In our recent concert at Cadogan Hall one of the songs we performed was Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy, beautifully and movingly arranged by our very own incredibly talented Simon P.
Paul, from the tenors, shared his own story of moving from a small town to London...
I’d like to tell you a story – of a boy from a small town. (That’s me). The town, Rathfriland, County Down, Northern Ireland (population 2,400) is unlikely to be familiar to you, however the story might be. It is, plus or minus a few details, likely also your story. So many of us found ourselves here in London because we came searching for something. Something that, try as we might we would never find at home. Where do I belong?
At the end of the 90’s, when queer as folk was first aired on British TV, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the Admiral Duncan bombing occurred and I graduated from Nursing School in Belfast, I came to London in search of excitement and to find answers. To find love. To locate that missing jigsaw piece that I thought would make me complete.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted for nothing, I had great friends, was out and proud, with the full support of my family. Nevertheless I packed up my car and like Dick Whittington was off to london to find my fortune.
Some of the memories that I hold dear from my childhood, as many of you I’m sure will identify, are soundtracked by my family’s taste in music.
I used to dance around my aunts bedroom to Duran Duran and the Communards. We even did (and still do, sometimes) our own dance routine to Venus by Bananarama. My mum and stepdad were into the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, loads of Ska and Punk. This music was the soundtrack to my formative years. My mum passed 4 years ago rather unexpectedly at 61 but one of her favourites was Smalltown Boy by Bronski beat, It sees fitting that it then became the theme tune to my departure some years later.
I arrived in London, with a packed Vauxhall Corsa that contained my life, in December 1999, and at the turn of the millennium entered into a new exhilarating and terrifying chapter of my life. Hard as it was at times, the following 24 years were all the things I thought I was searching for and more. Sometimes the big city was lonely. Expensive. Full of pitfalls, But I worked hard, pushed on and had plenty of adventures. Cut to present day and I stand before you today as one of you. A smalltown boy. In a big city where the opportunities are as limited as your imagination.
The next song, was played at my mum’s funeral, as part of a celebration of all the things she loved. I guess you could say that it was her exit theme too now. She’s not here to hear me sing it sadly so I’d like to dedicate this to Wendy and to all the smalltown boys, girls and folk of all genders who are looking to find their place in the world.