We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
July comes around so quickly, it seems only yesterday I was in Manchester celebrating life and living it up back in 2016. But my annual trip to Manchester has come and gone in the blink of an eye yet again. The old saying time flies when you’re having fun could not be more apt and the buzz of Canal Street still burns deep. So many friends, old and new. Inspirational speeches and entertainment. Drinking, dancing and glam! This was Sparkle 2017!
I wanted to start with a brief overview for those in a rush. This years event was bigger and better than any of the previous years I have attended. Sackville Gardens was filled to the brim as was Canal Street and the surrounding areas. A more diverse mix of music, speakers and entertainment was on show as well three bars. The variety of stalls on offer was interesting and the kids zone was much larger than last year. The fringe events consisted of a broader range of entertainment and included a rock night that was most welcomed by the alternative crowd. The beauty pageant was extended and now included about fifteen contestants in both categories. All in all a fantastic achievement.
Arriving in the early afternoon of Friday, cramped and hot from the coach, I checked in and got myself ready to hit Manchester. Seeing Canal Street again was like receiving a huge hug from an old friend and seeing all the banners, bunting and colour brought a tear to my eye. Home from home and ready to celebrate I did not waste time getting involved in the festivities. It was amazing to bump into my old friend Davina and let the fun begin! There is not all that much happening in the park on Friday, just a few folk sitting around while the last preparations are made by the hard working volunteers. Friday is all about partying in Canal street and there was plenty to be had.
Hitting all the bars up and down Manchester’s Gay Village it struck me just how many people had turned up for this years celebration. From drag queens to transsexuals and gay guys to supporting spouses’ the diversity was wonderful. Everyone had a great time and it was lovely to see so many groups welcome lone wanderers to sit with them so they could feel part of the special occasion. I lost count on the amount of people I met but there was always someone to chat or dance with. The highlight for me on Friday was one of the fringe events put on to raise funds for Sparkle. It was a rock night in the lower depths of Bar Pop and it went down very well because there are many on the trans spectrum who prefer rock and metal over the usual pop or dance crowd that Sparkle normally caters for. On a personal note it felt good to be able to express my alternative side in Manchester for the first time. Rocking out is a staple of my daily life and not having to wear a party outfit brought a new dimension to my experiences of the Gay Village. I did not stay until the end as wanted to find a few friends but found out the next day that £500 had been raised for Sparkle. Even the moody rockers have a heart! Hopefully this is a turning point in so much that a greater variety of events will be put on, I spoke to so many who really enjoyed it . It goes to show Sparkle are listening to the trans people who attend and seem to be wanting to make the weekend more inclusive.
For those not into guitars, big hair and moshing the remaining bars provided a wealth of pop, dance and 80’s retro to die for. There is nothing quite like Canal Street on a Friday night, the buzzy atmosphere and fusion of folk from around the world makes for a delectable array of fun. Columns of trans people mixed in with the Gay Village regulars paraded up and down popping in bars here and there. Speaking with some newbies to Sparkle I had almost forgotten about how electrifying and freeing the first visit can be. It was lovely to hear stories about how people found themselves attending. From hiding away for years to discovering something about themselves recently, seeing the smiles and wonder was very inspiring.
After rolling out of bed at silly o’clock on Saturday, head pounding and needing to get to the hairdressers, it was great to see the sun shining and a busy Manchester City centre hustling away. The actual Sparkle festival officially starts on the Saturday and this year saw a new layout of the stalls, bars and stage. From my initial exploring it was definitely more spacious inside Sackville Gardens and the thoroughfares much more accessible. The stage was bigger and the layout allowed for views of it from all angles. It was surrounded by three bars including the VIP area. There was the usual grumblings from some about the existence of this area but if truth be told its entry fee raises much needed funds and also provides shelter for those not accustomed to the sweltering heat. There was a huge red bus that had been converted into a bar and this provided some different drinks to the usual ones that Sparkle provides. It was a great addition and brought something fresh to proceedings.
The stalls were plentiful and had a more varied feel this year. The normal wig and clothes stalls were scattered amongst health and well being ones. A few corporations had set up stalls giving out freebies such as badges and stickers to promote their various LGBT employee groups. Having attractions like this really brought a sense of purpose to the event and shows the scale and reach it has built now. Much like the various Pride events around the UK, Sparkle now means so much more to so many people. Some had pointed out it has become a victim of its own success that the park was filled with corporate funds but having this support allows trans issues to be heard on a wider scale. Their very presence gives organisations a chance to show support for the trans community and advertise how far we have come in recent years. However, I do concede that adding a little advocacy or even political slant to Sparkle would take it towards a different destiny. I am not sure how I would feel if further employee groups or corporations were allowed to attend. This year it was just enough to allow some important messages without being overbearing.
The kids area was excellent this year, Mermaids had put up a whole tent with games and activities. It was emotional seeing trans children have so much fun and being so free. It brought lots of emotion from me and really helped me understand the importance of events such as Sparkle. It is not all partying and pretty frocks, there is a real purpose to bringing trans rights forward. This was backed up by a very moving and inspirational speech by Beckie Fox. I have so much time for her, she is a brilliant ambassador and advocate for all things on the trans spectrum. Her experiences and motivational words really hit home for everyone who was listening. There was also a great speech from Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester, who discussed the importance of equality, acceptance and tolerance. He raised the issue of homelessness in Manchester and the efforts being put in to rid this once and for all. Lovely to see someone of importance be so supportive and welcoming.
The amount of locals who had wondered in to experience the event was healthy. Families and couples could be seen strewn around and we chatted to a few who were having a great time watching the various acts. There was a music awards ceremony, some comedy and various hosts throughout the day. The music from the performers was a little more varied than I remember from previous years. This was great to see and I hope the organisers keep trying to diversify all the acts on offer. There was also much fewer technical hitches this year, the volunteers did a magnificent job in keeping everything flowing and the communication between them really kept the whole thing under control. A big shout out to everyone who helped put on a great show!
After having fun in the park it was back to Canal Street for more frolicking. The drinks were flowing all afternoon and into the evening as the sun held out. Caught up with even more friends and met a few new ones along the way. Switching between the bars meant that there was always someone to chat with and the bar staff did a wonderful job of keeping every bodies thirst quenched.
Saturday night started late, the sun was hot and I waited until late to head out. Hitting a gin joint called Mother’s Ruin was fun as the music was retro 80’s which always gets me dancing. Hitting a few clubs involved more dancing and I lost count of all the people I spoke to. The Gay Village was packed and everywhere you turned fun was to be had. The sense of community and freedom was quite inspiring and the variety of entertainment kept every moment fresh. There were appearances from LGBT police and it seemed every drag queen from the UK was providing laughs at every turn. The usual hen dos and regulars were out in droves as well which just added to the excitement. It was wonderful seeing everyone in their most glamorous outfits, a sea of colour and shape was amazing to witness. The laughs I had with some old friends in New York New York was the best part of the night. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt in the morning and still had a huge smile thinking of all the gags and one liners.
I did not manage to get to any of the official Sparkle evening events this year, which was a shame. As everywhere was so packed it was hard to get into many of them if you arrived late. I heard they were all very good though, as was the Sparkle ball. I would be keen to hear on others thoughts on any of the other offerings as do feel as though I have missed out on some of the magic.
Sunday started with lunch in Via before venturing back to the park for more of Sparkle. The weather was still great so the sun warmed everywhere and the refreshments were welcomed in the bar tent as was the shade. The Sunday saw more wonderful music from the memorising Jordan Gray. Her eclectic mix of pop, rock and soul raised the roof and brought tears to some. Her devotion to Sparkle should not be undermined and the event is made so much better by her presence. There was also another proper metal band that really shocked me. They were amazing, especially the base player due to his lightning solos and mental dancing. It was great the organisers have diversified the range of acts and although it was not to everyone’s taste, Sparkle has to be inclusive for all. There has been to much pop and dance style acts over the years which while being great does turn some people away. I look forward to next year to see what other genres can be implemented. The always fabulous Vicky Lee hosted the pageant competition which was the biggest I had ever seen it. There was about fifteen competitors in both the Miss Sparkle and Miss Golden Sparkle categories. It was mentioned that the event had been oversubscribed and they had to make tough choices about who to enter. This is testament to the reach of this special occasion and all the girls were very deserving of the tiara, although there could only be one winner! The day was accompanied by a fashion show and some more comedic hosting. Was a wonderful day in the park overall and in my opinion one of the best Sparkle days in recent memory.
The evening was very similar to the Saturday but without all the glam. By Sunday afternoon many revellers have packed up and gone home leaving just the hardcore party goers to continue the fun. While not as busy out and about in Canal Street, there was still plenty of fun to be had, one of the highlights was karaoke in Churchill’s. Still managed to hit a few of the bars and clubs as well to round off a fantastic weekend. So many memories and friends made, so much happiness for everyone involved. So sad it is all over but it can all start again next year. Thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who put on the weekend and thank you to all of Manchester for putting up with everything! Until next year…