The albums no queer collection should be without…
No’1: Bronski Beat: The Age of Consent (1984)
In 1984, as Margaret Thatcher’s second term of what seemed like an impregnable reign began, there wasn’t much in the way of hope to hold on to for queers in the UK, while Ireland was still in the dark ages. Then Jimmy Sommerville came screaming on to the pop scene with his shaved head, jeans, braces and Fred Perry shirts.
Not only could this lad sing the slates of a roof, and not only did the mixture of techno and hi-nrg music from Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek urge you to take to the floor, but these were a new kind of warrior musicians who understood alienation and injustice. There it was in the echoed chorus of their second top ten hit, from The Age of Consent, Why. “You and I together fighting for our love” And we were. It was the eighties and everywhere queers were battling for survival, recognition and rights.
George Michael was still trying to pass himself off as straight boy extraordinaire with Wham, ‘Relax‘ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood had been banned and Donna Summer, who owed her career to her legion of gay fans, had (allegedly) publicly trashed them, spewing some Christian homophobic crap about AIDS. But Bronski Beat were pop knights in unapologetically gay armour and they went after Donna too with the determinedly camp Marc Almond swishing at their side on a cover of ‘I Feel Love’, the song that won Donna her queer fans in the first place.
The album demonstrated the band’s politics and Somerville’s vocal range with both original songs like ‘No More War’ and ‘Screaming’ and the classic Gerswhin cover, ‘Aint Necessarily So’. But it was their biggest hit,’ Smalltown Boy’ that reached out and spoke to countless young gay men and lesbians all over the world.
Somerville’s plaintive voice and lost urchin look gave voice and image to the real exodus of lonely young queers forced to leave home unable to find the acceptance they desperately needed. Within a year of the album’s release, in the wake of political disagreements, Somerville had left the band to form The Communards with the sometime-Bronski keyboard player, Richard Cox. Bronski Beat struggled on with frontman, John Foster and had a top three hit with Hit That Perfect Beat, before disbanding in 1989.
Neither band were ever to produce another album with the musical or emotional punch of The Age of Consent.
Listen to The Age of Consent on Spotify here.
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