Manchester is not only the gay capital of the north, but is also one of Britain’s wettest cities and the city proved that both are true over the August Bank Holiday weekend. It took more than a little rain to dampen the spirits of the thousands of LGBT and LGBT-friendly people from all over the UK and even the world, who flocked to Manchester’s famous Canal Street to celebrate the city’s 22nd annual Pride festival; although it did take just a little to dampen the hair and makeup of more than quite a few people.
The 11-day long festivities, which began on 17 August, came to a close over the Big Weekend, four days and nights of big name acts performing around the Gay Village, non-stop partying and of course on-and-off rain, which was typically absent prior to it starting. Friday kicked off the weekend and there was just one word, or act shall we say, on everyone’s minds and mouths: Steps. Despite the rain, the pop group still unsurprisingly managed to attract an extremely large crowd, packed into the small car park-turned Gaydar Main Arena stage, as they sang – well, mimed mostly and let the crowd join in – a selection of their many greatest and campest (we’re sure that was hard to narrow down) hits, including ‘Deeper Shade Of Blue’, ‘Better Best Forgotten’ and ‘Tragedy’. While Steps undoubtedly know just how to please their legion of gay fans and get the audience moving even in such awful weather, we would much rather have stayed in a bar where you can hear them playing almost all the time anyway – and remain dry and warm whilst doing so. West End star Louise Dearman who is now trying to break away from her musical and stage background and make it as an established solo artist on the other hand, was a far more delightful, interesting and above all, talented act to watch and listen to.
During the day, the Sackville Gardens stage was graced by numerous other acts including the Pet Shop Bears, The Showbears and Bear Explosion – yes, it was a ‘bear’ theme if you didn’t realise; they brought their furriness and their hilarity to Pride as they entertained the crowds with their comedic musical performances and, ‘interesting’ outfits. The Lifestyle Expo and Village Markets over the weekend in the daytimes offered people the chance to learn more about the many local, national and international businesses, organisations and charities that support Manchester Pride and LGBT rights or are in return supported by Pride’s financial income, as well as buy souvenirs and trinkets such as food, clothes, jewellery and other accessories, the majority of which are, of course, Pride-related.
Saturday saw the Big Weekend’s highly anticipated Parade, which for the most part experienced a rain-free sky as it wound its way around the city centre from its starting point in Deansgate and ended along Canal Street, featuring a diverse range of organisations and groups of people who marched proudly down the roads. This year’s Parade theme was ‘Queer’d Science’, in honour of the late, great scientist Alan Turing who would have been 100 this year, meaning that most of the floats and marchers donned their lab coats instead of their skimpy underwear (boo) to celebrate the icon’s achievements and commemorate his troubled life, as well as allowing everyone to realise just how far LGBT rights in the UK have come about and improved over the decades.
Some of the most notable participants included Coronation Street, Out In Salford’s Back To The Future-themed float, the gay Christians – who were ironically marching when an anti-gay religious group were protesting against gay marriage and homosexuality on the pavement, the drag queens dressed as posh old ladies shouting abuse at onlookers, those protesting against the persecution of gay people in places such as Africa and Russia, aviators dancing to Celine Dion like true gays and employees from Barclays dressed as sailors, showing that not all bankers are boring after all. Our favourites however, were of course the guys and girls from Pure Gym, dressed in nothing but togas and spray-painted gold. We’ll ignore the cockiness of their float’s motto ‘The stuff gods are made of…’ because let’s face it, we weren’t really looking at that anyway. Not only was it good luck that the weather held out until the Parade finished (after which it began to tip down for the rest of the day and night), but it was nice to see that it had not been subject to downsizing like World Pride in London and it was encouraging to see the turnout of people watching and supporting those in it and the causes they are fighting for.
The Gaydar Main Arena was host to DJs and dance acts on Saturday night, including former All Saints member Mel Blatt, FTW – the cheap substitutes for One Direction, Mr Hudson and ‘legendary’ dance song vocalist Katherine Ellis. 2 Shoes from The X Factor also made an appearance to help launch their career since they were (rightfully) booted out of the live shows last year and what better way than to do so than at Pride, seeing as most of their ‘fans’ are gay men who love the two ladies’ ‘karaoke night at Romford’ set. Sorry, we mean cheerful, camp fun. With the skies really hailing down that night, it’s a wonder anyone even bothered standing there listening to any of the acts at all. Sunday on the other hand, provided artists that were as different to Saturday’s as possible, such as X Factor finalist Amelia Lily performing her debut single ‘You Bring Me Joy’ as well as a few other songs she tried pulling off on the show, the rather amazing yet little-known neo-soul singer Cleo Sol, Bruno Langley and his classy rat-pack band, and Cher sound-a-like Alison Moyet.
On Monday, Misha B headlined the main stage, outshining pretty much every other act who had stepped onto it that weekend and may have been one of many X Factor contestants who was reeled in by Manchester Pride’s organisers but was definitely an addition worth having. The Candlelit Vigil then marked the end of the festivities; the solemn, reflective vigil in Sackville Gardens which is organised by the George House Trust, takes place each year in support of those living with HIV and in memory of those who have lost their lives to the virus in Manchester, across the nation and around the world. Hosted by comedian Lee Peart and featuring music from the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, Louise Dearman and Alison Moyet as well as a strong anti-Tory rant from Jonathan Mayor and a firework display big enough to try and rival Chinatown’s Chinese New Year celebrations, the vigil was a stark contrast to the fun yet hectic weekend that really brought everyone together as one community for a moment of solidarity and a beautifully emotional end to it.
Manchester Pride is one of the world’s most popular LGBT events, but while you can bet most people are simply more excited about the 24/7 partying they can attempt to accomplish throughout the Big Weekend and how proud they are to be able to survive four nights of drinking in a row, the festival’s real aim should not go unnoticed nor unknown – and no, we don’t mean the aim to make as much money as possible from suddenly inflated door entry and drinks prices of many bars and clubs. LGBT people in Manchester should not only be proud of themselves, but Manchester should be proud of itself as a city; once named one of the UK and Europe’s most gay-friendly, tolerant destinations, it was encouraging for us to see our community come together as one and see many non-LGBT people interested in our rights and causes and support us. Although Pride was a celebration of how far gay rights have come, one quotation by Alan Turing himself still sums up the hopes and goals we still want to achieve: ‘We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.’