Jimmy Somerville

Jimmy Somerville

Singer
1984
‘Pits and Perverts’ benefit concert’

‘Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Cry boy, cry …’ Smalltown Boy

Jimmy Somerville

James ‘Jimmy’ Somerville is a Scottish pop singer and songwriter. He was brought up in a tough area of Glasgow. He faced homophobia at work. At 17 he left for London with a week’s wages in his pocket.

He got involved in the London Gay Teenage Group and a project funded by the Arts Council. In 1983 the project created a video called Framed Youth: Revenge of the Teenage Perverts. At the time he formed Bronski Beat with Steve Bronski and Larry Stenbachek.

Bronski Beat released their first album ‘Age of Consent’ at the end of 1984. The track ‘Smalltown Boy’ became a gay anthem and soundtrack to the 80s struggle. It described the problems of being gay in provincial Britain and sold more than a million copies. The album included a pink triangle on the cover. On the inside sleeve it listed the age of consent for gay sex in European countries to highlight the difference with the UK. Somerville was glad to use his fame to promote gay rights and left-wing politics.

In December, Bronski Beat headlined at a benefit concert at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town, London. ‘Pits and Perverts’ was a fundraising event organised by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). LGSM had formed earlier that year to support major industrial action being taken to stop pit closures. No benefits were available to striking families. Funds were desperately needed to continue the strike.

Mike Jackson and Mark Ashton started LGSM. They had organised a bucket collection at London Pride in 1984. They knew more needed to be done. LGSM groups were formed in towns and cities all over the UK. The London group established support for miners and their families in South Wales. Their story has been told in the film ‘Pride’.

‘Pits and Perverts’ was the biggest fundraising event organised by London LGSM. Somerville was a close friend of Mark Ashton. Apart from headlining, Bronski Beat presented a gold disc as a raffle prize. Somerville knew that LGSM brought socialism onto the agenda of sexual politics and the lesbian and gay community. At the same time it brought sexual politics onto the agenda of trades unions.

David Donovan, speaking on behalf of the miners at the Pits and Perverts event said,

“You have worn our badge ‘Coal Not Dole’ and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now a hundred and forty thousand miners know … about blacks and gays and nuclear disarmament and we will never be the same.”

Somerville continued to support demonstrations for the miner’s cause. The National Union of Miners went on to support the call for lesbian and gay equality at the 1985 Labour Party Conference and Trades Union Congress.

Somerville left Bronski Beat in April 1985 and formed the Communards. He wrote the song ‘For a Friend’ after Mark Ashton’s death in 1987.

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