Freaky Dancing: When drugs and comics meet.
I knew the drugs were working when I found myself in the Gay Traitor, the downstairs bar in the Hacienda, quizzing Tony Wilson about postmodernism. This was sometime in the December of 1988. The pill wasn’t cheap- ÃÂ£25- but it delivered everything the bug eyed dancers upstairs had promised.
I can’t say I learnt anything about postmodernism that night but I had discovered a fantastic new hobby; Ecstasy.
Fast forward to the beginning of 1989 and I was to be regularly found stomping around the Hacienda like a drug spiked robot. My evenings would be spent dripping with sweat on the stage, drinking ginger beer (real beer tasted horrible when on pills) and spouting all sorts of nonsense to anyone that would listen. These were incredibly intense, exciting nights. Yet I still couldn’t convince any of my mates to join me.
Then something happened. I bumped into a friend on the balcony. I urged, pleaded, begged then ordered him to take a pill. We both knocked back ÃÂ£25’s worth of foul tasting tablets and proceeded to have The Greatest Night Ever. The next week another friend joined us. The three of us downed our pills and proceeded to have The Greatest Night Ever. The next week another friend joined us.
Then another. Then another.
This pattern continued over the next few weeks. Tales of our drug-addled exploits had spread. By the springtime we had pretty much taken over The Gay Traitor. Disparate friends: school friends, work colleagues, friends-of-friends, all together in our new found chemical bond.
We needed to capture these moments.
Me and my chum Ste had always written and drawn comic strips. The idea was obvious: let’s produce a fanzine about our Friday night adventures. And so was born Freaky Dancing.
Bursting with ideas we drew up the first 12 page issue within a week. Fortuitously Ste worked in an office next door to the Hacienda. At 7pm on the Friday night we let ourselves in and proceeded to photocopy 150 copies. We invited- or rather badgered- friends in to help fold and staple the issues together. A couple of hours later we were ready.
We made our way up the queue outside the club and handed them out. We didn’t want to be seen to be doing so, aware that the drug content might not be appreciated by the staff. And there was an awful lot of drug content. After handing most of them out we tucked the remaining issues under our jackets and entered the club itself. I slid an copy under the door of the dj box and gave away the rest to Kiss AMC who were working the cloakroom. Job done, let’s dance.
We did a second issue a fortnight later. After slipping a copy under the door of the dj box, the door opened and I hastened away. I was called back. Shit. Gripped. I’m going to be banned from the club now. Mike Pickering then proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms what he thought. He loved it, as did Tony Wilson who wanted to see me. Blimey.
The issues kept on coming. Every month we would have a new copy out. Our print run was getting larger and the work’s photocopier was taking the strain. I saw Peter Saville sat in the Gay Traitor reading a copy. I saw A Guy Called Gerald with an issue. I was told by Kiss AMC that it was “stupid”. This was all very encouraging. I finally bumped into Tony Wilson who told me he was going to get us on TV. Good to his word, I was picked up from work the following week by a driver from Granada TV who drove me back to my flat that- brilliantly- was above the car showroom opposite the Hacienda. Cameras were set up in the living room and they filmed us putting together an issue.
This would make up a section in the Celebration documentary about Madchester. On the night the program was shown, various friends rushed back to their parents, house to make sure their mum and dad didn’t watch it. They didn’t want them to find out their kids were associated with a drug comic.
We got permission to leave copies in Dry Bar. Outside the downstairs toilets we would stick up a poster advertising the mag. Without fail these posters would disappear within an hour of putting them up. We initially thought it must be the staff taking them down – it wasn’t. It was customers stealing them to hang up at home.
In one issue we published a light hearted (though, in hindsight, tasteless) photo comic strip about Ian Curtis. A lack of editorial wisdom on my behalf. Debra Curtis,Ian’s widow, found it and was deeply upset. I got rightly told off and had to humbly apologise. Not my finest moment. The fact that we were all massive Joy Division fans made it even worse.
Spike Island was next: the Stone Roses gig in Widnes. We printed even more issues than ever and hauled them with us. I can’t say I was too popular with my mates as they were weighed down with groaning bags full of fanzines. We arrived and started dishing them out. A proud moment was witnessing a huge line snaking across the island, people queuing to get an issue. They were all gone within 15 minutes.
Spike Island was pretty much the end for us. After a year of tremendous highs and eleven issues it was time to sidestep out of it. We’d said everything we had to say. And the photocopier had finally packed up. Our final and best issue came out in July 1990.
Freaky Dancing still crops up now and again. Around a decade ago I wandered into the Cornerhouse for a drink and discovered my comic strips blown up to a huge size and framed on the walls. “You’re going to be unbearable now” half joked my wife. Tony Wilson mentions the mag in his narration on the 24 Hour Party People DVD. Bizarrely, Drugline have reprinted strips in their magazines. I spotted a copy in the Urbis Madchester exhibition a couple of years ago. It was amusing seeing something very much of the moment being in a display cabinet.
Still none the wiser about postmodernism.