50 Tunes For 50 Years : Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy

I didn’t leave with everything I owned in a little black case, it was a mate’s orange Ford Fiesta, but the feeling that echoed in my soul every time Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy played was the same. I needed to get away. I needed to find another place to go so I could claim who I really was. For I was a queer in Essex at a time when there weren’t many of us brave enough to be out and proud. (Except those two guys down the road from my Gran’s bungalow with the white picket fence and the poodles – unsung heroes I’ll always remember). For in 1987 I was a queer, looking for my LGBTQI family and Jimmy Somerville, Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek were signalling the way.

The voice of Jimmy accompanied my every angst-ridden thought since 1984 as I tried to understand the unmistakable feeling that I was different. But seeing the boys on TOTP delivering an anthem to my soul made those days bearable. It was a time that made me determined to be forever out, regardless of the consequences. Once my acceptance of my sexuality was made I was never going back. It was all very black and white, this acceptance of the rainbow in my heart. With hindsight, it was all very autistic but I knew the decision I was making to follow those scary feelings deep in my soul would change my life forever.

And today thirty-five years since I first heard Jimmy’s voice sing of the need to turn away from one life to begin another, the tears still come rolling with every play. It’s as if his arms grab me and pull me back to those teenage years, the emotion of those terrifying days as I realised I could lose everything I had ever known as raw now as it was then. And yet it is one of the most joyful five minutes of pop I’ll ever know. For Smalltown Boy was my escape hatch and once I’d pushed myself through and embraced that baby dyke destined to love, lose, flirt, love again and finally marry my queen, everything was good. More than good. The tears Jimmy sang of, the tears that fell down my 15-year-old face back in 1984 brought life. Brought a good life. For this smalltown girl. Forever. Thank you Bronski Beat.

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