Gimme Gimme Gimme

Andy, Bass

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!

Gimme Gimme (outside studio 1)

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!

Gimme Gimme (outside studio 3)

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”!

Gimme Gimme (Tim, Philip & Steve)

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!

Timeline datestamp: 29 December 1999

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

Stonewall Equality Show

Onstage at the Equality Show

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!”

Read more about the show on the Royal Albert Hall website.

Bill Barry
Tenor
Pinkie since 1995

Timeline datestamp: 22 October 1995

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

Debut at GALA

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.

Denver, 1992

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!

Left to right: Paul, Richard, Philip, Burt from Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida, Tim, Paul

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.  

Singing “In this moment” in Denver, 1992

In times of stress and of joy a bit of glitter is always welcome!

Denver 1992 Closing Party
Timeline datestamp: 28 June 1992