scene which was, at times, a bit hairy because they would come and dance to a few tunes then kick off with the alternative kids. The manager at the time was a nice bloke but wasn’t strong enough to control the violence that the Perry boys brought to the club and combined with the owners unwillingness to invest in the tired premises when places like Legend were opening, these factors did, I believe, bring about the closure of Pips as was.
    As for bands, I remember ACR, Joy Division, Morrisey, Slaughter & the Dogs all being punters at one time or another. Perhaps the statement that the Pips kids never had a band to represent them is perhaps more a testament to how diverse they were as a crowd.

    • Thanks very much for all this information Alan. The story of Pips’ demise sounds very familiar. I’ll hopefully come along to the 30th Anniversary Event in June although I’ll feel like a fraud because I never went there originally.

    • David Dunne

      I’m glad you said that Alan, because as I read the extract describing the rooms at Pips, it certainly didn’t sound like the Pips I went to!

    • Stephanie

      I remember all this as you described. My friend Ann and l spent our youth here (1980 onwards ) loved the Bowie / roxy room. At the end the dj at the time used to play thunderbirds or joe 90!!

  4. mike saxon

    Hi Alan, remeber the 2 Brothers , Steve and Mark ”Adge”.
    Didnt they have some band going called Pressure ?
    I#m sure I saw them playing somewhere ( could have been Pips ? ).

  5. I use to go! ex- smiths.

  6. paul callaghan

    hi when when is next re/ union please ? .. paul

  7. Pips was so much cooler and earlier than the Blitz London Scene and inspired Manchester’s musical scene for a generation –
    I was part of it – and it will always remain part of me.
    Chris Roche Architect (Roxy Fan)

  8. Hayley

    I used to go I remember lying about my age so that I could get in. Celebrated my 18th there but obviously didn’t say I was 18 I seem to remember that you had to be 21 to get in. You got a little plastic membership card with your photo on. Fun times x

  9. Hi i used to be in pips every Thursday Friday and Saturday my name is martin i was a massive bowie fan i had a ziggy style haircut and my sister babs was always with me dose anyone remember us best times of our lives

  10. Aww Pips- ‘Behind the Cathedral’, those were the days, still my favourite Club and i used to go to most, (Rotters, Tramps, Piccadilly Club, Placemate, Fagins, Cloisters etc etc), Guess we were ‘Perry Boys’, although not sure we called ourselves that at the time, Brutus Penny rounds and baggy pants, Birds, Booze and Football, with a eclectic taste in Music from Northern Soul, Philly, Motown, Ska, to Bowie and Roxie, although we never wore the mascara ! We used to dance in what we called the Soul Room, (was there two?),and always had a wander in the Roxy/Bowie rooms to eye up the talent. I don’t ever remember much trouble there but always plenty of Birds. Hacienda always seemed to have that super Club tag but it had nothing on Pips. Shut down far to early… happy days !

  11. I moved to Mamchestet just because I loved Pips so much.
    I remember the Time Watp in the Roxy room with all the Bowie clones dancing. Soul boys and girls upstairs but they where generally cool. Electronic down in the basement .

  12. Bill O'Neill

    Hi, I used to DJ along with Steve Bracewell in the Roxy room. I can say that the description on PIPs is not accurate, and to be honest our head doorman Malcome sorted out any trouble. We also did nights at Devilles and other spots in Manchester. I remember a lot of people who went on to join bands who went to PIPs etc. I still know Mike Day from Slaughter and the Dogs. Great time!

  13. Mary jordan

    Hi Martin I love pips to best club for in Manchester. Babs friend Mary.

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