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Steven Smith talks LGBTQ music and meets the band that everyone is talking about: The 1975

When you’re thousands of miles away from home in a sleepy Thai mountain village called Somwang, around fifteen miles from the nearest city (Chiang Mai), the first thing that hits you is the peace and tranquillity, mixed with the hypnotic sound of the birds and wildlife. Next is the lack of restaurants and shops. In fact, there is, surprisingly, only one, just off the main road, offering American and Thai food made to order. It looks like a textbook picture of an Asian restaurant in the movies. It’s called Somwang Mountain Restaurant. I digress, but I recommend it to anyone who is in the area.

Entering for the first time, I was a little taken back not to hear local Thai music, but Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I looked behind me, wondering if someone was trying to tell me something. Then the thought hit me that maybe the boys/gals of Ram Bar in Chiang Mai, with its spectacular drag show, ran the place on the side. Let’s face it, there can hardly have been a gayer anthem apart from, perhaps, “I Am What I am” and “I Will Survive”. But no! Two lovely women ran the place and obviously enjoyed a bit of Judy, and in particular, the 1939 hit which seemed to play every time I walked in.

It got me thinking about LGBTQ music and the icons of the music scene that we embrace. From Marlene Dietrich with “The Boys in the Back Room” and Judy Garland (again) and her “Yellow Brick Road” to Grace Jones and “Warm Leatherette”. Her Madgesty, Madonna, has done a lot more than most for the LGBTQ scene as have Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”, Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out”, and of course, Kylie Minogue.

I’m with the band! And some wine!

I remember two guys in the changing rooms at Soho Gym squealing with excitement that they were seeing the Australian Diva that night.

“She is such a survivor,” one said. (The other quickly agreed.)

What had she survived? Neighbours! This was long before her breast cancer diagnosis. Typically, the scene has embraced the survivors, whether victims or divas, music wise.

Grace and Madonna work for me. Growing up it was Bowie. T-Rex, Lou Reed, New York Dolls and Nina Simone. Of course, for camp, Donna Summer, though she turned on us. LGBTQ music fans are often not keen to embrace their own. A recent article asked why so many gay men hate Sam Smith. (I love him.)  Maybe because he is just him – gay men see something they don’t like about themselves. He is amazingly talented. Boy George was not exactly embraced by the community until recent years.

Pet Shop Boys seem to have it right. Having collaborated with Liza Minnelli and Dusty Springfield, they have a huge LGBTQ fan base. Though I would not cross the road to see them. (Editor’s comment: that’s harsh).

I want more diverse music to represent the community. It’s great, however, to see a change coming. The girls have competition with the revolutionary band, The 1975, picking up two awards at the Brits this year. For once, we have a band with catchy songs who give 100 percent support to the LGBTQ scene.

The Manchester-based, chart-topping band fronted by Matt Healy and formed in 2002 made significant donations towards creating a new LGBTQ centre in London.

Their song “Loving Someone” has become a gay anthem and they have a huge LGBTQ fan base. Healy is fiercely and unapologetically vocal about gay rights.

He called out misogyny at the Brits with his quote from Guardian journalist Laura Snapes: “Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of ‘difficult’ artists, while women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who do not understand art.”

The band picked up a Brit for best band and for their album, “A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships”. The album has hit number one in over 26 countries and has been acclaimed by the critics as the album of the decade.

I am backstage at the 02 for one of their sell-out concerts. T planning and work that goes on backstage are almost overwhelming. I have known the band a long time, and they are just the nicest men. Despite superstar status, they have not changed a bit.

Matt Healy comes running up and seems more concerned I get a drink and am okay than he is about what to wear on stage. He is an intense, exciting personality who would make a great prophet, for whatever he talks about he does it with passion.

The band’s success must in part stem from the fact that they’re a group “of the people” and keep it real. People need to identify with the music they listen to and feel it speaks to them.

The 1975 deliver that.

The boys met at school in Wilmslow and have been performing ever since. As well as Healy, there’s lead guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald and drummer George Daniels. As for the choice of name, it was inspired by a book of beat poetry by Jack Kerouac. They are now international stars.

George Daniels, the drummer, is a striking six foot tall. Not only one of the most talented drummers in the industry today, but he’s also an Adonis of a man. When he lifted up his vest to show me his new tattoo of his house I thought, “That’s my night made.”

Proud mum and all-round legend Denise Welch

What’s really interesting is that everyone around them seems chilled. I’ve been backstage at pantos where some of the cast members are so stressed, they seem to be about to give birth, before performing to 100 people. The boys and the crew are about to perform to 250,000.

Matt Healy grew up around gay people. His mum is legendary actress Denise Welch, who for sure has gay icon status in the UK. And who can forget his Dad, Tim Healy, in drag in ITV1’s “Benidorm”. Matt does not see labels and wasn’t raised to, either.

He and the band donated £16,000 towards an LGBTQ community project. Matt says, “You might wonder why this is needed and ask what exactly everyone is still scared of, but sadly stigma still exists.”

As the lights go down and the boys take to the stage, the excitement and electricity that light the room up are on a stratospheric scale.

What lights myheart up is that you are getting the real thing. Unlike some stars who are all about themselves, the boys want the experience to be all about their fans.

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Steven Smith

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