Category Archives: History

Thirty years with the Pink Singers

Michael DerrickLast month, Pinkie veteran Michael Derrick celebrated his third decade in the choir. Whilst an active singing (and dancing) member, he has also been the Musical Director (1988 – 1992), accompanist and one of our favourite arrangers. Here, he describes how the choir has (or hasn’t) changed over the last thirty years and what being in the choir means to him.

My first rehearsal was on the last Sunday of October, 1986. It was on a Sunday afternoon because that was the only time the whole choir was free: before the liberalisation of opening hours, pubs closed after lunchtime drinking and didn’t open again until the evening. What else was there to do? Join a choir, obviously.

The rehearsal was in the basement of the London Lesbian and Gay Centre: a dingy space with a low ceiling, out-of-tune piano, no natural light, and the smell of cigarettes and beer from the previous night’s disco. We ‘suffered for our art’. There were about 15 regular singers; all men. The repertoire consisted of show tunes, protest songs, and earnest post-war German cabaret lieder. The other choirs in Europe were into pop songs and classical music but they tolerated our seriousness because we had Margaret Thatcher, Section 28 and an age of consent of 21. They knew that we were “Pink” because that was the colour of the triangle that homosexuals were forced to wear by the Nazis.

“Every rehearsal was part of a build-up to a concert: a performance and then a new set of repertoire and so on. And at every rehearsal there was the aim of putting on the next concert. So there was a very well defined set of objectives for each rehearsal. That was the choir that I joined and it’s more or less the structure that has survived to this day”.

As well as celebrating his 30th anniversary with the choir, Michael also turned 70 this year!

As well as celebrating his 30th anniversary with the choir, Michael also turned 70 this year!

Thirty years later we are still Pink, still protesting, and still rehearsing on Sunday afternoons; but a lot has changed. Most notably we are a mixed choir. “Mixed” usually means Men and Women. I am proud to say that we are much more mixed than that!

We are bigger, of course, and the repertoire is wider. Early photos show us using music – now everything we perform is off copy; early video shows us standing still or walking about on stage making simple gestures – now we have full choreography. When I go for a health check-up I always tell the nurse that I do a four hour singing and dancing rehearsal each week. This always convinces the nurse that I am keeping fit…

A strength of the choir is the large number of members who write arrangements. In the early days, arrangements had to be written because that was the only way we could perform the songs we wanted to sing. When women started to join the choir, songs were regularly re-arranged to give the increasing numbers of higher voices something to sing. We continue this tradition and it makes us very special – not many choirs do it.

“The first concert I conducted was the first concert the Pink Singers gave with women and men performing. Before that, there were women and men together on the marches, but it was the first concert. And for every single concert since then there has been a range of voices and genders in the choir. And that’s something I’m extremely proud of.”

There have been many other changes over the years but one thing has stayed exactly the same: after my first rehearsal we all went to the pub. The social side of the choir is very strong. It has often been described as a family. Friendships have been made and relationships forged. It has been a complete delight to have been a Pinkie for thirty years.


Navigating Europe, choral style.

HsienLEGATO is a organisation which exists to strengthen the communication and cooperation between the gay and lesbian choruses in Europe. Fresh from their annual meeting, which was held in Munich, tenor Hsien reflects on the bonds which have brought so many European LGBT choirs – old and new – together. 
On the expedition of life it pays to stop now and then, and take stock of the forks and bends which have come before, so you know how you got to where you are, and perhaps what route to take in the future. As I sat for an enforced two hours of nothingness on the plane from Munich to London, I can’t help wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t joined the Pink Singers: would I even be aware of the wider community of LGBT choirs across Europe and the world? After this Legato meeting in Munich (7-9 Oct), I am incredibly thankful for the path my choral life has taken.
Legato, a slightly clunky acronym for “LEsbians and GAys singing TOgether”, is the umbrella organisation of Europe’s LGBT choirs, and a group the Pink Singers has been involved with since its inception. Legato helps to oversee “Various Voices” – affectionately abbreviated to “VV” – the four-yearly gathering of European LGBT choirs which the Pinkies have participated in virtually every iteration of, even back when it was originally called the European Lesbian & Gay Festival of Song.
poster-for-the-5th-european-lesbian-gay-festival-of-songIn fact, we have hosted this choral jamboree ourselves on a couple of occasions, our first being the fifth festival in the late 80s. Titled “Singing the Blues Away”, a deliberate dig at the Conservative party of the day, it took place at the height of Section 28, Thatcher’s pernicious anti-gay law. When the choirs of Legato saw that we needed their support to draw attention to that horrible piece of legislation, they awarded us the festival in 1989, helping us to put it on and standing with us in defiance against it. Section 28 was eventually consigned to the dustbin of history, but the Pink Singers will never forget the solidarity our European family showed us then. United we stand.
The intervening decades have seen the winning of several victories for equality, so while there remains a lot to be done, the struggles we face locally do not seem as insurmountable as they used to. It is only natural that as a choral body, our emphasis has moved from responding to challenges, to enjoying our shared tradition of music making. Anyone who has ever been to a VV will be aware of the simple delights of participating in a weekend of singing with fellow choristers from across Europe.

The Philharmonie Theatre in the Gasteig

The Philharmonie Theatre in the Gasteig


Although VVs only happen every four years, in between festivals delegates from our choirs meet at the annual Legato general meetings. This year’s was an opportunity to view our backdrop for VV Munich 2018: the magnificent Gasteig. I can think of no better venue to celebrate LGBT choral singing that in this complex of four outstanding theatres, seating an audience nearly 4,000, surrounded by multiple shared spaces. The latter is actually much more important that it sounds because VVs are as much about socialising as they are about performance, and the communal spaces are essential to facilitate that.
Brunch, with friends old and new.

Brunch, with friends old and new.


If VVs are principally opportunities to renew old friendships and make new ones, however, then the general meetings are concentrated versions thereof, and there were many new friends to be made this time round. In the last few years there has been an explosion of newly-formed LGBT choirs in Southern and Eastern Europe, and at this meeting they were present in force. Joining us in the north and west were representatives from Komos from Bologna, Roma Rainbow Choir from Rome, Checcoro from Milan, Coro Canone Inverso from Padua, the Mallorca Gay Men’s Chorus, Chór Voces Gaudiae from Warsaw, and the majority of the choir from Odessa, Qwerty Queer.
In fact, among the many highlights of the BaVarious Voices concert, presented by the immensely talented Munich choirs on the Saturday night, was watching Qwerty Queer’s guest performance on stage. For me, hearing their song “Vertigo” sung in Russian, wrists bound in red ribbons which were symbolically thrown off, was not only a novel musical experience (I’m not sure we have ever heard Slavic songs at our festivals) it was a timely reminder that the support the Pink Singers once received is now needed in new places.
The combined choirs and orchestra at BAVarious Voices.

The combined choirs and orchestra at BAVarious Voices.


In a Europe, and a UK – which seems fixated on difference and is increasingly ready to put up barriers between us – it is perhaps time to stop and ask ourselves as both a choir and as a community who we are and how we got here, and perhaps then we can decide where and to whom the road runs from here on out. I hope it heads east and south towards our extended family there. This weekend in Munich reassured me of that. United we stand.
 


Happy Birthday to Us, Happy Birthday to Us!

Michelle Wanna hear how ‘Wicked’ our 33rd birthday party was, how much ‘hairspray’ was used, & how many Pinkies got ‘Footloose’ and fancy free on the dance floor? Spot the theme yet?  Soprano Michelle gives us the low down on our 33rd birthday party shenanigans…
Happy Birthday to Us, Happy Birthday to Us!
In true Pinkies style we celebrated the choirs 33rd birthday by going FOOTLOOSE and ON THE TOWN for a LITTLE NIGHT OF MUSIC and CABARET at Claphams’ Two Brewers.
Pinkie b'day Apr 2016Us GUYS AND DOLLS were dressed up to the NINEs in our ‘musical theatre’ themed costumes in honor of our next Broadway inspired Concert – ONE NIGHT ONLY.
This is my 4th Pinkies birthday party and I never fail to be utterly amazed by the effort everyone puts in to the event. From MY FAIR LADY Rachel catering us with cake (complete with ‘green icing flowing down’ – a prize if you can spot that reference!) – to DREAM’GIRL Jezza ordering the fizz and decorating the venue to perfection. There are too many people to mention that make these celebrations the highlights of the Pinkies’ calendars.
33Our traditional Open Mic session was was hosted by the suave Master of Ceremonies Paul with his naughty banter, cheeky smile and slick hair shining from his HAIRSPRAY.
(You have to remember the singing doesn’t stop after our small group gigs, concerts and weekly rehearsals. What excuse is better than celebrating our third-and-a-bit decade as London’s community choir. It wouldn’t be a Pinkie event without a sing song – or two, or three…).
34Kicking off the show was our Saz singing a little ditty (she’s a FUNNY GIRL). Next up, those DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRALS – small group old favourites the Baberfellas – and new kids on the block the ‘Raundrettes’ entertained us with some close harmony campery. All followed by some amazing and show stopping numbers from resident Tenor Divas – What a THRILLER of a night!
27The final act of the evening was our very own ACORN ANTIQUE Alto leader Jeremey and Artistic Director David who embodied good old ‘Barry and Freda’ for a final Hurrah! paying homage to our late and great Victoria Wood. [We all agree will now begin a petition to insist we replace the National Anthem with ‘Let’s Do it – The ballad of Barry and Freda’ so watch this space!]
Pinkie b'day Apr 2016There was however a very important absence from proceedings. THE MUSIC MAN himself, our Musical Director Murray Hipkin was busy tickling the ivories for another particular Diva at the Coliseum. However he did film a little video including The ENO Cast singing us Happy Birthday which was truly amazing and managed to race south of the river to catch the grand finale of the evening in full concert dress – TOP HAT missing but definitely the tails!
Pinkie b'day Apr 2016The SOUND OF MUSIC completely took over us. In our KINKY BOOTS and with moves like FOSSE we danced the night away until we MERRILY WE ROLL(ED) ALONG home.
We had such a WICKED evening.
We do hope you will be able to join us on the 4th of June for ONE NIGHT ONLY at Cadogan Hall where WE WILL ROCK YOU.


Pink rockabilly at Pride

Pride 2015Newbie alto and already-our-new-section-leader (yay!) Jeremy tells us about his first Pride experience as a Pinkie…
It was 1972, the 1st of July, when the first official UK Gay Pride was held in London.  Marches had taken place from 1970, traversing parts of North London, but it was on this day, chosen as the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, that around 2,000 people converged on London. They came to march, protest and fight for the rights which are fast becoming our 21st century reality.
Some of my fellow Pinkies were there, and I bet they could hardly have imagined what Pride would be like a little over 40 years later.  We were certainly extremely happy and indeed proud that they were still there, and with us! Marching side-by-side with the giants whose shoulders we stand upon, was a special experience that I’m sure we’ll keep forever. The theme for Pride this year was ‘Pride Heroes’, with various ‘everyday people’ being rightly lauded for their work, visibility and stoicism in the moves toward equality.
Pride 2015I realise not everyone likes the way Pride goes now, but I guess it was ever thus, the day I see an entire community agreeing on one thing is a day I shan’t hold my breath for! For what it’s worth, it seems to me that a day where people seem to be smiling a lot more, where there is a greater diversity of gender expression and identity, and where couples of all sexualities feel able to do something as simple as holding hands without fear of violence , still has a huge amount of positive worth in it.
The day dawned bright and warm, and most importantly dry. Many of us had been caught in the downpour of Pride 2014, memories of soggy socks and drooping fairy wings had made us extra-happy to see the sun put in a strong appearance from start to finish. We marched together in the parade, banner billowing in the breeze and helium balloons with minds of their own causing scenes of general hilarity. We sang songs from seasons past and present, and the crowds obliged us beautifully by joining in. A notable favourite was the timeless classic ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which has been quite brilliantly rearranged by our very own Chris Chambers, for our Summer concert on the 11th July.
Pride 2015I had chosen the day to try out my new 1950s-style pink rockabilly skirt, and could be seen twirling and dancing a little ahead of the main body of Pinkies with a few others, handing out flyers and stickers to the friendly (and at times vaguely bemused) crowds. The optimism of the crowd was tangible. Only a day after the US Supreme Courts ruling on same-sex marriage, with Ireland’s joyful referendum outcome still ringing in our ears, it seems we are in a great position to be actually  brimming with pride, whilst also mindful that we can’t hang up our marching boots just yet…
Pride 2015So, we danced, we sang, we acquired a parade gatecrasher with a lovely alto range, in short, it was a blast. At the march’s end, we received goodie bags containing gratuitous amounts of officially named (by our very own Kate Nichols and Chris Viveash) ‘Fancy Gay Coffee’, we headed straight to the crypt of St. Martins in the Fields to rehearse for our big moment. We appeared on the main stage in Trafalgar Square in the early evening. At 6.40pm, we were waiting backstage as I was changing into my red stilettos, as you do. I am now known as ‘Dorothy’ to many choir members…  Anyway, there I was, with the shock of having just spent a penny in a portaloo still leaving my system, when the glorious Sandi Toksvig started practising her speech not three feet away from me. I had met her once before, when I was wearing pink glitter dress shoes, which Ms. Toksvig and I named my ‘Vagina Shoes’…but that’s another story.
Pride 2015Sandi was on just before us, giving the most rousing and heart warming speech I’ve heard in a long time, naming everyone there as her ‘Pride Heroes’. We completely agreed, they were the most exuberant and welcoming crowd we could have hoped for. The performance was over in a flash, good things always are, but we sang our hearts out and they seemed to enjoy it. Our classic rendition of ‘Vogue’ went down a storm (i’ve a sneaking suspicion there might have a been a few Madonna fans in the audience, but I may be wrong), and we rounded it off with a song thats coming up in our Summer Concert ‘Key Changes:  Songs that Shaped the World’ at St. John’s Smith Square in London on Saturday the 11th July.  If you want to know what song, you’ll have to come to the concert…
This is my first season as a ‘Pinkie’, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.  When I first marched at Pride a few years a go with another (brilliant) organisation, all I could think about were the many people I had met in my life who had done everything they could to stop me from being there at all. In 2015, all I could think of, and all I could see, were thousands of people who were happy to see us.  Thank You Pinkies…I cannot wait until next time!
See more of our photos from the day here!


Happy 32nd Birthday To Us!

We celebrated our 32nd birthday this year, with a fun, colour-block themed party and a cake with enough e-numbers in it to ensure we’ll still be buzzing in time for our concert on 11th July!
32nd birthday party
In fact, tickets for the concert are now ON SALE!
Can a song shape the world? Join us as we explore the link between music and history, showcasing a variety of musical styles in St John’s Smith Square – one of London’s most atmospheric and beautiful venues. With music at the heart of change, the show will highlight many significant moments in history, through the suffragette movement to the HIV/AIDS crisis; from Monteverdi’s early opera to record-breaking chart toppers.
The show will also feature the wonderful Hinsegin kórinn – Reykjavík Queer Choir – in their debut London performance.
Click here to book!