Hand in Hand Hits Brighton

Ben P

The Pink Singers went to Brighton to join 17 other LGBT choirs from all over the UK and Ireland at the second bi-annual choir festival, Hand in Hand. Bass Ben give us the low down…

The Pink Singers hosted the first festival back in 2013 at the Troxy, London and we’d been looking forward to the next one for months, so I was really excited to be escaping from work early on Friday afternoon to head down to the coast for a great weekend of singing with friends old and new.

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Hand in Hand is like a bubble of workshops, concerts and socialising. There’s lots of singing and not a lot of sleep. Our Friday evening started at the Old Ship on the seafront where we met some of our fellow choirs, nearly all of whom we’ve performed with in the past. In the 9 years I’ve spent in the choir I’ve been privileged to meet some amazing people all over the country and it’s always brilliant to see familiar faces coming together.

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Bright and early on the Saturday morning we were off to Brighton Dome to register. A few hours later and after a couple of workshops (“Asian Jazz Improvisation”, anyone!?) it was time for the first of the main concerts which was preceded by the first ever Brian Kennedy Long Service Awards. As one of the two original founders of the Pink Singers, Brian did a huge amount of work for the gay community in London and created a place for people to come together and sing. Incredibly, his legacy lives on today in the Pink Singers that I am proud to be a part of and I’m incredibly grateful to him and Mark Bunyan for deciding to get a group of singers in a room and start note bashing. During the awards it was brilliant to see so many singers who have sung in their own choirs for ten and twenty years. I look forward to my bronze medal at the next Hand in Hand!

Hand in Hand June 2015

We were delighted to open the evening concert to a packed house full of friends, family, and participating choirs. I was really proud to sing two of my husband’s arrangements –’Smells like teen spirit’ and ‘Relax’. Our songs were incredibly well received and hearing the applause from an audience who really know what it’s like to be part of a choir and singing with your friends on stage was a brilliant moment, even for a cynic like me.

Hand in Hand June 2015

Our performance was over in just a few minutes and we were able to watch all of the other fabulous performances from the likes of our hosts Rainbow Chorus and Brighton GMC, Diversity, Sing out Bristol and the Deep C Divas. Whilst all the performances were brilliant, two really struck a chord for me: LGMC’s performance of ‘Through the Barricades’ accompanied by a video of the difficulties many thousands of LGBT people continue to face around the world was a stark reminder of how lucky we were to be sat in a concert hall packed full of people who have the liberty and freedom to be honest with the world about who they are, largely without any difficulty. In addition, formed as part of the campaign for a yes vote  at the Irish same-sex marriage referendum, Tá for Grá gave an equally moving (if a bit more lighthearted!) performance of ‘Sew on a sequin’ reminded us to be fabulous, even when the going is tough.

Hand in Hand June 2015

I left Brighton on Sunday knackered, hungover, sounding a little hoarse and ready for an early night. More than anything else, I left feeling happy and lucky to be part of such an amazing group of people. The next Hand in Hand takes place in Manchester but isn’t for two whole years! It seems like an eternity to wait, but we’re already looking forward to it.

The Pink Singers started the Hand in Hand series in 2013.

Timeline datestamp: 11 June 2015

Pinkies do Mallorca!

The Pink Singers have just returned from Spain’s first gay chorus festival in Mallorca and what a time we had! Get the low-down on parties, pride, palm trees and performances from soprano Louise and newbie tenor Keith as they relive their favourite Mallorca moments… 

Louise’s Mallorca Moments: 

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Wow! Such fun! Where do I start?
There are quite simply TOO MANY stories to tell! I’m getting a little stressed just thinking about telling all you avid readers of the Pink Singers blog just how amazing it is to go on a foreign trip with the Pinkies. How can I condense the entire experience into a few short paragraphs? Waaah! What’s that I hear you say? Relax? PINK SINGERS SAY RELAX? OK. Relax. Because I can now, after a hectic, inspiring, exhausting, humbling, exciting, sun kissed weekend on the beautiful island of Mallorca.

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This was my first trip abroad with the Pink Singers and the more I get to know the members of the choir, the more I feel that I am a member of the wide and much loved Pink Family. I felt extremely privileged as a teacher to have been granted some unpaid leave by my very supportive head teacher and to be topping up my tan during term time….oops, I mean singing with three other wonderful choirs at Spain’s first gay singing festival – the Mallorca Gay Chorus Festival!

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At the first sound check I felt daunted that we would be performing three times in three days. I really wasn’t sure of the choreography and I was anxious that my claps, steps, swishes and step digs would be out of synch and I’d come at the wrong time. Aarrghhh! But when you get into the swing of it, it all falls into place, all the hard work pays off and you just want to put on a tip top show for the audience and the other choirs.

Wow! The other choirs! We loved meeting them and hearing them sing – the incredible Barcelona Rainbow Singers, the mesmeric Equivox from Paris and the inimitable Mallorca Gay Men’s Chorus.  We felt such great support, love and passion from and for the other choirs and I love knowing that I am part of a dynamic and vibrant international LBGT community. And what a treat to sing in three different venues in Mallorca – the first being a castle surrounded by mountains basking in the setting Mediterranean sun! And all of this live on Mallorcan TV!

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This was the start of a rollercoaster of performances, parties, raspy sex noises, strange fluorescent green drinks, forgotten shoes, forgotten trousers, standing ovations, sleepless nights, legendary dancing (you know who you are), Pride (In The Name of Love) on repeat,  cava on the beach, wishing we had one more day…..

Alas, we couldn’t have done it without the hard work and dedication of two much loved choir members Charly and Albert who organised, reorganised, negotiated, waited, telephoned, translated and smiled patiently to ensure that the Pink Singers had a successful and thoroughly enjoyable trip. So thank you from the bottom of our Pink hearts for making it all happen!

Keith’s Mallorca Moments:

Being picked up at the airport and driven straight to the venue to perform is probably the closest I’ll get to knowing what it’s like to be Beyonce. Having just landed for the Mallorca Gay Chorus Festival, the evening would be my initiation into life as a fully-fledged Pink Singer.

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The superstar treatment didn’t stop at the airport pick up though. The Festival’s first evening was to be an open air concert held in a castle set amongst stunning scenery.  On arrival, it was straight to a sound check in the warm breeze, between rows of palm trees, as the sun set around us.

The starry evening allowed no time for me to feel any nerves about popping my cherry as a Pinkie. The Mallorcans had rolled out a real red carpet experience and we were presented to Spain’s media before a reception with the officials of Andratx, the town where we were performing first.

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The Pink Singers had jetted out to Mallorca at the invitation of the Mallorca Gay Men’s Chorus. Taking part in three performances over three nights, we were joined by choirs from other European cities. There were the tres chic Frenchies, in the form of Paris’s Equivox, with their energetic conductress, sexy sounds and tight performance.

Then there was the Barcelona Rainbow Singers, with traditional ‘coplas’ which had me wishing I could speak more Spanish. With each flick of their fans, they sang wonderful tales of love and drama, the meanings of which I could only imagine. Of course there was the Mallorca Gay Men’s Chorus too – a gorgeous bunch of guys who know how to party as much as they know how to get the audience going. Their version of Bad Romance will always be the most memorable for me.

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The festival culminated in an evening of electrical atmosphere at the Trui Theatre in Palma. The turn-out, support and energy of the audience made it hard to believe that it’s been just two years since the Mallorca Gay Men’s Chorus formed.

The final performance hit home for me what an amazing event I was taking part in. It wasn’t only a chance for a bunch of people who love to sing to get together, it was an opportunity to raise the positive profile of the gay choir on their island. It clearly meant a lot to our hosts, and did to me too.

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Having nervously stepped up to audition for the Pinkies just ten short weeks before the Mallorca Gay Chorus Festival, it was a surreal experience to be performing with the choir. My most recent steps onto a stage were probably 23 years ago before I’d even hit my teens, so I’m sure there were bum notes, missed cues and lyrical slip-ups throughout.

Despite any performance mishaps, the Pink Singers really made me feel part of the Pinkie family in Mallorca. While the superstar experience was pure fantasy, what was very real was the chance to feel part of a group of such wonderful people and amazing performers, as well as the opportunity to celebrate with other gay choirs from around the world.

So how was that as my initiation into choir life? Pink Singers, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m glad you were the one to pop my cherry!

Timeline datestamp: 07 May 2015

Reflecting on Various Voices 2014: Pt4

Liang

Tenor Liang remembers joining the Pink Singers back in 2005, and his experience of Various Voices 2014

Various Voices Dublin 2014, what a blast, what an adventure, what an experience.
Let’s rewind to January 2005. I had just watched a concert by the Pink Singers and thought, these guys are quite good and I want to have a go at it. With no training in music or singing, I joined the choir with some trepidation. Having only done karaoke, this was a new experience for me as the need to cooperate and listen to each other encouraged a sense of togetherness which extended beyond the confines of the singing and fostered a community spirit.
Fast forward to June 2014 and Various Voices Dublin. The festival was looming. With 4 days to go, I was not perfect with the “movements” (greens, Jenny?) to Shine and found myself rehearsing this to passers-by giving me weird looks. Singing in the City was a programme organised by VV Dublin to perform to and engage the public. Our first performance was in this programme at Axis Ballymun alongside the Rock Creek Singers from Washington D.C. It went down a treat and we formed a new mutual appreciation society with our American brothers. You can see a picture of us all together at the top of this post.

Barberfellas performing at Spurious Noises - Various Voices' evil twin
Barberfellas performing at Spurious Noises – Various Voices’ evil twin

With the first concert in the bag, I knuckled down to the remaining three I had to do. In between erecting the exhibition, watching the other choirs, late night partying coupled with early morning rehearsals and meeting friends old and new, this turned out to be an exercise in concentration and application – not something that I was expecting. Singing at 1am as the last act with Pink Singers small group, the Barberfellas, in Spurious Voices was overwhelming and that was the moment when I wanted to crawl away and have a little me time.
Every choir brought its own personality to the festival. It was a joy to be sharing the stage with our fellow choristers. It was an honour to be singing with representatives from Asia where LGBT choirs are barely tolerated in some countries. I laughed at the comedic shows and I cried at the heart rending performances.
Night after night, the Pink Singers took over the dance stage to show off our choreography to Proud Mary, Shine and other songs. There was probably a mole whispering to the DJ to play our songs and in true Pinkie style, we took up the challenge and jumped at every opportunity to strut our stuff, including the ridiculously difficult line dance for 9 To 5. By the 3rd night, the other delegates were joining in with Proud Mary – success!
To fully enjoy VV, you have to embrace the concept, throw caution to the wind, talk to everybody. Be prepared for anything and expend all your energy in the few short days of the festival. Who needs sleep? – we can get that when we return home.

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Liang, Josh and Peter enjoy some downtime at Various Voices

Come the end of the festival, I was exhausted but exhilarated. But the fatigue was what allowed my barriers to break down and let me bare my emotions. I rarely cry but I had shed a few tears here. It was time to go home to recover and revel in the memories of being a part of an event that had brought so many people together in a show of humanity. Various Voices Dublin, I salute you and I look forward to Munich in 4 years.
Don’t want to wait until Various Voices 2018 to see the Pink Singers? Get your tickets now for Notes from a Small Island, our celebration of British composers and songwriters on Saturday 19 July 2014 at Hackney Empire.

Reflecting on Various Voices 2014: Pt3

Mark

Chair Mark writes an open letter to future Pink Singers to tell them how awesome Various Voices in Munich in 2018 will be…
Dear Pinkies of January 2018,
No doubt the Management Committee have been banging on for a while now about Various Voices in Munich and badgering you to register so we can have a viable choir to send. As a semi-veteran of these events (Dublin, London, Paris, Montreal and Denver) I cannot recommend it highly enough.
For three days you’ll be safely wrapped in a choral bubble surrounded by like-minded singers from around the world.
You’ll not care what’s going on in the outside world. You’ll be on a constant emotional rollercoaster. You’ll be amazed by the sheer brilliance of some of the choirs. You’ll want to give standing ovations. You’ll feel for choirs appearing for the first time and visibly showing their nerves and having to start a song again from the beginning.

Sam asleep before our set. Photo by Bruce Chambers
Sam asleep before our set. Photo by Bruce Chambers

You’ll be torn between wanting to grab a short nap or going to the next concert block. You’ll probably go to the next concert block. You’ll find the Pinkie magic flows with abundance whenever the choir is together. You’ll realise that the Altos/Sopranos/Tenors/Basses* (delete as applicable) aren’t as scary as they seem at home. You’ll feel you belong. You’ll wonder how on earth you can get to see all 80+ choirs performing. You’ll be moved to tears by some sensational performances. You’ll wear your Pinkies t-shirt with pride and not want to take it off. You’ll laugh and probably drink too much. You’ll probably cry again at some point. You’ll beam from ear to ear whenever anyone says “the Pink Singers were just stunning – how do you get that sound?” You’ll walk just that little bit taller when you come off stage. You’ll be in awe of the organisers who move 3,000 people around with effortless grace and good humour. You’ll sing in bars and stairwells and on street corners. You’ll love it. You’ll want to stay for more.

Dancing on stage! Photo by Liang Wee
Dancing on stage! Photo by Liang Wee

You’ll come back with dozens of new Facebook friends from around the globe. You’ll wonder how you managed to keep going and wish you’d booked a bit more time off work to recover. You’ll wish you had learned the obligatory dance moves to Proud Mary. You’ll keep your delegate badge when you get home. You’ll talk about it for weeks to come. You’ll keep smiling. You’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. You’ll wait anxiously for the video of our performance to be posted on YouTube. You’ll wish there was another one next year. You’ll be exhausted. You’ll sleep. You’ll feel incredibly proud and lucky to be part of an amazing choir.  You’ll realise how fucking/freaking* amazing the Pinkies are and how we’re looked up to by other choirs as an example of choral perfection and teamwork.
You’ll have no voice left.
Mark (Bass and Dowager Chair) x
Don’t want to wait until Various Voices 2018 to see the Pink Singers? Get your tickets now for Notes from a Small Island, our celebration of British composers and songwriters on Saturday 19 July 2014 at Hackney Empire.

Reflecting on Various Voices 2014: Pt2

Jenny

Alto Jenny recalls her experience of the Various Voices festival in Dublin last weekend…
I’d been waiting for this for almost five years.
I first found out about the Pink Singers when someone thrust a leaflet for Various Voices London at me whilst I was minding my own business on the South Bank in May 2009.  I couldn’t go, but I sent my enquiry to the Pinkies’ New Members’ Rep shortly afterwards, and five years on, I found myself sitting opposite him on a picnic bench in Dublin, captivated, and yet also horrified, by his word-perfect rendition of YMCA. But this is the new normal.
Various Voices is an international choral festival for LGBT choirs. 2,500 singers descended on Dublin from as far apart as New Zealand, New York and New Cross for four days of flowing things, including – but not limited to – song, conversation and drink.
A lot of the choir said they hadn’t known what to expect beforehand, so with the benefit of hindsight, I thought I’d write up seven handy survival hints ready for Various Voices Munich in 2018.
1. Do not bother bringing any clothes which do not have your choir’s name emblazoned on them. You are in a small (but essentially benign) army. This is not a mufti event.

Irish Eurovision winners on stage
Irish Eurovision winners on stage

2. Study the Eurovision winners of the host country diligently, so that when your entire choir’s bass section erupts into a chorus of Ding-A-Dong, or your choir’s accompanist is standing up and rapturously waving his arms as at the coming of the Messiah, you do not have to say, ‘who on earth is this Johnny Logan chap?’
3. Eat enough green things in the week running up to the festival that you will not feel their lack when confronted by a surfeit of fragrantly spiced sausages. Luckily it turns out that Guinness contains 99% of the nutrients any normal person needs to survive for a few days. I imagine that the same will turn out to be true of Löwenbräu.

Exhibition build survivors (Picture: Hsien Chew)
Exhibition build survivors (Picture: Hsien Chew)

4. There will probably come a moment where you are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of someone else’s performance and perhaps also lack of sleep, and need to go somewhere quiet and dark to cry a little. For these moments, build yourself an exhibition and conceal a sofa behind it.
5. Talk to as many people as you possibly can about the most random thing you can think of. Normal London service is suspended. No-one will think you are weird. You don’t even have to say hello. These conversations are the best thing about the festival.

So much Guinness.
So much Guinness.

6. You might think that you’re going to go sightseeing, but this is a delusion. All your tourist activities will be confined to the space between some sheets, the stage and a beer tent. The most impressive sights I saw were all bleary-eyed from my bedroom window: a rainbow, the Spar and a woman reading a book.
7. Visit lots of other choirs in between festivals so that walking down the main drag will make you feel like you’ve walked into an episode of Cheers. With the Pinkies, this is easy: everyone really does know our name, and some of them were even glad that we came. We have a reputation. No, not in that way. A good way. Pink love x
Don’t want to wait until Various Voices 2018 to see the Pink Singers? Get your tickets now for Notes from a Small Island, our celebration of British composers and songwriters on Saturday 19 July 2014 at Hackney Empire.
See just a few of our pictures from Various Voices 2014 below: