Not many nightclubs could spawn what became one of the most popular gay nights in Europe, but then not many nightclubs were The Haçienda. Launching in October 1991, Flesh was the flambouyant mid-week night that was the brainchild of Haçienda entertainment and promotions manager Paul Cons along with promoter Lucy Scher – who was previously behind The Summer of Lesbian Love events at the Haç and gay house night ‘Attitude’ at Manchester Academy.
Flesh arrived during a turbulent time during the clubs and city’s history. The comedown from the Halycon years of 88-90 was in full flow and regular Hac nights were losing their appeal due to a number of heavy gang related incidents and laddish clientele putting off the punters.
The night was a breath of fresh air and pioneered in many ways, it welcomed everyone, black, white, gay, straight – though most of the rough and ready heads from the cities gangs stayed away, not wanting to be associated with the scene. This was a blessing as once through the doors people felt safe and could enjoy a night out without the threat of any aggro.
Queer as Folk
Not afraid to be political – It’s direct use and reclamation of ‘gay slurs’ in its in-your-face promotional campaigns were designed to shock. The slogan used around the launch ‘Queer as Fuck’ became etched in the cities fabric, inspiring the name of the acclaimed TV series Queer as Folk.
Flesh’s success was at odds with the mood of the city, it didn’t help at the time that the Chief Constable was anti-LGBT, along with members of the City Council. Flesh certainly played its part in the positive shift of attitudes, setting the path for the rise of ‘Gaychester’ and what the city’s thriving LGBT+ scene has become today.
Straight out of college a fresh-faced photographer Jon Shard cut his teeth at Flesh and on The Haçienda’s hallowed dance floor, taking photos that would capture the club night in all it’s carnival-esque glory. For Jon Flesh was an incredible night to photograph due to the atmosphere and flamboyant outfits of the crowd.
“My friends and people around me, would be talking about it all month. People came from all over, you had people from Europe coming over for it – it was always packed and full of energy. It was one of the most important nights there – probably the biggest gay night in Europe. It was always special.”
“I was there for every single one, it was the best night to shoot because of the carnival atmosphere. It was really colourful, everyone would spend two or three days working out what they were going to wear for it. I always took a lot of film, knowing that I would get some great images.”
Paulette and Kath McDermott
Flesh was also pioneering in the sense that it was the home of the clubs first female residents DJs, Paulette Constable and Kath McDermott – a time when female DJs rarely got a look in behind the decks.
Kath, who was still a student whilst Djing at the club remembers a young Jon running around with his camera – “Jon was keen as mustard and came to talk to us about why we should let him take some pics at Flesh. He was even younger than me and absolutely slayed it. An absolute darling!”.
The Haçienda and nights such as Flesh fit into a tradition of creativity and cultural innovation in Manchester, which can be seen throughout the city today.
All photos © Jon Shard, all rights reserved.