October 1992 was a lonely time be a 14-year-old gay Madonna fan at an all boys school in Berkshire. The innocent days of taping Stock Aitken and Waterman songs we’d recorded off the radio to play on Sony Walkmans had disappeared. Everyone had snuck off to Reading Festival to see Nirvana at the end of the summer holidays. The few friends I had who didn’t call me ‘faggot’ and kick the shit out of me for fun had started scrawling indie band logos over their rucksacks in Tippex, growing their hair long and most had stopped washing to try and Be More Kurt.
For me, the solace was in my music. Madonna music to be exact. And one horrible Monday when I arrived back home, dishevelled after one of my regular beatings from the glorified members of the rugby team, lay a copy of Erotica on my bed from my mum, who had always walked into town the day Madonna released a single or album to make sure I had it on day of release.
The album was epic. It was like an Immaculate Collection of its own. From the title track to the dance-floor epic of ‘Deeper & Deeper’ to the beauty of ‘Bad Girl’, every song told a story. Yet in the joy of the music, my loneliness was amplified as I had no-one else around me to share it with, to be excited about it with. Madonna performed ‘Bye Bye Baby’ at the MTV Awards one year later, with Erotica still sounding fresh – yet all anyone at school could talk about was Pearl Jam. I had tickets for both nights of Madonna’s Girlie Show tour at Wembley Stadium just weeks after – but feared to tell anyone about it, and snuck into London on my own.
After the second night at Wembley Stadium, leaving alongside 72,000 other Madonna fans, the 15-year-old me wondered where all these people went after the show. I was sad that after two nights of unity and feeling – finally – that I belonged somewhere, that I would be headed back once again to an isolation.
It was that feeling that drove me, alongside my close friend Sharon, to start Madonna Fan Party and turn it into a regular, free event where Madonna fans could come from all over the world, dressed however they liked, on their own – and walk into a room full of other people, and for 8 hours feel like they just got home. And that’s what I think we’ve done.
After a few low key parties from 2003 in the G-A-Y Basement Bar, where the music was patched together on VHS, the parties started getting busier and busier through word of mouth, such that they often got to a 1-in, 1-out stage. With support from the G-A-Y Team, we moved the events to G-A-Y Late in 2007. I had done some DJ’ing at the Granby in Reading and put my skills to use, mixing 8 hours of videos and live performances together, keeping each party fresh through a theme – sometimes celebrating a new release, or often celebrating an anniversary of a key release. Madonna’s team got in touch as they’d heard about us and the way we bring fans together to celebrate her music, and since then they’ve supported our parties since, both through her official website, and by sending us lots of giveaways, signed CDs and vinyl and promo items.
Since 2012, we’ve started to see people fly in from all over the world for the Madonna Fan Party events. We routinely pull fans in from all over Europe, Argentina and Brazil. We’ve seen groups of friends develop into their own Madonna Families. We always send through photos to Madonna and her team after each event – and to this date, we’re still the only event supported by them in the UK, and we make sure we keep it free.
Our next event takes me full circle – we’re celebrating 25 Years of the Erotica album on 21st October at G-A-Y Late. Doors open at 3 pm and we run through until after 10 pm, when G-A-Y Late then takes over into it’s usual party night.
25 years to the day when I listen to Erotica, I’ll be surrounded by hundreds of friends – some of whom I now regard family – from all over the world. A massive contrast to the first time I listened to the album alone. People often say thank you to us for throwing the events – and I admit, each event takes a massive amount of effort and planning, weeks of remixing and sequencing – but I always say thank you to the fans for coming. Even through it’s a free event, people don’t take it for granted. They make the effort to come each and every time – and effort is what it takes to keep a community going.
I hope our community will grow yet again on 21st October and we get to welcome more Madonna fans to the 28th Madonna Fan Party. See you there.
Words by Neil Symons