Twenty-one is an important birthday for anyone but what if you are one of the biggest clubs ever to grace Manchester’s scene? Then you celebrate in style. On the back of last year’s phenomenally successful 20th reunion party, Paradise Factory is going out with a bang. Northern Soul caught up with creator Peter Dalton.
Way back in 1993, local lad Peter Dalton was sick of a gay scene in Manchester which didn’t seem to cater for his generation. “It was pretty grim,” he recalls. “The Village was kind of there, a few places but nothing fantastic. The main club was the Number One club which is now One Central.”
After graduating in Liverpool, Dalton spent 18 months in France before returning to his home town. But a very different home town and Number One club awaited him. “It was the Summer of Love and everything had changed, it went mental. It was packed to the rafters. I realised there were enough peers who wanted something different.”
During a conversation between Dalton and the late Carol Ainscow about places he’d been to in France and the country’s café culture, they realised they didn’t want to hide away anymore. The glass-fronted Manto opened just before Christmas 1990. It was a new departure for a hidden gay scene.
“There was some resistance, the older crowd didn’t understand but most eventually got the point,” says Dalton. “We had an instant crowd and we did the job we set out to achieve. We attracted a cool straight crowd too who wanted good music.”
At the time Canal Street was a loose connection of bars and part of a red light district, fairly seedy and dark. But this worked to Dalton and Ainscow’s advantage. “It was a great backdrop for the bar, this bright lit bar in such a dark area.”
Next came Paradise Factory, a club set slightly away from Canal St. “It was a mish mash of a lot of things, we didn’t want a tacky gay club, we wanted to play house music. The club took off and we wanted it to be different in every way. It was avant garde and risky, it could be quite dark.”
By the late 1990s, the Village was at its peak; the corporates had moved in and the TV series Queer As Folk really put it on the map. Did this change things? “At first it didn’t have an effect but eventually it did,” reflects Dalton. “The number of venues tripled in two years but the number of gay people didn’t so it became very competitive.”
Dalton sold Paradise Factory in 2006. He explains why: “It had peaked, the last two or three years hadn’t been great.” He went on to sell Manto in 2007 and went travelling for a year. Following this he managed Chorlton stalwart the Horse and Jockey for four years before selling that 18 months ago and continuing his travels.
So what prompted him to revisit Paradise Factory last year? “I knew it was 20 years but I didn’t think about commemorating it. I bumped into old faces and people said that I should, so I looked into it.” Dalton soon realised that the timing was perfect. “The building had reopened and was in good shape. I spoke to the old DJs and hosts and they were up for it.”
With the decision made, things moved very quickly for Dalton. He set up a Facebook group to promote the night and within two weeks 2,000 people had joined. When tickets went on sale for one day only, they sold out in three hours.
“It was very emotional walking back in. Ninety-five per cent of the people were old faces but it worked like a dream. The day after, people were asking me if I was doing another one. My instinct was not to do it but people were saying 21 is a big number. I knew I couldn’t replicate last year, it was perfect and people would compare, so we decided not to do a reunion but to do a birthday party which frees us to do it in a different way.”
The birthday party is an all-out celebration and highlight of Pride weekend at the Albert Hall on Manchester’s Peter Street. “Back in the day we always did Pride parties and the Albert Hall has enough room for everyone.”
The night will be hosted by scene stalwarts The Divine David and Sister Marta with a huge line up of DJs and, fittingly, M People’s Heather Small at the top of the bill.
Dalton says: “In 1996 we hired the GMEX for a big party and did a charity event. We had M People headlining and it’s nice that we’ve got Heather back for the last one and it definitely is the last one.”