I was a little nervous on Friday morning as I trammelled my luggage with me to work, carrying what I hoped were all the essentials you might need for a Pinkie Weekend Away: sheet music, bottles of wine, tea-time snacks and more costume changes than you’d expect for a two-night retreat.
Despite the excellent, colour-coded schedule and very thorough brief, I really didn’t know what to expect from the upcoming trip. The choir itself may have been celebrating its 34th birthday, but I was still brand new. Being a newbie always feels a little tricky, even in such kind and welcoming company as the Pink Singers – you’re still playing catch-up, trying to insinuate yourself into conversations that are already underway, and hoping the in-jokes don’t fly too far over your head.
Little did I know, over the next two days, the warmth, kindness and inclusivity of everyone in the choir would turn these anxieties into unfounded nonsense.
The flats, when we arrived into Newlands Park, were basic but cosy, surrounded by real greenery and the kind of oxygen you get to breathe once you’ve ventured out of central London. The place had been sprinkled with little welcoming touches; our names on the doors and festive bunting in a communal kitchen that brought back strong memories of evening pre-drinks before a night out in the Student Union.
Dinner during our stay felt like a similarly school-like affair, with canteen-style trays and an assembly line of courses complete with fluorescent-coloured tubs of jelly. Simple, but perfectly tasty stuff (or as Simon announced, in typically British understatement, really not unpleasant!)
Over the next two days I got a real crash-course in choir life, alternating between serious rehearsals, informal singalongs, intense vocal workshops, educational choreography sessions, organised down-time activities (including Jeremy’s yoga and improv theatre class, and Sunny’s outdoor sports-day) and, inevitably, a whole lot of drinking and dancing.
Both Saturday and Sunday morning were, naturally, slightly groggy starts following the previous nights’ festivities, but bleary-eyed though we were, it was frankly inspiring to see – even amidst the light-hearted grumblings from the tired and hungover – how much effort was put in by everybody to show up and sing out. Special thanks should go to John and Murray especially for managing to keep us alert and in tune despite the croaky voices and droopy eyelids (… ours, not theirs.)
During the afternoon sessions over the Saturday and Sunday, we were lucky enough to have two experts giving their time and knowledge to help us. Emily, a choreographer and dance teacher, led us in a Bob Fosse workshop in which we were taught basic moves like the waft-walk, the flamingo, and the boxing kangaroo (note: probably not the real names). After that, we were let loose on the full choreography to Chicago’s ‘All That Jazz’, an opportunity which was met with great enthusiasm, if not always perfect results. I imagine even the least seasoned dancers would agree that this whole session was hugely fun, informative, and really gave us an expert’s insight into how to move our bodies – all lessons learnt to be applied in the next choreo rehearsal, of course…
Sunday’s session was with Andrea, a singing teacher, who worked with us on timing, projection, tone, and expression – all the nitty-gritty details that fine-tune a performance. It was fascinating to hear her take on what needed working on and why, and it gave us a chance, too, to really show what we could do. I think everyone stood a little straighter and sang out a little prouder that afternoon, to prove Andrea’s attention to us worthwhile.
Andrea also led individual workshops that day with Claire and Jeremy, who both stunned us with their beautiful renditions of chosen songs – Claire reduced half our row to tears with her piece, while Jeremy’s Hugh Jackman-esque tenor sailed impressively through the room. It takes a lot to stand up and perform, and even more to be critiqued in front of everyone while doing it, so special thanks has to go to the pair for allowing us to watch and learn through their session.
And speaking of performing – Saturday night’s fun kicked off with an open-mic session in the festively-decorated hall that was to play host to our much-anticipated 90s disco, complete with glow-sticks and multicoloured balloons.
We were treated to an incredible range of performances – from beautiful acoustic three-part harmonies, to a singalong 90s medley, and even a Pinkie-spin on gangster rap, the length and breadth of the Pinkies’ talents were showcased that evening in brilliant fun, good humour and with a whole lot of love.
A special performance of The Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way from the newbies (and a fumbled turn accompanying on guitar by yours truly) went down a storm and rounded off the set of performances that evening that were all met with rousing applause. If I had any lingering doubts that there was anything to be unsure or nervous about as a newbie in the choir, this was the moment it was done with.
The rest of the night was given to dancing – the choreography to Steps and S Club 7 was broken out, and we naturally found ourselves harmonising to classic 90s boy bands with increasing enthusiasm (and corresponding tunelessness) as the night went on and the drinks were drunk.
There’s a moment that comes during the evening, when you step back and look at yourself, sweaty and covered in glitter, jumping up and down in five-inch platform heels, yelling out the lyrics to D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better and you think – well. Things are pretty damn good now, too.
Home time on Sunday rolled around all too soon, though, and after tea in the sunshine on the lawn, with hefty wedges of delicious cake, contemplative and mellow and satisfyingly tired, it was time to get back on the coach and make our way back to London, a little sleepy, but still scrolling through phone snaps to hold onto the memories just a little longer.
One last memory that I’ll treasure in particular: Saturday night, going down to dinner with a group of spectacularly talented, warm, unique individuals, dressed to the nines in party gear – wigs, skirts, glitter, pom-poms, ties, suits, face-paint – a myriad of self-expression and peculiarities descending upon the cafeteria. Suddenly we find ourselves accosted by a group of schoolchildren on a foreign exchange, small faces upturned, curious, excited, open. Not a moment of judgment seems to cross their minds. A little girl asks where she can find boots that look like that. An excited-looking boy begs for a go on the cheerleader’s pom-poms.
Quietly at first, and then louder, a song starts up – my mama told me when I was young, we’re all born superstars. It’s a real-life Moment with a capital M as the song grows in volume and our voices join up in harmony. The schoolteachers smile and laugh and film us, and encourage the kids to clap and sing along, though they barely need telling, excited as they are.
Community outreach, Phillip called it afterwards, as he readjusted his wig and waved the kids goodbye. I felt incredibly moved. I’d never much felt like I was part of a community, before.
Thanks, Pink Singers, for making me feel like a part of yours.
As well as our ‘inpromptu’ performances, you can also catch the Pink Singers live at Cadogan Hall on Saturday15 July, together with special guests Rainbow Voices Mumbai and Sheffield’s Out Aloud! Click here to find out more.