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It Ain't Necessarily So - Bronski Beat

While I was part of the Islington arts department, we also teamed up with the other three North East London Labour boroughs on other initiatives, not least amongst which was the annual North London Lesbian Strength and Gay Pride Festival which we put on at the end of the eighties, running into to the early nineties. As there were no lesbians or gay men in our department, I was detailed to be the Islington rep on the working group in charge of the planning and programming.

At that time my colleague Neville and I used to put on about ten "tea dances" for older people each year, older people being loosely defined as pensioners. Once we worked out how what we called the "tea dance mafia" worked, these were extremely successful. First, you had to make sure that you weren't clashing with tea dances in any other central London boroughs as the bulk of them (the mafia) went to most of the dances - if it was Monday it must be Hammersmith, Tuesday Camden, and so on, and we ended up doing them on Thursdays at 2 pm. Then you had to chose a practical venue with a good sized "scuffed" wooden floor to dance on, preferably with a stage for the band to save us from having to install our own portable one; and you had to supply endless free tea and biscuits for all the punters. Neville would deejay with a selection of strict tempo dance platters while I would sell tickets for 50p at the door. The charge was merely to deter disinterested parties who might therefore disrupt proceedings. In around about ten years of holding these events, I can't recall any such incidents - our clientele were always impeccably behaved. We got to know them pretty well, the women outnumbered the men by around about ten to one and while the women were quite content to take turns in the male dance role, we did fear for the few men who attended as they were usually visibly struggling with the partner workload they were forced to maintain. To make things worse, every now and then the band would announce a "Bus Stop" - a scenario designed to allow all the women to dance with a male partner. The women would stand in an orderly queue as if they were at a bus stop, and the men would offer their arm to whoever was at the head of the line, dance them down to the end, before walking back up to the top of the queue to take the next one. As there would be up to twenty women in a line serviced, as it were, typically by only three men you can see why Neville were often on tenterhooks as to which one of us might have to give cardiac recovery to any one of these gents. I even used to help them out with my own rudimentary quickstep and can testify that it was no mere cakewalk.

The women in particular were wonderful, polite but terrific fun to talk to, sensible, upright, strong in their opinions and always positive and philosophical about their futures as they grew older.

The cream on the cake was our regular live performers, Dave McQuater and Friends, who would play two half-hour sets with a fifteen minute break in the middle for a rest and tea and Neville spinning the platters, and who were worth far more than the paltry entrance fee, recreating the golden age of British dance bands. with expertly rendered quicksteps, foxtrots, waltzes, cha-chas and even reaching the exotic heights of tangos, rumbas, sambas and paso dobles.

In preparation for the Strength and Pride festival I liaised with the London Lesbian and Gay Centre which was based in Islington on Cowcross Street with a view to working with them on some partnership events as well as including their programme in the festival brochures. To my surprise their most successful regular events were tea dances and they jumped at the chance to co-host one with the Dave McQuater and co. We held it on a Sunday afternoon at the Union Chapel "studio" (not the main house but a large room round the back of the chapel), and had worked with the LLAGC to decorate it lavishly so that it looked like the Ritz circa 1935. I had barely set up myself up in my box office post at the door when when I became aware, to my horror, that in the queue were loads of our oap tea dance mafia regulars and I realised that a keen office assistant had in error sent the Strength and Pride Tea Dance leaflet out to our usual tea dance punters. I knew from talking to them - or thought I knew - that our tea dance regulars had, shall we say, old fashioned views about many things, so the notion of them dancing with a bunch of lesbians and camp gay men, the latter dressed up with over the top Liberace style extravagance, seemed a recipe for disaster, especially as it swiftly became apparent when they purchased their tickets, that most of them were unaware that the afternoon would be anything other than their regular tea party.

How wrong I was: the older women were over the moon to find themselves with plenty of superbly turned out, athletic, handsome young men to dance with - at least they were younger than their usual partners. Also, they were great dancers, entertaining company and not a sexual threat. In short, the perfect dance partners. And the same was true in reverse for the men who found themselves dancing with the lesbians, even if they were dressed in suits or sailor outfits. A marketing mistake had circumvented my misassumptions about these older people who showed more open-mindedness, flexibility and generosity of spirit than I had given them credit for, the event was a rip-roaring success, and paved the way for more mixed sexuality dances in this vein.

"It Ain't Necessarily So" is a song from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" which was featured on Bronski Beat's 1984 album "The Age of Consent" which in turn, on its inside sleeve, listed the varying ages of consent for consensual gay sex in different countries around the world, many of which compared unfavourably with the UK. They are joined by the gay male choir - the Pink Singers. The song cites various well-known biblical stories including Jonah and the whale and David and Goliath but says

'' ain't necessarily so -the things that you're liable to read in the Bible - it ain't necessarily so...."

In the hands of Bronski Beat the suggestion that not everything in the bible should be taken seriously refers specifically to its condemnation of gay sex. They should have lifted these lines from the original while they were at it:

"oh, I take that gospel whenever it's possible but with a grain of salt".

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