Concerts in Paris

Jenny

Like a family?‘Your choir is like ours’, smiled Aline, my host for the weekend, having met Cilla, Jo, a particularly exuberant Johnathon and I at Gare du Nord. ‘Everyone seems really friendly and welcoming’. ‘Like a family?’ I suggested. We both laughed. What a wonderful weekend followed! Equivox were the most charming of hosts, everyone enjoyed themselves and, I must say, it was one of my favourite foreign trips with the Pink Singers so far.

The dismal weather, which continued all weekend, precluded any proper sightseeing, so we headed back to Aline’s cosy flat, where she made tea and my gift of all-butter highland shortbread biscuits went down a treat – ‘now we can have tea and biscuits, just like in England!’ she laughed. Aline’s English was rather more polished than my rusty degree-level French but, with her encouragement – and Johnathon’s – we took it in turns throughout the weekend to talk in both languages.

Tea was soon followed by a memorably delicious dinner with fellow Pinkies at ‘Le Coude Fou’, a traditional French wine bar/restaurant in the Marais. By the time we got to the Open Café to meet the others I was starting to wilt a little and only managed one drink before calling it a night.

I awoke the next morning to noises from the kitchen and the smell of something delicious and savoury wafting under the bedroom door…Aline was preparing a savoury ‘cake’ for the pre-concert brunch and this was the first of several home-cooked treats over the course of the weekend – I can still taste the quiche she prepared for the brunch on Sunday, which was rapidly devoured as soon as it arrived.

‘C’est le troisième, c’est chic!’, I was told as we entered the very grand and ornate town hall in the 3rd arrondissement, where the two concerts were to be held. We warmed up in a side room, then squeezed onto the tiny stage for the rehearsal. The few hours before the first concert flew by, as they usually do when you’re so focussed on the music, Mladen’s conducting, remembering words in Latin, French and English (and trying to talk in all three), devouring savoury ‘cake’ and swigging Normandy cider!

Equivox were highly entertaining and gave a quite compelling performance. Babette, their vivacious and theatrical ‘chef de choeur’ is not so much a conductor as an artistic inspiration. She really engages each and every singer with infectious enthusiasm, demanding passion in every song. Very French! The outfits are quite a hoot too, this year’s theme being ‘beach party’.

Our own performances went down very well with the audience, who particularly loved the French pieces. It was really heartening to see people in the front few rows fondly singing the words to ‘Hymne à l’amour’ – the French still have a great affection for Edith Piaf. Aline congratulated us backstage after the first concert, saying she’d been very moved – ‘Now I can really understand the great English choral tradition!’, she enthused.

For me, one of the highlights of the weekend was our joint performance, with Equivox, of ‘Let the sunshine in’, complete with extended chorus and grinning, arm-swaying audience participation, presided over by Babette in her absolute element. It’s one of those great moments when the song leaves the stage with you and echoes through the corridors and in your head for days afterwards. What a fabulous end to the show!

by Jenny
Soprano

Timeline datestamp: 08 December 2007

Festival 2000

Martin

Festival 2000 brought 140 performing groups and more than 5,000 singers to San Jose for the largest gay and lesbian choral event in history July 22-29.

You can find out more about GALA Choruses on their website, but here’s Martin to take us through the events of GALA 2000 – it might help to know that ‘Philip’ is a longtime Pinkie and Martin’s other half!

Saturday 22 July 2000
Philip was recovering from a bad cold and had hardly any voice (a pleasure for me and the rest of the choir). The opening ceremony at 8pm was great fun, with about 6000 choristers and their camels (the people who get involved with the choir without singing – like me). They are called camels because they end up carrying all the singers’ baggage when they are rehearsing! Kate Clinton was hilarious as keynote speaker and Harvey Fierstein was an excellent presenter.

Sunday 23 July 2000
The day of the Pinkies first concert and my first tour of duty on the choir’s merchandising stall. This was next to the Melo’Men from Paris. They had draped the European flag between the stalls thus reuniting the old enemies France and England as only dykes and queens can.

Monday 24 July 2000
This was the day of the Pinkies’ trip to Monterey and Carmel. They hired two camper vans (well, they were camper after we got in), and we crossed the mountains to the coast where we visited the Monterey aquarium. The display of sealife was interestingly set out, especially the jellyfish. The way they kept moving aimlessly but somehow reached their destination was an allegory for the Pink Singers. An evening meal in Carmel involved a lot of walking around in growing gloom and fog, until we eventually went back to the first restaurant we had seen. 8,000 miles to California and we ate in an “English pub”; but the food was good.

Tuesday 25 July 2000
The Pinkies were singing at the Expo at 5:30, so I looked after the stall while they were on. I could hear some of their act from the stall, and they seemed to be well-received. They were asked to do an encore, as if they wouldn’t anyway. Philip went with Paolo to see the No-Talent Show. This is a performance of non-choir-type things by members of the choirs. Philip said I missed a treat: the Ethels were very funny – six Ethel Mermans, and a silent Ethel as signer (Kevin).

Wednesday 26 July 2000
Portland Gay Men’s Chorus upset all my prejudices about commissioned pieces with stirring and effective songs about coming out in the words of Portland’s young gay women and men. People have been coming up to Philip and saying how great his jokes were. Philip is attempting to look modest and unconcerned but he doesn’t fool me.

Thursday 27 July 2000
The Pinkies were still rehearsing when the Expo closed for a couple of hours, so I went to the London Gay Men’s Chorus tea party in the park – the Boston choir didn’t throw it in the fountain, so I guess that problem is sorted.

Friday 28 July 2000
After lunch we saw the Men’s Chorus from Tulsa. One of their members had flirted with Philip on the Pinkies stall (to his undisguised delight) and had been to every one of the Pink Singers performances so we had to support them. We went on the last ride up the View Tower at sunset – it was spectacular. They had closed all the gentle rides and all that were left were the check-your-brain-at-the door stuff, so we ate fairground schlockfood instead. The park, to quote Glenn, was neither “Great” nor “America”, but it passed an evening.

Martin Edwardes
FOPS (Friend of Pink Singers)

Timeline datestamp: 22 July 2000

Happy Together

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.

Timeline datestamp: 19 December 1998

10 Years in the Pink

On Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th July 1993 the Pink Singers celebrated their 10th Anniversary with two concerts at London Lighthouse, a residential and support centre for people affected by HIV and AIDS in Ladbroke Grove. At the time the importance of safe sex to prevent the spread of HIV was very much in the news. The Pink Singers contributed this song to the campaign to encourage safe sex practices.

All proceeds went to London Lighthouse and two members of the choir John and Stephen Riethmuller composed a song especially for the occasion called “Love’s Not a Light We Can Switch On and Off. The Pink Singers also performed the song at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 18th July 1996 at the service of Thanksgiving and Rededication to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Founding of London Lighthouse.

In 1993, the London Lighthouse centre was used by 2000 people a week for services ranging from home support to terminal care. It’s also where the Pink Singers used to rehearse. The centre closed in 2015, following dramatic improvements in the treatment available for HIV, although the memorial garden, where the ashes of many people who died at the Lighthouse were scattered, has been preserved.

You can find the complete set of clips from the concert here.

Timeline datestamp: 23 July 1993

West Palm Beach

In October 1990 the Pink Singers became the first European LGBT+ choir to sing in the USA when 18 of us visited Florida. We had been invited by the 70 strong Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida to perform with them at a concert called “International Harmonies” in West Palm Beach. To celebrate our visit the Mayor of West Palm Beach named Friday October 26th 1990 “Pink Singers Day”.

The venue for the concert was a huge converted cinema and we were so good even the back row stopped what they were doing!  Our repertoire included “London Is London”, “Always On My Mind” and a medley of songs by George Gershwin. We also introduced the audience to Tom Robinson’s “Glad To Be Gay” with new lyrics for the occasion.

As well as doing the concert, we also did a special fundraiser in aid of the Health Crisis Network in Miami, who continue to support people with HIV and AIDs. At that time, the pandemic had impacted heavily on the local Hispanic community and their children, so we had a very mixed audience who cheered us on our way. The highlight of the event came as we sang the song “Somewhere Out There”, when a typically noisy Miami thunderstorm erupted outside. The song never sounded more impressive.

With the performances over, the Pinkies were also able to enjoy the many delights of South Florida (some pictured here, some not!). A few holiday romances took place and some lasting friendships were made. We were to meet up with the Florida chorus again two years later at the Festival of Gay and Lesbian Choruses in Denver.

Timeline datestamp: 10 October 1990