Queer As Folk
As the new millennium lit the horizon in a glow of possibility, a controversial new Channel 4 series made a grab for the zeitgeist, swiftly becoming the most talked-about show with the most sought-after soundtrack on television.
Queer As Folk would tear up the TV rulebook and open the nation’s eyes to a vibrant world buzzing just beneath their noses - while elevating the Almighty sound to the summit of pop’s pantheon of cool.
Yet the story began back in 1999 with a phone call from Red, an independent production company, who had an exciting new series in the pipeline from a rising star writer. The show, following the everyday lives and loves of three gay men in Manchester, would exceed everyone’s wildest expectations, and the writer Russell T. Davies would go on to become one of the most influential forces in television today.
Red turned to us after a little light fieldwork around Canal Street, a key setting of the show, had found the familiar sound of Almighty’s sugar-coated dance confections following them from bar to bar. They soon came to realise that if they wanted to recreate the area’s special ambience, they would need our help.
Keen to be involved in this ground-breaking project, Almighty happily teamed up with the innovative young production outfit to thrash out the details, exchange ideas and decide which songs would suit the series best.
We were all excited to be guided through the glamorous world of independent television, but the stakes were then raised even higher by Channel 4: with just one month to go before the launch of the show, they approached us to enquire whether we’d like to take the whole concept one step further, and release an accompanying, original soundtrack album. Just as Queer As Folk would beam its colourful characters into the living rooms of the nation, Channel 4 wanted us to take the sound of young, gay Britain all the way to the High Street.
It was an amazing opportunity, which had not been expected, but was not to be missed.
We had an era-defining album to make, and four weeks to do it in. It didn’t help that we had still yet to see any of the series itself, so could not be sure which tracks would feature most heavily or acquire any special significance. Nor that some of the songs we wanted were by acts on a higher rung of the stepladder to success, who showed themselves less than willing to be associated with the new show and its flamboyant agenda.
Not being ones for sorrow, we put together a dazzling array of disco favourites and our own distinctive versions, which captured the crazy spirit of the times so distinctly that any absent musical friends were better best forgotten.
Just in the nick of time, everything fell into place, and we had the perfect musical companion to the show’s on-screen exploits:
Whatever happened next would be out of our control – and the runaway success of the show and its music was most certainly that.
When it finally arrived on our screens, Queer As Folk was not exactly buried in the schedules for a niche audience to discover. Channel 4 wanted everyone to know about it, and embarked on a dazzling advertising campaign, commandeering billboards up and down the country. Soon enough, everybody would have an opinion, and controversy raged through the mainstream media, from the predictable reactionary screeching of the Daily Mail, who deemed it “little short of pornography”, to the cautious left wing commentators concerned instead that it might just reinforce a ‘negative stereotype’.
Fortunately, many critics around the country chose to focus, less on the shock value of seeing rampant, guilt-free gay sex on the small screen, and more on the smart, witty script, accomplished acting and spellbinding soundtrack.
While the moral majority were up in arms, and a major brewery ran for the hills, (dropping its sponsorship in a profit-conscious panic), a curious public tuned in to watch Vince, Stuart and Nathan in their millions, giving Channel 4 one of the biggest hits on TV. For in a time-honoured tradition, the scandal did nothing but fan the flames of interest in the show.
Although we still had no idea it would be so successful, Almighty Records pulled out all the stops, preparing for our biggest ever commercial release. We arranged for an initial run of 8,000 copies to be pressed up and packaged, buoyed by the enthusiasm shown by the TV world, but crossing our fingers and our toes all the same. It certainly wasn’t looking like an easy campaign, as conservative cautions surrounding the show inevitably led to reluctance to stock our CDs from such ‘family-focussed’ large retailers as Woolworths. Fortunately, other stores including HMV showed far more enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm that the album’s launch, on a bank holiday, easily justified, as we entered the office on Tuesday morning to manic requests for additional stock – HMV alone had sold out in one day, and eagerly bought up any copies that our distributor BMG had remaining in stock. With the Queer As Folk craze quickly catching like wild fire, the Almighty Records pop pressing plant had to ramp up production, some days rolling out upwards of 15,000 copies.
The nation was devouring not just the sights but the sounds of this captivating community which had previously lain hidden. People from all corners of the country and every cross-section of British society were discovering the considerable charms of Almighty’s new anthems. And it wasn’t just the U.K. which fell for the show - it enjoyed particular popularity across Europe, and would soon be transformed by Showtime into a somewhat more glossy but resoundingly successful North American version, which enjoyed an extended run of five full seasons. Almighty Records were on board for the transatlantic trip, with four of our top tracks being featured in the US show’s first season.
Back where it all began, Channel 4 screened Queer As Folk 2 in the year 2000. A two-episode wrapping up of the story, it aired in a triumphant primetime slot, though to slightly lower viewing figures. An accompanying soundtrack album was once again issued… but not by Almighty!
Instead, Channel 4, so impressed were they by the performance of the original, decided to take the next one in-house, and set up a whole new music division to handle the release. Even so, the album was also chock full of Almighty tunes, integral as they were to the intoxicating flavour and character of the show.
Of course the second CD, which is now deleted, would always live in the shadow of the awesome original, which in six short months in the shops had followed all stars of the hit parade and gone gold! To this day it is one of the best-selling soundtrack albums of all time.
This was no small-scale success, supported by the ‘scene’ only. Rather, it reached a previously undreamt-of position in the UK pop mainstream, proving a surprise hit with teenage girls in particular, and achieving a presence in the marketplace which was only possible by capturing that elusive public imagination. It wasn’t just the TV show bringing young, gay Britain into the bright light of day…
In 2005, Almighty Records was pleased to secure the Europe-wide rights to the soundtrack for the foreseeable future - we’ll be bringing it firmly into the 21st Century, where soon it will be permanently in stock, courtesy of your favourite internet music download site.
Then in 2006, Almighty made a lot of ‘Folk’ fans’ disco dreams come true by collecting all the crucial cuts from both of the series, as well as top tracks from some acts whose reluctance to appear had been tempered by the overwhelming public demand, in one thrilling compilation: Ultimate Queer As Folk. Also available with an accompanying CD featuring the complete, non-stop mix magic of The Canal Street Medley, transporting you inside the show itself.
But while Queer As Folk has been an exciting chapter in Almighty Records’ history, it also forms an enticing link to the future, as we bring the original concept bang up to date in Queer As F**k, a double album bubbling over with the tastiest selection of contemporary club classics. Reserve your copy now, and stake your place on the dancefloor, because the party continues!