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!”
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.
In October 1990 the Pink Singers became the first European Lesbian and Gay chorus to perform in America when we sang in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. Two years later we returned to the US for our first appearance at a Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) Festival which on this occasion was in Denver, Colorado.
But our first port of call was Seattle where on June 26th/27th we sang at the Seattle Opera House with the Seattle Men’s Chorus, Seattle Women’s Ensemble, Seattle Lesbian & gay Chorus and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in two special Pride concerts. The concerts climaxed with a joint rendition of “Over the Rainbow”. During this a member of the Seattle Men’s Chorus dressed as Glinda the Good Witch flew across the stage over the heads of the choruses, waved a wand and rainbow glitter fell on all of us. A coup de theatre!
We then flew to Denver to perform at the 4th GALA Festival of Song (June 28th – July 4th). Every four years around 60 choruses from the US and Canada gather and for the first time two European Choirs were invited (the Pinkies and Schola Cantorosa from Hamburg).
These were difficult times with anti-gay legislation and the impact of AIDS hitting us hard both here and in America. Many of the people who sang at this Festival did not survive the impact of the HIV pandemic. That was reflected in the choice of most choir’s repertoire and the joint song was appropriately called “In This Moment”. The Pinkies songs included “We Shall Not Give Up The Fight” (a South African Protest Song) and Tom Robinson’s “Glad To Be Gay”. Our opening number was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Keep It Gay” complete with large pink balloons. At the end of the number we burst the balloons. Inside was rainbow glitter which lit up the stage.
In times of stress and of joy a bit of glitter is always welcome!
Paul joined the choir as part of a personal odyssey of moving to London and coming to terms with his sexuality. As someone with some musical training (a classical background as a cathedral chorister), he was asked to stand in when Michael Derrick was away, and within six months, took over.
I came very much through that traditional music route. I wouldn’t have known Hello Dolly! from the chorus line if you had slapped it across my face with a wet fish. So for me it was really interesting having this world opened up to me…
I’d often arrange sometimes American political protest songs, and we would sing those in new arrangements. We would challenge people’s sense of their own abilities. We would challenge them with the harmonic language that they sang in, how they blended in with other voices…
I wrote original repertoire for the choir, introduced some other more traditional music as well. At the time we also had a non-religious music policy as well, so we wouldn’t sing anything that had a religious context, which for me was challenging having come from a Catholic cathedral music background.
Under Paul, the choir became a four part – soprano, alto, tenor and bass– choir and again widened the range of music it sang. Paul left to focus on his journalistic career, although he remained a singing member for the first year.
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.