LGBT+ CAMDEN: The true story behind the movie – and that pits gig at the Electric Ballroom

Bronski Beat performance went down in history

Monday, 7th February — By Dan Carrier

pride-review

Pride was released in 2014

THE queues stretched down Camden High Street and the atmosphere was one of earnest excitement.

It was December 1984, and synth-pop political agitators Bronksi Beat were due to perform for a crowd made up of their dedicated fans, gay activists and striking coal miners from across the UK.

The event, called Pits and Perverts, was a benefit gig in aid of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners – and has gone down in legend, featuring in the critically acclaimed 2014 film, Pride.

Mike Jackson was the co-founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners – a group of activists who aimed to raise funds to alleviate the misery being endured in mining communities, and to publicise their struggle.

Mr Jackson, who lives in King’s Cross, recalls how he and his fellow activists hit upon the idea of holding a fundraising gig at the famous Electric Ballroom.

“In October 1984, Margaret Thatcher had frozen the funds of the National Union of Mineworkers,” Mr Jackson told the New Journal.

“It meant miners and their supporters had to find new ways to help them survive the strike.”

Mike Jackson

The LGSM group had been twinned with mining communities in South Wales, running support groups separate from the NUM.

The LGSM’s other co-founder was Mark Ashton.

“Mark came to London from Portrush, Northern Ireland in the early 1980s and he had befriended a young Glaswegian émigré called Jimmy Somer­ville,” recalled Mr Jackson.

“The pair of them were running around London with their rich accents, hanging out in the gay scene like two little wild children. They were both quite small in stature but very big in charisma and personality. They went round having a jolly good time.”

Mark – who later became general secretary of the Communist League – was not overtly politically active when he first came to London.

“His life was changed by a visit to Bangla­desh,” says Mr Jackson.

Mr Ashton’s father ran a business exporting and installing second-hand textile looms in Bangladesh. Mark went with him – and after witnessing the conditions of the workers he came home a changed person.

“It moved him in a way he had not been moved before,” said Mr Jackson. “When he returned, he still had that same sense of fun but had developed a more serious side. He was well read, thoughtful and concerned.”

It meant when the industrial dispute gripped Britain in 1984, Mike and Mark would not stand idly by.

“Jimmy Somerville by this time was beginning to become famous,” recalls Mike.

“The obvious thing was to ask Mark to ask Jimmy and Bronski Beat to do a benefit gig.”

The famous Electric Ballroom in Camden High Street

They approached the Fuller family, who still own the Electric Ballroom, and the concert quickly sold out.

“The LGSM had two aims. We wanted to raise funds, collect clothes and food,” said Mr Jackson. “Our second aim was to publicise the cause within the LGBT community.”

In the capacity 1,500 crowd were miners who had travelled to London.

“The protocol was it was free entry for miners,” said Mr Jackson.

“I remember walking through the crowd and this young Scottish miner saw I was wearing a Pits and Perverts T-shirt.

“He asked if I had something to do with the gig. I grinned. He was gobsmacked. He said – I had no idea you supported us…

“I put my arm round him and we looked out over the crowd, and said ‘well, now you do’.”

Mr Jackson added that the idea that the two disparate groups – London gays and lesbians and miners from South Wales – had little in common is misleading.

“We knew of LGBT people in the mining communities, it wasn’t a case of ‘us and them’. I come from Lancashire. A lot of us were from mining areas.

“They had working-class backgrounds and had family or friends in the mining community.”

The fund would go on to raise more than £22,000 – the concert raised £5,500 alone – which was distributed to families in need.

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