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:
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…”
“…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:
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.