Made in 2000, Hand in Hand was the first CD by the Pink Singers, compiled from recordings made at various concerts, including at the Royal Academy of Music.
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Andy joined the Pinkies in 1996 and became one of our talented composers and arrangers. Let’s go back to the turn of the millennium…
It was the time of pre-millennial fever and everyone was either planning the biggest party in history, or stocking up on tinned food, ready for the Y2K bug. How appropriate then, that the Pink Singers should receive an invitation from the makers of BBC2’s ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’, asking us to appear as special guests for their special millennium episode. How could we say no?
Of course, it wasn’t as straightforward as that. As so often happens, we were only contacted a few days before the TV shoot, and the choir would be required for half a day. Most Pinkies couldn’t make it, as they weren’t able to arrange the time off work. In fact, it looked as if we wouldn’t be able to take part, and a golden opportunity would be missed. A compromise was reached – the TV company would hire extras to make up the numbers. That’s right, we had wannabe Pink Singers in our midst!
I was lucky enough to be able to arrange time off work, so I met up with my fellow Pinkies – all six of us – at the TV studio on the day of filming. I’d never seen a TV programme being recorded before, and the first thing that struck me was how small the set was. The second surprise was seeing how short the lead actors were, so maybe television screens just magnify everything.
For those who haven’t seen ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’, the show is about a gay man sharing a flat with a straight woman; neither of them can get a man. Kathy Burke and James Dreyfuss played the lead roles, both of whom are heroes of mine. We sat in the audience seats watching them rehearse, which gave us a sneak preview of the show. In between scenes, Kathy would chat to anyone who was around – I remember her talking about having some building work done to her house. Apparently she would take the builders to the pub to keep them sweet.
Our job was to appear right at the end of the show, singing the song Tomorrow from the musical ‘Annie’. Of course, none of us had ever sung it before. Fortunately we only had to sing a few lines. We had a chance for a quick run through of the words, and then we had to go on the set to work out how we would enter, where we would stand and so on. Then we rehearsed the scene with the leads a couple of times – we were awful! We kept forgetting words, losing time, and everyone seemed quite intimidated by being on the set. The producer was looking quite worried, and kept telling us not to be so timid.
After that, we had a few hours to wait before the show was filmed. We were kitted out with clothes from the costume department, and then we just had to hang around, grabbing a bite to eat as the audience arrived. Other programmes were being recorded that night – we saw Boy George, who had just been interviewed for a chat show. He was most intrigued when we told him who we were!
Tension mounted as we were gathered backstage for our big moment. We had to be extremely quiet hiding behind the set, as our appearance was to be a huge surprise for the audience. Time seemed to drag, as the crew fiddled around with lighting and microphones for the scene. We all knew that we had to get it right first time, because glitter, balloons and streamers were going drop all over the set, and they wouldn’t have time to clean it all up for another take.
We were on! I was the first on to the stage, and I ran out, waving my arms around and trying to look as bold and confident as possible. We sang at the tops of our voices, with a conductor hidden behind the camera to keep us in time. Glitter flew in all directions, and the audience gasped and laughed as we burst onto the set. And we were wonderful, even if I do say so myself. The crowd loved us, and we spent ages basking in the applause. The producer was exuberant, saying how we had been “infused with the spirit of theatre”!
And then it was all over. We were invited to the after-show party, which was nice, so we browsed the buffet and chatted with the stars. Then we had to wait, excruciatingly, for weeks before we could see the final product. What did I make of it? Well, I thought that I looked like a chipmunk in a pink smock, but I was really proud of our appearance. The episode was repeated a few times on the BBC, and then endlessly on cable stations, so there were plenty of chances to see it. I have friends who still have it recorded on video for posterity! I’ll never forget that day, and it has gone down as a classic moment in Pink Singers history. Here’s looking forward to our next TV appearance!
1998 was a special year for the choir with their first visits to Paris and Dublin, as well as appearing in Stonewall’s Equality Show at the Royal Albert Hall and at the Hackney Empire with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, making their first visit to London. It was also our 15th Anniversary, which we celebrated with a special concert “Happy Together” at The Royal Academy of Music. It went something like this…
Janet: Hallo and welcome! We are the Pink Singers, London’s lesbian and gay community choir and this is “Happy Together”, our fifteenth anniversary concert. Philip: That’s right, we’ve been going almost as long as the Allied Carpets’ sale! Now, I should explain that some of us are lesbians, some of us are gay men. Janet: And the rest help out when we are busy. Philip: You see, even the jokes are 15 years old (pause) at least.
Philip: Now, let’s look at our audience. Aren’t they lovely? Janet: Yes, Madame Tussaud’s must be empty tonight! Philip: There’s a man here with jump leads around his neck. I hope he doesn’t start anything. Janet: Talking of which we had better get on. Now the first half of our show is the educational section. Philip: We want you to leave tonight saying “Well that certainly taught me a lesson!”.
Philip: They say that it’s best to quit when you’re ahead but as we can’t stay all night we’re going to finish now. Janet: Yes, we’ve got another show to do. Philip: In February.Have you enjoyed our 15th anniversary concert? Janet: It’s been great. Here’s to the next!
Janet: What do you hope to be doing in 15 year’s time? Philip: Oh, I’ll still be celebrating my 21st birthday. That’s in cat years. And you? Janet: I hope to be celebrating freedom and equality for all of us. Philip: What a lovely thought to end on. We’ll all be happy together. Janet: Here’s wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a wonderful new year.
A Serbian music teacher, Mladen Stankovic had previously conducted the Yugoslav National Opera and the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. He is the longest-serving Musical Director to date, staying with the choir for 13 years.
Under Mladen’s direction, the Pink Singers developed enormously. The size of the choir doubled within this period to around 80 singers, requiring us to seek out larger rehearsal space to accommodate us all. As a result of this growth and a more rigorous audition process, the standard of our singing and performances improved considerably. We moved concert venues several times as our audiences grew (including the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music) before we settled on our now familiar home of Cadogan Hall.
Mladen consistently programmed classical music and established the balance of classical and popular music that we have today. It was also during this period that we produced our first ever CDs – Hand in Hand and Pink Singers Livewhich are still selling strong and available to buy today.
Many people in the choir remain today who have fond memories of Mladen’s time with us. Everyone no doubt has a favourite memory from his 13 years as Musical Director, although perhaps the best evidence of his achievements is the second place the Pink Singers achieved in the Manchester Amateur Choral Competition in 2009.
Directed by Ian McKellen and compered by Sandi Toksvig, the show included the first live performance by Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders as Patsy and Eddie, Lily Savage, Marc Almond, Michael Barrymore – recently “out” – and topping the bill, Elton John, whom the Equality Choir was to accompany.
The Pink Singers formed the basis of the 80-voiced choir, which also included members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus, with the Pinkies turning out a record-breaking 61 singers – our biggest ensemble ever.
We rehearsed weekly (in Aldgate) without Elton John who was then touring the States. It was arranged that he would fly in and out on the day of the concert (a Sunday) via Concorde and we would rehearse with him from noon at the concert venue. We were positioned at gallery level behind him and were able to sit there throughout the evening.
We jointly rehearsed I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy, and were most surprised and intrigued when Kylie Minogue joined him and they sang Sisters. He completed his set with “There is Nothing Like a Dame”. The latter song also proved to be a surprise – what a strange combination we whispered amongst ourselves, but all was explained when he appeared that night dressed in enormously high heels, a black cocktail dress and waist-length hair – it was a drag act!”