Ian Nipper: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ross Horsley
2nd July 2018
RH: This is Ross Horsley recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project. It's the 2nd of July, 2018, and I'm here with Ian Nipper, a librarian at Leeds Central Library. Ian, would you like to just briefly introduce yourself?
IN: Hello, I'm Ian Nipper. I'm almost 56 years old in two weeks' time. I've lived in Huddersfield since September 1981. I moved there to go to Huddersfield Polytechnic, which is now Huddersfield University, and never left.
RH: So you have experience of going out and onto the scene in various locations around West Yorkshire. Where have you been out?
IN: Um, obviously I went out in Huddersfield quite a lot. Are you wanting to know specific venues at the moment?
RH: Why not, yeah.
IN: Well, most of it's going to be concentrated in Huddersfield but we'll see how we get on. So, as I say, I came to live in Huddersfield in September 1981 as a student. At the time I was in the closet, although – I wouldn't say that the door was open. It was more sort of slightly ajar. And the first time I went out to a gay venue in Huddersfield was a place called the Gemini – a club called the Gemini – appropriately enough on Queen's Gate, on the ring road in Huddersfield. I remember going with a fellow student from York called David, and neither of us were out but we'd decided we were going to just have a look at it, see what it was like. And I remember going up to the front door and I was absolutely terrified. We both were. In those days you wouldn't just walk into a gay club. This place had a doorbell. You'd ring the bell. Someone would look through a hatch and then they'd let you in. If they liked the look of you, they’d open the door and let you in. And I remember saying I wanted to come in. You had to be a member to actually go to the club so I had to take out temporary membership and the staff didn't help by saying you've got to have someone sign for you. And he said, ‘if you just go over to those two fellas there, tell him you'll do anything for them’. Well I just sort of walked over and sort of handed it over. I don't think I even spoke to them. I was so nervous, but anyway they kindly signed this card which said, ‘I am desirous to become a member of the Gemini Club’ and I ended up with a temporary membership. I do remember that I never actually paid for membership there. You were supposed to pay for it but this temporary membership seemed to last forever.
RH: Would it have been expensive or would it have been fairly affordable?
IN: I think it was fairly affordable. Places like that were fairly affordable. I mean, most clubs were affordable then, not that I've been to a club recently but I know it can be quite a quite a hefty entrance fee. So, yeah, anyway, walked into the, walked into the Gemini Club, got a half of bitter to steady me nerves and I'd had a little drink had a chat with me friend David. And then decided the best way to loosen up would be to go and have a dance. So, I went to a bunch of the dancefloor and it was one of those light-up dance floors like on Saturday Night Fever, I was very impressed, sorta pulsating to the beat. I bounded up on there, full of confidence slipped and ended up a crumpled heap on the floor – and then I remember it was a member of staff came up said, ‘well we charge extra for trips here love’, and I just sort of laughed it off and carried on dancing and all in all it wasn’t a bad night.
RH: What sort of music were they playing?
IN: High energy. It was the heyday of high energy. It was before it had really got in the charts and I remember the main one that I remembered was Your Love by Lime which was a group – well supposedly consisting of Denis and Denyse LePage. Apparently, Denyse Lapage was actually just Denis LePage doing a female voice.
RH: How many people were in the club?
IN: Oh always fairly full, I was never very good at estimating amounts of people, probably about 50 people – you know it was a Saturday night it was fairly busy, had a good time really.
RH: What did David make of the experience?
IN: He really enjoyed it and he came out to me that night as well.
RH: How had you both sort of arrived at this kind of agreement to go?
IN: Um – well I'd already been out to gay venues in Newcastle with an old schoolfriend of mine who was out and I’d actually heard of the Gemini from people in Newcastle because it was it was famous or infamous throughout the country – people did come from all over the country to go to the Gemini. And, I remember just sort of meeting David when I got to Polytechnic, we got on really well and we'd both sort of mentioned that there was this club there and I said, ‘well I'd quite like to see it’ and he said, ‘oh yeah I would as well’, so we decided we'd go and have a look.
RH: Was he – do you think he was nervous about coming out to you that night?
IN: Yeah. I mean he was, he was more scared than I was of even going to the club. You could see when we were sort of walking up there his whole body language, he was, he was, he was literally shaking – and he was looking down at the floor and everything.
RH: What were the other customers, patrons like inside when you were in there?
IN: It was hard to tell because I – I was terrified to look at anyone. But I do remember there were some of the classic stereotypes there, there was a leather man with a huge moustache, a walrus moustache – in fact a lot of people had big moustaches then, it was very much the fashion in the early eighties, clones they were called and a lot of them – the classic clone look was close cropped hair, big moustache, check shirt, jeans, black shoes and often whites – white socks, but I think I was just a general thing I think everyone wore white socks then. I didn't look like that.
RH: What were you wearing?
IN: I was more of a New Romantic at that time. I had an extremely long blonde fringe, just sorta covering one eye so it came down and I think my fringe came down to me chin, and then the side bit was cropped really close. It was an adaptation of Phil Oakey from the Human League’s look, except with blonde hair rather than black hair… and lots of sort of floaty, floaty clothes, I had some very big baggy trousers on I remember. I had another pair of striped trousers worn as a scarf, which had borrowed from one of my friends at me hall of residence.
RH: Did you tell anybody afterwards where you've been that night, you and David?
RH: What did they make of it?
IN: Oh – well they did ask if I was gay and I said I wasn't.
IN: Because I was in the closet and you know. It was a very scary thing… very scary indeed.
RH: Did you feel like, there might be no coming back from it, saying something like that?
IN: Exactly, yeah. Yeah if you come out the closet you don't go back in again. Plus, I don't think I’d accepted it meself either.
RH: So, once you'd been out to Gemini that time did you go back, or did you go to other places?
IN: I didn't go back until – until after Christmas when I finally came out to meself and then I came back to Huddersfield and told everyone. All of my friends and that was, uh the reaction was generally positive and this is – a lot of them said we knew anyway. And after that I thought right going back to the Gemini and… I did. I went back on my own this time.
RH: What did it feel like then?
IN: It was more exciting than scary the next time… and one of the staff tried to chat me up, that was, hmm, (laughter) he wasn't the most attractive of people let's say.
RH: So you had to turn him down?
IN: Um, well. I did eventually turn him down but he also said he was going to Manchester and would I like to go to Manchester, and thought I'd really fancy seeing Manchester. So I went with him, and then we came back and he dropped me off.
RH: What did you make of Manchester?
IN: It was great. It was again, it was all very, is all very underground. In fact one of the clubs I remember – the club we went to was literally underground and I've forgotten the name of it. It will come to me at some point.
RH: So did the Huddersfield scene change after that – did it get bigger?
IN: If anything, over the years it got smaller.
IN: Well… the thing is, there was, there wasn't a huge official scene, there was the club the Gemini and there was the pub, The Greyhound on Manchester Road – which got really busy on Wednesdays and Sundays. I think Wednesday because it was halfway through the week, and on a Sunday people were going to work the next day so that have a last blast for the week, and then they used to have a disco on a Sunday – it was, it was always packed on a Sunday.
RH: Was it gay-friendly?
IN: No it was gay, yeah completely gay. Now as I was saying that pub and the club were the main scene – also around Huddersfield a lot of other places were sort of gay friendly, there was a pub on the corner of new street called The Commercial, it's now called the Jug & Bottle and that had a little room to the side and that was like an unofficial gay space so, y’know you'd go in there and it was mainly gay people. A few straights as well so it was a bit mixed. There was also The Queen's Tavern open Imperial Arcade, never, I never really went there it was, well… it was an old man's place and I was 19 years old. But I did, I went a couple of times and I wasn't that impressed by it, now there was another place I used to go on Thursday teatime and I'm not really sure if it was actually that gay, but I used to just meet a group of gay friends in there. In fact, I actually ended up going there with this fella that I was seeing at the time, it was called The Shoehorn on New Street and again that was another one downstairs and I'd see him and see a couple of his friends. And also, usually Mr Barry Stephens a local drag queen would be there as well – not in drag. And just, just, just used to go for a teatime drink and a chat.
RH: What sort of time would you mean by teatime?
IN: 5 o'clock yeah. Yeah, so it's just like (inaudible) It was still fairly busy, pubs were, pubs in general were busier then. Drink was cheaper.
RH: Did that group welcome new people, did it change much over the time you were going?
IN: No I think I was the newest one and I sort of, I don't think we – we sort of developed beyond that – in fact we stopped going after a while anyway.
RH: Can you remember why?
IN: Um, just fell out of it, you know, places fall out of favour. But also around Huddersfield quite a few pubs were managed by gay couples but not just in Huddersfield itself but outside in surrounding villages – for example there was a pub called the Royal Oak in Upperthong and that was managed by a gay couple. And you know, you'd quite often go into going to pubs around Huddersfield and find that they were managed by male couples.
RH: How would you know that they were a gay couple?
IN: I've got eyes, I've got ears.
RH: So they didn't make any particular attempt to hide this fact?
IN: No, no. They didn't go shouting, ‘oh I'm gay’ but, you know, you knew – and also you'd chat to them. You know, and they didn't make any, any secret about it.
RH: So do you think that made places like that seem more friendly to their customers?
IN: I think it did. At the same time straights always saw you as a bit of an oddity to look at – especially me, because I was in my full New Romantic gear still. I wouldn't wear makeup in the, out in the countryside but… I would sometimes at the club.
RH: Can you describe it for me, I’m interested!
IN: Yeah, well. There was a girl, a girl that I used to knock around with quite a bit and she quite liked, sort of elaborate makeup, and so we do… I wouldn’t have used foundation back then because I have great skin, but there'd be a bit of blusher, there'd be some eyeshadow there’d be a bit of glitter on the eyelid. If we're feeling really extravagant it would be like three lines of eyeliner extending out from the eyebrows, the corner of the eye, and just one in between as well. And sometimes I'd be wearing blue lipstick as well.
RH: Was this a personal look or do you think it was kind of [unclear]?
IN: It, okay well it was sort of influenced by the girls from the Human League. They've got a lot to answer for those girls. Johanne and Suzanne, they used to have sort of make up a bit like that, also so did Alf Moyet from Yazoo, Alison Moyet, she was called Alf then.
RH: Did you go to any of the other nearby cities to Huddersfield, to go out to gay venues or to meet gay people?
IN: I'd go to Leeds sometimes. Mainly just to pubs because obviously getting back from a club at night was a problem. In Huddersfield I could just walk home… so I'd go to…The New Penny which was hideous, go to the old Red Lion on Hunslet Road and that was alright, that was quite a nice night out.
RH: What did you like about that?
IN: Um it was relaxed, it was like a proper pub. You know there's no, no disco or anything I quite like that sort of down-to-earthness about it, and it was you know, nicely Victorian.
RH: Who was there that night?
IN: Um, that was generally an older crowd, sort of a mixture of quite, quite older people and then it would just vary down to younger people. I always stuck out because everyone else sort of… dressed sort of casually and I was still in the New Romantic gear.
RH: Did people make comments to you?
IN: Uhh sometimes yeah, ‘Is’nt he pretty!’ Not meant in a bad way either.
RH: So you weren't offended?
IN: No, no. No, I think it was that thing where, you know, if you're gonna look like that you're going to attract attention. So you either don't look like that or you just accept that you're attracting attention – at least they weren't trying to beat me up.
RH: Did you ever hear about anybody who was beat up or anything?
IN: No not really. And I never used to get any trouble. I would even go into straight pubs in the centre of Huddersfield and people generally – I mean they might stare a bit but there was no real antagonism there. Again it was at that time, it was the time of the New Romantics, it was fairly – as fairly I wasn't the only one doing it let's say.
RH: Did you move on to a different look after the New Romantics sort of height of that era?
IN: I didn't, so I've sort of shifted away from it. I always liked my…my big thing was bright colours, always like bright colours and so although I sort of left the New Romantic look behind I still sort of kept all the bright colours, and I still do, you've seen some of my shirts.
RH: What do people talk about together when they got together in gay bars?
IN: I used to find it quite tedious actually. They talk about um… they talk about who was running which pub, it was all about sort of couples that ran pubs and how many times have been to Grand Canaria and… who the latest affair was, that was what we used to say, it wasn't your boyfriend or your partner it was your affair. It was that – that was a weird thing I could never get on with that word. To me it's, it was something – an affair was something you had with somebody else's husband or wife. Well, I think that's possibly the case in a lot of these as well.
RH: Were people quite open about their relationships?
IN: Yeah, yeah I mean in the safe confines of a gay venue yeah.
RH: Would people stay together for quite a while or were people in and out of relationships?
IN: I met both. I met people that have been together for decades, and people who would you know I think a long relationship was two weeks. I should also mention as well that actually before I came to Huddersfield, something very big happened that year. The club was getting a lot of hassle from the police and the local council hadn't wanted to renew its licence.
RH: Is this The Gemini?
IN: Yeah The Gemini, and sorry we’ve jumped back to Huddersfield, they didn't - the local council didn't want to renew its licence, they’d fought to get the licence, that they'd retain the licence, but they got a lot of hassle from the police who would come and raid the club, take people's names and addresses. As a result of that, for the first and so far only time Gay Pride was moved from London to Huddersfield in 1981, so the march was actually held in Huddersfield. And this had all happened before I’d come to Huddersfield, obviously it happened in the summer and I didn't actually know about at the time. But it just showed sort of that it wasn't quite as open as it is now.
RH: Was it a big event in that year in Huddersfield, did a lot of people travel?
IN: Yes, yes a lot of people came.
RH: Have you seen pictures of it or anything?
IN: Um, yeah you can you can Google them.
RH: Why Huddersfield?
IN: Because it was, well The Gemini was really well known throughout the country so it got talked about when, when it was getting all this hassle you know, the jungle drums were going, people were talking about it all over the country.
RH: So it was, it was strategic in a way to kind of bring a gay presence to Huddersfield and combat this kind of negative attitude which had developed.
RH: And did it work?
IN: Well The Gemini returned its licence.
RH: I’ve not heard of that happening before actually.
IN: No well it's the only time it happened, that Gay Pride moved out of London. Obviously they don't need to now because places have got their own events.
RH: So when did you stop going out as much as you had in your student days?
IN: Actually I went out a lot for a long time. I probably start to leave the gay scene behind when I met me long-term partner and that was in 1992.
RH: And where did you meet?
IN: In The New Penny in Leeds. He'd actually spotted me the week before, oh I remember – yeah we had spotted each other and I was actually with a friend that night and he didn't want to approach because he thought this friend was my fella and but as we were leaving he sort of gave us a little wink. I thought, ‘Uh, bit late now’, but I went back the following week to see if I could see him. And I did. There's another place in Huddersfield that haven't mentioned as well.
RH: What’s that?
IN: The Amsterdam Bar. Now that wasn't a gay bar, but it attracted a lot of gay people and in the past some of the bar staff were gay. There was one who would at one point would dress up as a baby in a nappy on top of the bar. The Amsterdam was a show bar and again it was really really popular, there was nothing like it, nothing else like it in the country at the time and people would come from all over the country – that do coach trips to the Amsterdam Bar and these two have a fairly bigish name acts on as well. They had Bernard Manning on quite a few times.
RH: How did that go down?
IN: Really well yeah, but everyone would talk to everyone else and they'd be sort of communal songs where people would have linked arms or hold hands and shove the hands in the air all singing together. Remember there was all that song, Gangbang by Black Lace was it that was really popular in there, ‘we’re having a gangbang, we're having a ball, we're having a gangbang against the wall’. That was featured on that film Rita, Sue and Bob Too. The other – the other song we heard quite a lot there was Dolly Parton's Tits.
RH: I’ve heard about that song, but I don’t know much about it.
IN: Yeah, um ‘I really love their Dolly Parton's tits, they're so big and soft and round and they don't make a sound, I really love that Dolly Parton's tits’ (laughter).
RH: Would there be a dance that went along with that?
IN: Um I don't think there was, I don't think the bar staff did anything to it, the bar staff would actually usually mime to sort of porn soundtracks. I remember there was one woman dressed as a schoolgirl gyrating against a rope and saying something like, ‘And I knew that I had had my first orgasm’. I’m trying to remember who I got to sing onstage with once, it was somebody who was in a pop group called Child. I can't remember his name. I’ll have to come back to it.
RH: Sounds interesting, was that a good experience?
IN: Yeah, yeah I sang No Woman, No Cry with him. I can't remember his name. I remember now it's Keith Atack!
IN: I've just remembered another little story when… as part of me drama studies at Huddersfield Polytechnic we all went across to Manchester for a tour of the Royal Exchange theatre and get a backstage tour. And afterwards we had a little bit of time in Manchester and I remember taking a couple of fellow students to the club Heroes on John Dalton's Street, I’m thinking it was Heroes, anyway another one of these clubs that were underground, went there and then I remember this girl I was with was sat there and she's just looking around, her eyes wide going, ‘is he gay, is he gay, is he gay?’ ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and then who should walk in but Mr. Barry Stevens who I used to have drinks with on a Thursday lunchtime in The Shoehorn in Huddersfield. So we were chatting to him for a while and then he left and my friend said, ‘I didn't want to ask, but is he gay?’ (laughter)
RH: (laughter) Oh gosh, thanks Ian.