September saw us celebrate not one, but TWO Pinkie weddings! Congratulations and lots and lots of love to tenors Hsien & Simon, and alto Jess and soprano Rachel and thank you for allowing us to share your respective special days!
A new season can only mean a new management committee! Meet this year’s team and find out what their magical Pinkie moment(s) has been so far…
Going to Iceland and singing with the Reykjavik Queer Choir. We were made to feel so welcome and Iceland is an incredible country.
Paul: Bass Section Leader
Singing around the bonfire at Brantridge was a very moving moment for me. I’ll never forget it. It was very intimate and I really felt part of something special from that moment on! Singing on the stage at Pride this year was also a slight ‘pinch myself’ moment.
John’s Clair de Lune piano piece in our ‘Night at the Movies’ concert. It was meant to be a ‘filler’ track while we transitioned on/off stage; however his finesse at playing this piece had the audience captivated. You could’ve heard a pin drop.
Kirsten: Marketing Director
The Lisbon trip in 2012. The whole weekend – sunshine, singing, love and laughter, concerts and (mainly) caipirinhas – really catapulted me into the pinkie family!
Jeremy: Alto Section Leader
Nicola has been slightly cruel (I think) asking for only ONE favourite moment 🙂 I have so many, from our trip to Mallorca to singing at Pride to thousands of revellers, but nothing beats being with everyone!
David: Artistic Director
My favourite ‘Pinkie’ moment (to date) is being invited to sing with the choir at No.10 Downing Street to celebrate equal marriage.
Campfire singing on our weekend away, being invited to countless Pride after-parties by our Reykjavik hosts, running choral and choreography workshops at the Southbank Centre’s Chorus festival, helping put together our lottery-funded exhibition ‘Singing The Changes’…
Giancarlo: Tenor Section Leader
It’s a tie between singing every song we knew at the top of our lungs on our train carriage returning from Manchester, or marching with everyone in the Pride parade!
Jerome: Concerts Producer
Getting a standing ovation in Iceland as guest choir and so much enthusiasm from the audience during and after the concert, including people recognising us in the streets afterwards. Well, surely the whole Iceland trip was a favourite moment.
Lucy: Soprano Section Leader
Taking part in the Night at the Movies concert with lots of my friends in the audience. I loved singing all of the repertoire and the feeling of success at mastering the brilliant choreography – I even got to do a little solo ‘dance’ at the beginning of Dolly’s 9-5!
Sarah: Communities Officer
Proud Mary-ing on the back of the float in the Athens Pride Parade in 2011. It didn’t last long but for an hour or two we all felt like superstars! Athens definitely knew how to party; what a wonderful day and what absolutely amazing hosts!
We’re holding auditions next week for new Pinkies! If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for a newbie, read Alto Jeremy’s latest blog post which takes us on a journey of what his first season as a Pinkie has been like and reflects on how he has found his voice, in more ways than one…
Pride London in 2014 was wet. Very, very wet. Like many people I was caught in the downpour before the parade started, and consequently heard my sodden feet squelch with every step I took as I proudly marched with the amazing Diversity Role Models. Upon arrival at Trafalgar Square I sat with the team in the tent and had a great view through the back flap (ooh err matron…) of the main stage. Part of the line up was the Pink Singers themselves, and as soon as I saw them, I developed an itch I knew I had to scratch.
I sang in choirs at school and even did some singing at drama school, but since then, my vocal cords hadn’t known much warbling outside of lone, drunken attempts at recreating the rap from ‘Doin’ the Do’ by Betty Boo (dates me, doesn’t it).
After encouragements from housemates and friends, I got in touch with the Pinkies in February as they were looking for folk. I think I was more surprised than anyone during my voice test as I sang higher than ever before and discovered that the upper end of my range was workable (heck, I wasn’t sure my singing voice was workable at all any more). They offered me a place in the alto section which I readily accepted, glad of the double challenge of a new range and in singing at all. Even a couple of years ago, karaoke was out of the question as singing in public scared the living daylights out of me, but that was all set to change, as with my appointment to my new section, I was officially a Pinkie ‘newbie’.
The concert this year was entitled ‘Key Changes’. Without wanting to stray into mawkish sentimentality, it rather aptly mirrored the reality of the choir marking a key change in my own life. I had a paucity of LGBT+ friends and influences in my life, I’m not sure to this day how that came into being, but I suppose that even in this day and age we can’t escape having to go at least a few extra steps to find each other out. I declared on the 1st January that I wanted to get out more and I got my wish.
No sooner had I joined the choir than I was told we were going to Mallorca to sing in Spain’s first ever International Queer Choir Festival, and that there was even a subsidy programme open to everyone (including newbies) that may be able to help those on a lower income. I was able to go on the trip and to say we had a ball would be an understatement. Friendships were solidified amidst the buses that only turned up when they felt like it, the free radioactive cocktails in the papier mache castle, and the terrible moments where people lost their skirts, their left shoe and the entirety of their fancy brassiere collection in an errant plastic carrier bag. Songs from the old repertoire were hastily learnt, with me and my fellow newbies holding our own pretty well alongside the seasoned Pinkies. Singing outside a castle in Andratx overlooking a lush green valley will stay with me forever. It would be wrong of me not to also mention the fact that whilst in sunny Mallorca, I acquired 13 wives. That took some explaining when I got back home believe you me!
The rest of the season saw more adventure. The wonderful Hand in Hand festival in Brighton was a highlight, especially as the franchise was born by the Pinkies in 2013. I wasn’t around for that, but felt so proud of the people I stood on stage and sang with in Brighton for having got it all going, ever grateful to them all that it exists now and that I am able to be a part of it. The only thing I will say is that sharing a house in Brighton with fabulous Pinkies can have a slight downside when the most hardcore party animal comes home at 6.30 am…having forgotten his key. It’s OK though, I let him live.
The social side of things has been transformative. I almost long for a quiet weekend to myself these days (almost!). The last seven months or so have been liberally peppered with curry nights, scratch nights, theatre trips (always in exemplary company) and of course, due to recent developments, marriage celebrations. I even got into dance classes through a resting Pinkie, Rachel Sparks. ‘Irreverent Dance‘ is Europe’s first gender neutral dance space where I have been studying the Charleston, so soon enough I will be an ‘all singing all dancing’ Pinkie. The Pink Singers are a gift that keep on giving.
I have already written a separate blog entry about Pride. The march, the party and performing on the main stage in Trafalgar Square will be in my memories forever, framed with pure and unadulterated joy. To be in a queer space such as the choir is nurturing and comforting in the extreme. The choir’s attitude simply seemed to be ‘be yourself and we’ll roll with it’. Just what I needed, really. Not having to explain yourself every five minutes like you do in other situations, especially when like me, your gender identity is as queer as your sexual orientation. I wish everyone could have a space like this, really.
I could gush for hours about the fun nights out with various new chums, hilarious Facebook musings with everyone and bizarre conversations about ‘elbow stimulation’ (or whatever it was Cilla was extolling the virtues of whilst singing to us on a hillock) but that could get a bit much. I want to thank the Pinkies for giving me a place, in every sense of the word. I never knew I could sing like this, and I really really love that I can. They’ve taken me in, accepted me and respected me, and there are no words for how that makes me feel.
In the summer concert I was entrusted with writing and delivering a speech that helped to segue one section of the concert into another one. I slightly misunderstood the brief, I think, as I went slightly away from solely discussing the upcoming songs. I used it to speak of the themes and ideologies behind the coming section, speaking of individuality, identity and intersectionality. I also spoke of being spat on by Billy Bragg (he didn’t mean to, I was quite chuffed to receive my ‘leftie anointment’) and it went down rather well. I thought I would be told to change it, but I wasn’t at all. In fact, people liked its different and unique approach.
I was given a platform, trusted to use it well, and did so with all my fellow Pinkies right behind me, literally as well as figuratively. Disbelieve me if you will but people have come up to me in the weeks since and say they ‘recognise’ me from the concert and have chatted to me about how it all went, utterly bizarre but a lot of fun. If you’d told me a year ago that this would happen you’d have had a very highly-raised eyebrow out of me to say the least!
I have a new voice, in every way, and I look forward to using it in choir both as the new Alto Section Leader, (thanks for your votes everyone!) and in my support of the Community sub-group with the inimitable Sarah Coleman at our helm. This really was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I just need to learn the choreography a bit quicker this season!
Tenor Hsien sat down with Paul Selous and Rob Kielty, who were in the Pink Singers in the late nineties and early noughties, to find out what it was like to be Pinkies at the turn of the millennium.
Hsien (HC): Hi Paul and Rob, thanks for joining me. When did you join the Pink Singers and how did that happen?
Paul (PS): I joined the Pink Singers in 1997, from 1997 to 2003. I was working for a lesbian and gay radio station with a temporary licence in London called Freedom FM and I went to an Amsterdam lesbian and gay radio station to see whether we could do a matching up or co-ordination together, and I saw this CD on the producer’s desk and I asked “What’s that?” He said, “That’s from Various Voices”, and I said, “What’s that?” “Well, it’s a lesbian and gay choir festival.” “That’s interesting…” It was about 1996, so I actually went to Various Voices in 1997 in Munich just as an audience member. I loved it so much I thought, “Well, I’m going to join the Pinkies.”
I used to sing at school, but life took over and I hadn’t done it since then. I knew how choral music worked, but I couldn’t sight read and still can’t sight read. I was a bit nervous at the first rehearsal which was at the Drill Hall. There were probably about forty people in the choir, slightly more men, with a third women, just before they were awarded a national lottery grant to get more women involved.
Rob (RK): I joined in 1999, the balance was slipping the other way at that stage. There were more women than men. It really seemed to be the more typical mixed choir balance where you have lots of women and it is quite difficult to find men. It helped that the Drill Hall was a lesbian bar one day in the week, so the women knew it well. Our rehearsals were on Sundays, 2 to 5pm.
PS: I really liked the Drill Hall as a rehearsal venue. I liked the vegetarian café in there. I know that some people were not quite so keen on it.
RK: I have happy memories of pizzas and dodgy pastries! I moved down from the Midlands and a friend of mine from university wanted to come along and join the choir and she asked whether I’d come along to support her. The interesting thing is that she came, stayed for a couple of rehearsals and then went off to join the [Diversity] chamber choir, but I stayed behind. I enjoyed the opportunity to get out and meet people from different places, and I did really enjoy the repertoire.
We were preparing for a concert at the time, in Deptford I think it was, which was my first concert, and a lot of the songs we sang went on to the first CD, although I don’t think that was the intention at the time. It was just great to get involved with something with a performance in it because it was a lot of fun.
We’d sing two concerts a year, and performances in-between for people who asked really. We didn’t do much in the way of paid concerts I don’t think but we did things which we thought were worthwhile events. We did a concert for a women’s refuge on the City Road. The events did not have to be gay-specific, but we always did Pride which still continues.
PS: We sang on the big stage as the backing group for a boyband called A1. We did ‘Take On Me’ on the big stage in front of tens of thousands of people. The song was top of the charts at the time we were on stage.
RK: They were pretty big at the time, I guess they’d be the equivalent of Olly Murs or one of the manufactured boybands nowadays.
PS: When I started there were 3 musical directors: Mladen did most of the stuff, Kim – who I think was also with Diversity Choir – did the jazz stuff like ‘Java Jive’ and ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’, and Michael Derrick did show tunes, things like ‘If We Hold On Together’.
We performed in Dublin after I joined. We performed at what was normally a lesbian night, it was the first time they let men in, and Michael was both the pianist and the musical director. We had to stand on benches lined up by the walls. It was because we had invited Gloria to sing with us at the Royal Academy of Music, and they invited us back. They said, “We’ve not got a performance space, but you can come to the lesbian bar.”
RK: Michael did a lot of arrangement and he did most of the arrangement for our concerts.
PS: After a couple of years Mladen became the main MD. We used to go abroad once a year but Mladen didn’t have a passport, and couldn’t travel with us for performances. It wasn’t certain that he was going to be able to stay in London, which is why it took a while for him to take over the choir.
HC: Were there any particular songs which stood out for you?
RK: Oh yes, ‘The Spirit Song’. At the time we had a non-religious policy but we had a music teacher who came up with this song; it was a primary school song which she had written for the kids to sing and she wanted us to perform it. The choir was an inclusive choir and we like to encourage people to contribute; the problem is when nobody else is contributing and somebody does, you kinda have to do it. It was a spiritual song and it was just really singy-songy. There was a huge controversy about it and we actually put it to a vote, and half the choir chose to sing it and half the choir chose to sit it out. It was a bit difficult at the time because we were doing a Christmas concert and we had some Christmas songs and some people felt very uncomfortable as well about singing Christmas-themed music.
PS: I have a tape of the choir singing ‘The 12 days of Christmas’ with slightly racier lyrics. I remember singing ‘Ave Verum [Corpus]’ where we just used the word “Ah” and not the text.
RK: For some people it was a big bone of contention at the time – it was part of the constitution. I think it has been removed now, which is good because it opens up a range of music. Some people felt very strongly about it: gay and lesbian people have a long history of persecution by religious people, especially Christian people, and there was that kind of feeling that we can’t engage in this kind of thing, and moving away from it and shunning it.
PS: We performed a week after the Admiral Duncan was bombed, and we performed in the church in Soho, and we were actually asked to sing some hymns, and I think there was controversy about that. We were sort of half tricked into it: we thought we’d be singing non-religious songs to commemorate the people who lost their lives, but then we were pushed, asked, persuaded to do the hymns as well. There was unease that we were asked to do that.
RK: We didn’t really have a set of songs for these kinds of events. We’d tend to rotate things round. If in doubt we’d sing ‘Hand in Hand’ which was a Pinkies’ theme song. But there is nothing wrong with that. While we might take the Mickey out of it, it was one of those things which gave the group an identity, and any time anybody left the choir, we’d sing it, which was a really lovely thing to do.
PS: I remember performing in Paris, and Andy Quan left the choir, and we stood outside in a circle and sang the song. It was the theme tune we used to say good-bye.
HC: What did you enjoy about being in the Pinkies?
RK: Everyone hung out together. One of the great things about the choir was that while you sat in separate sections during rehearsal, afterwards you got to chat and made some good friends. Last night’s a good example, after 10 years we’re still good friends.
PS: The social element was really important, perhaps the most important part about being a Pinkie. There was one particular pub a block or two away which we used to go to a lot. We used to go to First Out sometimes as well, and then after that some of us would go have a meal. We’d socialize outside of rehearsals as well. I remember a picture of me dressed up as James Bond at a James Bond themed party.
RK: That was my New Year’s Day party on the millennium!
PS: And I remember a Halloween party at Annie and Lynne’s place.
RK: People did another things as well. There were a lot of people who played badminton together.
HC: Apart from singing, what else did you do when you were in the Pinkies?
PS: I was international co-ordinator so I arranged the trip to Various Voices in Berlin. My bedroom in the hotel was filled with the Pink Singer [sewing machine] T-shirts! Berlin Various Voices was very good. We sang outside which we really enjoyed, and it was the week that the FA Cup was on, so we had a lot of supporters making some noise. It was really enjoyable and we also sang at a special night called “The Queens” with three other choirs: a choir from Brussels who sang 12 Icelandic folk songs, Mannenkoorts, and Vox Rosa, which is the choir I am now with. With Vox Rosa I’ve done Various Voices Paris, London and Dublin. Joining a choir [in the Hague] was a way of making new friends, much like the Pinkies and London I think.
RK: I was on the committee for quite a few years but I was co-choir of the Pink Singers with Marc Gachon-Dyer for 12 months. I was chair when we went out to [the GALA North American LGBT choral festival in] San Jose which was great. To be in the choir at that time was fantastic. I still remember coming down the stairs dancing to ‘Cabaret’ and the stairs were very steep, and we were very far apart from each other. I remember singing my line and thinking, “That’s it!”
It was also around this time that we had the difficult Christmas concert, and there were some interpersonal difficulties within the choir at the same time. Having to be in the middle and peace-keep was kinda hard. That’s part of the fun of being part of a community organization, you are going to have people come into conflict with each other and you are going to have strong opinions and you are going to have people storm out.
By the end of my 12 months I was happy to hand things over. Marc would have given up a long time ago! That was 2000. I think I handed over to Lynne, but then I stepped down to a lesser role, remained in the committee and took on merchandising.
HC: Why do you think people joined the Pink Singers then?
RK: The choir was a meeting space, the music was a reason to meet. It is always a mixed bag, for some it will be a safe space, for some it will be about the music and high quality music. And again it is finding the things that fits the most people. One of the wonderful things about the choir is that we would sometime take on some challenging pieces like the Gershwin medley and the opera choruses. Of the concerts that I performed with the Pinkies, that was by far the standout concert.
PS: It is about finding that happy medium – a choir can change in its characteristics, in what it wants to do, and find its level over time.
RK: I think one of the things that I’ve learnt is that you let it evolve. You don’t push it, you guide it maybe, a little bit, but you don’t push it because pushing doesn’t work.
Our lovely alto, Tanya, sums up our summer concert and reflects on her tenth anniversary as a Pink Singer…
(Photo credits: Pete Stean).
This summer I celebrated 10 years as a Pinkie and 50 years on the planet, all in the same week! It was a truly amazing way to celebrate with my Pinkie family, fabulous Icelandic guests and a really appreciative audience.
The Pink Singers have changed immeasurably since my first summer concert with them in 2005. Back in the old days there was a lot of standing in the same position, very little choreography, no artistic vision or presentation and less than 40 singers. However there are still the same core values: great singing, freedom to be yourself and supporting the LGBT community.
When I joined I planned to stay for a season or maybe two. 20 seasons on, I’m still here! I’ve found a home and a family with the Pinkies and I can’t ever imagine being outside of that. Every concert I’ve done has been an amazing experience. There is nothing comparable to being immersed in the centre of that incredible sound of an eight-part harmony. The first time it happened it was a spiritual experience and it hasn’t changed at all over the years. Our summer concert, Key Changes, was no different.
I loved the theme this summer; it brought together an eclectic repertoire that was both enjoyable to sing and entertaining to listen to. So many songs that were great to sing but as I was born into a political family, singing Between the Wars and The March of the Women really resonated with me, and I must say I had a bit of a lump in my throat as Sally-Anne’s soaring vocals were added to layer by layer as the choir joined in. The introduction speech by our new Alto Jeremy (soon to become leader of all altos!) was a joy to listen to: beautifully constructed, the right tone but with a laugh at the end to lighten the mood. His words reflected my beliefs and I was a very proud to be his Alto Mamma.
Once again, we were lucky to have not one but three fabulous arrangers ‘in-house’: Simon Pearson, Michael Derrick and Chris Chambers, who understand the choir’s dynamics so well they produced some unforgettable pieces for us. What better way to open the concert that to sing Chris’ incredible rendition of Relax? It certainly got the audience’s attention!
Now some of us are great movers, others a little reticent and some (including myself) are somewhat slower at picking up the moves. When we started back in February, Relax was my most challenging piece both vocally and choreographically; I was sure I would never put both bits together. Yet slowly but surely I managed to fit my ‘tschts’ and ‘digga diggas’ together with the appropriate moves and the piece came alive. The reason? The choreography/artistic team, under the direction of the wonderful Oliver Gilbody, who manage to get the balance just right for us to look amazing and yet be accessible to all 70+ members. This is no mean feat, but something they manage time after time. It was a little bittersweet at the end of the concert as Oli has stepped down as artistic director after five fabulous years. The choir has become slicker and more secure in itself under his vision and direction but I’m sure his replacement David Baxter will add his own vava’voom and build on what Oli started. Thanks Oli, its been a blast!
Our concerts always have a bit of tongue in cheek, so it didn’t surprise me that we had a wee bit of Sweet Transvestite, brought to life by the inimitable Simon Harrison, whose legs are the envy of many a lesbian… He is a true ‘thesp’ and a fabulous performer, and I was over the moon to have been in that number when the split pieces were announced. The other half of the choir sang Lillibulero, and pretty as it was, let’s just say that high camp is certainly more up my street.
One piece that could have turned out a bit comedic if Master Murray hadn’t emphasised the need to ‘play it straight’ was the Porgy and Bess medley. It was one of my favourite pieces, evocative and sultry and simply beautiful. We were allowed to play it up a little in places, and as a bit of a Diva I must say I did enjoy looking longingly and coquettish at the basses and tenors during ‘Bess, you is my woman now’. The acting from some of the tenors (who shall remain nameless) was worthy of an Oscar.
Which brings me to the show stopping performance from Oskar Marchock of ‘Strange Fruit’, which made every hair on my body stand up the first time I heard him sing it in rehearsal. It makes me so proud that the choir can utilise all the skills of its individuals and encourage and support everyone to do things that many would not undertake outside of our supportive environment.
Summer seasons would not be the same without our special guests, and this season we had the true pleasure of hosting our Icelandic friends ‘Hinsegin Korinn’, a marvelously creative, warm and glorious group of people who participated in every aspect of our brand of cultural exchange with aplomb. Sitting in the gallery with anticipation of their first set I was blown away by their rendition of Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’. To me it epitomized the Icelandic take on life – have fun, challenge yourself and don’t take things too seriously. For such a young choir (only four years old) they are so polished and creative – it really was a joy to watch them perform. My favourite song from their set was Bohemian Rhapsody, a song that really changed the world for me when I first saw it on Top of the Pops back in the mists of time. It made me stop dead and transported me to a different world at the time and their version did exactly that last Saturday.
There are so many songs that could have fallen into the season’s theme that I’m sure the music team had a very difficult decision on which ones to pick. I for one am grateful they chose ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, even though it is barely a year old it has already become an anthem to and for change. Personally I have explored the song to its fullest extent by singing it with 11 other Pinkies in full Conchita mode with beards and all during a Pinkies weekend away at the end of last year. That was really fun, but the arrangement for the whole choir by the lovely Simon P blew me away the first time I heard it. It is a piece I will treasure singing for years to come.
That’s the thing about being a Pinkie, each season we get to interpret the words and feelings of great composers, moving from one mood to another celebrating and reveling in true community singing. This is what keeps bringing our audiences back time and time again – our love of the songs and our desire to share that love with all who need it. Thanks for the last ten years Pinkies and bring on the next show!